550-year-old Jewish holy book Mishneh Torah - which was expected to make $5m at auction - bought by museums in New York and Jerusalem

Collection of Jewish artefacts being sold off by hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt

A 550-year-old Jewish holy book expected to reach around $5 million at auction has been bought in a private sale by two museums in Jerusalem and New York.

The copy of the Mishneh Torah, from Italy around 1457, is an early copy of the code of Jewish law assembled by Maimonides.

On the morning of the planned auction at Sotheby's in New York, The Israel Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art announced its joint acquisition.

Sotheby's declined to say how much the lot fetched, beyond that it was more than the $2.9 million (£1.8 million) paid for a Hebrew Bible in 1989 at Sotheby's London, which set an auction record for a Jewish artefect.

The book had an estimate of $4.5 million  to $6 million (£2.8 million to £3.9 million) before auction, and was part of a collection of Jewish artefacts, or Judaica, expected to reach $11 million (£7 million) at Sotheby's. The collection belongs to philanthropist and former hedge fund manager Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director and CEO of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “We are pleased and proud to collaborate with the Israel Museum on acquiring such a rare and important manuscript for both of our institutions. The Mishneh Torah is a justly celebrated work that attests to the refined aesthetic sensibility of members of Italy’s Jewish community as well as to the opulence of North Italian book decoration in the 15th century."

And Mr Steinhardt, 72, said:  “We could not be happier that this rare and remarkable manuscript will be in the care of the Israel Museum and The Metropolitan Museum of Art in perpetuity.

"One of the world’s most significant Hebrew manuscripts, the Mishneh Torah will add important new dimensions to both collections - and its shared homes in New York and Jerusalem will ensure the broadest public engagement with the work. Judy and I are also delighted for our role within the group of donors who are making this key acquisition possible.”

The 385 other lots cover seven centuries of Jewish culture and come from around the world. Many items are estimated at less than $10,000.

In the press release, Sotheby’s calls the sale “the most significant collection of Judaica to be offered at auction in half a century.”

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