The Valmadonna Trust Library

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The Valmadonna Trust Library is quite simply the finest private collection of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world. Assembled over a span of more than six decades by visionary collector Jack Lunzer, it comprises a wide-ranging group of more than 11,000 works which chart the spread of the Hebrew press and the global dissemination of Jewish culture. The Valmadonna Trust Library, now on offer for public auction beginning on December 22, was exhibited in its entirety at in 2009. Thousands of visitors filled Sotheby’s galleries, eager to see one of the greatest collections in the world. The sale of The Valmadonna Library is a remarkable opportunity to acquire treasures from one of the world’s most important private libraries of Hebrew books and manuscripts.
The Valmadonna Trust Library: Part I
22 December | New York

The Valmadonna Trust Library

  • The Valmadonna copy of the Bomberg Talmud, Venice, 1519-1539. Estimate: $5,000,000–7,000,000.
    A magnificent complete copy of the Bomberg Talmud, universally recognized as one of the most significant publications in the history of Hebrew printing and one of the great books of the Western world. While the Hebrew Bible is undoubtedly the foundation upon which Judaism is built, it is the Talmud that serves as the framework that has given form to Jewish life and ritual observance across the centuries. The Bomberg edition of the Talmud became the standard for all subsequent editions, and its foliation and layout are still adhered to today. The amazingly fresh condition of the nine-volume Valmadonna copy is complemented by its distinguished provenance and magnificent contemporary binding. In terms of importance, rarity, and condition, the Valmadonna copy of Daniel Bomberg’s Babylonian Talmud is one of the finest in the world. If the first half of the sixteenth century is the “Golden Age” of Hebrew printing, then the Bomberg Talmud is undoubtedly the pinnacle achievement of the period.

  • Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch with Haftarot and the Five Scrolls, England, July 1189. Estimate: $2,000,000–4,000,000.
    The only dated Hebrew manuscript produced in England before the expulsion of the Jews by King Edward I in 1290. It was completed on the eve of a tumultuous period in the history of English Jewry. Only two months after the bible was completed in July of 1189, the Jewish community of London, the largest in the country, was destroyed during riots that coincided with the coronation of King Richard I. The Hebrew text is supplemented by unique marginal glosses in Judeo-French and accompanied by the Targum, an ancient Aramaic version of the Bible. This is the oldest dated European manuscript of the Targum.

  • Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch and Haftarot, Franco-German, 12-13th Century. Estimate: $1,500,000–2,000,000.
    The oldest extant dated manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible were executed in the tenth century. This manuscript is among the earliest copies of the Pentateuch written in Europe. Each biblical verse is followed by its Aramaic translation, a tradition hearkening back to antiquity, when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Jewish people. The scribe completed the text of the Pentateuch with an elaborate flourish, artistically penning the final word, Yisrael (Israel).

  • Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch, Spain-Portugal, 11-12th Century. Estimate: $1,000,000–1,500,000.
    With the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula at the end of the fifteenth century, Sephardic Jews were dispersed to every corner of the known world. With them they took their most precious possessions, their books. Even so, complete Hebrew Bibles written in pre-expulsion Iberia are exceedingly rare. In addition to the biblical text itself, this manuscript includes the Masorah, the system of extra-biblical notations which ensures the correct transmission of the writing and reading of the Hebrew Bible.

  • Hebrew Bible: Psalms with commentary by David Kimhi, Scribe: Shem-Tov Ben Samuel Barukh, Italy, 1401. Estimate: $300,000–500,000.
    Rabbi David Kimhi, best-known by the Hebrew acronym Radak, was a thirteenth-century grammarian and exegete from Provence. His biblical commentary was among the most popular and widely studied exegetical works of the medieval period. The ornamentation of this manuscript reflects the high caliber of Italian Hebrew manuscript decoration in the fifteenth century, when the art of illumination reached a new peak. The pages are embellished with vibrantly colored floral motifs and richly illuminated in gold leaf in the late Gothic style of Northern Italy.

  • Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch, Yemen, 15th Century. Estimate: $150,000–250,000.
    The Pentateuch, the “Crown” of Hebrew books, was referred to by Jews of Arab lands as Keter in Hebrew and as Taj in Arabic. Although the square, bold script of this Pentateuch resembles other fifteenth-century Yemenite Bibles, this manuscript is notable for its colorful decoration: stylized figures of birds, geometric patterns, and other floral designs. It is nevertheless consistent with Oriental Hebrew manuscript tradition in the complete absence of textual illustration and, certainly, of human figures.

  • Hebrew Bible: Pentateuch, Scribe: Benayah ben Saadiah ben Zechariah, Sana, Yemen, 1469. Estimate: $200,000–300,000.
    The Hebrew texts penned by master scribe Benayah ben Saadiah ben Zechariah, in Sana, Yemen are noted for their accuracy and beauty, and for very good reason. The text ends with the statement that the present work is “completely according to the arrangement of the book which was in Egypt, which was edited by Ben Asher….” The reference is of course to the work known as the Aleppo Codex, universally recognized since the time of Maimonides as the most accurate recension of the Hebrew Bible.

  • Talmud Tractate Pesahim, Provence, ca. 1450. Estimate: $300,000–500,000.
    Manuscript copies of the Talmud from the Middle Ages are exceptionally rare in light of the frequent confiscation, censorship and destruction of Talmud volumes by ecclesiastical authorities. Written in a fifteenth-century Sephardic hand, the text of the Mishnah is penned in square letters and the Gemara in semi-cursive script. Based on an analysis of the paper as well as on codicological and paleographical evidence, Professor Malachi Beit-Arié has demonstrated that this work was written in Provence between 1447 and 1452.

  • Samaritan Pentateuch, Land of Israel: 14–15th Century. Estimate: $80,000–120,000.
    Samaritans, who claim descent from the post-Solomonic northern Israelite kingdom, only include the Five Books of Moses in their biblical canon. While they do not recognize divine authorship or inspiration in any other book of the Hebrew Bible, they do maintain a non-canonical secular version of the book of Joshua. This exceedingly rare miniature Samaritan Bible codex was formerly in the fabled collection of David Solomon Sassoon.

  • Samaritan Torah Scroll, Land of Israel, 12th Century. Estimate: $40,000 – 80,000.
    Samaritan Torah scrolls from before the modern era are extremely scarce and the Valmadonna scroll is among the oldest surviving witnesses to this ancient biblical tradition. Though there are thousands of mostly minor textual variants between the Samaritan and Hebrew versions of the Torah, the most obvious difference between them is the unusual and distinct Samaritan script seen here. The Samaritan alphabet represents an archaic version of Hebrew script that was replaced during the Second Temple period by the “Assyrian” Hebrew script which remains in use by Jews to the present day.

  • Miniature Grace After Meals, Scribe-Artist: Ze’ev Wolf Herlingen, Vienna, 1737. Estimate: $150,000 – 250,000.
    This exquisite manuscript comprising a variety of occasional blessings is typical of the renaissance of illuminated Hebrew manuscript production in the eighteenth century. Skilled scribe-artists were frequently commissioned to create these beautiful small books on behalf of their patrons, many of whom functioned as Court Jews, providing service to the rulers of the numerous political entities of eighteenth-century Central Europe. Although the scribe has not signed this book, scholars have identified this manuscript as the work of Ze’ev Wolf Herlingen, one of the foremost scribe-artists of the period.

  • Miniature Book of Prayers for Women, Central Europe, early 18th Century. Estimate: $80,000 – 120,000.
    This petite illustrated prayer book is emblematic of a luxury volume which, among Jewish families of means, would have been commissioned by a groom as a gift to his bride. It includes prayers traditionally recited by women including for the lighting of Sabbath candles, the separation of dough used in baking bread, and ritual immersion. Additionally the manuscript includes supplications written in Yiddish lettering called Wayber-Taytsh (literally, women’s script); this distinctive script was also used in those Yiddish books printed primarily for female audiences.

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