Page 82 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 14

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
72
great Christian grammarian of the Hebrew language, Gesenius,
and shows at least a nodding acquaintance with comparative
philology.
II
Heidenheim was now ready to enter upon his chosen task: to
help his people cultivate an abiding interest in the precious texts
of the past by issuing them in carefully produced editions, cleansed
of errors and misprints, provided with grammatical apparatus,
and enriched with commentary and exegesis in a manner combining
tradition with scholarship and rationalism. Accordingly, in 1798
he began to prepare a text of the Pentateuch with commentary
and Masoretic notes. But it was difficult to produce, with alien
hands, the kind of edition that would please him. For the complete
fulfilment of his objective, Heidenheim needed working facilities
of his own. He therefore petitioned the authorities for permission
to set up a printing shop. Fortunately, his wish was realized that
very year. In 1798 Graf Vollrath of Solms-Rodelheim issued a
license permitting Heidenheim “ to establish a German and Hebrew
printing office,” and the following year this “oriental and oc-
cidental printing shop” (as it was called) was set up in Rodelheim,
near Frankfurt a. M., with Baruch Baschwitz as his partner.
Heidenheim lost no time. Between 1800, when the first of his
major works appeared from his own press, and 1832, the year of
his death in Rodelheim, neither his brain nor his hand was idle.
In that first year he began to issue his magnum opus,
Sefer Kerobot
ha-Mahzor.
This is a complete edition of the festival prayer books,
in nine volumes, and a monumental landmark in literary scholar-
ship and Hebrew typography. Heidenheim made use, for the first
time in the history of liturgical literature, of old manuscripts and
old Italian and German editions of prayer texts. The utilization
of various editions, for the purpose of restoring the proper text of
the holiday prayers and of establishing the correct forms of many
of the medieval religious poems included in the services, was in its
day a truly pioneering achievement. The eminent bibliographer
and Hebrew literary historian, Leopold Zunz, called him “ the
Mendelssohn of the Mahzor,” and both Geiger and Steinschneider
said of him that his editions of the festival prayers “started a new
epoch in ritual literature.” His literary innovations were warmly
approved even by such an arch conservative as Hatam Sofer, who
usually looked askance at activities that smacked too much of
western rationalism.
What established Heidenheim as a pathfinder in his field was
not only the restored text but also his excellent translation of the