How to pack a $38.1M Hebrew Bible for its trip from NYC to Israel? Carefully.


(New York Jewish Week) – After a whirlwind trip around the globe, the Codex Sassoon, the world’s oldest nearly complete Hebrew Bible, and the most expensive book ever sold, was packed up in New York on Tuesday to head to its permanent home: ANU-Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv.

“It was a fantastic day,” said Shulamith Bahat, CEO of ANU-America, who oversaw the packing and will fly to Israel with the Codex. “I’ve seen it many times, but this was the first time I had seen it since I knew it was coming to Israel. It’s just elevated to a totally new place.”

The Codex Sassoon, which originated in Syria some 1,100 years ago, became the most expensive book ever sold when it drew a record price of $38.1 million at a Sotheby’s New York auction in May. Alfred Moses, a former U.S. ambassador to Romania, bought it on behalf of American Friends of ANU as a gift to the museum.  

At a farewell event at Sotheby’s Upper East Side headquarters on Tuesday afternoon, a trained Sotheby’s art handler wrapped the Bible in layers of Tyvek, a synthetic, breathable paper that’s often used in construction. He then placed it inside a specialty archival cardboard box, which was itself wrapped in more layers of Tyvek. Then, the box with the 25-pound, 800-parchment-page book inside, was carefully placed in a suitcase for its journey to the Jewish state.  

“The packing was like a symbolic thing,” Bahat told the New York Jewish Week. “It was fascinating to me that so many people were interested in seeing it off. It was like sending off someone that you care very much about, that you don’t want to be apart from, but you know you’ll be able to see it and you know that they’re going to the right place.” 

Sharon Liberman Mintz, the senior Judaica specialist at Sotheby’s and the consultant on the record-breaking sale, told the New York Jewish Week that saying farewell to the Codex Sasson  was “a little bittersweet.”

“But it’s found such a wonderful new home and I’m really excited about it. There are millions of people who are excited on the Israel side, there is tremendous enthusiasm for this book to be available to the public at the ANU museum,” she said. “It was a total triumph for the Codex to go to such a great place.”

Representatives from ANU and Sotheby’s load the Codex into the elevator. (Julia Gergely)

Like many travelers to Israel, the Codex Sasson will travel via El Al, Israel’s national airline, “which is the appropriate company to take it,” Bahat said. “The pilot who is flying it said it’s like [the Codex] is making aliyah.”  

Details about which New York-Tel Aviv flight the Codex is on, as well as where in the airplane it may be — buckled in a first-class seat? Joining other, more pedestrian luggage in the cargo hold? — are not being released for security purposes.

The book is set to arrive in Israel by Oct. 10, when an opening celebration is planned for the Codex Sasson’s permanent exhibit. 

The ancient Bible was temporarily displayed at ANU in March before its purchase. Bahat said she knew it had to come back to the museum, and started working with Moses as a strategic donor to help the museum acquire it at auction. 

“This is the right place for it to be — in Israel and at the Museum of the Jewish People,” she said. “This book is the crown of the Jewish story and we are telling the entire story of the Jewish people.”

Bahat added that the Codex Sasson’s journey coincides with Simchat Torah, the holiday that marks the conclusion of the reading of the Torah, which this year is on Sunday, Oct. 8. “We couldn’t do it on Simchat Torah, so we wanted to do it as close as possible, because that is the greatest joy,” she said. “So on Oct. 10, we start a new journey: We open the exhibit and it’s the first time that the public at large from everywhere in the world will be able to see this book.”

“It does something to people that is beyond, in my opinion, comprehension,” she said of the Codex. “Every Jew is connected to it and every person in the world is connected to it.”