In a recent auction, the Israel Museum acquired a rare and elaborately decorated manuscript of the book of Esther, written by the fourteen-year-old Luna bat Yehuda Ambron in the 1760s. Judith Sudilovsky reports:
Little is known about the teenager other than that she belonged to a prominent wealthy Jewish family in Rome, who had come to Italy just before and after the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Her father owned several businesses, including a successful furniture-making business that also produced pieces for the Catholic Church and ecclesiastical use. Luna married Ya’acov David ben Mordechai Di Segni ten years after finishing the scroll, and they moved to the port city of Livorno on the west coast of Tuscany, where they helped expand her father’s business.
As for the history of the beautifully illustrated manuscript she wrote, all that is known is that it was held in private collections until it surfaced at an auction by the Jerusalem Kedem Auction House last December. With stiff competition from private collectors, it is nothing short of a miracle that the Israel Museum in Jerusalem was able to acquire the scroll from an Italian Jewish family with generous funding from the Mandel Foundation, making it available for public viewing for the first time.
Only two other scrolls of Esther are known to have been written by women, both originating in Italy and in private collections. One, copied by Estellina bat Menachem ben Jekutiel of Venice, is thought to be the earliest fully decorated megillah in existence. It is part of the Swiss Braginsky Collection, considered to be the largest private collection of Hebrew illustrated manuscripts, parts of which have been loaned to museums and can be viewed on the collection’s website.