[HEBREW MANUSCRIPT]. BIBLE, in Hebrew. - PENTATEUCH. SEPHARDIC TORAH SCROLL ON BROWN VELLUM.
[Spain, second half of the 14th century]
COMPLETE. Length of the entire scroll: 50 m.; height: 61 cm. (which is approximately the circumference of the scroll when it is rolled tightly, cf. Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Torah Scroll, 9:1; when it is rolled loosely the circumference is more than 70 cm). Written on brown vellum (so-called gevil, i.e., skins that were processed for writing on one side only), coated with a dark brown varnish, which is typical of Spanish Torah scrolls. 67 sheets, widths varying from 56 to 91 cm, with 3-5 text columns per sheet (the last sheet 2 columns), 42 lines of text per column. Column width: 14-16 cm; Song of the Sea (Ex. 15): 27 cm; Song of Ha'azinu (Deut. 32): 22.5 cm. Upper margin: 7 cm; lower margin: 11 cm. Probably copied by two scribes. (Occasional light spots representing erasures with corrected text clearly written over, occasional defects in sewing between membranes sometimes repaired by vellum patches on verso, occasional tears and minor fraying to blank margins, one tiny wormhole through each column of the first ten membranes.)
The Hebrew Pentateuch survives in two formats, the scroll (which is the oldest and longest lasting) and the codex, either separately or as part of a manuscript Bible. It was in the form of the scroll that it was used in the ancient world and in which it still survives in modern Judaism. Insofar as there are any truly sacred objects in Judaism, the Torah scroll is by far the holiest and most important item. From Talmudic times there have been precise rules for the preparation of the skin for Torah scrolls and for the copying of the text. It is regarded as a Biblical commandment for every Jew to write a Torah scroll. The Scroll of the Law, handwritten on parchment and containing the Hebrew text of the Five Books of Moses without vowels or accents, is used mainly for public reading during synagogue services. This public reading of the Five Books of the Torah (Pentateuch) is usually completed in a yearly cycle. The Torah is divided into 54 portions, which are read in synagogue one or, occasionally, two each week, on Mondays, Thursdays, Sabbath and festivals. The Torah is cantillated in a specific way, which differs between the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic communities. Public reading is only allowed from a kosher scroll (i.e., one that is fit for use). A scroll is already unfit for use if only one letter has been omitted, or the ink slightly faded. Because of the constant use of Torah scrolls for public reading, they tended to become worn and were invalidated for use relatively soon. Consequently they were stowed away in a Genizah (a storage for worn holy books) or buried and not meant to be preserved. The primary source of information on the actual writing of Torah scrolls is a minor tractate of the Talmud, entitled Massekhet Soferim. It lays down all the basic rules and may as such be considered a handbook for scribes. Many regulations, however, were discussed in great detail in later works as well, both in general halakhic compendia (such as Moses Maimonides' Mishneh Torah) and in monographic works devoted entirely to the writing of Torah scrolls.
The present Spanish scroll is EXTREMELY IMPORTANT AND OF UTMOST RARITY, in that it features a number of scribal peculiarities that, on the one hand, are known from medieval writings, but, on the other hand, were until now never attested in any medieval scroll from Spain. Only three scrolls from medieval Spain are known to exist today, a scroll that Nissim of Gerona wrote for himself, a scroll that was preserved in Rhodes -- both now in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem -- and the one offered for sale here, which is in an excellent state of preservation and is THE ONLY SURVIVING TORAH SCROLL FROM SPAIN CONTAINING 'SPIRAL AND CURVED LETTERS', as advocated by Moses Maimonides. The dating and localization of the scroll have been confirmed by Prof. Malachi Beit-Ari, Director of the Hebrew Paleography Project and Ludwig Jesselson Professor of Codicology and Palaeography at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, who personally inspected the original.
The scroll is written in monumental Sephardic scribal square scripts, which are nearly identical to the square script used in medieval Sephardic codices of the Bible. There are some differences, however.
The letter yod: On the left-hand side of the letter, in addition to the serif facing up, yet another, similar one appears facing down, as in the ancient oriental yod. A similar form is found in the Ashkenazic script where this effect was produced as a consequence of the way in which Ashkenazi scribes used their quills. This form of the letter yod fits the descriptions of Rabbenu Tam, Asher ben Jehiel (Ha-Rosh), and R. Jacob ben Asher (cf. Tur, O.H., 36), which are based on two sayings of the Sages (B.T. menahot 29b; Pesikta Rabbati, ed. Ish Shalom, #21, incipit: anokhi). In classical square Sephardic script, as it appears in the codices, the yod has only one serif, facing upwards. A yod like the one described (and illustrated) by Asher ben Jehiel may be observed in some of the letters yod in the Torah scroll that R. Nissim of Gerona wrote for himself, which was donated to the community of Barcelona in 1336 (now MS Heb. 4o 5935 in the Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem; cf. S.Z. Havlin, 'The Torah Scroll that Rabbenu Nissim of Gerona Wrote for Himself' [in Hebrew], Alei Sefer, Ramat Gan 1986, No. 12, pp. 5-36, including plates). This letter appears in a clearer form in a unique Sephardic Torah scroll which was preserved on the island of Rhodes (and damaged during the Second World War) and which was acquired recently by the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem (MS Heb. 4o 7404). This comparison is of special relevance since this scroll was written at the same time as the Torah scroll offered for sale here.
The letter chet: In the scroll the top of this letter is flat and has on the left-hand side a serif of the 'stem' (choter) style prescribed by Rashi, rather than the 'hump' (chatoteret) style preferred by Rabbenu Tam. It does not fit the prescription of Jacob ben Asher, who ruled that the two forms should be used together. A one-stroke ornament (tag) on these letters does not rise from the middle of the top, as in other traditions, but perpendicularly to the right edge, creating something like the ancient form of the letter, almost in the shape of a Latin 'H'.
Further scribal characteristics
The scribe of the first 21 sheets follows thoroughly the tradition of special ornamentation and the traditions of 'unusual letters such as the spiral pe and the curved letters, as were handed down by the scribes, from one generation to another', as Maimonides wrote in his Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuzot and Torah Scrolls 7:8. From this passage it is evident that Maimonides was familiar with the tradition and supported it, stating that it is the best way to fulfill the commandment of writing a Torah scroll (ibidem 7:9). According to this tradition there are individual letters in certain places in the scroll which are not decorated with regular tagin, but instead the letters themselves are written ornamentally. This tradition, which originated in the East, was practiced particularly in France and Germany. It is detailed in the so-called Sefer Tagin, a work on the tagin on the letters in the Torah Scroll which according to tradition were found inscribed on the twelve stones that Joshua set up at Gilgal (Joshua 4:5-9, 20-24). (This text was published on the basis of a Paris manuscript, which is clearly corrupt, by J.L.L. Bargs, with an introduction by Shneur Zacks, Paris 1866; regarding this tradition, see also Mahzor Vitry, ed. S. Horowitz, Nuremberg 1923, pp. 674-675). At the beginning of the work there is an accoiunt of the tradition as handed down from Eli the Priest to Biblical figures down to the last of the Tannaim. This practice was also in use in Italy, and the list of special letters appears in the section on Hebrew script in the work Shiltei ha-Gibborim by Abraham Portaleone (Abraham ha-Rofe ben David Portaleone, Shiltei ha-Gibborim, Mantua 1619, fols. 176c-177c; there are certain differences between his tradition and that of Sefer Tagin.) Portaleone provides an explanation for the unusual letters, suggesting that they contain hints and mystical secrets, as well as evidence for the disappearance of the tradition as a result of a ruling by the rabbis of Safed. He quotes the scribe and printer R. Meir of Padua, who reported that he saw with his own eyes that the Torah scrolls from Safed did not contain unusual letters and that they had ruled there [in Safed] that the scribes should make no changes in the letters of the Torah scroll because they are not sufficiently knowledgeable to do so (cf. D. Kaufmann, 'Meir b. Ephraim of Padua, Scroll-Writer and Printer in Mantua', in JQR 11, 1899, pp. 266-290).
In rare cases this tradition was maintained in Spain also, apparently particularly in Kabbalistic circles. Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon received the tradition from a French scholar, Rabbi Isaac ha-Nakdan [the pointer], as he recorded in his book Badei ha-Aron, 6:1 (this chapter has been reprinted as an appendix to Sefer Tagin, above). He applied the tradition in a Torah scroll which he wrote in Soria in 1317 (Ms. Sassoon 82). It is also mentioned in the Kabbalistic work Livnat ha-Sapir, composed in 1328. In Yemen this tradition was partially maintained, i.e., only as regards the spiral shape of the letter pe. (For modern attempts to describe the spiral pe and reveal its meaning, see M.R. Lehman, 'Al Pe'in Lefufin', Beth Mikra 30, 1985, pp. 449-455, and S. Zucker, 'Ha-Otiyyot ha-Meshunnot, Kegon Lefufot ve-ha-Aqumot', Al Sefarim ve-Anashim 12, May 1977.)
Scribal practice in the present scroll is only partially compatible with the prescriptions of the Sefer Tagin and, in fact, the scroll reflects an independent tradition. A detailed paleographical survey of the scroll is available on request.
Controversial readings: This scroll reads Va-yehi kol yemei Noah (Gen. 9:29) instead of 'va-yiheyu'; Kedarla'omer (Gen. 14:1 ff.) in one word; Poti fer'a (Gen. 41:45) in two words; pazua dakaH (Deut. 23:2) with he not aleph.
Open and closed parashiyyot (portions): The scroll corresponds almost perfectly to the rules of Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Tefillin, Mezuza and Torah Scroll, chapter 8; the scribe did not follow the rules of Rabbenu Tam regarding closed portions, which were already observed in his time.
The Song at the Sea (Ex. 15): The entire passage is written in 30 lines. The division of the words in the last two lines does not follow Maimonides' ruling, which is the case only here. This division of the words follows the tradition of the most accurate Sephardic manuscripts (listed by I. Pankower, Nusach ha-Torah be-Keter Aram Zova, Ramat Gan 1993, p. 37). Among these is one manuscript of which the scribe, Israel ben Isaac ha-Sofer, testified in Toledo in 1241 that he checked it against the well-known Hilleli model codex of the Bible (MS New York, JTSL Mic. 44a; facsimile edition with an introduction by N.M. Sarna, Jerusalem, 1974). An authority on the Massoretic tradition, Meir ben Todros Ha-Levi Abulafia (d. 1244), approved of this practice in a responsum to the scholars of Burgos, perhaps out of deference to ancient Sephardic manuscripts in which this division occurred (the text of the responsum is reprinted in Kiryat Sefer by Menahem ben Solomon Ha-Meiri, ed. M. Hershler, Part I, Jerusalem 1956, pp. 47-48; see also Pankower, op. cit., pp. 42-43). This is also how the Song at the Sea appears in the fourteenth-century Torah scroll of R. Nissim.
The Song of Ha'azinu (Deut. 32): This is written in 67 lines, as prescribed by Maimonides (in the authenticated version of the Mishneh Torah), following the Aleppo Codex, 'that is the famous codex in Egypt ... that was in Jerusalem, from which we have checked our books for some years, and everyone relies on it because it was checked by Ben Asher, who worked meticulously on it for many years and who checked it numerous times ... and I relied on it in the Torah scroll that I wrote as it should be written' (cf. Ms. Oxford, Bodleian Library, Hunt. 80, which was carefully compared to the autograph text and authenticated by Maimonides himself; facsimile edition with introduction and notes by S.Z. Havlin, Jerusalem-Cleveland 1997; cf. also MS Jerusalem Heb. 4o 1193, copied in Spain or Provence in the 14th century). When this poem is written in 67 lines, several lines come out very long. In the present manuscript, the width of the first column is 22.5 cm, that of the second 20.5 cm. Only the long lines take up the entire width. The six lines at the top of the column (Deut. 31:28b-30) are written in a narrower column, 17.5 cm wide, and placed symmetrically above the poem. This solves the problem identified by Prof. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein with regard to the difficulty of writing the poem in 67 lines and the preceding text in 6 lines without fillers, as was done in the Aleppo Codex (cf. S.Z. Havlin, op. cit., p. 25, note 2). The same technique of writing the lines above this poem was followed in MS Jerusalem, Heb. 4o 790, a Bible codex written in Burgos, Spain in 1260. The printed Hebrew Bible from Ixar (Hijar) ca. 1487/1488 also follows this pattern (cf. Pankower, op. cit., p. 24, note 51). The verses that follow the poem (Deut. 32: 44-47) are written in eight lines and not in five as in the Aleppo Codex. This was also the practice in the Torah Scroll from Spain which was preserved in Rhodes. From the present scroll it is possible to learn what Maimonides intended with regard to the beginning of line 39 of the poem. Maimonides' ruling is somewhat ambiguous. The best witnesses of the Mishneh Torah indicate that the line should begin with gam. However, that word appears twice, once before bachur (youth) and a second time before betulah (maiden). The present scroll begins line 39 with gam bachur ('both to youth'), which was evidently the understanding of Maimonides' ruling current in Spain. Pankower raises the question of whether the Yemenite manuscripts, which also start line 39 with gam bachur, interpreted Maimonides correctly (Pankower, op. cit., p. 25). That the reading in this scroll corresponds to the one preserved in Rhodes seems to indicate that there was a living tradition in Spain regarding Maimonides' intention.
Christie's thanks Dr. Shlomo Zucker of Jerusalem for assistance with the cataloguing of this lot.