The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy

This volume presents new research by an international group of scholars on the history of Hebrew books in Italy from the fifteenth century to the eighteenth century, focusing on a range of issues related to the production and dissemination of Hebrew books as well as their audiences.

The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy

Edited by Joseph R. Hacker and Adam Shear

2011 | 336 pages | Cloth $69.95
History | Religion
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Table of Contents

Introduction: Book History and the Hebrew Book in Italy
—Adam Shear and Joseph R. Hacker

Chapter 1. Can Colophons Be Trusted? Insights from Decorated Hebrew Manuscripts Produced for Women in Renaissance Italy
—Evelyn M. Cohen
Chapter 2. Marchion in Hebrew Manuscripts: State Censorship in Florence, 1472
—Nurit Pasternak
Chapter 3. Daniel van Bombergen, a Bookman of Two Worlds
—Bruce Nielsen
Chapter 4. The Rabbinic Bible in Its Sixteenth-Century Context
—David Stern
Chapter 5. Sixteenth-Century Jewish Internal Censorship of Hebrew Books
—Joseph R. Hacker
Chapter 6. Robert Bellarmine Reads Rashi: Rabbinic Bible Commentaries and the Burning of the Talmud
—Piet van Boxel
Chapter 7. Dangerous Readings in Early Modern Modena: Negotiating Jewish Culture in an Italian Key
—Federica Francesconi
Chapter 8. The Printing of Devotion in Seventeenth-Century Italy: Prayer Books Printed for the Shomrim la-Boker Confraternities
—Michela Andreatta
Chapter 9. Hebrew Printing in Eighteenth-Century Livorno: From Government Control to a Free Market
—Francesca Bregoli

List of Contributors

Excerpt [uncorrected, not for citation]

Book History and the Hebrew Book in Italy
Adam Shear and Joseph R. Hacker

The printing of books: began [lit. "was located"] in the city of Mainz, by a Christian man named Johannes Gutenberg of Strasbourg, and this was in the first year of the pious emperor, Friedrich, in the year 5200, 1440 according to the Christians. Blessed is the one who grants knowledge and teaches wisdom to humanity. Blessed is the one who has strengthened us in his mercy in a great technology such as this, for the benefit of all inhabitants of the world; there is none like it. And nothing matches it in value among all the sciences and technologies since the day that God created man and set him in the world, including the divine sciences and the seven liberal arts, and the other ad hoc disciplines of arts, crafts, metalwork, construction, woodworking, stonework, and the like. Every day, the press reveals and publicizes useful things and many devices, through the vast numbers of books printed for workers in all fields.
—David Gans, Sefer zemah David (1592)

At the end of the sixteenth century, looking back not only at Jewish history but also at the "history of the world," the Prague Jewish chronicler and scientist David Gans viewed the invention of printing in moveable type as the greatest of God's gifts. Because printing could rapidly spread knowledge of all sciences, arts, and crafts, it surpassed all these in utility. Print was thus a kind of meta-art that made possible greater wisdom in all other fields. Gans's praise may be hyperbolic, but his testimony echoes other praises of the new technology by Jews and non-Jews throughout the early modern period.

The available evidence suggests that Jews adopted the new technology very quickly. According to surveys of fifteenth-century book production based on the holdings of major public libraries, at least twenty thousand—and perhaps as many as thirty thousand—editions (in all languages) were printed in the first sixty years of printing. Although Hebrew printed books were not a numerically significant factor in those numbers, they emerged early in the history of the new technology. The first Hebrew printed books appeared in the 1470s, and the latest research on Hebrew incunabula reveals approximately 140 certain editions of Hebrew works (and perhaps several more than that) printed between circa 1470 and 1501. The Hebrew printing industry expanded rapidly over the next fifty years, and between 1501 and 1550 more than 1,350 books were printed. Surveying a vast array of bibliographies and library catalogs, Anat Gueta counts some 5,630 editions of Hebrew books in the period from 1540 to 1639. This includes neither Yiddish works nor other works in vernaculars using Hebrew type nor the large number of Christian Hebraist works, mainly in Latin but containing some Hebrew type. The numbers increased even more dramatically in the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, so much so that Zeev Gries has argued that sixteenth-century Hebrew production should be viewed as a relatively minor activity.

Regardless of absolute numbers, however, when we look at perceptions and behavior, it seems that during the second quarter of the sixteenth century Jews in Europe and the Ottoman Empire came to see print as the preferred method for publishing a book; at this time we can also identify the first major cultural effects of the print medium. However, the fact that print came to be seen as the major medium of publication did not mean—as has been pointed out repeatedly in the last several years—that manuscript production ceased or that manuscripts ceased to be an important part of Jewish cultural life. Manuscript production of certain texts used for liturgical purposes (especially the Torah scroll and the Five Scrolls) continued apace. And although printing opened up ownership of ritual and liturgical texts to a wider audience, Jews who came into possession of manuscript prayer books or Passover Haggadot tended to save them. Lavishly illustrated manuscripts of the Passover Haggadah became a new luxury item in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, especially in Northern Europe. Intellectuals continued to produce manuscripts of other scholars' texts for their own use (this is done right up to the invention of the photocopier), and quite obviously committed their own thoughts to writing (right up to the invention of the typewriter). The absence of Hebrew printing presses in some of the major cultural centers of Sephardi and MizrahiJewry until the nineteenth century was also a factor in the continuing production of manuscripts. North African Jews—as well as Iraqi, Persian, Egyptian, Palestinian, Syrian, and Yemenite Jews—were largely dependent on Italian and Ottoman Hebrew presses and their output. Presumably, however, these imports did not fully satisfy the demand for books, and scribal activity continued to flourish in these lands (especially in Yemen). In addition, some authors in these areas who managed to print their books in the Ottoman Empire or in Italy also produced manuscript copies of their work even after it was printed. Indeed, Collette Sirat points out that some thirty thousand of the seventy thousand Hebrew manuscripts now extant can be dated to the period after the invention of print. The fact that a high percentage of extant manuscripts are postmedieval may partly reflect the disappearance of many medieval manuscripts—either through use or destruction—but it does testify to the ongoing production of handwritten materials after the emergence of print.

Despite the continuing production of manuscripts, the evidence tells us a story of print displacing manuscript production, even in the late fifteenth century. According to Mordechai Glatzer, "from the forty years prior to 1490 to those after 1490 there was a dramatic decline of almost 50 percent in the number of copied Hebrew manuscripts." Some of those manuscripts are now appearing as fragments in bookbindings and as wrappers for files in many European libraries and archives. This so-called European genizah is generating many new insights for medievalists, but research projects on this genizah are also yielding important information for book historians looking at the early modern period. By examining the dates that books were bound and investigating the materials wrapped with Hebrew manuscript folio sheets, Mauro Perani suggests that the middle of the sixteenth century saw a major wave of Italian Jews parting—or being parted—from their manuscripts. The change of attitude toward manuscripts and the turn to the printed book is also attested by the data accumulated from the libraries of Mantuan Jews in the late sixteenth century. The work of Shlomo Simonsohn and Shifra Baruchson on the household libraries of Mantuan Jews in the 1590s suggests that they kept very few manuscripts and that most of the printed books they owned were printed in the second half of the sixteenth century. A comparison of these inventories to earlier ones of books from the fifteenth and early sixteenth centuries reveals a major shift from manuscript to printed-book ownership during the sixteenth century.

We also find virtually no objection to the new technology among rabbinic authorities, although there was some debate at the margins about what kinds of ritual and legal instruments could be printed and about the ritual status of printed material. Indeed, some rabbis interpreted biblical verses as providing evidence for the existence of printing in Jewish antiquity—offering the ultimate legitimization in the mindset of a traditional society. While rabbis proscribed the use of printed books for certain liturgical functions (the reading of the weekly Pentateuchal pericope in the Sabbath service, for example), they readily accepted and even praised the new technology as a vehicle for the dissemination of knowledge.

Moreover, the acceptance and use of print by Jews occurred in both the Christian and Muslim worlds, although the Muslim embrace of print was limited to the Ottoman Empire for most of the early modern period. In contrast to the Christian world, where the majority culture also embraced print, printing in Arabic, Persian, and Turkish was prohibited for Muslims until the eighteenth century and in some cases until the nineteenth. Jews in the Ottoman Empire, however, printed many Hebrew books and apparently even printed in Latin characters (and probably even in Greek).

The first dated Hebrew book was Rashi's commentary on the Pentateuch (Reggio di Calabria, 1475), and the first book printed in the lifetime of its author was Judah Messer Leon's handbook of rhetoric, Sefer nofet zufim (Mantua, ca. 1475-76). Despite the early appearance of Messer Leon's book, however, almost all the known Hebrew incunabula are of classical and medieval—not contemporary—works. This is consistent with practices of the preprint era: the texts that were copied and circulated in European Jewish society in the late Middle Ages were relatively few and focused on halakhic, exegetical, and philosophical literature. In the sixteenth century, however, print became the favored medium of publication by living authors, and from the second half of the sixteenth century, the variety of texts available in the Jewish world—contemporary and noncontemporary—was greatly expanded.

Although historians have seen the rise of printing as one of the most significant events in early modern Europe, recent scholarship has raised questions about both the quantitative and qualitative impact of printing in the earliest period. Nonetheless, printing did have major effects on culture and society in the early modern period, and the presence of this new technology—and its relatively rapid embrace among early modern Jews—certainly affected many aspects of Jewish culture. However, while the history of Hebrew-character printing and printers has been documented, relatively little scholarship exists on the broader impact of print on Jewish culture, particularly during the first century of printing. Indeed, despite the rapid development of the "history of the book" in the last three decades, the history of the book in Hebrew characters remains underdeveloped. The open questions are not only those of literary and intellectual history, but also of social, cultural, and religious history. The essays in this book present a composite portrait that allows us to think about the impact of print technologies on Jewish intellectual, cultural, and social life in the early modern period, and they represent a step toward a fuller understanding of "Jewish" book history.

Assessing the Impact of Print

Scholarly debates over the impact of print have focused in recent years on questions of continuity and discontinuity: how much really changes in the material text and how quickly? A second major set of questions looks at cultural change: Did print create new audiences and new forms of literature for those audiences? Do readers react differently to texts in different formats? Boiled down, the key question is often "How much is really new?"

To answer these questions, a focus on the history of printing narrowly defined is too limiting. Likewise, looking at the reading of books as a discrete activity is also insufficient; separating the making of books from their use can have the ironic effect of obscuring the ways that the production, circulation, and use of books are themselves aspects of social, economic, and political life. A broader set of questions allows us to use the history of the book as a window on a wide range of issues in cultural, social, and intellectual history; this broader view, which has been influential since the 1970s, was pioneered in the work of scholars such as Robert Darnton, Donald F. McKenzie, and Roger Chartier. While Darnton and others pointed to the emergence of the "history of the book" as a discrete and multidisciplinary subfield at the intersections of historical, bibliographical, and literary scholarship, some of the most productive work has emerged when questions about the production and dissemination of books have been fully integrated with social and cultural history. Yet, at the same time, if we lose sight of the books—the artifacts—themselves, we also fall short of being able to see the wider picture, as a number of scholars have emphasized. When we turn our attention to Jewish culture in early modern Europe, we might look at a number of the issues addressed by book historians from the perspective of their impact on Jewish life; in each case we would ask whether the particularities of the Jewish situation made a difference and how a particular aspect of early modern print culture affected Jewish cultural and intellectual life.

One major change that print seems to have brought to the Jewish communities of Christian Europe, particularly the Jews of Italy, was greater interaction between Jews and Christians in the production and dissemination of books. The economic circumstances of print production fostered intellectual and personal interaction between Jewish and Christian scholars and artisans in ways rarely found in manuscript production. Although there were codicological practices common to Jewish and non-Jewish scribes in every place where Jews copied manuscripts, and in some cases these were the products of direct collaboration, for the most part Jewish scribes worked individually to produce manuscript books. But starting from the early sixteenth century, the locus of production for Jewish books in many places in Italy was in Christian-owned print shops, with Jews and Christians collaborating on the editorial and technical processes of book production. The highly solitary nature of Hebrew manuscript production, including the high incidence of medieval Hebrew manuscripts produced by scribes for personal use, also stands in stark contrast to the collaborative nature of print production.

As this Jewish-Christian collaboration almost always took place under conditions of control by Christians (for example, regulations, privileges, and requirements that Christian printers be employed by Jewish "publishers," and also censorship), its study opens up an interesting set of questions about the role that Christians played in shaping Jewish culture. Such questions are frequently investigated under the rubrics of "acculturation" and "influence" in which Jewish responses to the majority and dominant culture have been studied. But the direct involvement of Christians in the printing, editing, and censorship of Hebrew books has not been fully explored.

A focus on questions of canon allows us to examine the religious and cultural consequences of printing, for example, in the diffusion and popularization of Kabbalah. Indeed, in the Jewish case, print not only disseminated classical works but also, through the operations of editing and production in the print shop in some sense created those works—taking what had been corpora of various texts and redacting them into unitary "books," the most famous example being the Book of the Zohar. The process of redaction and the (re-)presentation of medieval texts in new material forms by printers is one that bears further study.

Changes in the public's reading habits also allow us to examine relations between high and low culture. One result of print was the emergence of a new class of readers: alongside the intellectual elite and the higher echelons of society were people of moderate income and basic education who gained access to sources of knowledge. Likewise, a new class of authors, a secondary intelligentsia of itinerant preachers and young rabbis, had access to publication and new opportunities to disseminate their ideas. While various social and religious factors influenced these trends and changes, the possibilities of print technology—as well as the commercial pressures that came with it—were a significant cause and enabler of these changes.

Many of these issues will sound familiar to European social and cultural historians who have absorbed the history of the book over the last several decades; and others will be familiar to Jewish historians who have focused on changes in Jewish intellectual or social life in the early modern period. Here we present research that addresses these questions and others, and in doing so, we hope to offer a synthesis between the history of the book and Jewish social and cultural history.

The Centrality of Italy

We focus first on a series of case studies on book production and circulation in early modern Italy. The centrality of Italy and its importance for the printing revolution cannot be exaggerated. Cities in Italy—especially Venice—rapidly became the most important centers of the new industry already in the late fifteenth century. As Brian Richardson opens his book on print in Renaissance Italy:

The introduction of the printing press to Italy in or shortly before 1465 had profound consequences for all users of the written word. Books now became available in much larger quantities than before, they cost much less, and texts could thus be disseminated more quickly and more widely. The sale of copies of a text could also be controlled, in principle, to the benefit of its author. Texts in printed books were presented differently in some respects from those in manuscripts, and new texts were produced with new sets of readers in mind.

This description is also an accurate assessment of the Hebrew printing enterprise. Italy was the central focus for Hebrew book production from the late fifteenth century through the middle of the sixteenth century and remained one of the most important centers of Jewish printing in the later sixteenth, the seventeenth, and the eighteenth centuries. During the incunabula period, of 139 certain Hebrew editions produced by 40 different presses, more than 60 percent of those presses were in Italy.

The dominance of Italy in the Hebrew printing industry is even clearer in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries even as the geographic scope of Hebrew printing expanded throughout Europe. Of the 5,630 editions of Hebrew books printed in the period 1539-1639 found by Gueta, nearly half—2,627—were produced in Italy. Poland constituted the next largest area of Hebrew book production at 911 editions in the same period, followed by the Ottoman Empire (499); Bohemia, that is, Prague (464); Switzerland (403); Germany (274); the Low Countries (195); and France (165). The share of Venice alone in sixteenth-century Hebrew printing was more than a third of the total production. And while a focus on quantitative measures establishes Italy's dominance, we should also note an older generation of scholarship that focused as well on the quality of Hebrew printed books in Italy as compared to other places. The Hebrew printing industry in Italy exercised its influence over (what Richardson calls) "all users of the written word" in a Jewish context in early modern Europe and the Mediterranean.

The quality, sophistication, and novelty of Venetian Hebrew printing considerably surpassed that of other centers, for example, the Ottoman Empire and Eastern Europe, a view widely held among early modern Jewish intellectuals and their readers. Rabbi Abraham ibn Migas, a sixteenth-century Jewish physician and scholar from Istanbul, wrote that "it is well known in all the lands of exile that the printing coming from Venice is the most correct and accurate of all printing done today everywhere on earth. And be so good as to take a printed Pentateuch from Salonica and [you will] see errors everywhere, which one does not see in the Venetian printing." Ibn Migas's view was echoed by Azariah Figo (1579-1647), a rabbi in Pisa and Venice, in the introduction to his commentary on a text that had previously been printed in Salonica: "because of this too, my heart quakes, for fear of another unintentional sin requiring expiation. And that is because this book was printed in Salonica, may God preserve it, and multiple mistakes and errors entered it, causing a loss of understanding and distancing the reader from the proper understanding."

The importance of Italy as a center for Hebrew book production in the late Middle Ages and the early modern period has been reflected in the corpus of scholarship devoted to the history of Hebrew printing in Italy and the considerable number of extant Hebrew manuscripts of Italian origin in public collections in Italy and elsewhere (as well as manuscripts of non-Italian origin now housed in Italian libraries). This work has been conducted by historians, bibliographers, and codicologists in Europe, Israel, and North America. Likewise, the study of early modern Italian Jewish history—in its cultural, religious, and social aspects—has also been a rich one, and some historians of Italian Jewish culture have paid considerable attention to the "book culture" of their subjects. Despite this rich array of scholarship, sustained analysis of key issues has been rare, especially regarding the dynamics of interaction between print (as a new technology for book production) and cultural change. This is surprising perhaps in that printing established itself as central to Jewish culture earlier in Italy than in other communities and continued to be a central aspect of social and economic life in Italian Jewish communities up to the modern period.

Not only was Italy central to book production in the early modern period, but the particular dynamics of the Hebrew book—its production, circulation, and consumption—in Italy allow us to get at many of these key questions. State control and regulation of the Hebrew book was an important feature of Italian Jewish cultural and social life from the fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century; and censorship and expurgation of the Hebrew book and of other books owned by Jews became an important phenomenon in Italian Jewish life very early—indeed, as the article by Nurit Pasternak in this volume shows, even before print.

While we might not wish to dwell extensively on the aesthetic qualities of Hebrew books in Italy, it is important to note that Italy housed innovative printer-publishers like Gershom Soncino and Daniel Bomberg, who made major advances in the Hebrew book in both typography and format. Of course, Italy's importance in printing in general in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries plays a role as well: It is somewhat beside the point to ask whether Soncino and Bomberg were in Italy because Italy was an important center of book production or whether they made Italy an important center of book production. Centers of particular industries tend to attract talent and in turn produce more. The printing industry in Italy demanded talent—skilled editors, typesetters, proofreaders, and printers—and capital to produce books; Italy both attracted talent and capital and produced more of it.

Italy's importance was magnified by its geographic centrality in the Jewish world. The Jews of northern Italy traded with Jews throughout the early modern Jewish world, from Germany and Poland-Lithuania to the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, by way of ports in Venice and other cities and overland routes across the Alps. Books printed in Italy circulated to all these areas, and books printed in the farther reaches of Jewish settlement made their way to Italy. Moreover, northern Italy drew in Jews from a wide variety of Jewish communities—from Iberia, southern France, southern Italy, former Byzantine lands, Germany, and the Middle East—who brought with them their medieval traditions and manuscripts, leading to rich possibilities for textual production and publication.

Italy continued to be an important print center into the later seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, although it was no longer dominant—the locus of Hebrew and Yiddish printing had shifted to Amsterdam and other areas in the Ashkenazi kulturbereich. But even in this period Italy's geographic location at the center of the Jewish world maintained its importance in terms of the production, dissemination, and consumption of Hebrew books.

Case Studies from Early Modern Italy

The essays in this volume comprise a series of monographic case studies, presenting new research and offering original contributions in several subfields that make up the "history of the book": manuscript studies and the histories of printing, censorship, and reading, to name a few. Taken together and read in the rough chronological order presented here, they trace the history of the Jewish book in many of its key ramifications from the fifteenth through the eighteenth centuries: the development of a Hebrew printing industry; changes in the reading habits of Jewish audiences; and the mechanisms of state and Church intervention in the publication and dissemination of Jewish literature.

We begin the volume with two essays on different aspects of manuscript production in Italy at the end of the medieval period. Evelyn Cohen focuses our attention on the colophons of a small number of Hebrew manuscripts that were apparently written for women patrons. Cautioning us to read the colophon evidence carefully, Cohen raises a number of key methodological issues for anyone who works with medieval Hebrew manuscripts. At the same time, her work focuses our attention on the multiple arrangements and possibilities for the production, dissemination, and use of manuscript books in the early modern period.

Nurit Pasternak describes the remarkable case of expurgation of Hebrew manuscripts in fifteenth-century Florence, undertaken well before the Counter-Reformation efforts at censorship and expurgation of Hebrew books in the second half of the sixteenth century. Her essay reminds us that aspects of state control of Jewish book publication and dissemination began even before print. Her work also suggests that at a very early stage in the history of censorship and expurgation Jews and Christians in Florence were cooperating to assure the safety and continued existence of Hebrew creativity.

These two essays are not, however, mere tokens intended to assuage medievalists before getting to the main business of print. Given that manuscript production continued and coexisted with print production throughout the early modern period, the question is not about the replacement of manuscripts with print but rather about how to study both manuscripts and print as part of a culture's overall relation to books. Moreover, both Cohen and Pasternak ask us to consider issues of continuity and discontinuity in Jewish book culture in the early modern period. Adrian Johns has recently argued that early modern readers did not take for granted the authority of printed books, and printers responded by emphasizing issues of authority and intended audience in title pages and other paratexts. Cohen's essay reminds us that a reader of a manuscript—in the same era as early printed books and just before—might have been confronted with paratexts such as colophons or annotations that also suggested negotiation over authority and audience, sometimes quite directly. Pasternak's work reminds us that censorship and expurgation can apply to any kind of book, manuscript or printed.

Nonetheless, the arrival of print did open the possibility for entrepreneurs and intellectuals to create something new out of older materials, whether through the editing, selection, and compilation of different texts or the creation of new formats—or both. Printing also created a new set of business and economic relationships around the production of Hebrew books: the printer-publishers had to be concerned with the marketplace in order to recoup their major capital investments in print, type, and labor—all expended before the book was sold. This public and commercial aspect to the creation and dissemination of Hebrew printed books represents a counterpoint to the kind of private and often noncommercial production of medieval Hebrew manuscripts by scholar-scribes writing mainly for themselves and sometimes for known patrons, described by Malachi Beit-Arié, and the commercial but still private relationship between scribes and patrons that Evelyn Cohen treats here.

These two new developments—the emergence of a new business of print and the creation of new and innovative "products"—are both on display in the career of one of the most important sixteenth-century printers of Hebrew books, Daniel van Bombergen, better known as Daniel Bomberg. In their essays, Bruce Nielsen and David Stern focus our attention on both of these aspects of Bomberg's activities and shed new light on his career and one of his key achievements as a printer of Hebrew books. Whereas the importance of printers, publishers, and booksellers was already recognized in the early phases of research in book history, in the case of early printed books, and especially Hebrew books, publisher, printer, and bookseller were roles that could be combined in one individual or divided among several, and the same person might fulfill different roles for different books. Nielsen places Bomberg's career as a printer, publisher, and agent of culture in this context and shows us how print leads to new conceptions of the "bookman."

David Stern looks at two of Bomberg's crowning achievements, the 1517 and 1525 Rabbinic Bibles and places these innovative works in the context of sixteenth-century Venice and in the larger context of what he calls "Jewish Bibles." The 1525 Hebrew Bible published by Bomberg formed the basis for the study of Bible by Jewish readers as well as by Christian scholars interested in the study of the Old Testament in Hebrew with its rabbinic commentaries. This Bible offered a clear text of the Hebrew, punctuated with vowel points, including the full repertory of distinctions made by the Masoretes between spelling and pronunciation. The commentaries that were printed on both sides of the biblical text became the standard commentaries consulted by Jewish scholars and readers in future generations, and thus this enterprise shaped the Jewish canon of biblical commentary for centuries.

In addition to Bomberg, another figure emerges as crucial to Stern's study—Jacob ben Hayyim ibn Adoniyahu, the editor of the 1525 Rabbinic Bible (and of other works published by Bomberg). The partnership between Ibn Adoniyahu, the Jew, and Bomberg, the Christian, is exemplary of some key aspects of Hebrew book production as a collaborative and commercial enterprise, detailed in Nielsen's article. In Ibn Adoniyahu, Stern finds the exemplar of a new kind of what Nielsen calls the "bookman": the editor who emerged alongside the publisher-entrepreneur, the typesetter, and the author as a crucial figure in the production of printed books.

The history of the book as social and cultural history has offered the insight that no text reaches readers unmediated by its material form, whether scroll or codex or Kindle, manuscript or print or electronic. In the copying of a manuscript, a scribe serves as a mediating figure between author and reader—although in many cases, the reader is the scribe and vice versa. But in the presentation of a printed book to a reader, many more people play a mediating role: publishers, editors, correctors, typesetters, and press operators.

In this light, Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin has proposed that we also see censors and expurgators as mediating figures who shape material texts for readers and perform a function not unlike that of the editor. Piet van Boxel's study of Robert Bellarmine and the Catholic Reformation project to collect (and then censor) all passages in medieval rabbinic Bible commentaries based on the Talmud similarly offers us a new perspective on Church projects to censor Hebrew books. Bellarmine and his colleagues and predecessors viewed rabbinic biblical exegesis as an important source for both Christian learning and for converting Jews. Although van Boxel suggests that the project was ultimately abortive and rabbinic Bible commentaries were hardly censored or expurgated, the work of these Church officials can be seen as a kind of editorial intervention that not only saved the texts but rendered them useful in new ways.

Undoubtedly, however, van Boxel's subjects, like Pasternak's from a century before, also represent the power of Christian authorities, ecclesiastical or secular, to control the dissemination of Jewish books. Joseph R. Hacker's article takes us in a different direction, focusing on the little-known story of internal Jewish censorship in the sixteenth century in which Jewish authorities attempted to control the content of Hebrew printed books. After a review of the available evidence, Hacker concludes that attempts at prepublication censorship were largely ineffective but that communal and rabbinic elites could bring pressure to bear after publication in the form of expurgation and modifications. These interventions caused extensive delays in the distribution of the printed books and generated economic losses to the authors and the publishers. Contrary to former assumptions of scholars, the censorship was not done in cases of halakhic deviance but rather in cases of opposition to particular doctrines and beliefs, such as supposedly heretical views or criticism of accepted religious authorities. This surprising finding may result from the particular dynamics in Italy, where rabbis may have had less influence on the inner workings of the print shop, a site of Jewish-Christian collaboration that was ultimately under the control of the Christian press owner.

In her study of book culture among the Jews of early modern Modena, Federica Francesconi uses the censorship and inquisitorial control of Jewish books to open up a panoramic view of the cultural interests of a Jewish community in the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, the period after the printed book had already gained full dominance over cultural life. Inquisitorial inventories of Jewish books in Mantua from this period have already been carefully studied and have yielded important quantitative data about the kinds of books owned by Jews. By examining similar material in a different community and correlating it with trial records, Francesconi suggests that the reading habits of Modenese Jews can be seen as an important index of acculturation as well as a reflection of internal Jewish religious and intellectual trends.

Francesconi's study shifts us from the production and transmission of books to their consumption by a Jewish audience. Her research also suggests the importance of a relatively new institution, the library, in the cultural life of Italian Jewish communities. In early seventeenth-century Modena, we see private libraries opening up to a limited and elite group as a shared cultural institution. We might consider this development an indirect consequence of the greater availability of books due to print: book-saturated societies seem to produce public or semipublic spaces for the reading and use of books.

The impact of print—and the possibilities it creates for wider distribution of books—has been noted in connection with an important aspect of Jewish religious life, the realm of liturgy and ritual. Print certainly made possible a much wider ownership of prayer books (siddurim and mahzorim); of books that functioned liturgically and as guides to rituals (Passover Haggadot and books of blessings such as the Grace after Meals); and of books of minhagim, descriptions of customs and rituals. But print not only created siddur-saturated synagogues: it also changed the nature of the synagogue service itself, contributing to the amalgamation of local rites and the consolidation of regional liturgies. While the main story of print and Jewish liturgy is, therefore, one of increasing standardization, Michela Andreatta's article demonstrates that print could also allow for what she calls "customization" of the prayer book for specific audiences within the Jewish community. Her study of prayer books commissioned by mystically inclined devotional confraternities not only offers us an important case study in the popularization and spread of new kabbalistic pietistic practices in the seventeenth century, but also explores how a particular group, with specialized interests, could use the technology of print to promote its cause. As was true for Stern's study of the Rabbinic Bibles, the role of the editor as a mediator between text and reader is crucial to Andreatta's study. Here, however, the editor does not need to imagine an audience that might buy the printed product; rather, the market is ready made: the editor knows the readers, and he can tailor the work to their specific needs.

Francesca Bregoli's study of the Hebrew printing industry in eighteenth-century Livorno returns us to some of the central questions raised above. Her printers contend with commercial forces and with the regulation of their industry by the Tuscan state, by the Church, and by the lay leaders of the Jewish community. But the gradual abolition of these controls, including the ending of a monopolistic privilege and the emergence of a "free market," represents a new chapter in the history of the "Jewish" book and highlights the transitional nature of the eighteenth century.

Explicitly or implicitly, the studies in this volume address themselves to the question of what the cultural, economic, and legal circumstances of bookmaking can tell us not only about the books themselves but also about the circumstances of Jewish life in a particular place and time. Taken individually and collectively, these studies also offer a picture of the interaction between people and books, whether modeled as a "communications circuit" (Darnton) or as a "socio-economic conjuncture" (Barker and Adams). And they certainly show us that "new readers made new texts," as Roger Chartier has put it.

A consistent theme in these essays is the interplay between governmental (state or Church) control of bookmaking and distribution and the cultural practices of the Jewish communities in question. But such control—whether in the form of censorship or regulation of the printing industry—can also be viewed on a continuum of interaction between Jews and Christians in the production, dissemination, and use of Hebrew books in this period. The studies by Stern, Nielsen, and Van Boxel not only elucidate Daniel Bomberg as a Christian producer of Jewish books but also Robert Bellarmine as a Christian reader of Jewish books. Some of the Modenese Jews studied by Francesconi, on the other hand, might be described as Jewish readers of Christian books.

These studies also offer a relatively long-term view of Jewish culture over a nearly 300-year period in which books—and the circumstances of their production and use—represent evidence of continuity and change. In this regard, aspects of the history of the book among Italian Jews might be seen as indices of modernity—the move toward a free market in Livorno, or the reading of vernacular literature in Modena, to offer two examples.

The studies here focus on northern Italy, an important Jewish culture in the early modern period, but certainly dwarfed demographically by the much larger worlds of Ashkenazi Jewry north of the Alps or Sephardi Jewry in the Ottoman Empire. Specialists who focus on those Jewish communities will have to decide the extent to which the conclusions drawn here apply outside Italy. Taken together, however, we hope these studies offer a roadmap of questions and approaches that will stimulate the larger fields of book history, Jewish history, and their fruitful intersection