About six weeks ago, a middle-aged businessman with a Yiddish accent who lives in one of New York State’s upstate haredi communities made a call to Kestenbaum & Company, a Midtown auction firm that specializes in Judaica. He said he owned a 2-inch high Torah scroll he wanted to sell.
“At first, I thought this was a joke,” says Abigail Meyer, who fielded the call. She heads the auction house’s department of ceremonial objects and fine art.
The caller came in a few days later, carrying the sefer Torah, complete with sterling silver Eitz Chaim silver staves, the rods, and an intricate 17-inch high silver ark and bima, the platform that houses the scroll. Four years ago the man commissioned the pieces, the Torah from a veteran scribe in Israel and the ark and bima, together called an equipage, from an Israeli artisan.
“This is a serious piece of art,” Meyer said. “We’ve never seen anything like this.”
The sefer Torah, which Kestenbaum & Company calls the smallest kosher Torah scroll in the world (the firm has a kashrut document from an Israeli verification authority and the Guinness Book of World Records has been asked to verify its unique status) were slated to be offered for sale at the firm’s auction of Fine Judaica on Wednesday, March 12 at 3 p.m., preceded by public viewing the three previous days. For information, call (212) 366-1197 or visit kestenbaum.net.
The set, whose value is estimated between $100,000 and $150,000, is lot 406 of 471 auction lots in the sale; other objects include old posters, rare books and several 19th-century portraits.
But the scroll and equipage are the stars.
The scroll is in “pristine condition,” Meyer says.
It’s made of vellum, a thin parchment. Each sheet holds the standard, hand-written Hebrew text of the Torah, in columns, from Genesis to Deuteronomy — but the letters are 1/32 of an inch high, smaller than in a mezuzah or set of tefillin. The removable, sterling silver case that holds it contains a built-in magnifying glass to aid reading.
A normal-sized sefer Torah takes about a year to write; this one “took many,” Meyer says. It and the staves together weigh less than a half-pound.
The businessman commissioned the scroll and equipage for his “many travels abroad … and his desire to always daven with a minyan and sefer Torah available,” Meyer says. He did not say why he now wishes to sell it.
Since word of the scroll’s availability has gone out, “we’ve had a lot of interest — from the Orthodox community, and the non-Orthodox community,” Meyer says. She expects a large crowd on viewing days. “People want to see it firsthand,” she says.