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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

Print and the Preacher

No discussion of the impact of printing on the transmission of Jewish culture would be complete without addressing how printing affected the process central to Jewish continuity: education. Over the centuries, Jewish education has been conducted in many locations and in a variety of forums. It would be impossible to assess the impact of print on all aspects of Jewish education. Thus, this case is devoted to one locus of Jewish education, the synagogue, where Jewish texts were transmitted orally through the sermon. With the advent of print, many preachers published their oral explanations concerning various Jewish texts
The extent to which the printed sermon reflects what people actually heard or learned in the synagogue continues to be debated. While one cannot say for sure that the sermons presented in sermon compendiums were actually performed in a particular community, it appears as though collections of sermons may have been used by young preachers as sermon manuals. Whether a standardized format of the sermon resulted from the fact that many young preachers may have been basing their sermons on the same or similar texts has heretofore been unexamined, yet this is a key question scholars must consider if they hope to appreciate fully the complex and ever-changing relationship between Jewish oral and written tradition.
Items on Display:  

Figure 24
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1. Shem Tov Shem Tov.
Derashot ha-Torah.
Venice : Marco Antonio Justinian, 1547.
Figure 24.

This work organizes the numerous sermons of Rabbi Shem Tov, a fifteenth-century Spanish philosopher, according to the content of each weekly reading. Rabbi Shem Tov also composed one of the earliest tracts on Jewish preaching, titled `Ein ha-Kore, where he argued that mastering the skill of preaching is dependent on the mastery of the art of rhetoric. The notes on the side of this page, which insert colloquial transitions and some easier terminology into the text, suggest that a student may have used this work in constructing his own sermons and indicates how the dissemination of printed sermons possibly effected preaching content and styles.

  2. Naftali Ashkenazi.
`Imre Shefer.
Venice: Daniel Zanetti, 1601.

Unlike the prior collection of sermons, this compendium of sermons by Naftali Ashkenazi of Safed not only provided examples of sermons for the weekly Torah readings but was also designed to provide examples of sermons for special events, such as weddings, bar mitzvahs or eulogies. On each page, in addition to the text of the sermon, the author has also included glossed explanations on the side, providing references to other sources which would be appropriate for such occasions. This page, which is an index of all the sermons in this work, guides the reader to sermons for various weekly portions as well as sermons which could be used for eulogies, bar mitzvahs or to praise the benefactors of the community.

Figure 25
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3. Leone Modena.
Helek Rishon mi-Sefer Midbar Yehudah.
Venice: Daniel Zanetti, 1601.
Figure 25.

This collection of sermons was written by Leone Modena (1571-1648), a rabbi of the Venetian ghetto, whose preaching won him the praise of both Jews and Christians. Structuring his sermons in a manner similar to contemporary Christian preachers, the impact of Modena's style on other Jewish preachers has not yet been fully assessed. The left page on display contains the introduction to a sermon which Modena delivered in honor of a friend's wedding. Here he reveals the essential ingredient for a successful sermon: the choice of an appropriate subject for both the event and the place. On the right page is a poem which was a eulogy for Moses Basola, his teacher, written in both Hebrew and Judeo-Italian. Both of these poems, like many written by Modena, make sense when read in either Italian or Hebrew. Modena became famous for producing such poetry for various occasions which others tried to emulate

Figure 26
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4. Samuel ben Moses Avila.
Ozen Shemuel: ... Derashot... ve... Hespedim.
Amsterdam: [s.n.], 1715.
Figure 26.

This collection of Samuel ben Moses Avila's sermons was one of several compendiums found in the library of Rabbi Isaac Leeser, the famed nineteenth-century orator of the Philadelphia Jewish community. Avila (d. 1688), a seventeenth-century Talmudist and preacher in Morocco, was known for composing a guide for scholars on how to conduct communal affairs properly. This collection of eulogies and homilies reflects Avila's desire to produce guiding manuals for rabbinical figures. While it may be impossible to be certain whether Leeser referred to this work when composing his own orations, the fact that Leeser possessed such a manual in his library is suggestive of how printed sermon compendiums may have influenced the oral culture being transmitted in the synagogue. This page includes an example of a sermon which could be given on the Saturday before Passover, a traditional day for rabbinic preaching.
Bibliography: Gries, Zeev. "Between History and Literature: The Case of Jewish Preaching," Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosphy 4 (1994), 113-122
  Saperstein, Marc. Jewish Preaching: 1200-1800, An Anthology. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989.
  Weinberg, Joanna. "Preaching in the Venetian Ghetto: The Sermons of Leon Modena," in Preachers of the Italian Ghetto, D. Ruderman, ed. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1992.

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