Page 200 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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book was accompanied by an elaborate family ceremony. The
family members all sat around a long table. The words o f greet­
ing lasted a long time. Then the master o f the house left together
with his son and returned to the room bearing an object wrapped
in silk. Slowly removing the pretty wrappings and then an addi­
tional plain cloth, he reverentially placed the book before me. I
examined it and saw it to be a rare, almost complete incunabu-
lum. The owner quietly spoke o f the book’s value and noted in
conclusion: “A British tourist has offered me 400 pounds for it.” I
was surprised at the high offer. Breaking my silence, I suggested
that the tourist’s offer was worth accepting. The owner was not
satisfied with my remark and urged me to quote a price, since he
preferred me, a Jerusalemite, to the stranger. Finally I offered
him 50 pounds, which was the then accepted price. The reaction
o f the family was fearsome — they all appeared agitated, as
though on the verge o f fainting. I could not determine i f it was
real or artificial — a kind o f performance. We parted amicably.
But this was not the end o f the story. During the next few
months the book was offered for sale to public libraries and to
private collectors. A year passed, and suddenly the owner sug­
gested a second meeting, this time not at his home but in a shop in
the center o f town. He related a remarkable tale which I report in
brief: “ I dreamt a dream in which my wife o f blessed memory
appeared. She seemed to be very somber and she ordered: Sell
the holy book to that certain doctor, and to no one else. My wife
then disappeared and the dream was concluded. Now I am in
your hands. I f you wish — pay me 100 pounds, or i f you wish,
only a gerush.” Following the protracted efforts to make a sale
and the warning in the dream, the deal was now quickly com­
pleted. Both seller and buyer were satisfied. (I paid 65 pounds.)
Sometimes I did not acquire books directly from private hands
but went through intermediaries who were working for a fee.
Notable among these intermediaries was Yehonatan Hakohen
Lapin, a keen scholar who supported himself by teaching chil­
dren. Our first meeting was not cordial, for he saw at first glance
that I did not belong to the Orthodox camp. Gradually, however,
we had many meetings in which we transacted our business in a
pleasant fashion.