Judaica Online Exhibitions

Penn Library Exhibitions

Printers Mark by Van Bashuysen
From Written to Printed Text:
The Transmission of Jewish Tradition

An Exhibition of Books and Manuscripts
from the Library of the
Center for Judaic Studies

The transmission of Judaism has always been heavily dependent on written texts as well as the oral traditions surrounding them. One way to examine this process is by analyzing the various formats of Jewish texts in order to try to understand how they may have been read. At two points in history the Jewish book has undergone fundamental transformationsfrom scroll to codex in the eighth and ninth centuries, and from manuscript to print in the early modern period. It is this latter transformation that this exhibit will examine by focusing on the impact of printing on the format of the Jewish book and, by extension, on the Jewish cultural and religious experience.2
Historians of general European culture have noted the importance of the printed book for the dissemination of knowledge to a wider audience and for shaping the ways in which texts were read and ideas were digested.3 In the study of Jewish culture, several scholars have noted the broad impact of printing, but this recognition has not stimulated an extensive analysis of this phenomenon. The study of the book has been primarily focused on subjects such as manuscript illumination and paleography, bio-bibliographical studies of Hebrew printers, and the censorship of Hebrew books.4 However, the question of the impact of printing on the transmission of Jewish culture is a major lacuna in the scholarly literature.5 We cannot hope to fill this gap in the scholarship concerning the history of the Jewish book in this exhibit. We do wish, however, to pose some basic questions: what effects did the printing press have on the transmission of Jewish culture and on a Jew's understanding of his (or her) tradition? How, in other words, did printing change Jewish texts and the use of these texts?
1. The Printer's mark found on the cover, title, and current pages belongs to Henricus Jacobus Van Bashuysen, printer of Hebrew books in Hanau, Germany in the years 1708-1712. An example of this printer's mark can be found on the title page of: Isaac Abravanel, Perush ha-Torah. Hanau, 1710.
2. In thinking and writing about these issues, we have been aided by the helpful advice of many people. We are especially grateful to Rachel Anisfeld, Aviva Astrinsky, Israel Bartal, Sol Cohen, Robert Kraft, Elhanan Reiner, David Ruderman, and Michael Ryan. We would also like to publicly recognize the assistance of the staffs of the Center for Judaic Studies and the Department of Special Collections in the Van Pelt Library, especially Sheila Allen, Pnina Bar-Kana, Gregory Bear, Howell E. Dell, Judith Leifer, and Ruth Ronen.
3. There is now a vast literature on the impact of the printed press, beginning with the well-known work of Elizabeth Eisenstein, The Printing Press as an Agent of Change (Cambridge, 1979), and Lucien Febvre and Henri-Jean Martin, The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450-1800 (London, 1976). Two recent collections of new studies on the impact of printing are The Culture of Print: Power and Uses of Print in Modern Europe, Roger Chartier, ed. (Princeton, 1989) and Print and Culture in the Renaissance, Gerald Tyson and Sylvia Wagonheim, eds. (Newark, DE, 1986).
4. A relatively complete list of the kinds of studies mentioned can be found in Sharon Liberman Mintz, "A Selected Bibliography of the Hebrew Book," in A Sign and a Witness: Two Thousand Years of Hebrew Books and Illuminated Manuscripts, Leonard Gold, ed. (New York, 1988), pp.177-197.
5. There are some exceptions. See now the works of Shifra Baruchson, Malachi Beit-Arie, Zeev Gries, Stefan Reif, and Elhanan Reiner. Also useful for the transition from manuscript to print culture are the papers from the conference "Artefact and Text: The Re-Creation of Classical Jewish Literature in Medieval Hebrew Manuscripts," collected in the Bulletin Library of Manchester 75 (1993).

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