Monday, December 18, 2017 /
Jewish press and the burning of Talmud

Jewish press and the stake of Talmud

In the same year as the Jews were confined to the Ghetto (1516) Jewish printing began to flourish in Venice and continued to grow in importance until the first decades of the 17th century when for various reasons it began to decline and the printing presses of Amsterdam and other cities took over the lead.

Expert German printers driven from their own lands had settled in Venice, a great centre of international printing since the end of the 15th century, and, not being able to set up their own businesses, they had entered the employ of Daniel Bomberg, a businessman from Antwerp who founded the Jewish printing trade in Venice and the most famous Christian publisher of Hebrew texts.

Bomberg published various forms of prayer as well as the complete edition of the Babylonian and the Palestinian Talmud and three editions of the rabbinic bible with the major and minor commentary (massorà). After Bomberg went out of production other publishing houses continued to print in Hebrew. These were Marco Antonio Giustiniani, Alvise Bragadin, Giovanni di Gara and others who soon entered into competition with each other. A commercial dispute between Giustiniani and Bragadin was transformed by the Roman Curia, to which the contending parties had appealed, into an accusation of having published a heretic text, i.e. the Talmud, full of blasphemies against God.

On the 12th of August 1553 Pope Julius II ordered the destruction of the Talmud and on the following 21st of October, a Saturday, by order of the Council of the Ten «a large fire» was made in Piazza San Marco of all books dealing with the Talmud; other Hebrew books were burned in 1568. Later, the printing of Hebrew books was again permitted but under censorshisp, that is, with the «licence of the Superiors» (licenza dei Superiori) to be found in all Hebrew texts printed in Venice from the second half of the 16th century onwards. But by this time the hey-day of Jewish printing presses in Venice was over and other cities, especially Amsterdam, had taken supremacy in this domain.

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