Mazel Tov! The Getty Lands A 700-Year-Old Torah

A Jewish Menorah in the Rothschild Pentateuch
Menorah of the Tabernacle (Book of Leviticus) from the Rothschild Pentateuch, France and/or Germany, 1296. (Courtesy of The Getty)

Everyone says there's nothing old in America, that the problem's even worse in L.A. — well, aside from the actual deep history of our area, we've got a new old thing. The Getty just acquired the Rothschild Pentateuch, an illuminated manuscript from 1296 created for Jewish exiles in France.

The Getty's director says this is one of "the most important illuminated Hebrew Bibles of any period," according to a press release, adding that it will be a signature treasure for both the manuscripts department and the museum as a whole. Take that, other museums!

Indications are that this was written in France for Jews in the country — because they'd been banished from England by King Edward I in 1290. The illumination of the manuscript was done by an unknown artist in France or Germany.

The book was carried from France or Germany to Italy and Poland, eventually being acquired by Baroness Edmond de Rothschild before 1920. It was given after World War II to a German-Jewish family that later settled in Israel.

"The storied voyage of this manuscript follows the history of the Jewish diaspora across time and space," Getty manuscripts senior curator Elizabeth Morrison said in the release.

The book is a treat for the eyes, and even more wondrous considering the time period. It's filled with vibrant colors and shining gold, which separate it from other medieval Hebrew books.

Decorated Text Page (Book of Genesis) from the Rothschild Pentateuch
Decorated Text Page (Book of Genesis) from the Rothschild Pentateuch. (Courtesy of The Getty)

"The manuscript's pages are filled with lively decorative motifs, hybrid animals and humanoid figures, and astonishing examples of micrography — virtuosic displays of tiny calligraphy in elaborate patterns and designs," according to the release.

This Torah, containing the Five Books of Moses, is divided into sections meant to be read weekly. That allowed its readers to consume the entire Torah in a year.

There's one page that isn't from the original 1296 text. It breaks from the style of the rest of the manuscript, including full human figures.

The extra page
Moses Addressing the Israelites (Book of Deuteronomy) from the Rothschild Pentateuch. Joel ben Simeon, Italy, about 1450- 1500. (Courtesy of The Getty)

It's a page inserted in the second half of the fifteenth century, still replicating both the texts and commentaries of the original. It was created by Joel ben Simeon, who the Getty describes as "one of the most celebrated Jewish artists known from the period."

"This acquisition allows us to represent the three Abrahamic religions of the period, and for the first time brings a medieval Hebrew illuminated manuscript to the Los Angeles area," Morrison said.

And they're planning to do just that. You can't see this in person just yet — it makes its debut as part of the Getty's upcoming "Art of Three Faiths: A Torah, A Bible, and a Qur'an," starting Aug. 7. And if you're already in a holy mood, check out our story on why young SoCal pastors are stepping up their efforts on behalf of immigrants in the country illegally.


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