Classics and Religious Studies


Date of this Version

September 2006


Published in Jews, Judaism, and the Reformation in Sixteenth-Century Germany, edited by Dean Phillip Bell and Stephen G. Burnett (Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2006), pp. 503–527. Copyright © 2006 BRILL. Used by permission.


In this study I will consider how the Reformation affected the Jewish printers of sixteenth-century Germany and their businesses as they attempted to produce and sell Jewish books to a largely Jewish clientele. First I will present capsule histories of the various presses as they operated both before the suppression of the Talmud in 1553, and then afterwards in a new climate of restrictions and press controls. Then I will discuss aspects of the Hebrew printing business, including the creation of printable texts (authors, editors, and censors), customer demand for Jewish books, and how presses financed their activities. And finally, I will consider the theme of Jewish-Christian cooperation in producing Jewish books, since many of these presses were owned by Christians.

That Jewish printing was possible at all in such a restrictive legal and religious climate attests to the demand for Jewish books in the Reformation era. The city of Basel was the fifth largest overall producer of Hebrew books (for both Christian and Jewish customers) during the 1590s, an indication of just how strong a demand there was for Hebrew books during this era. Apart from the justly maligned Basel Talmud, Basel Jewish presses also produced such monumental works as Nathan b. Yehiel’s talmudic dictionary Sefer ha-’Aruk (1599), and an important printing of the Rabbinical Bible (1618–19). The Hanau press produced not only a credible number of early Yiddish imprints, but also several important kabbalistic works. The golden age of German Jewish printing only began with the end of the Thirty Years War, but the often-embattled Jewish printers of this earlier era left an important mark of their own on both Jewish life and Christian Hebrew learning that should not be forgotten.

Important figures discussed include: Hayim Schwarz, Paul Fagius, Israel Zifroni, Elijah Levita, Samuel Helicz, Eliezer b. Naftali Hirz Treves, Joseph b. Naftali, Hieronymus Froben, Nicolaus Episcopius, Ambrosius Froben, Isaac Mazia, Conrad Waldkirch, Simon zum Gembs, Marco Marino, Isaac zum Krebs, Abraham zum gulden Schaff, Samuel zum weissen Rosen, Hans Jacob Henne, Seligman Ulma, Eliyahu ben Yehuda Ulma and Abraham ben Eliezer Braunschweig, Ludwig König, Walter Keuchen, Eliyahu ben Yehuda Ulma, Abraham ben Yequtiel ha-Cohen Burgau, Mordechai ben Yaakov of Prossnitz, Isaac b. R. Shimon Shmuel Ha-Levi, David ben Menahem Cohen, R. Elhanan Heln, Sabbatai Hurwitz, and Solomon Hirsch Aufhausen.

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