The Books of the People of the Book
Sefardi Torah Scroll (North
Africa?, eighteenth century?). Torah scrolls are written
without vowels or punctuation and include only the biblical
text. These four columns begin with Exodus 23:6 and go through
The twin pillars of Judaism are the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud.
The Hebrew Scriptures -- the book of the "People of the Book"
-- are divided into three main sections: the Torah (Pentateuch);
the Nevi'im (Prophets), and the Ketuvim (Hagiographa).
The Talmud is a massive collection of discussions and rulings
based on the Mishnah, a compilation of laws and customs assembled
in about 200 C.E. Two versions of the Talmud exist: The Jerusalem
Talmud, dating from circa 400 C.E., is based on the discussions
of the sages of Palestine, and the Babylonian Talmud, from circa
500 C.E., recapitulates the debates of the rabbis in the Babylonian
The prevailing form of the book in antiquity was the scroll.
Ancient texts were copied onto animal skins that had been prepared
to be written on. The individual skins, called parchment, were
then sewn together and the ends were attached to cylindrical handles
or rollers. To this day, Judaism reserves the scroll for the sacred
texts read in the synagogue liturgy. The most sacred Jewish text
is the Torah scroll. Containing the Five Books of Moses (the Pentateuch),
a Torah scroll is handwritten by a specially trained scribe who
pens the text -- letter by letter and word by word -- on specially
prepared parchment. Torah scrolls do not have punctuation, vowel
signs, signatures, colophons, or dates, so the place, date, and
scribe are almost never known -- though we can often surmise the
date and location from paleographic clues. Portions of the Torah
are read aloud in the synagogue on the Sabbath, on holidays, and
during weekday services on Monday and Thursday mornings.
Mordechai Beck and David Moss, Maftir
Yonah (The Book of Jonah)
(Jerusalem, 1992). An edition of the Book of Jonah meant
to be recited at the afternoon service on the Day of Atonement,
this volume includes original etchings by Mordechai Beck
and calligraphy by David Moss. It was produced by Sidon
Rosenberg at the Jerusalem Print Workshop. Copyright ©
2000 Bet Alpha Editions, Berkeley, California. (Reproduced
with permission of Bet Alpha Editions)
Metavel, illustrator and calligrapher, Yonah
(Jerusalem, 1986). This work is part of the Israel
Museum's series of matchbox books. Illustrated and written
by the Israeli artist and miniaturist Metavel, it includes
vignettes from the story of Jonah and the whale.
The Hebraic collections include a Torah scroll (in Hebrew, Sefer
Torah) copied in North Africa, probably in the eighteenth
century, and written in a Sefardi hand. The Sefardim, or Spanish
Jews, are descended from Jews who were expelled from Spain and
Portugal at the end of the fifteenth century. The golden-hued
parchment of this Sefer Torah is prepared in a manner
similar to an ancient method described in the Talmud, using a
chemical process similar to tanning. The Scroll of Esther (in
Hebrew, Megillat Esther), which includes the handwritten
text of the biblical Book of Esther, is read aloud in the synagogue
on the eve and the morning of the Purim festival.
A Scroll of Esther of unusual size and age is held in the Hebraic
Section. Copied in central or southern Europe in the fourteenth
or fifteenth century, this monumental scroll measures some thirty-two
inches high, with each letter about three quarters of an inch
in height. The parchment was prepared using a process typical
of Ashkenazi manuscripts, which resulted in a whiter writing surface
than the one used to prepare a typical Sefardi scroll. Ashkenaz
refers to Germany, and Ashkenazi Jews are these Jews -- or their
descendants -- living in Christian lands. Printing with movable
type, introduced in Europe by Johann Gutenberg in the mid-fifteenth
century, was quickly taken up by Jews in Italy, Spain, Portugal,
and Turkey, who sought to produce and disseminate the literature
of Judaism. In all, some 140 Hebrew works were printed before
1501. Of these Hebraic incunabula, the Library holds 31 titles
in 39 copies.
Ariel Wardi, Yemei Beresheet
(Jerusalem, 1992). This work was privately printed
on a hand press by Ariel Wardi, who cut letters and cast
the type especially for this edition, which he bound himself.
Displayed are the words from the opening chapter of Genesis
describing the first six days of creation (Genesis 1:1-31;
2:1-3). (Courtesy Ariel Wardi)
Ashkenazi Megillah (fourteenth-
fifteenth centuries?). This scroll is one of the oldest
extant. The shape of the letters as well as the condition
of the parchment help to establish where it was created
and the date of its completion.
The first dated Hebrew book -- Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch
-- appeared in Reggio di Calabria, Italy, in 1475. But scholars
point to Rome as the city where Hebrew printing began. Between
1469 and 1472, nine works were printed there -- none bearing a
date or place of publication -- but all bearing the unmistakable
typographic influence of Sweynheym and Pannartz, two German printers
who set up shop in Subiaco, near Rome, and printed Latin books.
It is believed that Rome's Jewish printers learned their craft
from Sweynheym and Pannartz. From these first fruits of Hebrew
printing, the Library of Congress owns a copy of the responsa
of Solomon ben Abraham Adret (the "Rashba") of Barcelona, a thirteenth-century
rabbinic authority, called Teshuvot She'elot ha-Rashba (Rome,
1469-72). The primitive typography of this Rome incunabulum --
the left margin is ragged and only a square font is used -- has
led some to speculate that this work might very well be the first
Hebrew book printed.
Psalms, with commentary by David
Kimhi (Bologna?, August 29, 1477). Kimhi's commentary
was often a target for censors. In the passage displayed
here, an owner has handwritten in the margin all that was
inked out by the censor.
The first book of the Hebrew Bible to be printed was the commentary
of David Kimhi on the Psalms, which was published in 1477, probably
in Bologna. The volume is one of the most beautiful of early Hebrew
printed works, and its fonts do not appear to have been used for
any other title. The verses are printed in square type and pointed
by hand. The commentary of David Kimhi is in a cursive type. The
Library's copy was heavily censored by Church authorities in Italy,
with whole passages crossed out by the censor's pen. In 1489,
Eliezer Toledano published the first book printed in any language
in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal. Moses ben Nahman's Perush
ha-Torah is a commentary on the Pentateuch. That same year,
Toledano published Lisbon's second printed work, the Sefer
Abudarham, a commentary on the prayers written in 1340 by
David ben Yosef Abudarham. The Library's copies of these and similar
works help document the rich and varied legacy of Iberian Jews
before the expulsions in 1492 from Spain and in 1497 from Portugal.
In the sixteenth century, Hebrew printing spread throughout
Europe and the Near East, with centers established in Venice,
Constantinople, Salonika, and a variety of towns and cities in
Solomon ben Abraham Adret, Teshuvot
She'elot ha-Rashba (Rome, 1469-72). This volume
is opened to responsum 265, in which the Rashba responds
to the question: "Which is to be preferred: A professional
cantor or a volunteer?"
Moses ben Nahman, Perush
ha- Torah (Commentary
on the Pentateuch) (Lisbon, 1489). Nahmanides's commentary
on the Pentateuch is the first book printed in any language
in Lisbon. Illustrated here is the opening page of the Book
of Numbers, Ba- Midbar, the fourth of the Five
Books of Moses.
One of the most important and well-known of early Hebrew printers
was the "wandering printer," Gershom Soncino. He set up shop in
the town of Soncino in Lombardy, and from there he made his way
through Italy, issuing books in Casalmaggiore, Brescia, Barco,
Fano, Pesaro, Rimini, Cesena, and Ortona. From Italy, he journeyed
to Turkey, where he printed Hebrew books in Salonika and Constantinople.
Over the course of his career, which began in 1488 and ended in
1534, some two hundred works issued from his press -- roughly
half in Hebrew and half in Latin and Italian.
David ben Yosef Abudarham, Abudarham
(Fez, 1516). The first book printed in Africa, this
edition of the Abudarham is a reprint of the Lisbon 1489
edition. The Abudarham outlines religious customs and practices
according to the Sefardic rite.
Sefer Kol Bo (The
complete book) (Rimini, 1526). The title page displays
Gershom Soncino's printer's mark, a tower flanked by the
biblical verse, "The name of the Lord is a strong tower:
the righteous [one] runs into it and is set up on high"
The first book printed on the continent of Africa was a Hebrew
book, the second edition of the Sefer Abudarham, published
by Samuel Nedivot and his son Isaac in 1516 in Fez. Samuel Nedivot
learned the craft of printing in Portugal, probably in the shop
of Eliezer Toledano, and after the expulsion from Portugal, he
found haven in Morocco. His first publication there was an almost
exact copy of Toledano's 1489 Lisbon edition. Clearly, the printer
of the Fez edition had before him the Lisbon 1489 edition and
sought to reproduce it line for line and letter for letter. The
book represents an object lesson in how, after a catastrophe such
as the expulsion from Portugal, a spiritual and cultural legacy
is rebuilt and transmitted from one generation to the next.
In 1515, Daniel Bomberg, a Christian from Antwerp, received an
exclusive privilege from the Venetian Senate to print Hebrew books
in Venice. Bomberg's press became the most important Hebrew press
in sixteenth-century Europe, issuing some 230 titles before its
demise in 1549. Bomberg published the first edition of the Rabbinic
Bible (1516-17) -- the Hebrew Scriptures accompanied by a selection
of traditional rabbinic commentaries -- and the first complete
edition of the Talmud (1519-23). The layout and pagination of
the Bomberg Talmud became the standard for virtually all subsequent
editions of the Babylonian Talmud that have appeared to this day.
Mikra'ot Gedolot (Rabbinic
Bible) (Venice, 1516-17). This Hebrew Bible is opened
to the end of the Book of Samuel and the first verses of
the Book of Kings.
Talmud, Sanhedrin (Venice,
1520). The form of the page of the Talmud has remained constant
through the centuries: the text in the center in square
script, surrounded by the commentaries in a smaller cursive
The first edition of the Zohar (The Book of Splendor) -- a classic
of Jewish mysticism -- appeared in Mantua in 1558. The second
volume of the Library's three-volume set is printed on blue paper,
marking it as a deluxe limited edition prepared especially for
a wealthy patron.
In the seventeenth century, Amsterdam became a center of Hebrew
printing. One of its leading printers, Joseph Athias, published
a noteworthy edition of the Hebrew Bible in 1667, which earned
him a gold medal from the Dutch government. The edition, which
was intended for both Jews and Christians, was edited by University
of Leyden scholar Johannes Leusdan.
Sefer ha-Zohar (Book
of splendor) (Mantua, 1558). This edition of the Zohar
-- the central text of Jewish mysticism -- is printed on
blue paper, thereby marking it as a deluxe edition.
Biblia Hebraica (Amsterdam,
1667). This edition of the Hebrew Scriptures won an award
for its publisher, Joseph Athias. Note the four-letter name
of God, the Tetragrammaton, surrounded by light, at the
head of the title page.