Selihot ke-Seder Bet ha-Knesset ha-Yeshanah. Prague: Judah Loew and Azriel, sons of Moses Mehokek [Schedel], 1605.
JMP, call no. 1.286, title page.

Map showing the wanderings of the Israelites on their way to the Holy land. In: Levush ha-Orah, 1603. JMP, call no. 3.858.

The Schedels

The first who tried to compete with the Gersonites were the brothers Abraham, Judah Loeb, and Azriel, sons of Moses Schedel, known as Moses Darshan. In March of 1602 they published a Yiddish translation of the Book of Ezekiel. The preface and even the translation itself was likely done by the printers’ father, Moses ben Abraham, who at the end of the preface states that the book was printed in “his printing house.” Moses Schedel is a distinctive as well as typical personality during this phase of Prague Hebrew book printing. He was not an author himself, but more of an intermediary, working as a compiler, translator, and editor. According to the title page of the treatise on the rules for ritual slaughter, Tikkun ha-Bedek (1604), he held the function of a rabbinical judge (dayyan) and is given the honorific mhr“r, which confirms that he was educated as a rabbi. In the epitaph he is called darshan (preacher, commentator) and moreh (teacher), and interpolated here are references to his commentary on the Haggadah and prayers. He had already contributed to the publication of Mahzor in 1585–1586 as an editor and commentator. It was his work and perhaps at his expense that led to the publication in 1605 of Selihot, based on the rite used in the Old Synagogue (Altshul), where he was a darshan and an elder. The occasion for the publication was the substantial reconstruction of the synagogue, for which Moses in the title-page text takes much of the credit. In 1606/07 the last volume of the Yiddish translation of liturgical hymns was published, Yotzerot, whose authorship Moses claims in the title-page text to the third volume. In 1607, his sons published an illustrated Passover Haggadah with his commentary Helkat Mehokek, which was re-edited in 1624 by Abraham Heida.

In the imprints of the Schedel editions Moses calls himself mehokek, printer, which in his case meant owner of the printing house, the publisher. The practicing printers were his sons, at first the eldest, Abraham and Judah Loeb, and then later Judah Loeb and Ezriel. Surprisingly, in the Old Jewish Cemetery the gravestones of only two family members, Moses himself and his daughter Dinah (d. 1633), have been identified. The date given on Moses’s gravestone (Friday 29 Shevat 367) is a minor error. We know from colophons and imprints that he died between 3 Heshvan 367 (3 November 1606) and 9 Adar 367 (8 March 1607).

The typography of the Schedel printing house is interesting, or rather its origin is. Both the typeface and the decorative elements – borders, vignettes, etc. – we largely know from Italian Hebrew editions, some of them documented for the first time as early as the mid-16th century. Where did the Schedel brothers come by this material? The books themselves indicate that their father Moses was associated with Jacob ben Gershon Bak, who may well have been a native of Italy and thus could have brought Italian typographical materials with him to Prague, particularly since as a publisher he had established contacts among Italian printers. We cannot say with certainty, however, that it was the Schedel brothers who took possession of Jacob Bak’s materials after he brought them to Prague. On the face of it, it seems improbable that a well-known Prague darshan and an official at the Altshul and his sons would be so dishonest in the conduct of their affairs.

Regardless, the fact remains that the Schedel brothers with their edition of Helkat Mehokek were the first in Prague to use well-known woodblocks with illustrations from the first Venice edition of Minhagim in 1593. And it wasn’t Jacob Bak who used them next, but Moses Utitz (Minhagim 1611), and then Abraham Heida (Shoshanat ha-Amakim 1617). Only after Heida’s death, and by coincidence Jacob Bak’s death as well, did these printing blocks become the property of Jacob’s sons, Joseph and Judah Bak, and their heirs, who were still using them individually in the 1670s.

Printer’s device of Judah Loeb Schedel in Levush ha-Orah. Prague 1603.
JMP, call no. 3.858.

Of the three new printers that began operations in Prague at the beginning of the century, the Schedel brothers not only had the greatest ambition but also the most capital. Judah Loeb Schedel was the only to have his own printer’s device made, the Czech heraldic lion clutching printing tampons in its claws. The lion is set in a garland with the Hebrew name of the printer. This printer’s device first appears in Ma’ase Yetziat Mitzrayim (1602), one of the Yiddish translations and paraphrases of the Bible published by the brothers (others: Ezekiel 1602; Bereshit 1605; Daniel 1609). The Schedel brothers also took care with the design of other books: Tzurat Beit ha-Mikdash (1602), a tract by Yom Tov Limpman Heller on the appearance of the Temple in Jerusalem, and a supercommentary on Rashi’s commentary to the Torah, Levush ha-Orah by Mordecai Jaffe (1603), are furnished with attractive, newly commissioned woodcut illustrations. After their father’s death however, the brothers published only a few more books besides the just completed Haggadah: Kitzur Mizrahi (1604–1608); a short tract on the ten signs of the Messiah’s coming and the status of the soul after death, on paradise and hell, Der Rozn Gortn; Lehem Rav (in the house of Abraham ben Solomon, 1608); and Daniel Buch (1609). In 1610, Judah collaborated with Gershom Katz to publish Iggeret ha-Vikuah by Shem Tov ibn Falaquera. After a reprinting of Selihot according to the rite of the Altshul (1613), their activity came to an end, and all traces of them in Prague, as has already been mentioned, entirely disappeared.