Avraham ben Simon Heida Lemberger

Tombstone of Abraham Heida,
Old Jewish Cemetery in Prague


The year 1610 is the first time we see “the esteemed, honorable sir, Mr. Abraham ben Simon Heida, known to all as Mr. Abraham Lemburger” among Prague publishers, and eventually among printers as well. The Hebrew ish Haida, as it appears in the colophon of Keli Hemdah, means “man from Haida,” that is, the far western Bohemian town of Bor u Tachova, which was likely his family’s hometown. At least the last two generations had already settled in Prague, and buried in the Old Jewish Cemetery is not only the printer Abraham but already his father Simon, a man “knowledgeable in Torah, Talmud, grammar, songs and chanting” (i.e., liturgical poetry and synagogal cantillation of the

Solomon ben Jehiel Luria (1510 – 1573), Yam shel Shelomo, 1615-1618
JMP, call no. 2.856, title page

Bible). He died on 18 October 1584, at the age of forty, if we have correctly understood the Mishnaic formulation used in the epitaph. Therefore, he could have been born in 1544/45, and his son, Abraham, who is mentioned at the end of his father’s epitaph, about twenty years later (i.e., after 1564, perhaps around 1570). By the time he started to publish Hebrew books in 1610, Abraham was already a mature and respected man. His gravestone is partly illegible today, but by taking the sum of other sources we are able to conclude that he died on 21 January 1629. His epitaph starts the same as his father’s: “Here lies a man of faith and artistry.” His is given the abbreviated rabbinical honorific (mvhr”r) and the epithet hasid (pious), and is further described as well-versed in wisdom and mysteries, exemplary in his fear of God, zealousness, purity, and asceticism (perishut). He is said to have instructed many students, even rabbis, which can be taken literally, or, perhaps, figuratively, through the books he published. His name will be remembered through books of mystical and deep wisdom (again, those he published) and the reward for his righteousness and charitable deeds will be his repose in the highest celestial spheres. We should not take the sum of these attributes as just an empty formula as a closer inspection of the books he printed yields a similar image of the deceased.

Heida operated as a publisher and printer from 1610 to 1628. Prior to that, he had resided and studied outside of Prague, as the surname Lemberger (from Lemberg, i.e. Lvov) would suggest, and as he himself states in the preface to the compendium of precepts from Hoshen Mishpat in verse, called Ein Mishpat (1614), a text he made a copy of “during the days of my youth in Lvov.” His years as a student prepared Abraham well for his career: there is no doubt he chose the works for publication himself, often also serving as editor (e.g., Selihot 1608; Hen Tov 1618–1624; Olelot Ephraim 1620), and the texts of his editions were carefully prepared. Other times he would hire a proofreader, such as Moses ben Tzevi, Joseph Miklis, or Jacob ben Ezekiel Moses Hayyat. His role in the first two editions was as a partner (Keli Hemdah 1610, and Manoah Matza Hen 1612; the second volume containing annotations to Bahya ibn Halevi’s kabbalistic commentary to the Torah, published by Moses Utitz in the printing house of Elijah ben Isaac Schleifer). He began to print on his own in 1613 (Mahberet ha-Tofet ve-ha-Eden by Immanuel ben Solomon of Rome, a poem on paradise and hell inspired by Dante).

A closer look at the roughly thirty-five editions put out by Heida reveals a distinctive personality who within the corpus of Hebrew literature was most attracted to Kabbalah, aggadah, midrash, biblical commentary, and liturgical texts. Heida occasionally supplemented this with halakhic texts as well as religious ethics and poetry. In many cases his was the first (and sometimes only) edition published of authors from Eastern Europe, where he still had contacts from his days as a student (e.g., Ein Mishpat 1614; Tal Orot 1615; and Hanukat ha-Bayit 1616). Other times he published local, contemporary writers, such as Eleazar Altschul-Perels or Abraham ben Shabbetai Sheftel. In 1615–1618, Eleazar ben Abraham Hanokh Altschul-Perels prepared the publication of Yam Shel Shelomo by Solomon ben Jehiel Luria, an important commentary to the tractate Bava Kamma of the Babylonian Talmud. His edition of Zevah Todah, containing kabbalistic prayers by the same scholar, came out in 1615. Abraham Horowitz, whose ethical testament Hibbur Yesh Nohalin was published by Heida in 1615, was throughout his career – unlike his son Isaiah – Maimonidean rationalist.

Many times the texts Heida chose came from the circle of Safed scholars and kabbalists and their followers (Hen Tov 1618–1624; Kol Bokhim 1621). Seder ve-Tikkun, containing Tikkun keriat Shema al-ha-Mitah and Tikkun Hatzot, kabbalistic liturgy by Moses Cordovero and Isaac Luria (the Ari), was published in 1615. According to the printer, this was its first edition. Moses Alshekh, who belonged to the wider circle of Safed, had his commentary to the Torah, Torat Mosheh (1616), published with the financial help of Aaron Zanvil Samuel ben Israel, and his commentary to The Five Scrolls, Shoshanat ha-Amakim (1617), was financed by Alexander ben Hayyim Ashkenaz. Abraham Heida was also the first to publish in Prague the kabbalistic liturgy for the Sabbath, Tikkune Shabbat (c.1615 and 1628).

Some of the most comprehensive and important book projects were the famous collection of Talmudic aggadot Ein Yaakov, compiled by Jacob ben Solomon ibn Habib (1621–1622), and an index to the aggadot and midrashim, Zikhron Torat Moshe (1623). Solomon Ephraim Luntschitz’s collection of sermons, Olelot Ephraim, was published by Heida in 1619.

Illustrations from Shoshanat ha-Amakim, 1617. JMP, call no. 2.375.

The outbreak of plague led the printer in 1615 to publish the books of prayers Ma’aneh Lashon and Seder Pitom ha-Ketoret, after the Ari (this second text had been brought from the Holy Land). The dramatic events of 1618 called for the publication of Selihot Mi-Kol ha-Shanah. The printer claims it was the first time it had appeared in this form, yet we do not know whether he is referring to its octavo format or the augmentation of the contents: also included are the Selihot after the Polish rite as well as prayers from Ephraim Luntschitz for 2 Adar and from Eliezer Ashkenazi for various calamities. These Selihot and the edition of the siddur with Psalms and ma’amadot from 1621 are documented as unique editions.

Abraham did not have a stable address in Prague, and he moved his printing works from one affluent house to another: he printed at Elijah ben Isaac Schleifer’s in 1612 and at Samuel Meisel’s in 1613–1615, Judah ben Jacob Katz Gershuni’s in 1618–1624, and finally in the house of Jacob Basch in 1627. Sons Judah Loeb and Moses printed Kol Yehudah in 1641. The design of Heida’s books does not deviate from the standard of the period. He adopted without any special innovations of his own the originally Italian typographic materials (typefaces, borders, and other typographic material) already employed before in Prague by the Schedel brothers. His first books in particular – either in small octavo format or in quarto format – were decidedly poor in terms of decoration and typography (the only characteristic decorative element in Heida’s work is the infinity knot, which his sons also used in 1641). Only later did he take on more demanding projects of larger format, often, as we have seen, in collaboration with co-publishers or sponsors.