Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

Basic HTML Version

F
e f fe r
— O
f
L
ad ie s
and
C
on vert s
and
T
o m e s
5
It is interesting to note the dates when books employing
Hebrew letters had their debut in different parts of the world.
The first such book to be printed in the British Isles was by
Robert Wakefield on Arabic, Aramaic and Hebrew, issued in
London in 1524. Palestine waited un til 1577, when Abraham and
Eliezer Ashkenazi published a commentary on Esther in the
town of Safed. The city of cities—Jerusalem—did not appear on
a Hebrew title page un til 1841, the year Charleston, South
Carolina, first issued a book w ith Hebrew characters. The Amer­
ican colonies honored the Hebrew types as early as 1640. In
that year Stephen Daye of Cambridge, Massachusetts, published
The Whole Booke of Psalmes, known today as the Bay Psalm
Book. This was the first book printed in the British American
colonies. A few words in Hebrew letters, appearing in the
preface, may have been cut for the occasion in wood or in metal,
as they apparently do not belong to any regular font of Hebrew
type.
V ilna, a name that was to ring like a bell wherever Jewish
books were read and revered, did not issue its first Hebrew book
un til 1799. The press, established by the brothers Aryeh Loeb
and Gershon Lu ria and Moses ben Menahem Mendel, was en­
larged by Joseph Reuben Romm in the second quarter of the
nineteenth century. It reached its apex under the direction of
Deborah Romm, widow of Joseph Reuben’s son David, who took
over the press after her husband’s sudden death in 1860. Under
her dynamic guidance the printing house of “The W idow and
Brothers Romm” remained in the forefront of Hebrew printing
and publishing for over ha lf a century. Thousands of Hebrew
and Yiddish books poured from her improved presses, among
them the best editions of the Babylonian and Palestinian Tal-
muds. The imprint of the W idow and Brothers Romm became
a household word wherever the Jewish book was read. W ha t
the W idow Clicquot was to champagne-loving France, the W idow
Romm was to lovers of the Hebrew book the world over.
Printing and the Distaff Side
Deborah Romm is not the only woman’s name associated
with Hebrew printing. There is a theory (suggested by the his­
torian of Hebrew typography, A. M. Habermann) that as early
as 1477 the type for a Hebrew book was set up by a woman type­
setter. He based his information on the colophon at the end of
Behinat ‘Olam printed, according to him, in Mantua in 1477:
“I, Estalina, the wife of my worthy lord husband, Abraham
Conath, wrote this epistle Behinat ‘Olam w ith the aid of
J a c o b . . . ” Habermann interprets “I w rote” to mean “I set up,”
although it could mean “I copied” before the book was set up.
A t any rate, the learned Estalina indubitab ly had an important
part in the printing of this popular volume on ethics.