Feb 26, 2009

Jack Lunzer and the first set of Talmud

I know I am late to the Valmadonna game, and I don't know if I have all the details correctly, but I just heard this story and found ti amazing. I heard it from someone who is sort of related to Jack Lunzer, the owner of the Valmaddona Collection, and he had heard it firsthand from Lunzer himself.

The story is about the set of Talmud that is part of the Valmadonna Collection being auctioned off at Sotheby's.

King Henry VIII wanted to divorce his wife. The problem is that he was Catholic, and Catholics do not allow divorce in their religion.
Someone told King Henry that in the Talmud there is a big discussion about this and the Jews allow divorce.
King Henry wanted to take this discussion to the pope and request he reconsider allowing him to divorce his wife. The king contacted the printer, Daniel Bomberg, to print and send to him a set of Talmud.

They did not have pdf files and email back then, nor did they have UPS, Fedex or overnight express, and it took a long time to print, organize, and ship. Bomberg printed what became the first full set of the Talmud. It took so long that by the time it was ready, King Henry had no use for it.

King Henry had lost patience, converted to Protestant (really not exactly Protestant but he formed what became known as the Church of England, or the Anglican Church), divorced hsi wife, and married his mistress.

Henry now had no use for the Talmud, so he dumped it in the archives of the Westminster Abbey. It laid there in the basement for hundreds of years collecting dust.

Lunzer, a collector of rare books, was int he Abbey and saw on display a volume of the Talmud. He was otld the story of the Talmud by the curator, and asked if they have any more volumes. The curator took Lunzer to the basement and showed him the rest of the set, with a thick layer of dust on top of the boxes.

Lunzer immediately offered to purchase the entire set. The curator refused, saying that this Talmud is part of the Westminster Abbey, and there is no way they would ever part with it.

Lunzer went on his way. Eventually he spotted an add in the newspaper with a notice for the sale of the original charter of Westminster Abbey. Lunzer jumped at the opportunity and immediately bought the charter.

Lunzer then brought the charter to the Abbey and showed it to them. The curator said to Lunzer that he knew Lunzer would be back one day and they would be hearing from him. They obviously wanted the charter, and Lunzer was only willing to part with it in exchange for the set of Talmud. The Abbey agreed and they exchanged the charter for the talmud.

This is the amazing story of how Jack Lunzer came into possession of the first full set of the Talmud.


  1. Actually, the story is better than that.

    The sefer on display at Westminster Abbey was marked "Biblia Judaica Bomberg" or something to that effect. They did not even realize what they had, at first.

    Lunzer asked that it be taken out of the case so he could look inside. He then saw that it was a Bomberg Talmud, not Bible.

    He offered to clean it for them. When he brought in his people to do so, they showed him that they had more of them in boxes.

    He tried to buy it from them, but they refused to sell for 25 years, despite repeated offers.

    Lunzer was in Central Africa, waiting for a MOtzei Shabbos flight back to London when he saw a newspaper article about a NY buyer who had acquired the Westminster Charter and was prevented from taking it back to NY by British authorities at the London airport.

    (The only reason Lunzer happened to see this article was because he had stayed on in Central Africa an extra day so that he would not be flying on Shabbos. His staff had left earlier.)

    Lunzer called the guy from the airport (or from the plane) and told him he was on his way to London and that he would like to meet with him.

    I was at the exhibition and this was the version that was said over by the Sotheby curator. Lunzer was there as well.

  2. Oh, and it was not a straight swap.

    Lunzer had to offer "additional consideration."

    And, according to the Sotheby curator, when Lunzer showed up at the Abbey with the charter, the librarian told him, "Mr Lunzer! We've been expecting you!"

  3. thanks for adding the additional details..

  4. The Forward has more on this:

    (The exhibition was great, by the way)

  5. the story's a little bit different but that's close enough


Related Posts

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...