A Medieval Hebrew Bible Breaks an Auction-World Record

On Wednesday, the oldest near-complete Tanakh was purchased by a group of American philanthropists from Sotheby’s for $38.1 million. They plan to donate it to the Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv. Jennifer Schuessler writes:

The volume, known as the Codex Sassoon, includes all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible, minus about eight leaves, including the first ten chapters of Genesis. Researchers have dated it to the late 9th or early 10th century, making it the oldest near-complete Hebrew Bible known to exist. Since 1989, it has been owned by the Swiss financier and collector Jacqui Safra, and has been seen by few scholars.

The price tag of $38.1 million, including buyer’s fees, may seem like a relative pittance compared with the stratospheric prices reached regularly at high-profile art auctions. But such figures are obtained only rarely for books and historical documents. . . . Even in its own time, the book was an expensive object, requiring the skins of easily more than 100 animals to create its roughly 400 parchment leaves. The text was written by a single scribe.

The Bible—one of only two complete or substantially complete Hebrew Bibles of the period known to survive—was made in present-day Israel or Syria. It contains what is known as the Masoretic text, after the Masoretes, a lineage of scholar-scribes who lived in Palestine and Babylonia from roughly the 6th to the 9th centuries, and who created systems of annotation to make sure the text would be read and transmitted properly.

The book also includes several inscriptions tracing changes in ownership across the centuries. The earliest is a deed of sale from around 1000 CE, indicating that it was sold by Khalaf ben Abraham, a businessman who worked in Palestine and Syria, to Isaac ben Ezekiel el-Attar, who ultimately gave it to his sons.

Read more at New York Times

More about: Masoretes, Rare books, Tanakh

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy