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A brief History of Hebrew printing and Jewish books

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  The first Hebrew books were printed at least within 35 years after the invention of printing-the first dated ones being Rashi’s commentary on the torah and Arba’ah Turim of 1475. The early book publications had no signatures, a device introduced by Joshua Soncino in 1483. Title pages make their first appearances in the 18th century. 

1500-1550

The first half of the 16th century was in many ways the golden age of Hebrew printing, with Italy and the house of Soncino in a leading position. Another great printer was Daniel Bomberg, a Christian Printer from Antwerp. Other presses at the time were present in Constantinople, Salonika and in Prague from 1512 and on. 

           

1550-1600

The Single most influential event in the History of Hebrew printing in this period was the Papal prohibition and subsequent buring of the Talmud in 1553. This resulted in the decline of the Venice printing and other presses throughout Italy took a more central role along with Cracow, Lublin, Prague, Basle and Hanua, and towards the end of the century Salonika and Constaninople.

1600-1800

Following the expulsion from Spain, Amsterdam became a center of Jews, and printing took a turning point with the Establishment of Menashe ben Israel’s press in 1626. Amsterdam was at the time a great center of printing, and their books were very sought after and found imitations among Hebrew printers elsewhere. Germany produced many presses as well, including both Frankfurts, the triple community of Altona, Hamburg, Wandsbeck and Berlin.

Modern Period

 From the Middle of the 18th century, the center of Hebrew printing shifted more and more to Central and Eastern Europe. States, large and small in this region, wanted to prevent the importation of Hebrew books and the resulting drainage of their capital resources. In addition, the increasing severity of the Church-State censorship made it desirable to them to have Hebrew presses under their immediate supervision. Thus, the setting up of Hebrew presses was encouraged. A more positive cause of the rise of the Hebrew presses was the efflorescence of Talmud studying in the growing number of Yeshivot in Lithuania and Poland, as well as Hasidisim and it’s literature, creating a large demand for Hebrew books. The beginnings of Haskalah should also be mentioned in this context. This shift to Eastern Europe is admittedly a lowering of standards of printing and book production.  

 USA

 Hebrew printing in the USA at first took the form of Christian printers inserting isolated Hebrew words and phrases into their English publications for which the type was brought in from England. From the middle of the 18th century onward complete prayerbooks began to appear. Jewish Printers began to be active from 1825 in NY, with rising immigration from Europe, Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers began to appear from 1874 onward. By the early 1900s. Hebrew Presses were active in over a dozen US cities.

Post-Holocaust

The Russian Revolution and the destruction of European Jewry in the Holocaust terminated almost all Hebrew printing in Eastern and Central Europe. With the establishment of the state of Israel, Jerusalem and Tel Aviv have become the centers of Hebrew printing. New York too, as well as other US cities produce a good deal of Hebrew, particularly Rabbinic Literature. England, France and Switzerland play a minor part.

Vocational Training

 The first school of printing was established in 1948 by “Hadassah women’s organization” as part of the Braindes center. Additional Schools were set up in Tel Aviv and Kfar Chabad.

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