This piece of Joan Rivers’ Judaica is up for grabs at a Long Island auction. Photo courtesy of J. Greenstein & Co.

Buy Joan Rivers’ seder plate — for only $5,000

This is not a joke: A seder plate owned by the late Joan Rivers will be auctioned off after Passover this year.

The Jewish comedy legend’s seder plate, made in the 1980s by Spode Judaica in the United Kingdom, will be auctioned April 24 at J. Greenstein & Co. in Cedarhurst, New York.

“If it didn’t belong to Joan Rivers, a used one like this would probably be worth about 100 bucks,” auction house owner Jonathan Greenstein said in a news release. “But this one is worth about $5,000 because it belonged to her.”

Greenstein & Co. will also auction off a passport that belonged to Zeev Jabotinsky, the Russian author and founder of the Revisionist Zionist movement.

As The New York Times notes, J. Greenstein & Co. has previously auctioned off a menorah owned by Sammy Davis Jr., a piano owned by Shlomo Carlebach and a Judaica collection owned by Alan Dershowitz.

Rivers, born Joan Molinsky in Brooklyn, died at 81 in September 2014 following complications from throat surgery.

‘Anti-Semitic’ Taft letter opposing Brandeis nomination to be auctioned

A letter written by former President William Howard Taft opposing the nomination of Louis Brandeis to become a Supreme Court justice and called anti-Semitic is on the auction block.

The four-page letter, which Taft wrote to the Washington-based Jewish journalist Gus Karger and making reference to Brandeis’ Jewishness, is part of an online auction Thursday by Nate D. Sanders Auctions in Los Angeles.

Bidding for the letter, which the auction house calls “historically important and anti-Semitic,” has been set to start at $15,000. It is said to be in fair to good condition.

Brandeis, who would go on to be the first Jewish justice on the high court, was nominated by Taft’s successor, President Woodrow Wilson. Taft reportedly felt slighted at not being the nominee.

In the letter, Taft rips Wilson’s ”Machiavellian” and ”satanic skill” in his selection of Brandeis, whom he calls ”cunning,” a ”hypocrite” and a ”power for evil.”

Taft wrote: “The intelligent Jews of this country are as much opposed to Brandeis’ nomination as I am, but there are politics in the Jewish community, which with their clannishness embarrass leading and liberal and clear-sighted Jews. I venture to think that the leading Jews of New York, Boston, Chicago, St. Louis, Cincinnati and the other cities, who are not bound up in emotional uplifting, and who do not now tend to socialism, are as much troubled over this appointment and as indignant as any of us can be, but Brandeis’ foresight as to himself has strangled their expression lest they arouse bitter criticism against themselves by their own people.”

Taft called Brandeis’ “extreme Judaism” a “plant of very late growth,” alleging that he embraced Judaism  in order to secure an appointment as U.S. attorney general, which he did not get, Taft says, because “the leading Jews of the country told Wilson that Brandeis was not a representative Jew.”

Taft said “Brandeis has adopted Zionism, favors the new Jerusalem, and has metaphorically been re-circumcised. He has gone all over the country making speeches, arousing the Jewish spirit, even wearing a hat in the Synagogue while making a speech in order to attract those bearded Rabbis whose invitation to the silver wedding in such numbers you promoted. If it were necessary, I am sure he would have grown a beard to convince them that he was a Jew of Jews.”

In 1916, the Senate approved the Brandeis nomination by a vote of 47-22.

Anne Frank-signed children’s book to be auctioned

A children’s book in which Anne Frank signed her name is going on the auction block in New York valued at $20,000 to $30,000.

A “well-worn” copy of Grimm’s fairy tales owned by the Jewish teen diarist who died in the Holocaust will be auctioned May 5 through Swann Auction Galleries, Agence France Press reported Wednesday.

The auction house said the book is only the third document with Anne Frank’s writing on it to go on public sale and the first in nearly three decades.

In 1988, Swann sold a collection of letters and postcards that Anne and her older sister, Margot, sent to pen pals in the United States for $165,000.

Frank’s book is being auctioned less than two months after Adolf Hitler’s personal copy of “Mein Kampf” is to be auctioned in Maryland. The Hitler volume is valued at $12,000 to $15,000 but is expected to fetch much more.

Anne and Margot left behind the Grimm’s fairy tale book when they famously went into hiding in a section of an Amsterdam warehouse they dubbed the “Secret Annexe” with their parents and four other Jews in 1942. She wrote her name and Margot’s on a blank page at the front of the book, which will be displayed at Swann’s New York showroom three days before the auction.

The auction house said the handwriting matches other samples written by Frank. The book was published in 1925 in Vienna, but it is not known when Frank acquired it or wrote the names inside.

“What just infuses it with so much incredible emotion and history and potential value is the fact that it is signed by Anne Frank, it was her personal copy,” said Nicholas Lowry, president of Swann Auction Galleries, according to AFP.

Frank’s diary, first published in 1947, has sold more than 30 million copies and been translated into 67 languages. An aspiring writer, Frank wrote short stories in addition to diary entries while in hiding, before the family was found in 1944 and deported to concentration camps.

“This book, a book of Grimm’s fairy tales, was very likely the well source of all of her inspiration,” Lowry said. “This book really is the springboard from which her nascent literary career and dreams of being a writer were launched.”

The 148-page book is illustrated and has a few ink stains and dog-eared pages.

The book’s former ownership was discovered in the 1970s when individuals who purchased it in a used book store offered to return it to Otto Frank, Frank’s father and the sole survivor of the group that hid in the “Secret Annexe.”

In a 1977 letter, which will be included with the book, Otto Frank told the owners they should keep it.

Chabad Rebbe’s death certificate on auction block

The death certificate of Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson — the revered Chabad leader often referred to as “the Rebbe” — is on the auction block.

The official certificate, issued Aug. 2, 1995, and mailed by the New York Department of Health to Schneerson’s niece in Israel, is being auctioned by Virtual Judaica on its website — with 19 bids so far and a current high bid of $1,300. The auction will end on Jan. 19.

Schneerson died on June 12, 1994 at age 92. Because he had no children, his next-of-kin was his niece Dalya Rothman, who lived in Rehovot at the time the death certificate was issued.

According to the listing, the certificate bears “light age staining” and is “creased on folds.” Virtual Judaica lists an estimated price of $1,000-$5,000. The certificate is filled out by hand, in a slanting all-caps writing.

It is not clear whether Schneerson’s niece, or another owner, put the certificate up for auction. Reached on his cell phone Friday, Eli Amsel, who is listed on the Monsey, New York, auction house’s “Contact Us” site, said Virtual Judaica could not disclose who the seller is, but he said the item was “legitimately obtained.”

The item is not the first Rebbe-related document to go to auction, Amsel said, noting that some of his letters also have been sold through Virtual Judaica. He said items connected to Chabad and Schneerson are “very popular” on the site.

Schneerson’s grave, at Montefiore Cemetery in Queens, New York, is visited by thousands of people annually. Following his death, some of his adherents claimed he was the messiah. Chabad, which is best known for sending emissaries all over the world to engage Jews of all backgrounds, has operated without a rebbe since Schneerson died.

The “personal particulars” section of the death certificate includes Schneerson’s address (“770 Eastern Parkway,” the Chabad world headquarters in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn), birthplace (“Russia”), profession (“clergy”), birthdate (“April 13, 1902”), years of college and post-college education(“5+”) and parents’ names (“Levi Yitzchok Schneerson” and “Chana Yanefsky.”)

It is not clear why the death certificate was issued to Schneerson’s niece more than a year after his death.

Rare ‘Schindler’s List’ documents sold at New Hampshire auction

Documents linked to Oskar Schindler, the German industrialist known for his efforts to save Jews from World War II concentration camps, were sold at auction for more than $122,000, a New Hampshire auction house said on Thursday.

The documents included a rare one-page letter, signed by Schindler and dated Aug. 22, 1944, sent from his enamelware factory in Krakow, Poland, where he employed more than 1,000 Jewish workers from a nearby Nazi concentration camp.

The letter was written on behalf of one of Schindler's employees, Adam Dziedzic, who had “received a clearings contract for unloading and assembling war-necessary machinery and has been sent to Sudetengau.”

Schindler's story was recounted in the 1982 novel “Schindler's Ark” by Australian author Thomas Keneally and became the basis of Steven Spielberg's film “Schindler's List” in 1993 that won seven Academy Awards.

Schindler had learned in the summer of 1944 that the Nazis planned to close factories unrelated to the war effort. Through bribery and personal connections, he won permission to produce arms and move the factory and its workers to Brunnlitz, in Sudetenland, or Sudetengau, in what is now Czech Republic.

The nine or 10 lists of employees he submitted to the Nazis became known collectively as “Schindler's list.”

RR Auction of Amherst, New Hampshire, said in a statement that an anonymous buyer bought the one-page letter on Wednesday night for $59,135 and paid $63,426 for construction plans that were part of Schindler's Krakow munitions factory used as a safe haven.

“These documents are especially desirable as there are very few from this period in Schindler's life, and their dates and locations 'bookend' the story surrounding the famous 'Schindler's List,'” RR Auction vice president Bobby Livingston said.

Editing by Scott Malone and Grant McCool

Dreyfus letter to be sold at Paris auction

A letter written by Alfred Dreyfus, a French-Jewish soldier who was wrongfully convicted of spying, is expected to fetch at least $130,000 at an auction in Paris. 

The letter will be sold at auction next month by Sotheby’s Paris branch.

Dreyfus, a captain who was cleared of accusations that he spied for Germany, sent the letter from prison in 1895 to the French Interior Ministry, the French news agency AFP reported Wednesday.

His 1894 trial and eventual conviction for acts of treason — which came to be known as the Dreyfus Affair — were at the center of a tense political drama that included accusations of anti-Semitism toward the young Jewish officer. In 1906, Dreyfus was exonerated on all charges, rejoined the army and was promoted.

Last month, France’s Defense Ministry posted online hundreds of documents from his trial, which was later described as a determinant in the genesis of political Zionism.

Nazi-looted, then returned, painting selling at auction

A 16th-century painting that was stolen from its Italian-Jewish owner, sold by France’s Vichy government and recently returned to his heirs is being auctioned off.

Girolamo de’ Romani’s “Christ Carrying the Cross Dragged by a Rogue,” which was restituted in April to the heirs of Federico Gentili di Giuseppe, is slated to be auctioned Tuesday at Christie’s Old Masters sale.

It is expected to sell for about $3 million.

The painting was seized Nov. 4 by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security from the Mary Brogan Museum of Art and Science in Tallahassee, where it was on display with some 50 other paintings on loan from the Pinacoteca di Brera Museum in Milan, Italy.

Giuseppe, who was living in Paris, died in 1940 shortly before Germany invaded France. Some family members fled France for England, while others were killed in Nazi death camps. The painting and more than 70 other works belonging to Giuseppe were looted and sold by the French Vichy government in 1941. His grandchildren filed a lawsuit in 1997 to have the paintings returned to them.

In 1999, a French court ordered the Louvre to return five paintings to the family.

Auction of Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry sets record

Elizabeth Taylor’s jewelry set a record for a single collection sold at auction.

The jewelry was sold Tuesday night at Christie’s auction house for nearly $116 million. Most of the 80 lots sold for at least 10 times the catalog estimates, according to The New York Times.

The sale more than doubled the previous record for a private jewelry collection sold at auction, the newspaper reported.

A 50-carat pearl given to Taylor by husband Richard Burton sold for nearly $12 million. And a 33-carat diamond ring from Burton, rated potentially flawless, sold for nearly $9 million.

Clothing, memorabilia and more jewelry owned by Taylor will be on sale through Friday. Part of the proceeds will go to the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation, as well as Taylor’s private trust.

The Academy Award-winning actress converted to Judaism in the late 1950s and was a supporter of Israel.

Hitler’s personal items to be auctioned

A Connecticut auction house is putting items that belonged to Adolf Hitler, Joseph Goebbels and other senior Nazi officials on the block.

Among the items to be auctioned at the end of the week by Alexander Autographs in Stamford are Hitler’s personal account book; the desk set used when he signed the Munich Agreement, under which Britain and France ceded Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland to Germany; a photo signed by Hitler and his Putsch co-defendants; and letters that Goebbels, the propaganda minister, received from his Jewish girlfriend.

The account book is expected to go for up to $7,000, according to Haaretz. It contains records of, among other things, art purchases, payments to his personal doctors and the receipt of blood money.

Some 82 letters between Goebbels and Jewish teacher Else Janke also are expected to fetch $7,000. Goebbels cut off contact with Janke upon learning that she was Jewish.

In February, the auction house sold the diary of Josef Mengele, the notorious “Angel of Death,” to the grandson of an Auschwitz survivor.

Ron Artest: Lord of the Ring

Heading east on the 10 at 6:40 in the a.m., the traffic had been pretty light.

KTLA Studios was my destination and I had wanted to be there by 7:00.  Before the NBA superstar got there.  I was pretty sure he was going to be late, but I had told the KTLA crew to let me know when Ron Artest showed up. “He’s already here,” they told me.  The guy actually had come early.

Ron had graciously accepted my invitation to appear on the morning news to raise money for a great charity, the Chabad Residential Treatment Center in Los Angeles.  “We’re gonna put the fun in fundraising,” I had told him.  ”All you have to do is make free throws.”

Ron had just signed with the Lakers, and after contacting him he had immediately agreed to help.  His job would be to make as many free-throws as he could in 60 seconds.  With each free-throw scored, L.A. businessman and philanthropist Shlomo Rechnitz would donate $1,000 to the CRTC.

At that point, we had about an hour to showtime, so we sat and talked about the importance of charity.  And, of course, I had to ask him about the Celtics and who he would guard in the finals. “We got a long way to go before that, but I got Pierce,” he told me with a smile.  (The Lakers went on to beat the Celtics and win the championship, with Artest having his best game in Game 7.  I like to think that morning mitzvah got the ball rolling.)

“What’s your favorite charity?” I asked Ron.  He told me he didn’t really have one.  So we talked about the Jewish idea behind charity.

I told him the word “charity” doesn’t exist in Hebrew.  The word is “tzedakah,” and it means justice or righteousness.  He really dug that: You aren’t being magnanimous.  You’re doing what’s right.

Since then, every time Ron scores a basket, makes a steal, blocks a shot, I get an extra thrill and my smile lasts longer.


Fast forward to last week: Ron does something that is absolutely astounding.  Jaw-dropping.  Inspiring.  And absolutely otherworldly.

When a celebrity steps up and uses his/her blessings for a good cause I salute them, I honor them. I cherish what they are doing. Angelina Jolie, Bono, Oprah score very high on the “off the top of your head, can-you-think-of-a-celeb-who-gives-back” test. Former NFL running back Warrick Dunn, or former Laker Jordan Farmar come to mind as well. Farmar may not have the billions that Oprah has but he has the same passion. These stars understand that their celebrity and fortune are tools for doing more good, spreading more light.

So here comes a guy named Ron Artest and does something that takes the world of celebrity, no, the entire world, by storm, making a statement the likes of which have never been heard: He goes ahead and auctions off his NBA CHAMPIONSHIP RING for charity.

Here’s a guy that has auctioned off the most important piece of jewelry in the NBA world. Ron said, “It’s just a ring, I can do more good by selling it for charity”.

The auctioning of his ring, which was won by Raymond Mikhael, raised over $650,000 for charity!

Ron deserves tremendous recognition. He deserves accolades.

But most importantly, I hope that his teammates, fellow NBA stars, celebrity friends, movie stars and everyone on our planet will learn a lesson from this incredible act of kindness.

Ron, I salute you and what you did.  You are an inspiration to millions of people. May you be blessed.

Chaim Marcus is the CEO of Marcus Advertising and producer of the annual Chabad Telethon. He also serves on the board of a number of Southern California charities. Mr. Marcus has worked closely with Larry King, Elliot Gould, Howie Mandel, Jordan Farmar, Jon Voight, and Lou Gosset Jr., raising millions of dollars for Southern California charities. He can be reached at

On Auction: Letters of Nazi “Doctor” Joseph Mengele

A Connecticut auction company is auctioning a rare handwritten letter from Josef Mengele.  The auction begins at 11:00 AM on June 4th in Stamford, Connecticut.

The letter from Nazi doctor Josef Mengele, known as the “Angel of Death” for his nefarious activities at Auschwitz, is written to his wife and signed with his pet name “Papili”.  In his letter, Mengele writes about receiving a medal for his work and dedication.  Mengele says that the medal represents “… a small ray of light in my bleak daily routine in this concentration camp business.”

According to the auction catalog, “The proud doctor also sketched upon the text of his letter a full-sized image of the medal he was awarded for his “contributions.”

Alexander Autographs has recently auctioned other revealing letters and manuscripts from Mengele.  A manuscript diary that said “Everything will end in catastrophe if natural selection is altered to the point that gifted people are overwhelmed by billions of morons” was purchased for an undisclosed sum by a close relative of an Auschwitz concentration camp survivor.

The estimated price for this letter is $8,000 – 12,000.


The Circuit


Temple Emanuel celebrated its annual Mitzvah Day last month, with the Beverly Hills congregation coming together to perform benevolent activities focusing on those in need. One event, the Sock and Sack Day, was held at the Midnight Mission in downtown Los Angeles.

Temple Emanuel congregants, together with Rabbi Laura Geller, made lunches and gave away new white socks to nearly 600 homeless people, including children, who live on the streets of downtown. The Midnight Mission and its marvelous team publicized the event and brought the homeless into its facilities for the giveaway.

The captain of Sock and Sack Day was 15-year-old congregant Erik Krasney, who has been actively involved with the cause of the homeless in Los Angeles.


The Fulfillment Fund honored Imagine’s award-winning producer Brian Grazer at the annual “Stars Gala” at the Beverly Hilton last month. The evening was emceed by Chris Rock and included an auction, featuring surprise guest Sinbad auctioning items with board member Tom Sherak.

The event raised more than $2 million for the Fulfillment Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping economically disadvantaged students graduate from high school and go on to college.

For more information, visit

Charity, Going Once, Going Twice…


Artist Joanie Rosenthal will exhibit her latest piece at an unexpected place: eBay.

Rosenthal, a New Jersey artist who has drawn illustrations for Time, U.S. News & World Report and The New York Times Magazine and created book covers for Scholastic, Penguin Putnam and other publishing companies, has decorated a metal tzedakah box as part of a fundraising campaign for the Jewish Federation of Central New Jersey.

The eBay auction comes as Jewish groups increasingly turn to online auctions as a way to raise money: This week, the Jewish Community Centers Association of North America announced a new agreement with an Internet company that will make it easier for JCCs in North America to use online auctions for fundraising.

Rosenthal was inspired by the simplicity of the plain, round metal box she was given.

“When I saw the tzedakah box, I appreciated how beautiful it was, standing on its own,” she said.

When deciding how to decorate the box, Rosenthal reflected on her roles as an artist and a volunteer.

“Artists don’t always know why they are creating, they just do,” she said. “No one knows if they’re going to find a gallery to show their work — they might not, but it doesn’t matter, they still create. The same is true of tzedakah. Everyone knows the concrete reasons for doing volunteer work, but they don’t always know why they decide to do it. No one’s going to give them an award, they just keep going.”

Rosenthal saw her project as a way to involve the next generation in the process of giving. Using a metallic paint, she drew the Hebrew word tzedakah on her box.

As part of the greater United Jewish Communities’ mission to encourage “generous living,” cylindrical metal tzedakah boxes were distributed to various federations, with no specific instructions for their use. The Central New Jersey Federation had a novel idea. It distributed the boxes to local artists and asked them to decorate them.

All the artists involved in the project donated their time and materials. Federation representative Naomi Lipstein said that the campaign has not set a financial goal.

“It is very much about raising awareness,” she said. “We are just trying to highlight the federation in general, and how we make a difference in day-to-day life.”

Bidding on the tzedakah boxes begins Thursday morning, March 17, on, and a launch party will be held that afternoon. Bidding will last for one week, and the minimum bid for each box has been set at $118. — Jordana Rothstein, Jewish Telegraphic Agency


A Sporting Chanukah


On the third night of Chanukah my true love gave to me, an Olympic swim cap signed by Lenny Krayzelburg, a game of Horse with the Houston Rocket’s Bostjan Nachbar and a chance to be on the set of ESPN’s Cold Pizza.

Thanks to the Center for Sport and Jewish Life’s online Chanukah auction (, gift giving just got more interesting. Forget about the tired old Gap sweater, the Best Buy gift card or the basket of peach-smelling lotion. Imagine your son opening a baseball signed by the 2002 World Series Champion Anaheim Angels or your daughter having dinner with Survivor: Africa winner (and nice Jewish boy) Ethan Zohn. In a fund-raising effort, CSJL will be offering these and other sports-themed gifts through Dec. 20. Opening bids range from $36-$400. Items up for auction are not only unique (and tax deductible!), but their sale supports a Jewish cause.

As longtime publisher of The Jewish Sports Connection quarterly, SCJL is a charitable nonprofit organization that promotes Jewish identity and Jewish values through sport. SCJL runs the Association of Jewish Student Athletes, a support network focused on mentoring, and created T.E.A.M., a curriculum for youth athletic groups that incorporates traditional team sport principles and Jewish ideals. In addition to the auction, the center’s Web site features articles on Jewish athletes, a youth page with pieces written by readers age 12-16, and stats from the world of Israeli sports. So this year, don’t strike out with your gifts — place a bid on an item that’s sure to score big points with your loved ones. — Carin Davis, Contributing Writer

Merry Chrismukkah to You

Amy Klein, Managing Editor

A menorah is topped with candy canes, a mini Christmas tree adorned with a Jewish star and a spinning dreidel pictures Frosty the Snowman on one side and the tree on another: These are just some of the “interfaith” pictures featured on the mugs on the gift section of the Chrismukkah Web site ( Other images — which also adorn T-shirts and holiday cards — include a reindeer with a menorah for antlers, a zayde-slash-santa and other cute combo sayings like “Oy Joy” and “Merry Mazeltov,” which get across the sentiment of both Judaism and Christianity.

“Chrismukkah is a blend of favorite traditions from both Chanukah and Christmas,” writes site founder Ron Gompertz, a Jew, who is married to a Protestant, Michelle. “Michelle and I deeply respect the religious observances of Christmas and Hanukkah as individual holidays,” he writes. “Chrismukkah is not intended to replace either.”

The Gompertzes began observing Chrismukkah officially last year.

Of course they only started celebrating it last year — that was the first time there even was a holiday called Chrismukkah. While the blending of the two December occasions has been a long American tradition, last year is the first time the combo-holiday got an official name. Lexicographers (and readers of The Journal) will recall that Josh Schwartz, young Jewish creator of Fox’s teen campy drama, “The O.C.,” first coined the term for the lead interfaith poster-child character Seth Cohen (Adam Brody). Cohen pestered his entire family to get into the spirit of both holidays.

A national Jewish population survey, conducted by the United Jewish Communities (UJC) in 2000-01 and corroborated by an American Jewish Committee (AJC) survey, counted 5.2 million adult Jews living in the US and found that of all married ones, nearly one-third are married to non-Jews. The UJC poll further reported that nearly half of all Jewish newlyweds within the past five years had chosen non-Jewish spouses.

But this year, with the eight days of Chanukah celebrated from Dec. 8-15, the Jewish holiday ends way before Christmas begins. So maybe we don’t need Chrismukkah after all.

Art Auction Hits B’nai Tzedek

Karen Sturm purchased most of the artwork in her home at art auctions, where sale prices generally are lower than for work offered in retail galleries.

Sturm is hoping for frenzied bidding May 15 at a 7 p.m. art auction and dessert buffet that will benefit her Fountain Valley synagogue, Congregation B’nai Tzedek.

Lithographs and prints by a variety of artists, including a few from Israel, some Judaica and about 50 higher-priced signed works will come under the gavel. Two works, including a Chagall print valued at $400, will be also be raffled for buyers of $5 tickets, Sturm said.

The 300 items, framed and matted with care, are to be displayed around the sanctuary, lobby and social hall. Participants will receive a numbered, magazine-sized catalog that briefly describes each and also serves as a bidding paddle. To whip up competition, an auctioneer starts the process with a reverse bid, allowing someone to win a work for $1, said Jill A. Selin, auction coordinator for State of the Art, a Cleveland, Tenn., company that helps nonprofits raise funds by sharing auction proceeds.

Sturm is hoping for 100 art lovers, which will earn the synagogue a minimum of $1,000 even if no one buys anything. Serin said the average group earns $5,000.

Art sold at auctions is often by artists whose popularity is waning or are unsold, old remainders from publishers or galleries, said a local gallery owner, who asked not to be identified. "It’s a fun event, but not a great deal," the owner said.

The synagogue is located at 9669 Talbert Ave., Fountain Valley. For more information, call (714) 963-4611. Artist requests can be made to Selin at (800) 242-7682.

All the Children

On the eve of Simchat Torah, many synagogues auction the three major honors of the day, with proceeds benefiting the synagogue or other Jewish institutions. Two honors, Hatan Torah (for the one called to the final reading in Deuteronomy) and Hatan Bereshit (for the one called to the first reading in Genesis), usually receive the highest bids. The third, Kol Hanearim — supervising the blessing of all minor children as a tallit is held over their heads, while the honoree receives the next-to-last aliyah in Vezot Haberakha — can be a close second.

One year, however, the auction for Kol Hanearim in my synagogue was unusually competitive. When finally over, I asked the man who fiercely bid the highest, why he vied for this honor.

Surprised by my question, he replied as if it were self-evident: “The one who supervises scores of little children crowded under the tallit, reciting the same blessing Jacob uttered over his grandchildren, is himself guaranteed Jewish grandchildren. Could I want less for myself?”

These words come to me again and again, whenever I contemplate the unique Torah portion, Vezot Haberakha, the only parasha not identified with a specific Shabbat. Rather, it is reserved for the joyous Simchat Torah holiday, with its unique Kol Hanearim ceremony, and as such deserves close analysis.

The Talmud, in Sukkah 42a, referring to Vezot Haberakha, provides a provocative comment: “Our rabbis taught: A minor who is able to speak, his father must teach him Torah…. What could be meant by Torah? Rav Hamnuna replied, the Scriptural verse [Deuteronomy 33:4], ‘Moses commanded us a law, an inheritance of the congregation of Jacob.'”

Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein, an early 20th-century commentator, questions why the Talmud chose this particular passage as the first Torah verse that a parent must teach a child. Epstein suggests that by referring to Torah as a morasha, an inheritance of all Jews — young and old alike — it rejects the notion that only mature adults are obligated to observe Torah. An inheritance is age-blind, and so too is the Torah.

The word “morasha,” however, may contain another dimension. An early 19th-century German scholar, the Ktav V’Kabblah, notes that the usual word for inheritance is “yerusha,” not “morasha.” In fact, “morasha” is best translated as “a possession” rather than “an inheritance.” The difference is crucial. One receives an inheritance without individual effort, but one attains a possession through personal exertion. Torah, in other words, requires personal exertion rather than effortless lineage. The only way to become fluent in Torah is to work at studying Torah.

Ketav Sofer, a 19th-century scholar, remarks that “morasha kehillat Yaakov,” “a possession of the congregation of Jacob,” means that no Jew is an island onto himself. No Jew can observe all of the mitzvot of the Torah, for the 613 commandments don’t all apply to any one person. Some only apply to Kohanim, others to Leviim, some to women, while others only to those who live in Israel. Only as a part of the congregation of Israel can we become complete Jews.

Certainly these lessons are themes that the beautiful Kol Hanearim ceremony emphasizes. First, each child has a right to Torah, an inheritance that comes with birth.

Second, Kol Hanearim suggests that Torah requires effort. Neither children nor adults will acquire knowledge unless they work at studying Torah. If they put in the effort, they will be rewarded with the greatest gift: the Torah itself.

And, finally, we must appreciate that a Jewish life must include the community of fellow Jews. The little children are blessed as part of an entire group — part of a future community — because Torah can’t be lived in isolation. Instead, our blessing emphasizes the need for everyone to be involved with the Jewish community, for only together do we comprise the congregation that both Vezot Haberakha and Simchat Torah celebrate.

Elazar Muskin is rabbi at Young Israel of Century City.