Where you are
This page presents the results of a research project of the Jewish Museum in Prague which was inspired by the 500 years anniversary of Hebrew printing in Bohemia and Moravia (1512 – 2012).
The subject-matter of our research is Hebrew books printed on the territory of Bohemia and Moravia and their printers. Related subjects, like the censorship or Christian Hebrew printing, are not treated here; some of them are studied in our collaborative monograph Hebrew Printing in Bohemia and Moravia published on the occasion of the anniversary. In terms of time-range, our research concentrates on the oldest period: from 1512, when the first book was published, until 1672, when Hebrew printing in Prague was allowed to resume after a three-year long forced closure. In this period, apart from Prague, the only other locality where Hebrew was printed in Bohemian lands was – briefly – Prostejov (German: Prostitz) at the beginning of the 17th century. We hope the research will continue in future and cover all the history of Hebrew printing in Bohemian lands and also, its diverse aspects. Already by now, we know of researchers who work on the following period of Prague Hebrew printing. We hope the page could also serve as a virtual forum where the interested public can meet.
state of preservation
We should mention one fact at the outset that might cast doubt on any conclusions reached here: for the earliest period of book printing we do not know what has not survived. Only one or two copies of the very earliest editions might be extant today. Either the ravages of time or historical events have taken the rest. Certain types of literature – again, often as a unique copy – were preserved only thanks to scholarly contemporaries being avid collectors, and in this respect the Hebraist Johann Buxtorf the Elder (1564–1629) and Johann Christoph Wagenseil (1633–1705) deserve special mention. The Jewish chapbooks printed in Prague during the latter half of the 17th century are found almost exclusively in the collection of David Oppenheim (1664–1736), Chief Rabbi of Prague, and it is surely the case that many such books that did not come into his library, or were printed later, have been completely lost. The following overview, therefore, can only be based on what is known to have been published, or what we have newly discovered ourselves.
state of research
Except for rare exceptions, Hebrew printing in Bohemia and Moravia was left aside by scholars of Czech book culture. The reasons are quite easy to understand: the two main obstacles are the language and the rarity of the books themselves. Since the beginning of Jewish historical and literary studies it was being taken up by prominent Jewish scholars, first among them, Leopold Zunz in his three fundamental texts (1844 and 1845) dealing with Prague Hebrew printing and the Gersonite printers’ family. Moritz Steinschneider’s catalogue of the Hebrew books in the Bodleian Library in Oxford (1852–1860) is another essential source of information as it lists also the above mentioned large and invaluable collection of R. Oppenheim. Two studies on Prague and Moravian Jewish printing houses operation and production were published by Aaron Freimann (1917 and 1929–1930).
Among Czech Jewish scholars, it was Salomon Hugo Lieben who first dealt with the topic in detail (1927 and 1929). The most detailed description so far was published by Hayyim D. Friedberg in his History of Hebrew typography (1935, in Hebrew). Between the two world wars the Czech scholar Josef Volf studied selected chapters of the history of Prague Jewish printers and printing houses in the late 17th and the 18th century.
Prague Hebrew book production is listed – in a brief form and selectively – in the Bibliographical Survey of Jewish Prague by Otto Muneles (1952). Between the 1970’s and 2000’s Bedřich Nosek, Milena Flodrová, Andrea Braunová and Daniel Polakovič, all from the Jewish Museum in Prague, published in the Museum’s review Judaica Bohemiae several studies based on a survey of the Museum’s Library holdings. Apart from a catalogue of the books to be found in the collections of the Museum and a list of the printers and the printing houses employees these studies also provide descriptions of their ornamentation. Marwin J. Heller (2004) in English, and Petr Voit (2006) in Czech dealt with the subject most recently. Main bibliographic tools are today – besides the invaluable Steischneider’s catalogue – Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book by Isaiah Vinograd (1993-1995, in Hebrew, printed) and the on-line Bibliography of the Hebrew Book 1470-1960 (accessible at National Library of Israel website, in Hebrew). A great development of most recent years are the electronic and on-line catalogues and digital libraries of the big and smaller libraries which enable the reader to study rare or unknown books (more in the Reading room), and also the blogs and specialized websites such as the Seforim blog or projects such as Hebrewbooks.org.
In the libraries in Czech Republic only a small portion of the production that came out of Bohemian and Moravian Hebrew presses of the period under scrutiny can be found, mostly in the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague. Individual books are to be found at the National Library of the Czech Republic, Research Library at Olomouc or also, e.g., the regional museum at Kyjov. The most important and the largest relevant collections worldwide are located at the above named Bodleian Library at Oxford, the Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York and the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem. Smaller but valuable collections are kept in the Herzog-August Bibliothek in Wolfenbüttel, the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek in Wien, the British Library in London, the university libraries in Erlangen and Basel… In the United States, the collections of the libraries such as the New York Public Library, Chabad Library and the Mendel Gottesman Library of the Yeshiva University in New York or, of course, the Library of Congress in Washington hold valuable and rare material. Single pieces, sometimes of utter rarity, may be found also in the private collections. Quite a few of these books are unica and may be studied in only one library in the world.
The time- and funds-consuming research was generously financed by several sponsoring organizations, to which we are deeply indebted. The main ones were: a private foundation that wishes to remain anonymous, the Fulbright Commission, the Government of Lower Saxony through Herzog-August Bibliothek, and the Jewish Museum in Prague.
The main result of the research is, beside the above publication, a bibliography of Hebrew printing in the Bohemian lands that is currently being built into an on-line accessible database. This basic tool necessary for the study of the phenomenon itself and of the cultural history of Czech Jewry does not yet exist. Largely, works by Moritz Steinschneider (in Latin), Otto Muneles (in Czech, but too brief and selective) and the above recent Hebrew language biliographies (Bibliography of the Hebrew Book 1470-1960 and Vinograd’s Thesaurus) may be used to a great advantage. Still we believe the interested public will appreciate to have the material collected in one place – in Czech and, in the near future, also in English.
Another outcome of the research was the identification of a couple of so far unrecorded books, sometimes in totally unexpected places. Among them is the early selihot fragment found in the Holešov synagogue, Avot in Yiddish in a private collection in California (we did not “find” this one, of course, only described). The collaboration with Petr Voit from the Strahov Library of the Royal Canonry of Premonstratensians has brought to light new and interesting facts on the cooperation of the early Jewish and Christian printers in Prague
All that has been done was made possible only thanks to the openness and kindness of the following organizations and their staff members: the Bodleian Library at Oxford – Dr. Piet Van Boxel, Dr. César Merchan-Hamann; the British Library – Ilana Tahan; Herzog-August Biblothek Wolfenbüttel – Dr. Jill Bepler; Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague – all my colleagues and most namely Sylvia Singerová and Michal Bušek, which were at the beginning of the research; Library Of Agudas Chassidei Chabad – Ohel Yosef Yitzchak Lubavitch, Brooklyn, N.Y.; Library of Congress, Hebraic Section, Washington – Dr. Peggy K. Pearlstein a Sharon S. Horowitz; Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York – Dr. David Kraemer, Rabbi Jerry Schwarzbard and all other staff of the „special collections“; National Library of Israel, Jerusalem – Ofra Lieberman and the librarians in the Ulam keriah le-yahadut and of the Gershom Scholem Library; New York Public Library, Dorot Jewish Division, New York, N.Y. – Roberta Saltzman, Eleanor Yadin and all the other staff; Österreichische Nationalbibliotek – staff of the collection of manuscripts and the “alte drucke” Universitätsbibliothek Basel; Universitätsbibliothek Erlangen-Nürnberg; Research Library at Olomouc – Mgr. Rostislav Krušinský; Yeshiva University, Mendel Gottesman Library – Shulamith Z. Berger.
And finally our thanks go to Prof. Malachi Beit-Arié, Prof. Menachem Schmelzer and Isaac Yudlov, as well as Prof. Jean Baumgarten, Dr. Kamil Boldan, Dr. Iveta Cermanová, Konstanze K. Kunst, Dr. Lucia Raspe, R. Jerry Schwarzbard, Dr. Pavel Sládek, Jurek Stankiewicz, Heike Troeger, Dr. Lenka Veselá, and Doc. Petr Voit, among many others. We wish to thank also Eva-Maria Jansson, Jiří Vnouček and Royal Library in Copenhagen for their kindness and constant goodwill. Very special thanks go to Prof. Rachel L. Greenblatt, Dr. Benjamin Richler, Dr. Alexandr Putík, Mgr. Daniel Polakovič, Mgr. Andrea Jelínková, Mgr. Michaela Scheibová, Judy Diamant, Irena Apt, Dr. Steven Weiss and Brad Sabin Hill.
From the beginning the following specialists have collaborated on the project: Andrea Jelínková (originally the Jewish Museum in Prague, today Czech Academy of Sciences), Ondřej Čihák (originally the Jewish Museum in Prague, today Czech Music Information Centre), Silvia Singerová (currently on maternity leave) and Olga Sixtová. From the staff members of the Library of the Jewish Museum in Prague, it was especially Markéta Kotyzová, Dana Mrákotová and Michal Bušek who contributed greatly to the project.