Amsterdam International Antiquarian Book & Map Fair

Selected Highlights


Asher Rare Books
Tuurdijk 16
3997 MS 't Goy - Houten
The Netherlands


Julius W. Steiner


+31-30-6011955 +31-30-6011955



[PENTATEUCH]. Hamisah humse Torah. Including: Hamesh megillot [= Five scrolls]. Haftarot [= Partings]. Amsterdam, Uri Fayves ben Aaron Halevi [for Shabbethai ben Joseph Bass], [chronogram:] [5]440 [= 1680]. Large 4to. With an integral engraved architectural frontispiece, with the book's title engraved on a pedestal bearing the Arc of the Covenant, flanked by standing figures of Moses and Aaron, with a medallion image of Moses on Mount Sinai at the head and two coats of arms at the foot. Set in 2 columns in Sephardic meruba Hebrew types, with extensive notes in rabbinical (semi-cursive) Hebrew. Contemporary gold-tooled vellum,

Second known complete copy of the first issue (previously recorded in the literature only from an incomplete copy in private hands) and as far as we know the only large-paper copy of any issue of Shabbethai Bass's important 1680 Amsterdam Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament) with the Five scrolls (Song of songs/Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes and Esther) and Haftarot (selections from Prophets), printed by Uri Halevi, the first edition to include Bass's supercommentary on Rashi's commentary. An extensive search for copies world-wide, including four in private hands, reveals only 1 other complete copy of the present first issue and only 4 complete copies of the second issue (including one in private hands), though we have no information about the Valmadonna Trust copy, now at the National Library in Jerusalem, and another now in private hands.
The present edition was a landmark in advancing Jewish biblical scholarship and bringing it to a broader public among both academics and worshipers. The biblical texts themselves occupy the upper part of the outer columns, while the upper part of the inner columns, matching the outer ones in size, gives the Targumim: paraphrases, explanations and additions to the Hebrew scriptures that were originally spoken by the rabbis but were written down early in the first millennium. The Targumim were made in what was then the vernacular language of the Holy Land, Aramaic. The present Targum on the Torah is one of the two most important Targumim, attributed to Onkelos (a Roman who converted to Judaism) around 110 CE. Both the biblical texts and the Targumim are set in meruba (square) Hebrew types. Below the Targum, in a longer column of the same width, is the biblical commentary by the French rabbi known as Rashi (1040-1105), set in a semi-cursive Hebrew type sometimes called rabbinical or Rashi. The remaining commentaries and quotations are also set in this type. A narrower column in the fore-edge margin next to the biblical text contains extensive quotations from the German rabbi Jacob ben Asher (1269-1340), who had fled to Spain with his parents as a boy and codified the Talmudic law. Most importantly, the present edition for the first time includes the detailed supercommentary on Rashi's commentary, by the Polish Talmudic scholar and singer Shabbethai ben Joseph Bass (1641-1718), who studied in Prague then settled in Amsterdam in 1679. Already in Prague he lamented the great uncertainties in interpretations of Rashi's commentary, so he determined to promote Jewish scholarship by bringing together all that had been written about it, much of it not readily available or difficult to understand, and presenting it clearly and concisely in a single text that would be available to all. He began writing his supercommentary, known as the Siphthe hakamim, already in Prague and apparently added information from a wide range of sources he was able to examine during his travels throughout Europe. In Amsterdam, he found financiers and a printer for the present edition and wrote an introduction to it (present here but expanded in the second issue). His Siphthe hakamim is the most extensive text in the book, set below the biblical texts but in a wider column that also spans the column of quotations in the fore-edge margin and toward the foot often even spills over to span all three columns. Finally, another narrow column in the gutter margin contains quotations from the 16th-century Italian Talmudic scholar Aaron of Pesaro. The Five scrolls and Haftarot also include the Aramaic paraphrases and the former also Rashi's commentary and Bass's supercommentary. The whole forms a remarkable monument to international Jewish scholarship and book production.

With occasional slight browning or mostly minor foxing, a water stain in the gutter margin of one quire and occasional minor marginal defects, but otherwise in very good condition and only slightly trimmed (about 4 mm at the head and with an occasional deckle preserved at the fore-edge and foot, giving a leaf size of 22.8 x 18.2 cm). The binding has some professional restorations, a few stains and dirt, but the tooling remains fairly clear. Second complete copy of the first issue of an important Amsterdam Torah, here printed on large paper and preserved nearly untrimmed.
Exhibitor: Asher Rare Books

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