Wednesday, January 6, 2010

With Moveable Type

The first known book to be printed in Europe with moveable type was the Gutenberg Bible, printed in Germany in 1445. And while the German printing guild had strict rules against apprenticing any non-Christians, it did not take long (about 2 decades) for the technology to spread. When two Germans set up shop in Subiaco, near Rome, they attracted a large following of people interested in learning this new form of printing, including a large number of Jews.

Among the known Hebrew incunabula (books printed before 1500) is the famous volume of Talmud Berachot printed by Joshua Soncino on 20 Tevet 5244 (1483). It also contained the commentaries of Rashi, Tosafot, Maimonides and others. It was printed on the 279th yahrzeit of Maimonides.(The first complete Talmud was printed by Daniel Bomberg around 1520.)

While this was not the first book printed by the Soncinos, it is the most famous of the early publications. Soncino also printed the first Hebrew Bible with vowels.

Joshua ben Israel Nathan Soncino, the scion of a distinguished Sephardi family, had great success as a printer. When he passed away, the business was inherited by his nephew, Gershon. In addition to his printing business, Gershon was active in assisting the exiled Jews of Spain and gathering Jewish manuscripts from various parts of France. His son, Eleazar, who worked in Constantinople from 1534 to 1547, was the last of the Soncino printers.

In early 20th century, a Jewish publication company opened under the Soncino name. The modern Soncino Press is known for its excellent English translations of and commentaries on the Talmud and Torah that were, for many years, the standard and most popular translations.

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