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Steinhardt’s Judaica May Bring $11 Million at Sotheby’s

Gold Skeleton
A tiny gold skeleton by Odessa's Israel Rouchomovsky, seated on a carved silver-gilt coffin, estimated at $150,000 to $250,000. Source: Sotheby's via Bloomberg

The collection of Judaica assembled over the past three decade by philanthropist and former hedge-fund manager Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy, is heading to the auction block next week in New York.

“I am not trying to get rich from the sale,” said Steinhardt, 72, in a telephone interview. “I keep getting second thoughts. Why am I doing this? The truth is I’ve collected in three or four areas, at least. The Judaica collection was in my office and no one in my family was particularly interested in it. It was isolated from the rest of my life.”

The sale’s 386 lots encompass seven centuries of domestic, ceremonial and religious aspects of Jewish culture and come from all over the globe. The auction is expected to bring more than $11 million on April 29 at Sotheby’s.

The items are on view through Sunday. There are brass charity boxes that started the Steinhardt collection in the early 1980s, embroidered textiles, medieval manuscripts, silver Sabbath lamps and even a small blue-velvet-and-sable-tail hat, large enough for a Hasidic boy. Many items are estimated at less than $10,000.

Here are some highlights:

Mishneh Torah

The most valuable piece is a 15th-century, illustrated volume of Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish law assembled by Maimonides. The first volume of this work is in the Vatican collection. It’s estimated at $4.5 million to $6 million.

A scarlet, 1861 Torah ark curtain from Calcutta with a silver dedicatory plaque has a $5,000 to $7,000 estimate.

A piece by Odessa master Israel Rouchomovsky has a perfectly articulated 3-inch gold skeleton on a silver-gilt coffin. He smuggled it in his pocket to the Salon Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris in 1903, winning a gold medal. The estimate: $150,000 to $250,000.

An 1804 gouache depicting a bustling Jewish market in Prague by George Emanuel Opiz is estimated at $30,000 to $50,000.

An elaborate 1716 marriage contract, or Ketubbah, from Venice could fetch $50,000 to $70,000. The ornate document features the two families’ coats of arms, 12 zodiac signs and figures of Aaron and Moses.

An 18th-century parcel-gilt and silver Torah shield from Poland has images of cranes, monkeys and squirrels and is dotted with colorful gems. The estimate: $40,000 to $60,000.

Abraham bar Jacob, the creator of engravings in the 1695 Amsterdam Haggadah, is represented by a work depicting Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. It is estimated at $8,000 to $12,000.

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Jeremy Gerard on theater.

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