National Library makes ‘historic’ acquisition of rare Hebrew texts
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National Library makes ‘historic’ acquisition of rare Hebrew texts

Valmadonna Trust Library's manuscripts span the globe and a millenium, including a 1491 Bible; will be on display at institution's new Jerusalem home

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

A Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556. (National Library)
A Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556. (National Library)

Israel’s National Library on Wednesday announced the acquisition of thousands of Hebrew manuscripts and books from one of the most significant collections in the world.

The 8,000 or so texts from the Valmadonna Trust Library collection were purchased in collaboration with collectors David and Jemima Jeselsohn in a private sale through Sotheby’s for an undisclosed sum.

The Valmadonna’s 13,000-book assemblage of Hebrew texts from Amsterdam to Shanghai and a host of historic Jewish communities in between, spanning a millennium, was assembled by the late Jack V. Lunzer, a Jewish British industrialist. Lunzer died in December, at the age of 92.

“The acquisition is an important and exciting addition to the NLI’s collection,” the library said in a statement. “The printed works in the collection are in superb condition and the acquisition has enabled NLI to gain in one acquisition what would have taken decades to collect.”

Sotheby’s described the collection when it first displayed it before auction in 2009 as “the finest private library of Hebrew books and manuscripts in the world,” estimated to be valued at no less than $40 million altogether.

A Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556. (National Library)
A Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556. (National Library)

It was broken up at auction in December 2015, when several of the more high-profile manuscripts from the Valmadonna collection — including a 16th century Bomberg Talmud and the only Hebrew manuscript from England dating to before the expulsion of the Jews in 1290 — sold at auction for $9.3 million and $3.6 million, respectively.

“This joint acquisition was done primarily to ensure that the outstanding collection of Hebrew books will find a home in the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, and be made available and accessible to anyone interested in the treasures,” David Jeselsohn, who jointly acquired the collection, said in a statement.

Among the highlights are a pre-inquisition Pentateuch printed in Lisbon in 1491; a Passover Haggadah printed in Prague in 1556, one of just two that survive; the Plantin Polyglot “King’s Bible,” a multilingual print of the Bible in Hebrew, Latin, Greek, Aramaic and Syriac printed between 1568 and 1573; and over 550 broadsheets dating from the 16th to the 20th centuries.

A poster for learning the Hebrew alphabet from Frankfurt, Germany, 1650. (National Library)
A poster for learning the Hebrew alphabet from Frankfurt, Germany, 1650. (National Library)

The books are expected to arrive in Israel in the coming month, a library spokesperson said. Selected texts from the Valmadonna collection will be put on public display at the National Library’s new facility, which is under construction next to the Knesset in Jerusalem and slated for opening in 2020.

“The Valmadonna Trust Library represents an historic addition to our leading collection of Jewish manuscripts, prints and books, which reflect and embody the cultures of the Jewish people around the world and across the ages,” the library said.

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