On Ideas from Italy - ideas, not ideals

gohebrew's picture

Italy has always been a key player in Hebrew type design, and also was the place of modern-day Hebrew printing.

The landmarks of Hebrew printing are listed here: http://www.jerusalembooks.com/jap/bookb1.htm.

gohebrew's picture

It says there:
The first book printed entirely in Hebrew letters, Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch was printed in Rome about 1470, only 14 years after Gutenberg printed his bible. Within a decade Hebrew printing had spread from Italy to Spain and Constantinople with the press of Gerson and Joshua Solomon at Soncin near Cremona being the most active.

Here are a few landmark dates and events in early Hebrew printing:
1475 - First dated Hebrew work is printed in Reggio di Calabria
1482 - First Spanish Hebrew book printed in Guadaljara
1492 - Expulsion from Spain and destruction of Hebrew books
1503 - David Nahmias begins printing in Constantinople
1512 - Beginning of Hebrew printing in Salonika
1475 - 1530 The Soncinos print in Mantua, Naples, Brescia, Cassal Maggiore, Barca, Fano, Pesaro, Ortona, Rimini and Constantinople
1513 - Press of Gershon Solomon Cohen in Prague prints prayer book
1520 - Daniel Bomberg of Venice prints the first complete Talmud edition. The Venice community sends a copy to Henry VIII of England as a gift
1533 - Hayim ben David Schwartz moves his press from Prague to Augsburg Germany
1542 - Beginning of censorship of Hebrew books by the Roman Curia
1550 - Giustiniani and Bragadini enter into competition with Bomberg in Venice
1554 - The burning of the Talmud at Ferrara and closing of the Venice printers
1556 - First edition of Zohar is saved in Mantua but Zioni commentary is burned
1565 - Printing resumes in Venice and first edition of Shulkan Aruch appears
1569 - Isaac ben Aaron of Prossnitz prints in Cracow
1578 - The Talmud begins to appear in Basel
1627 - Gutel the daughter of Leb Setzer prints in Prague
1627 - Menasheh ben Israel and Daniel De Fonseca begin printing in Amsterdam
1658 - Uri Phoebus begins printing in Amsterdam and in Zolkiev in 1692
1697 - Jacob Proops begins printing in Amsterdam

gohebrew's picture

A great pioneer was Gershon Soncino of the famed Soncino Press.

The Soncino logo

Today, the Soncino Press lives on through the efforts of the late Jack Goldman and his son-in-law Aryeh ?????.

Another great pioneer was Daniel Bomberg, the first major publisher of the Talmud.

A page from tractate Sukkah, typeset by Daniel Bomberg.

gohebrew's picture

Another pioneer to help making printing in general possible were the Jews of Ehnheim, Italy, which made this fledging industry possible, as these selection show:

The Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy, David W. Amram, Holland Press, 1962, 1988, pp. 12, 13

piccic's picture

I have just found an old issue of the english Baseline magazine with a brief (illustrated) article on Hebrew books printing history.
Would you like me to see if there's some useful info and/or scan something to post?

gohebrew's picture

Yes, please.

Excuse my ignorance, but who is Baseline magazine? Do they have a web site, and archive?

gohebrew's picture

How come you don't post anything at www.gotalmud.org/blogs?

piccic's picture

Hi israel. Baseline magazine on the web is here: http://www.baselinemagazine.com/ although the issue I mentioned is probably from around 1989…

How come you don’t post anything at www.gotalmud.org/blogs?
Do you mean starting new threads? I left comments, but I have not a particular issue to post about. Maybe we could do this collecting about history of Hebrew printing there, but it would be a duplicate of the thread you have here at Typophile. As you prefer, anyway… :)

EDIT: The Baseline issue I was reffering to is this one: http://www.baselinemagazine.com/browse_buy/magazine/back_issues/13/
It has a 4 page illustrated article about Hebrew printing history, nice images.

gohebrew's picture


I couldn't find any comments. Are they there by you?

Did you register? I think only registered people's posts are posted.

WType's picture

Thanks, gohebrew, for your amzing posts on the printing history of Hebrew.

You should check out this guy who designs some reeeeeally cool Hebrew fonts, if you have not already knew about him-


I find his works really inspiring!

I live in a country with Muslims majority and this is what I discovered recently- Muslims forbid any form of "visualization" of any living creatures and human being, since that can be associated with idolatry. As the result, the Muslim artists and craftmen over the century have learned to express their creativity mainly through calligraphy and typography. As the result thay become so good in this area. I assume Jews are probably in the same situation, since the Torah also forbids the "idolization" of living creatures. Ezer's work is the classic example of this theory. His works is so Typographical driven and they are so "pure"...

gohebrew's picture

Yee Weng Chiang,

Thank you for turning me onto this talented designer, with many new appealing design.

If you add a "www." before ezerdesign.com, you get www.ezerdesign.com, which is a link.

More later.

piccic's picture

Israel, hey, it seems you are a little absent-minded, aren't you? :=)
I'm saying this with affection, of course! :=)

1) I registered, and left at least 3-4 comments as "piccic";
2) I talked you about Oded (Ezer) at least two times before weng addressed you to his website (which I already linked before in another thread). Oded has studied at the Bezalel Academy of arts, and he had the talented Yanek Iontef among his teachers. Yanek's site is here: http://www.fontef.com/

Give me some time and in the next days I hope to manage to do some scans from another book I have…

gohebrew's picture

Absent minded?

That's kind. I'd chicken with no head!

Let me check out Yanek.

Thank you. I'll look forward to the scans.

Did you succeed to post blogs at www.gotalmud.org/blogs?

gohebrew's picture

Sorry, just reread your post about ") I registered, and left at least 3-4 comments as “piccic”;".

gohebrew's picture

I saw your posts and will respond, b"n.

As administrator, I had to approve them first, before the posting was visible. A person could become a power freak.

You wrote interesting things. I studied Metafont in the mid-eighties and thought it was brilliant. Sinclair QL even years earlier had an even more brilliant font technology that would put MetaFont to shame. It had no documentation, bo name, but was Sir Clive's toy for the QL.

Do you knw the QL (Quantum Leap - though arrogant, it fit in the eighties: a Motorola processor like a Mac, a DOS interface, and Unix-like multi-tasking! Too bad the tape-based disk drie the size of a matchbox killed it. I regret I gave my nephew it.

I once typeset a few chapters on Maimonides and transfered the data to CompSet typsetter, to the amazement of the Israeli distributor. Some guy in Israel made it work in Hebrew, too. Amazing.

piccic's picture

As administrator, I had to approve them first, before the posting was visible. A person could become a power freak.
I thought they'd be viewable, as I saw them. Yes, definitely we should not get so excited while wondering at the possibilities of technology… :=)

Read more slowly! (this goes a great deal for me as well…) :=)

gohebrew's picture

The Administrator only sees at the administrator level. No viewer.

The Writer sees, but only to preview and edit. No one else really sees.

pica pusher's picture

>The Administrator only sees at the administrator level. No viewer. The Writer sees, but only to preview and edit. No one else really sees.

This should be a mantra for everyone in the publishing industry.

gohebrew's picture

hi pp (!),

>...No one else really sees.

i really like your screen name, pica pusher.

i'm chassidic, so my mantra is: "G-d is one". ummmm...

Happy 20th day of Cheshvan!

Chajmke's picture

The Talmud and the Mikraot Gedolot (from the press of Daniel Bomberg) are fully digitized and available online:




gohebrew's picture

Welcome back, Chajke

Thank you for the links.

piccic's picture

@ Israel: please, have patience! I have not had the time yet for some scans… :=(

@ Chajm, thanks for those links. I seem the DJVu plug-in works just with Safari (and not Firefox) on the Mac, but maybe I am wrong… With Safari the books are downloadable for offline browsing…
I have looked at your page and the current post sounds very interesting, although [not knowing German] I had to guess from an online translation. I especially like when the Rabbi quoted says "I want to be among people who profess and act with their faith intact, does not matter what their faith is, they deserve my respect."
If it could be edifying I could add (as a catholic) the highest esteem for me goes not only to those who, not matter what their faith is, profess and act with their faith intact, but especially for those which do this for love, absolutely. :=)

Chajmke's picture

@piccic: Offline browsing should be a nice alternative, even with the hughe size of the files... It is also possible to print the whole document - very smart!
You had a look at a very difficult discussion about a rabbi who said he left judaism because he is upset about the situation of german judaism.
You'll find typo stuff in the "siddur" or "seforim" category. Siddur for example http://www.sprachkasse.de/blog/category/siddur/page/1/


piccic's picture

@Israel, did you receive the link I sent you by email?

@Chajmke: Thank you! About the discussion, I think I got the overall sense, I understand it must be very delicate, but nonetheless it's very interesting not to see that he seemigly "left" (although he seems to be in a reflective position), but to see he's disturbed by what he saw as fragmentation.

gohebrew's picture


I got the link. The pictures were fascinating.

I must admit that I forget what I was trying to look ar in them. (I had a very hecdic (sp) week last week.) I didn't answer you, yet because the Sabbath came, which for many religious Jews means Friday before the early sundown is extremely busy, as when the Sabvbath comes at sundown, we turn into pumkins! :)

piccic's picture

Don't worry: I just wished to know if you got them. I don't have so much about Hebrew printing history, but I think a summary and a collection of pictures like you started would be nice (to be integrated and corrected in progress).
However, I think we should leave the thread clean of unrelated comments. We have too much a tendency to go constantly off-topic, and it's not good… :=(

gohebrew's picture


You are right.

In this day and age, people try to be politically correct.

In my circles, we don't care.

Ironically, we're Chassidim, and you might think every rule is holy. In my circles, a rule is only valid, if you break it. :)

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