Pristine 16th century Talmud 'is priceless'

Buyer of one of the earliest printed copies of the Talmud auctioned for $9.3 million tells Arutz Sheva about the purchase.

Raphael Poch,

Talmud study (illustration)
Talmud study (illustration)
Nati Shohat/Flash90

Sotheby’s set a new world auction record by selling the an original Daniel Bomberg Babylonian Talmud for $9.3 million, which ranked it as the most expensive piece of Judaica to ever be auctioned.

The volume, which is still in pristine condition, has only been owned by four people prior to the sale. Mr. Stephan Loewentheil, owner of the 19th Century Rare Book and Photograph Shop, purchased the Talmud amid the sale of a selection of the Valmadonna Trust, that was being auctioned by Sotheby’s. The total amount of the items being auctioned came to $14.9 million making it the most valuable Judaica auction ever held.

Mr. Loewentheil spoke to Arutz Sheva about the work, and why he decided to purchase it for such a large sum.

“Some things in the world are priceless,” he said. “The greatest work of Jewish Law is one such thing. Before I purchased the book, a fellow named Lunder had managed to buy it from Westminster Abbey in the late 1950s after he acquired one of the volumes. I am the fifth owner since its printing in 1520.”

Loewentheil said that “the original owner, a man named Richard Braune had the books bound with a special letter-binding, which the books still possess today. He gave it to Christ Church Oxford, who then gave it to Westminster Abbey.”

Mr. Loewentheil knows exactly how precious the work that he has purchased is, and is no stranger to possessing books of rare quality. In the past he had possession of one of the oldest Torah Scroll segments in existence. He had loaned the work to the Israel Museum for some time so that scholars would be able to study it.

He intends to take a similar tact with this Talmud, which will serve many talmudic scholars as a validation or critique of the accuracy of the current text. It will likely be used to compare and validate certain points in the text which have been deemed to be mistakes that cropped up over time between the handwritten copies of the Talmud and the printed versions. Certainly, this copy will have less mistakes and printing errors than the current Vilna edition that is commonly found in Jewish houses and study halls.

“I hope to find the Talmud a home where it will be loved, respected and be made available to reliable scholars should they have an interest. I can guarantee you that if any legitimate scholar contacts me I will make the book available for the kind of study that is required,” said Loewentheil.

The 19th Century Book Shop is located in Brooklyn, New York on Kent ave., and the Talmud will be accessible there for the time being. The store also has another branch in Stevenson, Maryland, just outside of Baltimore,

“This book represents an interesting combination of Christian scholarly interest in the Hebrew Talmud, it is not only significant for Jewish heritage, but for the scribal heritage of the entire western world.”

Loewentheil concluded by saying that: “the condition of this volume is the finest that will ever come into our hands again, and one of the finest anywhere in the world. It is an important set that we know is in original condition in every way. It is completely integral, just the way it was printed and published when it came off the press. And that is very rare and unique.”

Daniel Bomberg is responsible for the first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud which was printed between the years of 1519-1523. It is universally recognized as one of the most significant books in the history of Hebrew printing and in the history of the Western world.  




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