Auctioneers of Rare Books, Collectibles and Fine Art

Auction 73: June 22nd, 2017

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Lot: 8 (AMERICAN-JUDAICA). (Jacob Mordecai). Godís Unity & Enduring Grace, Prayer for the Sick, Funeral Service, Funeral Discourse, Resurrection of the Dead; for Mrs. R Lazarus. Manuscript in English (with occasional use of Hebrew), written in brown ink on paper. pp. (11). Lightly browned. Original wrappers with lettering piece, bearing titles, some creasing. Sm. folio.

(c., Richmond, VA: 1823). Est: $10,000 - $15,000

-The Earliest Known Chevrah Kadishah Manual in the United States.
     Written by†Jacob Mordecai (1762-1838) for his daughter Rachel Mordecai Lazarus (1788-1838) sometime after her marriage to Aaron Lazarus in 1821 (and before 1827 when the Compendium of the Order of the Burial Service, printed in NY would have been available).
     At age 13, Mordecai had served as a rifleman when the Continental Congress was resident in Philadelphia and later helped supply the Continental Army as a clerk to David Franks, the Jewish quartermaster to General George Washington. After the war, Mordecai moved to New York and married Judith Myers. In 1792, Judith and Jacob moved to Warrenton, North Carolina, where he established the Warrenton NC Female Seminary, also known as Mordecaiís Female Academy.†.
     Jacob Mordecai was widely recognized as a pioneer in education in the early United States, who studiously devoted himself to literary pursuits, especially Biblical research, and wrote many scholarly articles. It is worth noting that despite the fact that the Mordecais were the only Jewish family in and around this small town of North Carolina, they remained observant Jews, keeping a strictly kosher home where Shabbat was always observed.†.
     Rachel Mordecai, the eldest girl in a family of thirteen, was born July 1, 1788, in Goochland County, Virginia. In 1821, Rachel married the widower Aaron Lazarus, a Wilmington, North Carolina, merchant and shipper. When Aaron Lazarusís son Gershon nearly converted in 1823, Rachel Lazarus immersed herself in Judaism in order to better understandóand defendóher faith, even as she herself flirted with an ever increasing attraction to Christianity. It was very likely during this period of time that she received the present manuscript Hevra Kadisha manual from her father, whose natural inclination was certainly to bolster his daughterís flagging faith.
     Unfortunately, continued religious studies only deepened Rachelís attraction to Christianity and an emotional and physical breakdown convinced Lazarus, in 1835, to go where faith led her. She announced her intention to convert, setting off a bitter struggle with her father and husband. Aaron Lazarus threatened to take their children away if she left the faith. Lazarus relented, but for the remaining years of her life believed as a Christian in all but name. On June 23, 1838 upon her deathbed, Lazarus was baptized into the Episcopal Church, at the home of her still-Jewish siblings Samuel Mordecai and Ellen Mordecai in Petersburg, Virginia. Notwithstanding her deathbed departure from the faith of her Fathers, the present manuscript nevertheless represents an extremely important example of the transmission of traditional Jewish rites and rituals from one generation to the next among early American Jewry.

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