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The Spread of Hebrew Printing and the
Fate of the Hebrew Book

In the first centuries of movable type, Hebrew printing spread from Rome to every corner of Europe, and around the Mediterranean. Following the wanderings of the Jewish people, Hebrew type was eventually introduced in both the Orient and America. Books in Hebrew characters were published in Calcutta in the 19th century, and in the 20th century in Ottawa.

Habent sua fata libelli. But beyond that: as one historian of Hebrew printing has remarked, "the fate of Hebrew books was like the fate of their owners." Jewish books were subject to inquisitions and censorship, destruction or confiscation. Treasured by Jews and non-Jews alike, by Hebraists and even by anti-Semites, many Hebrew books have survived only by virtue of their bibliophilic collectors. And these which remain, and some of those which do not, have been recorded for posterity by the bibliographers who have catalogued them.

Incunabula, Hebraica & Judaica, rare Hebraica and Judaica, from Rome to Jerusalem, from Bardejov to Montreal: this is the collector and his world.

Igeret ha- Kodesh 1546
Moses b. Nahman [ Nahmanides ],
attrib., of Gerona, 1194-1270
Graphical element
[ Igeret ha-Kodesh ]
Rome: Isaac de Lattes and Benjamin
d'Arignano, with Antonio Blado,

Attributed spuriously to Nahmanides, the anonymous 13th century "Holy Epistle," of which this is the first edition, is devoted to the mystical significance of sexual union between man and wife.

Printer's mark (E. Iraqi)
Abraham b. Baruch Mizrahi,
of Jerusalem, fl. 17th-18th cent.
Graphical element
[ Zikaron li-Venei Yisrael ]
Calcutta: Eleazar b. Aaron Saadiah
Iraqi (Arakie) ha-Kohen, 1844.

Born in Cochin of a Yemenite family, Iraqi was the first printer in Calcutta and the first Jewish printer in India (the priestly hands were his printer's mark). This booklet, printed on green paper, bound together with a similar book partly on blue paper, is an abridged treatise on the laws of ritual slaughter.

Sefer Raziel
Book of Raziel
Graphical element
[ Zeh Sifra de-Adam Kadma'ah
... Raziel ha-Malakh ]
Amsterdam: Moses b. Abraham Mendes
Coutinho, 1701.

The Book of the Angel Raziel is an anonymous collection of cosmological and magical works, ancient and medieval, among them parts of a 13th century work by Eleazar of Worms. This first edition of the book contains many kabbalistic charts and pictures, such as one of an amulet to be worn by pregnant women. The book is believed to protect the premises in which it is kept from fire and other dangers.

Liturgy and Ritual. Daily Prayers
Graphical element
[ Seder Tefilat Yisrael ]
Jerusalem: Israel b. Abraham Bak,

Israel Bak, of Berdichev and Safed, founded the first Hebrew press in Jerusalem in 1841. One of the first fruits of his labours, this liturgy according to the Sephardic rite was the first Jewish prayerbook printed in the Holy City.

Responsa of the Geonim
Graphical element
[ She'elot u-teshuvot shel ha-Ge'onim ]
Constantinople: Eliezer b. Isaac
(Ashkenazi) and David Kashti, 1575.

This early edition of geonic responsa, the property of a Jewish collector before the war, was confiscated by the Nazis for the Reichsinstitut für Geschichte des Neuen Deutschlands Bibliothek, with whose stamp and swastika it was marked. Recovered after the liberation by the Central-komitet fun di bafraite jidn in der amerikaner zone, it was later aquired by Mr. Lowy, whose bookplate partly overlaps the Nazi insignia.

Maharam Shik 1895- 1898
Moses b. Joseph Schick, of Slovakia,
Graphical element
[ Maharam Shik ]
Munkács (Hungary): Druck von Kohn &
Klein, 1895-1898.

An exposition of the 613 commandments enumerated in the Pentateuch, this work in two parts was published by Samuel Brach of Nyir-Máda (Hungary), a student of the author. Munkács was a center of Hungarian Hebrew printing.

Pitron Halomot
Graphical element
[ Pitron Halomot ]
Wilhermsdorf (Bavaria): Judah Leyb b.
Joseph of Langlois, 1690.

This is the first edition of an anonymous work on the interpretation of dreams, supposedly based on a manuscript over 600 years old, related to similar works of the same title attributed to Hai Gaon of Babylonia (939-1038) and Solomon Almoli of Salonika (16th century).

Avnei Yeho- shu'a
Joshua b. Mordecai Falk, of Kornik
(Poland), 1799-1864
Graphical element
[ Avnei Yehoshu'a ]
New York: "Jewish Messenger" Office,

Falk's commentary on the mishnaic treatise "Ethics of the Fathers" was the first Hebrew book written, and the first book printed entirely in Hebrew, on the American continent. In the colophon, Naphtali b. Samuel of Thorn (Prussia) thanks God for the privilege of typesetting this learned book, "the first in the country of America."

Shabbetai b. Joseph Bass, of Prague,
Graphical element
[ Siftei Yeshenim ]
Zholkva (Galician Ukraine): Mordecai
Rubinstein et comp., 1806.

The first Jewish bibliographer, Bass visited libraries in Poland, Germany, and Holland before compiling the first Jewish bibliography in Hebrew, issued in 1680. This second edition includes an "update" compiled by the publisher.

Aron Krausz, of Spisska-Nová-Ves
(Czechoslovakia), fl. 20th cent.
Graphical element
[ Mateh Aharon ]
Bardiov: M. Ch. Horovitz, 1923.

A collection of Sabbath sermons, this volume is one of many thousands of Hebrew books published in central and eastern Europe before the Holocaust. Bardejov, a town in Slovakia on the Polish border, is the birthplace of the collector, Jacob M. Lowy.

E. Myer Glatt, of Kiev, Sheffield
(Eng.), and Ottawa, 1881-1954
Graphical element
[ Kinoro shel David ]
Ottawa: the author, 1941/1942.

"The Harp of David" by the late Rev. Glatt, a Jewish communal leader in Ottawa, is a collection of poetry and religious discourses in Yiddish and Hebrew. One of the very few Hebrew books ever published in Ottawa, it was printed in Montreal.

Go to Chap. 16 Go to Chap. 18


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