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

Law and Lore: Mishnah, Talmud, and Halakha

If the Bible is the foundation for Judaism, it can be argued that the rabbinic literature included in the Talmud and related works is the edifice constructed on this foundation. A major focus of scribal activity in the Middle Ages was the copying of the Mishnah and the Gemara, which together form the Talmud. At the same time that scribes continued to copy the text of the Mishnah and the Gemara, the learned discussions of medieval rabbis produced new commentaries. While most medieval Talmud manuscripts do not include these commentaries, some manuscripts of the later Middle Ages did begin to surround the text with the commentary of Rashi. These manuscripts anticipated what would later become standard with the introduction of the printing.
As the printing of the Talmud became standardized, the study of the Mishnah itself continued and was also affected by the new possibilities of printing. The surrounding of the Mishnah text with the Gemara in some medieval manuscripts was paralleled by a surrounding of the Mishnah text with commentaries such as those of Moses Maimonides (d. 1204) and later, Obadiah Bertinoro (d. 1516). Likewise, the printing press was used for the dissemination of works of halakha (Jewish law) and became crucial in the process of legal codification.
Items on Display:  

Figure 19
Medium Res (36 Kb)
High Res (305 Kb)

1. Talmud Bavli `im Perush Rashi, Tosafot u-Piske Tosafot. Tractate Avodah Zarah. Venice: Daniel Bomberg, 1520.
Figure 19.


  Although Joshua Solomon Soncino was the first Italian to print tractates of the Talmud in the 1480s, Bomberg's press was the first to produce a complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud. Taking over the format developed by Soncino (in imitation of some medieval manuscripts), Bomberg set the standard format of the Talmud as well as the standard pagination still in use, with minor variations, today. Virtually every edition of the Babylonian Talmud up to the present has been influenced by Bomberg's format. The Mishnah and Gemara text appear together in the center of the page. The commentary of Rashi appears on the inner margin. Printed in the outer margin is the commentary of the Tosafot, the disciples and successors to Rashi in twelfth-century France. The Talmud text appears in square letters and the commentaries appear in what rapidly became the standard font for commentaries in Hebrew. This volume also includes Maimonides's commentary on the Mishnah and the legal commentary of Asher ben Yehiel (d. 1327).

Figure 20
Medium Res (31 Kb)
High Res (266 Kb)
2. Moses Maimonides. Perush la-Mishnah Avot.
Soncino, Italy: Joshua Solomon Soncino, 1485.
Figure 20.
  3. Mishnayot 'im Perush Rabenu Moshe Maimon.
Venice: Marco Antonio Justinian, 1545-1546.

The influence of the printed edition of the Talmud on other texts can be seen in the differences between these two editions of Maimonides's commentary on the Mishnah. In the 1485 edition by Joshua Solomon Soncino, the text of the Mishnah tractate, Pirke Avot, is printed in square type, followed by Maimonides's commentary in Rashi script. A later owner of this book vocalized some sections of the Mishnah by hand, indicating the continued oral study of the text. This format continued to be used for printing Maimonides's commentary in the back of individual tractates of the Talmud. In the later volume, printed for independent use, the now-familiar format from the Bomberg Talmud is used: the Mishnah text is surrounded by Maimonides's commentary and by the commentary of Rabbi Samson, one of the Tosafists.

Figure 21
Medium Res (39 Kb)
High Res (318 Kb)

4. Talmud Yerushalmi min Masekhet Berakhot ve-Seder Zera'im
kulah u-Masekhet Shekalim 'im Perush Eliyahu ben Yehuda Leb...

Amsterdam: Moses Dias, 1710.
Figure 21.

The first printing of the Jerusalem Talmud was also issued by Bomberg in 1523, but this edition did not achieve the same degree of standardization that the Babylonian Talmud did. A century later, however, this printing of the first edition of the influential commentary of Elijah ben Loeb of Fulda (d. 1720) was clearly influenced by the standard format of the Babylonian Talmud.
  5. The [Babylonian] Talmud: The Steinsaltz Edition.
Tractate Baba Metzia
Commentary by Adin Steinsaltz.
New York: Random House, 1989.

The influence of the Bomberg edition remains strong even today in the series of English translations and commentaries by the Israeli rabbi, Adin Steinsaltz. In his edition, he surrounds the vocalized Talmud text with a literal translation and with his commentary. In addition, Rashi's commentary is retained in the traditional typeface. Steinsaltz provides the equivalent page number from the standard pagination at the top of each page.

Figure 22
Medium Res (38 Kb)
High Res (217 Kb)
6. Mishnayot... `im Perush Kav ve-Naki.
Amsterdam: Samuel Proops, 1713.
Figure 22.

These volumes of the Mishnah were printed in a small format for the convenience of the reader, as the title page states. Small volumes such as this one would have been used for study while traveling. Despite the small size of the page, a commentary is still included at the bottom of the page, indicating how essential commentary was considered.

Figure 23
Medium Res (38 Kb)
High Res (317 Kb)
7. Jacob ben Asher.
Arba'ah Turim.
Soncino, Italy: Solomon Soncino, 1490.

8. Jacob ben Asher.
Arba'ah Turim. Yoreh De'ah.
Venice: Yoani Gripio, 1564.
Figure 23.

  One of the most influential medieval codifications of the law was that of Jacob ben Asher (d. 1340), the son of Asher ben Yehiel (the Rosh), who composed his Arba'ah Turim (Four Columns) in Toledo at the beginning of the fourteenth century. The edition printed by Solomon Soncino in 1490 appears as a manuscript might have, with two columns, square type and no commentary. In contrast, the 1564 edition that includes the important commentary of Joseph Karo, Beit Yosef, is laid out like a Talmud page (although here only one commentary surrounds the text). This copy also contains another layer of commentary -- the handwritten notes of Bezalel Ashkenazi (d. 1591), a Rabbi in Egypt and Palestine, who was the editor of Shitah Mekubetzet, an anthology of commentaries on the Talmud
Bibliography Heller, Marvin. Printing the Talmud. A History of the Earliest Printed
Editions of the Talmud.
Brooklyn, NY, 1992
  Stern, David. "The Typography and the Topography of the Talmud."
Paper presented at the History of the Book Workshop,
University of Pennsylvania Library, 1994

Table of Contents