Effort Mounted to Purchase Rare Sassoon Collection of Manuscripts

Education Minister Aharon Yadlin and the Hebrew University are seeking to raise money in Israel and among philanthropists abroad to purchase the rare Sassoon collection of ancient Jewish manuscripts. The price asked by the owners, the son and daughter of the late David Sassoon, was more than the Hebrew University could afford, according to the director of its library, Prof. Reuven Yaron.

Other Israeli educational institutions were similarly unable to meet the price and the collection is due to be auctioned in Zurich, Switzerland next month unless a buyer in Israel can be found.

The Hebrew University, at the behest of Yadlin, announced today that it was establishing special accounts in six Israeli banks where contributors could make deposits toward the purchase of the manuscripts. Yadlin is also reported to have sought financial assistance from the Treasury at a meeting he had with Finance Minister Yehoshua Rabinowitz yesterday. A senior official of the Education Ministry has contacted several philanthropists in the United States, mainly persons of Syrian-Jewish origin, to assist in the project.

The collection of some 38 items, includes the Chumash Damask (the ancient manuscript of the Pentateuch prepared in Damascus) two books of the Mishneh; and the manuscript of the Mishneh Torah-Yad of Maimonides (Rambam).

TRYING TO FIND FUNDS

Sassoon’s heirs inherited hundreds of documents from their father and a number have already been sold as single items. According to Prof. Yaron “the owners demanded millions of Pounds which we cannot afford to allocate for that purpose.” He said last week that the Hebrew University was not considering a fund-raising drive among its supporters “because knowing the people who might help in acquiring such a collection, I knew we had no chance to meet the price.”

But Yadlin’s intervention has apparently changed that view. The issue was also raised at the opening of the Knesset’s winter session Monday when Likud MK Avraham Katz introduced an urgent agenda motion calling on the state to finance the purchase of the Sassoon collection. Leaders of the Samaritan community have called on President Ephraim Katzir, Yadlin and various university heads to save the Samaritan manuscripts included in the collection from being sold abroad.

Meanwhile, Knesset Speaker Yisrael Yeshayahu and several Knesseters of various parties met today with Rabbi Solomon Sassoon, formerly of Letchworth, England, now of Jerusalem, owner of the collection, in an effort to persuade him not to sell it abroad, Sources said later that all concerned including Sassoon, were anxious that the collection not end up in non-Israeli hands.

It was apparent, though, that the effort to save the collection had been mounted late–perhaps too late. With Southeby’s of London preparing the sale and the catalogue already printed and distributed, it would be hard to recall the collection from the market. Israeli organization, if they wish to save it, will apparently have to bid for it on the floor.

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