A rare Hebrew prayer book is heading to auction

‘Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor’ will be up for auction on October 19 at Sotheby's. — AFP pic
‘Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor’ will be up for auction on October 19 at Sotheby's. — AFP pic

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NEW YORK, Sept 10 — Calling all bibliophiles. Sotheby’s will soon auction off a medieval prayer book in Hebrew at a major auction in New York. The extremely rare document could fetch several million dollars.

This manuscript is known as the Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor, in reference to its last owner, Samuel David Luzzatto, a prominent Italian scholar of the Jewish faith. It was made between the end of the 13th and 14th centuries by a scribe named Abraham. 

At that time, Ashkenazi congregations often spent large sums of money to hire a scribe to copy their prayer rites into two large volumes of the Mahzor, one comprising the liturgy of the winter, spring and summer festivals and fast days (from Hanukkah to Tish’ah be-Av) and the other that of the autumn celebrations (from Rosh Hashanah to Simhat Torah).

Although produced in southern Germany, Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor has found its way into many homes in Alsace, the Lake Constance region, northern Italy and France over the centuries. Annotations left in the margins of the book by its various owners attest to its many travels throughout Europe. 

In 1870, the manuscript was purchased by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, which has kept it in its possession until now. It will appear on the market for the first time in its history on October 19 at a sale organised by Sotheby’s in New York. It is estimated to fetch between $4 and $6 million. 

However, bids could rise given the rarity and importance of Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor in Hebrew liturgical literature. Sotheby’s claims that this is one of the few illustrated Ashkenazi Mahzor still in existence today, and probably the only one in private hands. 

“This seven-hundred-year-old prayerbook opens fascinating windows onto the lives, rites, and rituals of medieval and early modern Ashkenazic Jewry,” said Sharon Liberman Mintz, Senior Consultant of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s. “The fact that it was created by a Jewish scribe-artist at a time when many medieval Hebrew manuscripts were illustrated by Christian artists is especially noteworthy.”

The general public will be able to admire this manuscript October 13-18 in the New York galleries of Sotheby’s, before it goes under the hammer. — ETX Studio

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