ON THE TRADE IN HEBREW BOOKS BETWEEN ITALY AND THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE DURING THE XVIth CENTURY

ON THE TRADE IN HEBREW BOOKS BETWEEN ITALY AND THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE DURING THE XVIth CENTURY


ספרייה 4by

  1. BARUCHSON

The two great centers of Hebrew printing in the 16th century operated on both sides of the Adriatic: in Italy, primarily in Venice, and in the Ottoman Empire, particularly in the cities of Constantinople and Salo- nica. The social and economic ties between the Jews of these two centers naturally gave rise to commerce in the new commodity: the printed book. The present study describes the economic and social character­istics of the new trade, and is based on statistical information and literary evidence of the period.

The sources at our disposal reveal that Italian printers considered the great communities of the East a major market for their product. At the beginning of the century the noted Venetian printer, Daniel Bomberg, was the major distributor of Hebrew literature in the East; his books also reached Jewish centers in Egypt, Africa and India. Other printers, such as Marco Antonio Giustinian and the Jewish printers of Mantua and Cremona, also sent their books to the Ottoman Empire. The burning of the Talmud in Italy in 1553 and the increased expurgation operation over Hebrew printing there rendered the East a major destination for prohibited books. The leading activist in the distribution of these books was Giustinian, who established a center for prohibited books on the island of Cephalonia in the Aegean. Books were smuggled there from Venice, and then distributed to the communities of the East. We have no information on the dimensions of this export trade to the Ottoman Empire, but from the fact that the local presses of Constantinople and Salonica produced very few editions of halakhic and basic religious literature, we can deduce that Italian printers supplied these books in great quantities. In fact, the maintenance of spiritual life and orderly educational activity in the East was dependent on the supply of books from Italy, and this played a major role in the cultural development of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire.

While the pre-eminence of Italian Hebrew printers created a major export trade to the East, books printed in the East also enjoyed a certain popularity among Jewish readers in Italy. Two important sources enable us to appraise the dimensions and character of these imports from the East. One of these is the catalogue of Daniel Bomberg's bookstore in Venice, which indicates that merchant's stock in the 1540's. Secondly we have the book-lists enumerating the books possessed by the Jews of Mantua in 1595; these lists were drawn-up as part of a 'cleansing operation' by the Church and contain 430 private collections as well as a number of public ones. One list describes a commercial collection belonging to a bookstore owner by the name of Izhak Weilla Ashkenazi. Bomberg's catalogue shows that a major proportion of the books in his store came from the Eastern presses. These were primarily books not printed by Bomberg, and in subjects that enjoyed only limited public interest: fiction, midrash, science etc. By importing books intended for a select public, Bomberg strove to maintain the renown of his store, and at the same time used the opportunity to test the Italian market for such books.

In contrast, Izhak Ashkenazi's store in 1595 stocked only a few books printed in Constantinople and Salonica. This probably resulted from the fact that his store mainly served the needs of a clientèle interested in liturgical books and basic halakhic works. Readers interested in books printed in the East were obliged to use their own initiative in acquiring them.

A more detailed and clear picture emerges from an analysis of the books contained in the libraries of the Jews of Mantua. It appears that 49% of the books they possessed were printed in Constantinople, and 44% in Salonica. These are impressive figures, pointing to a meaningful import of books from the East to the printing center of Italy. In terms of quantity, however, only a limited number of each book printed in the East found their way into the libraries of the Jews of Mantua. The imported books reflect a wide range of interests, and the common de­nominator of many was the fact that they were the first or only editions. The interested readers were a small group of rabbis, scholars and bank­ers, with particular literary or professional interests.

The trade in Hebrew books between the East and the West contributed much to the enrichment of the spiritual life of the Jews in both centers. The Italian center provided primarily works of a ritual or halakhic nature, necessary for an organized life of Torah and education, while the presses of the Ottoman Empire contributed to a broadening of the literary horizons of Italian scholars.

Appended to the article are the lists of books from the East found in the stores of Venice and Mantua, as well as the private libraries of the Jews of Mantua.

הירשם לבלוג באמצעות המייל

הזן את כתובת המייל שלך כדי להירשם לאתר ולקבל הודעות על פוסטים חדשים במייל.

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