Nightfall on Wednesday, December 20th will end eight nights of candle lighting, latke eating, and doughnut making – all the activities that I look forward to that brighten my winter. But in Cedarhurst, NY, Chanukah lasts an extra day this year. No, don’t get me wrong, no rabbinic court collectively decided to make Chanukah an extra day in the “ir kodesh” of Cedarhurst, but instead, Jonathan Greenstein will be auctioning a collection of menorahs that have been on display in his gallery since November. Greenstein owns and operates the only auction house in the US and possibly the world that solely deals in Judaica. Known as the “menorah man,” Jonathan is famed for auctioning off menorahs each year around the time of Chanukah. This year’s collection was recently featured on Good Day New York for their segment on erev Chanukah, and is valued at approximately half a million dollars.
While most of the collection will be up for auction, the more expensive menorahs will be for private sale through his gallery. Some of the menorahs, however,
Menorah from Ukraine, $150Kmight not look exactly like the menorahs that you light at home. Centuries ago in Eastern Europe, the long, curved branches of the traditional menorah were not in style. Instead, most Chanukah menorahs had all the candle-holders evenly laid out on a flat surface, while an elaborately designed backplate would support the holder for the Shamash. This can be observed in one of the menorahs made in 1840 in what is now modern-day Ukraine. It has two Shamash holders for the specific night of Chanukah that falls on a Sabbath Eve. The backplate, made of gilded silver, is designed with lions that support a branched menorah, underneath a double-headed eagle topped with a tsarist crown. Jonathan is selling this menorah for approximately $150K, but call the auction house soon, because private negotiations might drive the price up.
Another menorah in the shape of a Hydra was made in Altenburg Germany in the 1880’s. It found its way into the collection of Michael Steinhardt before winding up in Jonathan Greenstein’s hands. This piece is so fascinating because it makes use of non-Jewish art, specifically a mystical being, into something that will be used to perform a mitzvah. This may have crossed the line into avodah zara if it were brought to the shtetls of Eastern Europe, but the Jewish communities in Germany were relatively assimilated in the 1880s. This menorah is a classic example of German Jews embracing themes in Western art – as hydras were frequently painted by French and German Symbolist painters throughout the 1860’s and 1870’s. The going price for this beautiful example of German-Jewish art is $100K.
The auction will take place on Thursday, December 21 in Cedarhurst, but bidders can participate online and over the phone. More information can be found on J. Greenstein and Co.’s website.