Holy manuscripts
Holy manuscripts Flash 90

The Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem recently made a unique and exciting discovery inside an antique book, the first volume of the halakhic (Jewish law) work Sefer Ha’Aroch by the Shach, Rabbi Shabtai Cohen, (1621-1663) which was printed in Vienna in 1809. In the back of the book were four loose sections of what until now was thought to have been a manuscript that was never printed and lost during the Holocaust—the second volume of Sefer Ha’Aroch on Tur Yoreh Deah. The assumption is that the sections were printed in Hungary-Transylvania but that the job was never completed.

A scan of bibliographical lists and international book catalogs did not reveal any information regarding the existence of a second volume of Sefer Ha’Aroch, which indicates that this is the only existing copy in the world. To the best of knowledge, the original manuscript from which these sections were printed was lost in the Holocaust inferno, and these sections are its only vestiges. The discovery of this lost copy has significant ramifications on the religious Jewish world.

Throughout history, there were numerous attempts to publish a second volume of Sefer Ha’Aroch from the Shach. According to the limited information available, the original manuscript of the second volume of the book was inherited by the son of the author of the Minchas Aharon, Rabbi Eliezer of Schwabach, author of the work entitled Chiddushei Bnei Aharon, who also published the first volume of the Sefer Ha’Aroch.

The first mention of a second volume of the work was in 1867 in an article published in the weekly journal Der Israelite which mentions the manuscript in the possession of Harav Naftali Hirsch Berlinger, a descendant of the Shach and the author of the Minchas Aharon, who wished to print it.

The manuscript was relayed to Rabbi Shimon Levy of Fürth who noted in a different book he published that he hoped to publish other manuscripts in his possession, most notably “The second volume of Aroch Mi’Shach by Rabbeinu Hagaon the Shach, z”l, as it was never yet printed.”

The manuscript changed hands again, this time returning to the Shach’s descendants the Berlinger and Levy families. Throughout the generations, several attempts were made by family members to print the work in book format, but for various reasons, they never came to fruition. All traces of the manuscript were lost during the Holocaust, along with countless priceless Jewish manuscripts and artifacts.

The sections of the text were just discovered in a book that had belonged to Rabbi Yisrael Veltz, the former head of the Budapest rabbinical court, who was one of the greatest Torah luminaries in Hungary after World War II, as indicated by a stamp on the first page of the book. Rabbi Veltz was the first Jewish rabbi in Budapest after the Communist Revolution in Hungary to immigrate to the Land of Israel, and he left the majority of his library to his fellow rabbis who remained in Hungary.

It is unclear exactly when this copy of the Shach’s manuscript was printed, if it was published sometime in the 1920s or 1930s by Rabbi Shimon Levy of Fürth or at a later date by family members who received the edited manuscript ready for print from his widow.

Meron Eren of Kedem Auction House states, “We were thrilled to receive an item of such historic and emotional meaning. This sections from this printed book are as valuable as a handwritten manuscript, as they are presumably the only existing source for the complete writings of the Shach—the second volume of Aroch Mi’Shach, whose first volume is printed in most contemporary editions of the Tur. As soon as we disseminated the season’s catalog listing this item up for auction, we received dozens of inquiries and excited feedback from people around the world, testimony to the great significance of this discovery to the Jewish world.”

Rabbeinu Shabtai Kohein-Tzedek, zt”l (1622-1663), who authored the Siftei Cohen [whose acronym is Shach] commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, was one of the greatest authorities of his time. He was a prime disciple of the author of the Maginei Shlomo, Rabbi Yehoshua, and moved with him to Krakow where he learned Torah from Rabbi Natan (author of Megaleh Amukot) and Rabbi Heschel of Krakow.

After his marriage, the Shach settled in Vilna where he authored the Ha’Aroch Mi’Shach and Sifsei Kohein on Yoreh Deah, which was published when he was all of twenty-four years old and received 18(!) recommendations from the greatest sages in his generation.

The Shach was forced to flee Vilna during the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, embarking on a long, arduous exile. During this trying period of wandering and privation, he compiled his noted work Sifsei Kohein on Choshen Mishpat.