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A Diagram of the Priestly Apron and Breastplate, Scribe: Nathan Safra Stam, Friedland: 1760
Ink and gouache on paper (11 3/4 x 8 1/4 in.; 298 x 209 mm); written in elegant, eighteenth-century Ashkenazic square and semi-cursive (Rashi) scripts in black ink. Large, hand-colored diagram of the priestly apron and breastplate showing their configuration in relation to one another; rubricated captions; four manicules pointing to parts of the diagram; at center, hands raised in the formation of the priestly benediction above a heart-shaped cartouche, surmounted by a crown. Scattered stains; slight wear to outer edges; prominent fold lines, obscuring and causing abrasion of some words and parts of the diagram; small loss at lower right corner.
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An elegant talisman created for a kohen.

Among the eight vestments worn by the high priest as outlined in Exodus 28 were the efod (apron) and the hoshen (breastplate). The present lot is a richly-colored diagram of these two garments showing their exact configuration in relation to one another, with commentary provided in the form of captions and foliate sidebars. Each of the efod’s shoulder straps bore a precious stone with twenty-five letters spelling the names of six of the Twelve Tribes of Israel. Similarly, the twelve precious stones of the hoshen each bore one tribe’s name, with the names of the three Patriarchs and the words shivtei yeshurun (Tribes of Jeshurun) arrayed such that every stone was inscribed with six letters (for a total of seventy-two letters, corresponding to the Seventy-Two-Letter Name of God) (see bYoma 73b).

According to the colophon, the diagram belonged to a kohen (priest) named Aaron ben Solomon Zalman Katz. The document thus, appropriately, features a number of elements tied with the priesthood, aside from the vestments themselves: the words keter kehunnah (Crown of Priesthood) are inscribed above a crown motif, and two hands raised in the formation of the priestly benediction are surmounted by words taken from Numbers 6:23. Perhaps most significant is the heart-shaped cartouche at center inscribed: “They shall be over Aaron’s heart when he enters the sanctuary, for remembrance” (see Ex. 28:29-30), suggesting that the owner was meant to carry this sheet as a type of amulet, much like the biblical Aaron carried the Urim and Thummim inside the hoshen (indeed, the sheet’s fold lines are quite prominent).

The diagram’s artist was a scribe of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot known as Nathan Safra Stam (Sofer). In addition to the present work, a collection of tkhines (special Yiddish women’s supplications) for the High Holiday season currently in the holdings of The Library of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (MS 9362) was also copied and decorated by him.

Provenance

Aaron ben Solomon Zalman Katz

Literature

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary Ms. 9362 (http://web.nli.org.il/sites/NLI/Hebrew/digitallibrary/pages/viewer.aspx?presentorid=MANUSCRIPTS&docid=PNX_MANUSCRIPTS003584545-1#|FL33257851)

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