The Second Period of Ladino printing
contination from part I
The 2nd period of Ladino printing, was not simply of revival or a reprinting of what had been done before. It was an utterly new phenomenon, the creation of works that had no previous examples. The Meam Loez, The first Siddur, the first complete Bible, the first book on Jewish History and new books on Jewish law. These books constituted a complete collection of texts, necessary for everyday Jewish life, something which had existed among the Western Sephardim and Ashkenazim for over 200 years! This creative period started in 1729 with the printed Jonah Ashkenazi. It was initiated by the realization that the lay Jewish masses in the Ottoman empire were devoid of any kind of Jewish Literature in their everyday language. The few books that they did have were written in the 16th century in a pure Castillian Spanish which they brought with them to Salonika from Spain. The current 18th century Ladino was already mixed with Turkish words.
Jonah Ashkenazi was born in the Ukraine and around the turn of the century had fled to Constantinople, as so many other Jews in the decades after the anti-Semitic outbursts in Chmielnicki in 1648. He started off his career as a printer in 1710 and in the course of many years he and his heirs produced no less than 188 Hebrew Printing in Constantinople. Jonah Ashkenazi's productions were the basis for the development of both the modern Ladino Literature and the Ladino language.
the rebirth of Ladino publishing was initiated by a man who needed money to marry off his five daughters! This man Benjamin Peretz, has come to Constantinople, to ask for financial help from Jonah Ashkenazi. Ashkenazi suggested to him that he edit a translation of the mystical Alphabet of Rabbi Akiva. The publication was apparently a commercial success.
The translator of the book, Avraham Assa, was a fascinating and mysterious personality of whom hardly any biographical information exists. He should be considered, as Yaari once put it in Kiryat Sefer (vol 10 1933 p 378), as someone who meant more for Ladino Literature then any other person before him or after him. In spite of this great importance, in his works, his name usually appears only at the very end of the books, often hidden in an acrostic poem. In the Ladino translation of the Pentateuch that he published in 1739 his name was lacking altogether! Was he still afraid of the public discontent with Ladino translations that was prevalent among Ottoman Jews since the sixteenth century? We do not know.
Many Ladino books were to follow, including such classics of Ladino Literature as Meam Loez, printed for the first time in 1730, and Abraham Assa's translation of the Chumash, printed in 1739. The publishing of this Chumash caused a dispute between Yonah Ashkenazi and Benjamin Rossi concerning the rights of publication. The Bet Din ruled in favor of Ashkenazi.
These works became so popular that competition developed between these two publishers, Yonah Ashkenazi published the first Ladino Siddur, Several years later Rossi also published a Siddur with a Ladino translation.
The intense competition can also explain why there are 2 books by Assa about the laws of daily life, Tsorche Tzibbur and Shulchan Hamelech. The first one was published by Ashkenazi in 1733 and became very popular. We must assume therefore that Rossi asked Abraham Assa for another translation of the daily living laws and this was published in 1749 under the name Shulchan Hamelech.
see part III for the next & last period in Ladino printing