Skip navigation links (access key: Z)Library and Archives Canada / Bibliothèque et Archives CanadaSymbol of the Government of Canada
Français - Version française de cette pageHome - The main page of the Institution's websiteContact Us - Institutional contact informationHelp - Information about using the institutional websiteSearch - Search the institutional - Government of Canada website

Archived Content

This archived Web page remains online for reference, research or recordkeeping purposes. This page will not be altered or updated. Web pages that are archived on the Internet are not subject to the Government of Canada Web Standards. As per the Communications Policy of the Government of Canada, you can request alternate formats of this page on the Contact Us page.

Incunabula Hebraica: The Beginning of
Hebrew Printing

The printing art was at the time of its inception as revolutionary an achievement in human history as computer technology in our own day: it is referred to in Hebrew sources as a "heavenly craft." Books published in the earliest period of printing, from the time Gutenberg introduced printing to Europe (ca. 1455) until the year 1500, are known as incunabula, or cradle-books. Hebrew printing probably began in Rome around 1470, and before 1500 spread throughout Italy to the Iberian Peninsula and very possibly to Constantinople. Althogther only about 175 separate titles of books in Hebrew characters are known to exist from those years. Displayed in this exhibition are over 30 volumes of incunabula, in Hebrew and in Latin, including nearly one quarter of all Hebrew incunables extant in more than one copy in North America. Of these, four were published over five centuries ago, during or before the year 1481.

Mishneh Torah 1474? - 1479?

Mishneh Torah 1474? - 1479?
Moses b. Maimon [ Maimonides ] ,
of Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204

[ Mishneh Torah ]
Rome?: Solomon b. Judah and

Obadiah b. Moses, 1474?-1479?
This editio princeps of the most important medieval code of Jewish law by Maimonides was one of the first Hebrew books ever printed, although the place and date of its publication are not entirely certain. The colophon concluding the first half of this work reads: "Blessed be the Merciful One who has helped us from the start until now ... May God grant us the privilege of beginning and completing the latter half and other books in life and in peace."
Mishneh Torah 1474? - 1479?

Tur Yoreh De'ah 1481?
Jacob b. Asher, of Toledo, 1270?-1340

[ Tur Yoreh De'ah ]
Guadalajara: Solomon b. Moses ibn

Alkabez, 1481?-1482?
One of the rarest Hebrew books in the world, this single leaf was believed until recently to be the only remaining fragment of this book in existence. From the first Spanish edition of the major post-Maimonidean legal code, this page contains the concluding section of the laws pertaining to the mezuzah. The type face is based on Sephardic cursive script, common in early Hebrew printing.

Bible. Psalms. Hebrew

[ Tehilim ]
Naples: Joseph b. Jacob Ashkenazi
Gunzenhauser, 28 March 1487.
This edition of the Book of Psalms was the first Hebrew book printed in Naples, a centre of Hebrew printing in the incunable period. The biblical text is accompanied by the medieval commentary of David Kimhi of Provence, edited by Jacob Landau, a German talmudist, who served as proofreader for Gunzenhauser.

Ram- ban. Hidush. haTorah.
Moses b. Nahman [ Nahmanides ],
of Gerona, 1194-1270

[ Hidushei ha-Torah ]
Lisbon: Eliezer b. Jacob Toledano,
16 July 1489
Nahmanides' commentary on the Pentateuch was the first book in any language printed in Lisbon, where the art of printing was introduced by Jews. Edited by David Ibn Yahya, the book was the product of the craftsmanship of several hands working under the direction of the wealthy scholar Eliezer Toledano, in whose home the press was operated.

Talmud. Nidah. 1489
Talmud Babli. Order Toharot.
Tractate Nidah

[ Nidah ]
Soncino: Joshua Solomon (?) Soncino,
23 July 1489.
One of the last books issued by the famed Soncino family of printers in their hometown near Cremona, this is the first edition of tractate Nidah of the Babylonian Talmud, dealing with the ritual laws concerning menstruation and childbirth. The ancient talmudic text in Aramaic figures in the centre of the page, surrounded by the medieval commentaries of Rashi and the Tosafot.

Jacob b. Asher, of Toledo, 1270?-1340

[ Tur Yoreh De'ah ]
Híjar: Eliezer ibn Alantansi, 1487.
The physician Eliezer Alantansi began printing Hebrew books in the small Aragonian town of Híjar in 1485. Although other books published there may have been lost, Jacob b. Asher's Turim, of which this is one volume, comprise the only non-biblical work known to have appeared at this press.

Sefer Mitsvot Gadol 1488
Moses b. Jacob, of Coucy (France),
fl. 13th century

[ Sefer Mitsvot Gadol ]
Soncino: Gershom b. Moses Soncino,
19 December 1488.
This extensive legal compendium was based on Maimonides' code, but uniquely arranged according to the 613 positive and negative commandments enumerated in the Pentateuch. It was one of the first publishing efforts of the nephew of Joshua Soncino, who may have learned the art of printing in Mainz.

David b. Joseph Kimhi, of Narbonne,

[ Sefer ha-Shorashim ]
Naples: Joseph b. Jacob, or Azriel b.
Joseph, Ashkenazi Gunzenhauser (?),
18 August - 15 September 1490.
The grammatical and exegetical works of this Provençal scholar profoundly influenced both Jewish and non-Jewish scholars for many centuries. This edition of his biblical lexicon was proofread by Samuel b. Meir Latif, who himself printed Hebrew books in Mantua 25 years later.

Mishneh Torah 1490
Moses b. Maimon [ Maimonides ],
of Spain and Egypt, 1135-1204

[ Mishneh Torah ]
Soncino: Gershom b. Moses Soncino,
23 March 1490.
This second dated edition of Maimonides' code was probably the last book published by a member of the Soncino family in Soncino. The colophon indicates that Eliezer b. Samuel served as proofreader, this being the only mention of a co-worker in the books printed by Gershom Soncino.

Moses b. Nahman [ Nahmanides ],
of Gerona, 1194-1270

[ Perush al ha-Torah ]
Naples: Joseph b. Jacob, or (?) Azriel b.
Joseph, Ashkenazi Gunzenhauser
(or Isaac b. Judah Ibn Katorzo?),
2 July 1490.
Joseph and his son Azriel, originally from Gunzenhausen in southern Germany, established a distinguished Hebrew press in Naples in 1487 (cf. No. 3). Nahmanides' biblical commentary was apparently the last book whose printing was initiated during the father's lifetime. This is the third edition of the commentary; the first edition, published in Rome ca. 1469, is believed to have been the first Hebrew book ever printed.

Jacob b. Asher, of Toledo, 1270?-1340

[ Arba'ah Turim ]
Soncino: Solomon b. Moses Soncino,
The legal compendia of Jacob b. Asher and Maimonides were the most popular post-talmudic and non-liturgical Hebrew books of the 15th century. This complete edition, bound in four volumes, is the only work in which Solomon Soncino, the brother of Gershom, is mentioned as printer.

Bahya [ Behai ] b. Asher b. Hlava,
of Saragossa, d. 1340

[ Be'ur al ha-Torah ]
Naples: Azriel b. Joseph Ashkenazi
Gunzenhauser, 3 July 1492.
Written in 1291, Bahya's mystical commentary on the Pentateuch was printed for the first time in Spain less than a year before the Naples edition. Perhaps inspired by Spanish exiles then flocking to Naples, this edition was sponsored by two Sicilian brothers and edited by Bonfroi "the Frenchman".

Bible. Job. 1487 (1486?)
Bible. Job. Hebrew

[ Iyov ]
Naples: Joseph b. Jacob Ashkenazi
Gunzenhauser and (?) Samuel b.
Samuel, of Rome, 26 September
1487 (1486?).
This edition of the book of Job, part of the first edition of the Hagiographa, is accompanied by the philosophical commentary of the mathematician and astronomer Levi b. Gershom of Provence (1288-1344). It is the only one of the biblical books in this edition accompanied by his commentary.

Go to Chap. 2

Proactive Disclosure