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Three-and-a-half-inch Gemara up for auction

Royal Auction House is calling the edition the “world’s smallest ever printed.”

Studying Gemara in the Old City of Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Studying Gemara in the Old City of Jerusalem. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The Talmud, which consists of 63 tractates, is generally thought to be a vast body of religious literature. Yet an auction house in Toms River, N.J., is selling an edition of the Gemara that takes a page from the Volkswagen Beetle ad campaign: “Think small.”

On Sept. 4, Royal Auction House will sell what it calls the “world’s smallest Gemara ever printed.”

The tiny edition of tractate Sukkah was printed in 1722 in Frankfurt, Germany. The auction house describes the book as nine centimeters in size (roughly 3.5 inches), although it doesn’t specify which dimension of the book that measurement refers to.

The book’s title page specifies that the tiny size facilitated the transportation of the work.

“A complete copy in a condition such as this is of utmost rarity. Out of all Masechtos, only tractate Sukkah was published in this miniature format,” per the auction house. “The reason for the printing of this specific tractate is unknown, however we can surmise that learning and memorizing tractate Sukkah in such a way was highly common in Eastern Europe.”

An aid for memorization, the book contains just the text of the Gemara, without the commentaries typical in most printed Gemaras.

Some have connected the leather-bound book to the reign of King Frederick William I of Prussia. The auction house expects the volume to sell for between $4,000 and $6,000.

In what the seller refers to as a “truly unique anecdote which brings us back to the 18th century,” the text’s original owner wrote on the last page that the bookbinder had cut things too close, covering some words. The inscription reproduces the lost words.

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