I am an expert in everything that has value: rare stamps, coins, fine and estate jewelry, vintage watches, art, antiques furniture, sculptures, etc. Most notably is my knowledge on the subject of Judaica. Judaica refers to objects used in the performance of Jewish rituals, mitzvahs, commandments, on various Jewish holidays, etc. Items that would fall under that category would be silver spice boxes, Havdalah candles, Hanukkah menorahs, rare letters containing interest from various Rabbis, anything used to perform mitzvahs, or is somehow connected to the Jewish religion.
I've been asked to write this article by my esteemed Rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Taub, who is also a major contributor to this magazine. After being asked to write an introductory and possibly regular column for this magazine, I wanted to find something exceptional, rare, and unusual, especially this being our first article. The Item we are going to be talking about today is the most interesting Judaica piece I have ever seen. We are calling it the “Jewish Swiss Army Knife”! What I mean by that is the original Swiss Army Knife, which was made in approximately 1891, as a knife that had numerous other capabilities other than just cutting. It could have a corkscrew, scissors, nail clippers, bottle openers, etc. Jerry Seinfeild, one of my favorite Jewish comedians, had a skit in which he would say you have to be very careful around a swiss army soldier cause if you attacked one they would say “don’t come any closer, I have the ability to cut your toenails”! The reason we are comparing this piece to a Swiss Army Knife is because this unique piece has an incredibly unusual variety of Judaica pieces all within the one piece. It was made to be used for virtually every jewish holiday and it appears to have markings and engravings that could date it back to the 17th century!
We did not realize all of the items within this piece until it actually fell slightly off our desk and onto the floor and the bottom cover opened up and displayed an oil Hanukkah menorah. When opened up from the top, we found a very large Kiddush cup, a slightly smaller Kiddush cup inside, and inside the smaller cup was a round metal piece which upon inspection contained a scroll. Upon opening the scroll and observing more carefully, we discovered an original scroll of the Megillat Esther which is read on the holiday of Purim. The scroll is hand written on parchment and appears to be several hundred years old.
The cover of the top, when opened up, appears to be a unique Spice Box holder, and the bottom cover which is extremely unique as well, says kadesh ner tamid which basically translates to “a holy internal light”. It has eight wicks and another wick in the middle. On the reverse, the bottom says in Hebrew, Lehadlik ner shoshabas mosha emus torra emus lehadlik ner shel chanukah. After carefully reviewing this piece, we believe that the bottom piece was used both as a candle stick and lighting for three occasions over the holidays. The first being it would be served as the Shabbos candles, where the mother or woman would use the candle to welcome in the Sabbath. The second being it would be used as the havdalah candle to give farewell to the sabbath. The third being it would be used as the Hanukkah menorah where during the eight days of Hanukkah you would light one wick and the shamash would be in the middle. During the lighting of the candles, one would pour the olive oil on top of the case and the oil would go below where the flames are mounted and the flames would basically suck the oil from the bottom of the dish. This is a pretty amazing piece and with the revealing of the bottom cover, everything else within this unique piece falls into place.
After careful analysis we have come to determine the following:
Component no. 1: The very large cup or Kos for Kiddush. Since there is already a Kiddush cup, this one specifically had to be for something more special. Our best opinion is this is the Kos Eliyahu, of Elija the prophet that is used during Passover seder, where the cup is filled with wine, as it is a custom to use a very large, beautiful, and elaborate cup.
Component no. 2: When you open the cup, inside is the cup that is used during Kiddush, on the Friday night Sabbath that is used to welcome the Shabbos.
Component no. 3: The base which is a candle holder that will both serve as the holder and light during the welcoming of the sabbath as well as the blessing of the lehadlik ner shel shabbat.
Component no. 4: The top of the case, which is used as a menorah, containing 8 wicks and the shamash, used during Hanukkah.
Component no. 5: is on the top of the largest cup, kos Eliyahu, which is the spice box that would be used for Havdalah as well and the bottom of the base which would be used as the Havdalah candle holder.
Component no. 6: A scroll is revealed when you open it up. The scroll is the Megillat Esther, used during Purim. The complete scroll is written on parchment that appears to be several hundred years old.
As for some physical attributes of the piece, it is marked in several places the number “800”, which typically stands for European silver, meaning that it is 80% silver and it appears to be plated slightly in gold tone or aged. The top cover has several large emeralds encased on the top, with several pearls and antique diamonds. It has two markings on it, one in Hebrew and one in Portuguese, of Rafael de Majorca. We have spent a lot of time trying to figure out who this may be as it appears to be at some point in time he may have owned this piece, where it was perhaps gifted to him or was purchased by him and had it engraved.
Our consensus, after researching Rafael de Majorca, is that there was a very prominent Rabbi, known as Rabbi Rafael Valls, who was living in Majorca, a small island in Spain. As far as we know, he was burned at the stake in Spain in 1691, he was fifty-one years old at the time. We believe that Rabbi Rafael Valls, during the period of the Spanish inquisition, had purportedly refused to give up his religion and convert to Christianity which led to his unlawful execution.
All in all, this appears to be incredibly unique piece of Judaica that deserves the title of a “Jewish Swiss Army Knife”, as it serves the purpose of the observance of approximately ten different commandments mitzvahs, over the course of the beginning and end of Shabbos, Hanukkah, Passover, and Purim. It is one of the most unique pieces of Judaica we have ever seen! Based on all the distinct characteristics, we would estimate its value to be upwards of $25,000.00 or more.
If you should have any pieces of Judaica that you wish to either have appraised or possibly sell, you can call us or text us at 917-439-9610, email us at Lee@APR57.com, or make an appointment to visit our gallery APR57 gallery located in midtown Manhattan on 200 West 57th Street. You can listen to our radio show, “Amazing Appraising”, on WOR radio, the number one talk station in New York at 7:10am radio. Our show is on every Sunday evening at 8 PM. If you have any questions about Judaica or appraising anything else regarding stamps, coins, jewelry, watches, art, sculptures, antiques, silver flatware, old letters, autographs, furniture, and basically anything of value. We will be happy to help and provide free informal appraisals to all of Omni’s many and distinguished readers! We hope you enjoyed our column and your comments are welcomed!