Judaica Online Exhibitions

THE INVENTION OF the printing press and development of moveable type is one of the innovations through which the Middle Ages passes into the Renaissance.  Printing brings with it new ways of producing, diffusing, and reading information. Hebrew printing begins in Italy about 1469, about fourteen years after Gutenberg’s fourty-two line Bible, printed in Mainz.   If Obadiah, Menasseh, and Benjamin of Rome based their choices of titles along notions of supply and demand, then their production of both Kimḥi’s Sefer ha-Shorashim and Nathan ben Jehiel’s ‘Arukh may tell us something of the importance of these works, and the position of and interest in rabbinic lexicography at that time.

Printing allowed for an increase in new lexicographic works, from the mundane Makre dardeke (Naples, 1488), a dictionary of biblical Hebrew modeled after the Shorashim, replete with citations as well as Judeo-Italian and Judeo-Arabic glosses provided for the youngest of students, to Elijah Levita’s Masoret ha-masoret (Venice: Bomberg, 1538), the monumental achievement of masoretic activity.   Printing also shows how Jewish demography, as well as lexicographic activity, was shifting:   from the Iberian and Italian penisulas to the Venetian Republic, Constantinople, Basel, Prague, Amsterdam. Despite the turmoils, segregations, and caprices of tolleration to which Jews were subject, amidst Reformation and Counter-reformation, new Jewish works on rabbinic lexicography emerged.

Biblia Rabbinica Secunda, vol.4.
Venice: Bomberg, 1524.

Psalm 22, end

This is Daniel Bomberg’s famous second edition of the Mikraot gedolot, the Great Rabbinic Bible.   The term rabbinic was applied to indicate the edition’s high degree of scholarly utility and authority, not least in the accuracy of its masoretic apparatus, which brought the Hebrew biblical lexicon to a never before seen level of accuracy and uniformity.   Through its inclusion of the Hebrew text, the Aramaic Targum, and multiple commentaries, all conveniently arranged around the centrality (physically as well as doctrinally) of the Hebrew original text.

The authority of this edition is due in large part to the revision of Tunisian Jacob ben Hayim ibn Adonijah (ca. 1470-ca. 1538) of the 1517 edition. This new edition was thoroughly recorrected and vastly more complete than the 1517.   However, David Kimḥi’s commentary on Psalms, which appeared in the 1517 edition, is notably absent, replaced by those of Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra.   By 1524 Kimḥi’s commentary was perceived as blatantly anti-Christian, and therefore too controversial to print.

Babylonian Talmud,
Tractate ‘Avodah Zara‘.
Venice : Bomberg, 1520.

‘Avodah Zara‘, page 8b. Gloss on ‘inakh‘

Early Hebrew printing formatted the fruits of medieval rabbinic lexicography.  Rashi provided glosses in old French to explain the meaning of obscure and difficult terms.  In the text of the Gemara to the tractate ‘Avodah Zara‘, page 8b, the word inakh appears, a reference to a type of stone.  In his commentary, highlighted in the far left column, Rashi explains to his readers, in his own French vernacular, that the stone is the ḳarbonḳla, the carbuncle, or onyx.

Bomberg’s Second Rabbinic Bible became the standard against which all future editions would measure themselves.  What Bomberg did for the Hebrew Bible, he also achieved for the Talmud.  He printed the first complete edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1520-1522), as well as the editio princeps (the absolute first printed edition) of the Jerusalem Talmud (1526). This complete version won such favor among its Jewish readership that its pagination became standardized, and is nearly identical with the editions in use today.

Elijah Levita.
Sefer meturgeman.
Isny: Paulus Fagius, 1542.

Hebrew introduction Latin introduction

Elijah Levita.
Sefer ha-Tishbi.
Basel: Konrad Waldkirch, 1601.

Av, Aben

Elijah Levita (1468 or 9-1549, also known as Elijah Bahur) is regarded as the single most important Jewish grammarian of his time.  This reputation could have rested alone on his exhaustive Masoretic works and activity with Daniel Bomberg’s press.  In 1509 he was living in Padua, but warfare drove him and his family from the city. Taking refuge in Rome, Levita and his family were hosted by Aegidius of Viterbo, Cardinal and general of the Augustine order, in exchange for Hebrew lessons.  He was admired by Jews and Christians alike: King Francis I offered Levita the position of professor of Hebrew at the University of Paris, which he declined, being unwilling to settle in a city forbidden to his coreligionists. He declined also invitations from several cardinals, bishops, and princes to accept a Hebrew professorship in Christian colleges.

Levita’s Sefer meturgeman is the first dictionary dedicated to the Aramaic of the Targum. The Sefer ha-Tishbi, based on the ‘Arukh, was first published in 1541 in Isny, in collaboration with the German scholar and printer Paul Fagius. It contains 712 words used in the Talmud, with explanations in German and a Latin translation by Fagius.

Moses ben Josef Pigo.
Zikhron torat Moshe.
Constantinople : Moshe Parnass, 1552.

“Alef bet”, Constantinople, 1552

Moses ben Josef Pigo.
Zikhron torat Moshe.
Prague, 1623.

“Alef bet”, Prague, 1623

The lexicographer Moses ben Josef Pigo (d. 1576, Adrianople) was a member of a family of rabbis spread throughout northern Italy and Turkey.  His dictionary focuses on the terminology used in the narrative and non-legal portions of the Talmud known as Aggadah (“narration”). The first two editions, on display here, were printed, respectively, in Constantinople 1552, and Prague 1663.   Jewish cultural activities, including lexicography and printing, were profoundly affected by the events—expulsions, ghetto, Inquisition—of the 16th century, and follow the same paths of migration and shift.

David de Pomis.
Tsemah David = Dittionario novo Hebraico.
Venice: Ioannem de Gara, 1587.


De Pomis (1525-ca. 1593), a native of Umbria, was a member of the same Anaw family as Nathan ben Jehiel.   He studied medicine at the University of Perugia, and where he was graduated in   1551 as “Artium et Medicinae Doctor.” A physician, he was in the employ of Niccolò Orsini as well as that of the Sforza family.   He wrote a number of Latin and Italian medical treatises, and published an Italian translation of Ecclesiastes.

Dedicated to Pope Sixtus V, this Hebrew and Aramaic dictionary, modeled after the ‘Arukh, was replete with definitions in both Latin and Italian.   It is the earliest known work by a Jew to use the word “italiano” as a language name.

Leone Modena.
Galut Yehudah.
Padua: G. Crivellari, 1640.

Titlepage portrait of Leone Modena

The Galut Yehudah, or “Diaspora of Judah”, which underscores Leone Judah Modena’s particular experience as an Italian Jew, contains two lexicographical works.   The first is a glossary of the Bible, in which Modena follows, and transmits with only relative updating of the Judeo-Italian tradition of glossing difficult Hebrew words with their Italian equivalent. This is the same practice and method employed by both Rashi and Kimḥi in their commentaries. Modena’s glossary is arranged in order of book and verse and was clearly intended as a didactic tool.  

Part 2, p. 3: Hebrew-Italian glossary

The second part contains a generic Hebrew-Italian dictionary, arranged in alphabetical order and reflecting the active use of Hebrew among 17th century Italian Jewry.   The book is written in Italian, and while the biblical words are printed in Hebrew characters, the glosses appear in Roman characters, and the book is to be read from left to right.

Part 2, "Chi nasce, muor" קינה שמור

Prefacing the second dedicatory are two poems by Modena, intertwined in alternating Hebrew and Italian lines. The lines sound the same whether read in italian from left to right, or in hebrew from right to left and   the lines make sense when read in either language: the poems, elegies, respectively begin Kinah she-mor: ’oy meh keppas ’otser bo, and Chi nasce, muor. Oimè che passo acerbo. Regarding this poem, Modena wrote: “Rabbi Moses della Rocca left us and went to Cyprus, where he was married.  And while he was still in his youthful prime, he was called to the heavenly academy. When the bad news reached me, I wrote elegies for him, in particular one octet [which makes sense in both] Hebrew and Italian. It is entitled "Kinah Shemor", and it is printed in my book Midbar Yehuda. I was then thirteen years of age. All the poets saw it and praised it; to this day it is a marvel to both Christian and Jewish sages.”