Steinhardt Judaica to auction off 400 rare objects

Most significant collection of Judaica in 50 years up for grabs; Sotheby’s "Treasured Legacy" sale set for April.

Scroll of Esther 370 (photo credit: Courtesy)
Scroll of Esther 370
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The international auction house Sotheby’s will offer an auction of the extensive Judaica collection of Jewish philanthropists and founders of the Taglit- Birthright program, Michael and Judy Steinhardt, in New York City in April.
The auction, titled “A Treasured Legacy: The Michael & Judy Steinhardt Judaica Collection,” is comprised of some 400 lots of rare objects that illustrate the sweep of Jewish history from antiquity through the 20th century, across Europe, Asia, Africa and the Americas.
The objects, which range in price from $400 to $6 million, represent different aspects of Jewish life and the dual worlds of observance and cultural heritage, in both the home and the synagogue.
“It’s the most important collection of Judaica to come to the market in 50 years so, it’s a really major moment for both us and for them and it’s a huge honor for Sotheby’s to offer it for sale,” the head of business development of Sotheby’s in Europe, Saul Ingram told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.
“What’s unique about this collection is that it’s the best of it’s kind and it represents Jewish communities from all over the world,” he added.
“So if you are from Spain, if you are from Africa or wherever, there are pieces in the collection that you can buy that are a part of your personal Jewish heritage, which I think is what makes it really special.”
“We are definitely seeing a growth in this connection back to Judaism,” he continued.
Ingram, who is part of the team organizing the auction, was on a visit in Israel this week, along with his colleague, Russian paintings specialist at Sotheby’s in New York, Sonia Bekkerman.
The two explained that Sotheby’s has worked with Michael and Judy Steinhardt, who are known to be important art collectors, for many years.
“The Steinhardts devoted their lives to education,” Bekkerman explained, “They are all about the younger generation, so it’s beautiful to pass on this Judaica collection, this Jewish identity, to the next generation. It’s something that they are very passionate about doing.”
The managing director at Sotheby’s Israel, Sigal Mordechai, explained that the pieces of the collection are not only aimed at art collectors, but also at individuals who wish to start a collection, or simply purchase a particular object. In general, she said, buyers tend to purchase pieces which are closely related to their own family’s heritage.
“You could create a whole varied collection of objects, and paintings, manuscripts and books or you can also create a collection that you can actually use, because Jewish objects are for the holidays and for daily life,” Mordechai said, “Most of them are functional objects.
So you could buy them, not necessarily if you are a serious collector, you could buy them for personal use, to enjoy them.”
“It may be a cliche, but I think you really do connect to your family’s history through these objects,” she continued.
“This idea of use is very important,” Bekkerman added, “The idea that people can actually buy these objects, not at exorbitant prices, and use them in their home and really continue the Jewish heritage, I think is essential to this collection.”
Ingram also explained that the fact that the collection belongs to the Steinhardts makes it more appealing to buyers, as Sotheby’s has seen more excitement over this auction than any over any other one the company had ever organized in the past.
“The Steinhardt name is magical, so to have a piece of something that belonged to the Steinhardts and was put together so carefully, it’s an amazing opportunity,” he said.
Bekkerman also agreed that the name gives the collection an added value: “When you think of Steinhardt and you think of Birthright,” she said. “You imagine the hundreds of thousands of young people that this organization sent to Israel and these young people who, for the first time, are reclaiming their Jewish identity.”
“Its a beautiful concept to consider that now that they are a little bit older, they are now coming to look at these Judaica objects, everything falls into place.”
The Steinhardt collection’s most expensive piece is the Frankfurt Mishne Torah, from the period between 1457 and 1465, one of the finest illuminated Hebrew manuscripts ever created and estimated at $4m. to $6m.
The text, authored by Rabbi Moshe Maimonides, the supreme Jewish writer and philosopher of the Middle Ages, is a synthesis of Jewish law, and arguably the most important medieval Hebrew work of any kind.
The present manuscript, with its superbly-penned text and magnificent series of illustrations, was originally conceived in two volumes.
The first part is now in the Vatican, while the second will be auctioned in New York.
“I began assembling this collection more than 30 years ago. I found it inspiring to be close to precious objects of Jewish history and culture,” Michael Steinhardt said in a statement.
“Now, at 72, it is time for the collection to be passed on to a new generation, in the hopes that it will encourage them in turn to discover a rich Jewish heritage and the joy of owning a piece of their past,” he said.
“We are all specialists, we are all in this business because we love objects and we can’t get enough of this collection, it is truly extraordinary,” Bekkerman said.
Highlights from the collection – 24 pieces – will travel to Moscow where it is to be exhibited next week, and will also be presented in Jerusalem at the end of March, before returning to New York. The pieces will then be formally displayed in an exhibition a few days before the auction, which will take place on April 29.