A Treasure of our Library: Sefer Sinai by Abraham ben Baruch
From Our Holdings
It might be unassuming at first glance, but in fact it is the most valuable object in the holdings of the Jewish Museum Berlin Library. This original manuscript from 1391 titled Sefer Sinai is one of the few books from the time period that have survived. A very small number of Jewish manuscripts from the Middle Ages have been spared from destruction.
Debate Among Medieval Talmud Scholars
Sefer Sinai can be traced back to Abraham ben Baruch from Rothenburg ob der Tauber, the brother of the renowned Meir of Rothenburg. The two brothers and other late medieval rabbis debated questions about religious purity laws and the observance of Shabbat, the day of rest. Sefer Sinai thus sheds historical light on the contacts among medieval Talmud scholars.
A Manuscript with an Eventful History
The precious manuscript has an eventful history. Daniel Itzig (1723–1799) purchased it from a Christian professor in the early 18th century. Itzig later became the alderman of the Jewish Community of Berlin. The manuscript was taken to London in 1802 by Rabbi Solomon Herschell from Berlin, who was later appointed Chief Rabbi of England. That is how it reached the library of Jews' College, an Orthodox rabbinical seminary founded in 1852. Nearly 150 years later, in 1999, Jews' College had to put the precious item up for auction at Christie's in New York.
Preservation in our Storage Facility
It has since been part of our collection, where, as one of the collection's most prized pieces, it is kept in a purpose-made, acid-free box in our climate-controlled storage facility. We would love to put this treasure on permanent display for our visitors to see. However, the parchment volume is very climate-sensitive and the ink could fade over the course of an exhibition. For that reason, we can only exhibit Sefer Sinai – like many of our light-sensitive objects – for brief periods in order to preserve it for future generations.