Hebrew printing in Livorno ( part 1)

Marvin J. Heller

Jedidiah ben Isaac Gabbai printed his first book, the midrashic work, Yalkut Shimoni, on the Torah, with the commentary Berit Avrahham, in Livorno, Italy, in 1650. It is a large book, well done, and attractive. We might have expected, given the quality of this work, and the location of the print shop, in the prosperous Sephardic community of Livorno, for the press to have had a long successful life. This was not the case, however, only a small number of books were printed and the press was only open for less than a decade.

The history of the press, the books printed by it, the persons employed there, and the community it was in, given the print shop's short life span, interest us, not so much because of its importance in the history of the Hebrew book, although that too, but, because its books and authors provide us with an insight into Jewish intellectual activity, and highlights for us, many of the currents effecting Jewish life, in the Mediterranean littoral, at the midpoint of the seventeenth century.

Livorno is frequently described as an especially fortunate residence for the Jews. We hear, from a Brother Labant, that the Jews of Livorno are " free there...they are protected to the point where it is proverbial in Tuscany that it would be better to beat up the grand duke than a Jew" 1. Elsewhere it is referred to as " a mekom ha - zedek (a righteous place), for it knew
neither restrictions nor persecutions since the first Marranos founded the community at the end of the sixteenth century".

While the Jewish condition in Livorno was certainly better than in many other locales, there was also a dark side, for as Brother Labant also observes, Jewish success " makes them all the more odious to everyone else"2.The Jewish presence in Livorno, in Northwest Tuscany, Italy, dates from the sixteenth - century. Jewish bankers were already present throughout the Duchy when Cosimo I, Duke of Tuscany, declared Livorno a free port on March 26, 1548? Thereby implicitly permitting the presence of Marranos. Three years later, heeding the advice of Judah Abravanal, Cosimo invited eastern Jews to settle in the duchy. More formal licence to dwell in Tuscany dates from la Livorna, the letters patent issued by Ferdinand I de ' Medici, on June 10, 1593, which guaranteed Marranos immunity from Inquisition for past transgressions3. The Jewish community grew rapidly, from a few hundred in the late 1500s to 1,175 in 1642 and about 5000 in 1689.

The community was sufficiently prosperous and commercially successful that, on the urging of Colbert, chief minister of Louis XIV, that monarch offered the Jews of Livorno inducements to move to Marseilles 4.
Hebrew printing came relatively late, given the history of printing in Italy, to Livorno. Nevertheless, from the founding of the first press in1651? The city's print shops provided, intermittently, the Jewish communities around the Mediterranean with books for several hundred years, into the second half of the twentieth century. The first of these presses was founded by Jedidiah ben Isaac Gabbai.

Gabbai's father, Isaac ben Solomon, author of Kaf Nahat (Venice, 1609), a commentary on Mishnayot, worked as a typesetter for the Bragadine press in the first part of the seventeenth century. A second work attributed to Isaac Gabbai, also entitled Kaf Nahat, is on Pirkei Avot ( Altona, 1779).5
Jedidiah Gabbai established his print shop, called, after his father's commentary, La Stampa del Kaf Nahat, in Livorno, his place of residence, in 1650.

Why did Gabbai set up his own print shop? In his introduction to the Yalkut Shimoni, Gabbai first praises the superiority of his edition, and then informs us, in a paragraph replete with biblical paraphrases, that " I girded my loins as a warrior," (Job 38:3& 40:7) " for I have seen even here after having seen " (Genesis 6:13) all the possible impediments that can occur in the printer's craft. Nevertheless, he intends to proceed, and to bring out the most correct and attractive books possible. All other occupations have no value in his eyes. Gabbai disdains silver and gold, gives no consideration to financial loss; his entire purpose is for the [communal] good, for in the end it is Torah, more precious " than pearls, and all desires cannot compare to it " (Proverbs 8:11). Gabbai's words are not mere pro forma statements, for he was previously engaged in business, dealing with precious stones and pearls, having intercourse with dukes and other people of high standing, all of which he was forsaken. All his efforts are now but for " The Lord's right hand is raised triumphantly" (Psalms 118:16), " Who will gird me with strength and make my way perfect" (Psalms 18:33) and "Beside tranquil waters He leads me" (Psalms 23:2) in order to
serve his beloved, the Torah, and those who study it, to bring to light that which is concealed so that the land will be full of knowledge.

Although Gabbai did not publish a large number of books, the titles he did print are an interesting mix of liturgical works, such as azharot and mizmorim; Hebrew classics, such as the response (She'elot u- Teshuvot) of the Radbaz ( David ben Solomon Avi Zimrah, 1479-1573); and Toldot Adam, 405 response of the Rashba (Solomon ben Aderet, 1235-1310) printed with a smaller number of
response from Jacob ben Moses ha- Levi Moellin ( Maharil,c. 1360-1427); and a number of contemporary works . 6 Three of the latter, each a major work, little known today, have been selected for a more detailed discussion.

The typographical material and ornamentation used by La Stampa del Kaf Nahat was that of the famed Bragadini press, acquired by Gabbai. Among this material was the three crown ornament, first used by Aluise Bragdine (1550-1554 and 1564-
75), in Toledot Adam ve- Havvah (1553) the halakhic compilation of Jeroham ben Meshullam (c. 1280-c.1350), and afterwards by his successors. This device, used by the Gabbai family in cities on two continents, does not appear on the title
pages of their Livorno imprint, but was here used as a tail- piece. The three crowns appear with the statement " There are three crowns: but the crown of a good name surpasses them all" ( Pirkei Avot 4:17) .7

The first work published, as noted above, was Yalkut Shimoni on the Torah (the second part, on the Prophets and Writings, was printed in 1656), the popular thirteenth century midrashic masterpiece compiled by either Simeon of Frankfort, as stated on the title page, or, according to others, Simeon Karo. Begun in 1650 - it is a large book, folio in size, with 550, [1] pages -
it was not completed until 1652. The dates are given with a chronograms, as are most, but not all of the books printed by, here on the title page, that is the first day of Kislev,"[ You have transformed my lament into dancing for me], You undid my sackcloth and girded me with gladness" (Psalms 30:12), and in a colophon, ( the completion of this work was on Rosh Hodesh Menachem [Av]),
that is, "The glory of this latter Temple will be greater than [that of] the first, [said the Lord of Hosts]" (Haggai 2:9) 8

The date of books employing chronograms, and it was a common practice at this time, can be derived by adding 1240, the year the fifth millennium in the Hebrew calendar began, to the numerical value of the enlarged letters, in this case 410, resulting in 1650 for the year of publication. This computation is for the abbreviated era, which does not enumerate the millennium, that is, the 5 in 5410, is understood. The enlarged letters in the second date equal 417. However, unlike the first date, this is for the full era (5412), so that 5, representing the millennium, must be subtracted from 417, leaving 412, which equals 1552.9
The only ornamentation on the title page is a shield with the famous five balls, the escutcheon of the Medici's, rulers of the Duchy. On the bottom of the title page is the phrase "Con Licentia de Superiori et preuilegio," indicating that the book had been approved for publication by the censors. The volume examined bore two additional stamps. . A Russian censor's seal, dated 1836, indicating that here too it had met with official approval, and another, in English, stating "Purchased in Russia" by whomever acquired this copy of the Yalkutand brought it to the United States, indicative of just how well travelled a book
is this Hebrew title.

The first editor was Gabbai's father- in - law, Abraham ben Solomon Hayyim Haber Tov ( scribe of Torah, mezuzah, and tefillin) author of Berkat Hanenim (Venice, 1637), who had more than a half- century of experience working for the Hebrew presses in Venice. He worked on several of Gabbai's imprints, but died within a few years of the opening of the press.10

The title page is followed by introductory material from the editor, Abraham ben Samuel Gediliah (d.1672), whose commentary, Berit Avaham, is printed with the Yalkut, approbation's and forwards from the first editor and, as noted above,
from Gabbai. The approbation for the commentary, are from R.Israel ben Azariah (Jerusalem), Elazar ibn Arkha (Hebron), and Israel Benjamin (Jerusalem). Gediliah also obtained in Italy, for part two, approbation from R.Moses Zacuto. The text is followed by afterwards from Gediliah and Gabbai, the latter expressing his gratitude to Michael Dias Moccatto, the sponsor, and to Ferdinand II, Duke of Tuscany, for granting him the privilege to establish the press.
Abraham ben Samuel Gediliah was the scion of a distinguished Sephardic family that, after the expulsion from Spain, settled first in Turkey and afterwards in Safed and Tiberias, and later in Hebron. Many family members distinguished themselves as emissaries to the Diaspora on behalf of the communities in the Holy Land. Gediliah, born in Jerusalem, left for Italy in 1648 to print Berit Avraham.11

That Gediliah travelled to Italy to print Berit Avaham , when there were print shops closer to the Holy Land, at this time in Salonika (Abraham ha- Ger), and Constantinople ( Solomon Franco), is not surprising , given the perception of contemporary authors in the Holy Land. Meir Benayahu observes that scholars in Safed, and even in Salonika, chose to have their works printed in Venice, because of the high quality of the imprints of the Venitian print shops - the Gabbai press was an alternative for less than a decade- despite the peril of delivering their manuscript by sea, typesetting and editing by strangers in the
absence of the author, and the need of approval by the censors, all because of the perceived superiority of the Italian presses.12

.....to be continued

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- Copyright © 1998: Moïse Rahmani -