The Mishneh Torah is a rare manuscript with text by the Middle Ages Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides. It is a synthesis of Jewish law and the second of a two-volume manuscript featuring six large illustrations plus 32 smaller images and marginal decorations. The first volume is housed in the Vatican.
The two institutions said they would share the Mishneh Torah on a rotating basis.
The manuscript was created in 1457 in the style of Northern Italian Renaissance miniature painting. It was restored at the conservation lab of the Israel Museum, where it has been on loan since 2007 and on public view since 2010.
"The Mishneh Torah is a rare treasure that unites Jewish literary heritage with some of the finest illuminations from the Italian Renaissance," said James Snyder, director of the Israel Museum.
Met Director Thomas Campbell said the document is "of great historical and literary importance" and "will be a major addition to the museum's permanent and encyclopedic collection."
Museums pay more than $2.9M
The manuscript was the highlight of an auction Monday at Sotheby's from the collection of investor and philanthropist Michael Steinhardt and his wife, Judy Steinhardt. The announcement of the joint purchase was made shortly before the auction started.
The Mishneh Torah had been estimated to bring $4.5 million to $6 million at the auction.
Sotheby's declined to say how much the two museums paid beyond that it was more than the $2.9 million paid for a Hebrew Bible in 1989 at Sotheby's London, which set an auction record for Judaica.
The Met also acquired an Italian silver Torah crown, circa 1740-50, for $857,000, Sotheby's said.
Also sold at the auction was a North German bronze lion-form aquamanile, or ritual vessel, from the late 12th century. Sotheby's said it was bought by The Jewish Museum in New York for $377,000.
The Steinhardts began collecting objects of Jewish history and culture three decades ago, eventually amassing a trove of manuscripts, textiles and art worth millions of dollars. The 500-piece Judaica material spans thousands of years, from antiquity to modern times, and contains objects from all over the world.