The Arty Semite

Sotheby's to Auction Historic Gibraltar Judaica

By Malka Percal

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Courtesy of Sotheby's

Sotheby’s New York sale of important Judaica, an annual event featuring ceremonial metalwork, manuscripts and printed books, takes place this year on December 15. Leading the auction are a pair of Italian-made silver Torah finials belonging to Sha’ar HaShamayim, the Great Synagogue of Gibraltar. Other items such as 15th-century Torah scroll from Poland are also for auction.

Thought to be made in Turin, the finials date from 1780 to 1820, around the time of the Great Siege of Gibraltar (1779-1782), when Spain attempted to re-conquer the peninsula from England. During the siege, many members of the congregation took refuge in Livorno (Leghorn), Italy. Similar finials, also of Torinesi make, can be found today in the Comunità Ebraica in Florence, Italy, and in New York’s Jewish Museum.

The 22-inch-tall finials, which likely adorned the reader’s desk, feature domed bases chased with a band of ribbon-tied foliage below palm and acanthus. Both hexagonal sections are chased with arches topped by partly matted foliage and applied with gilt motifs of Temple elements. Their estimated sale price is $400,000 to $600,000.

Sha’ar HaShamayim is the third-oldest continuously operating Sephardic synagogue in Europe. The Italian finials, along with another pair of silver finials, made by the Dutch silversmith Pieter Jansz van Haven (1653-1735), are being auctioned to provide for the current needs of the synagogue, whose Shabbat services traditionally conclude with a rendition of “God Save the Queen” in Hebrew.

The young boy in the photograph — wearing what appears to be a Royal Navy cap — holds a Torah topped with the Italian finials. The photograph documents their festive return to the synagogue after World War II, when Gibraltar’s civilian population was evacuated to British domains.

Although some Gibraltarian Jews chose to remain in London after the war, many returned, and today the thriving, mostly Sephardic community numbers some 600 people, including prominent Gibraltarians such as former mayor Solomon “Momi” Levy and the late former governor, Sir Joshua Hassan. Gibraltar, which remains a British protectorate, boasts four synagogues, a Jewish pre-school, primary and secondary schools, a kollel for higher Jewish education, and several kosher bakeries and restaurants.


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