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Hebrew Prayer Book Fetches Record-breaking $8.3 Million at Sotheby’s Auction

This was the first time that "Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" appeared on the market, having remained in the possession of the Alliance Israelite Universelle since 1870. (Credits:Instagram)

This was the first time that "Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" appeared on the market, having remained in the possession of the Alliance Israelite Universelle since 1870. (Credits:Instagram)

The auction house had estimated this manuscript, known as "Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" in reference to its former owner, between 4 and 6 million dollars.

Interest in rare books doesn’t appear to be waning. The historic tome of “Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" sold for 8.3 million dollars during a large sale dedicated by Sotheby’s in New York — a record for a Hebrew prayer book. The auction house had estimated this manuscript, known as “Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" in reference to its former owner, between 4 and 6 million dollars. However, bidding rose to $8.3 million thanks to an anonymous American collector with an extensive collection of medieval Hebrew manuscripts, according to Sotheby’s. This was the first time that “Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" appeared on the market, having remained in the possession of the Alliance Israelite Universelle since 1870. As announced by Sotheby’s, this is one of the few illustrated Ashkenazi Mahzor still in existence today, and probably the only one in private hands.

This manuscript was produced between the late 13th and early 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, the “Luzzatto High Holiday Mahzor" found its way to 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.

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“This seven-hundred-year-old prayerbook opens fascinating windows onto the lives, rites, and rituals of medieval and early modern Ashkenazic Jewry," Sharon Liberman Mintz, Senior Consultant of Books and Manuscripts at Sotheby’s had explained before the sale. “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."

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first published:October 21, 2021, 08:50 IST