Page 16 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 19

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J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
1709, at the age of eleven, she boasts in the colophon to a volume
of Selihot (prayers for forgiveness): “Behold my handiwork and
a ll my labors.” In the following year, when she was what wou ld
now be known as bat mitzvah, she set up type for another
prayer book “from beginning to end,” as she notes in the rhymed
colophon. The family had now grown to the respectable number
of twelve; yet she must engage in her exacting labors. In these
trying times every member of the family must do his bit un til
“the Lord God of Israel brings better days and provides food and
garments according to our needs.”
The father of these two gifted girls was strangely enough a
proselyte to Judaism. As early as 1664 we find his signature on
the colophon of a Rashi commentary: “by the worker in the
sacred craft, Jacob ben Abraham Israel the proselyte, may the
Lord guard and protect him.” Twenty-two years later we find
his name in many books published in Amsterdam. Born in
Nickolsburg, he moved to Prague and then to Amsterdam, where
he embraced the Jewish faith and worked in several printing-
offices, setting type for books and for the Judeo-German news­
paper Amsterdamsch-Joddsche Courant. He signed every issue:
“by the typesetter Moses, son of Abraham our Father.” The
enterprising Abraham (later he called himself Moses) established
his own press in Amsterdam in 1689 and moved to Berlin,
F rankfurt a. d. Oder and Halle. In addition to his accomplish­
ments as a printer, he is known for his translation of the New
Testament into Hebrew at the request of the Jewish community,
which desired it for purposes of defense in the frequent religious
controversies of the period.
Abraham-Moses was not unique among printers. The Hebrew
bibliographer Abraham Yaari lists many proselytes who labored
in this field and who made important contributions to Hebrew
typography. The fact that proselytes were permitted to seek
employment in the “sacred craft” reflects the sympathetic Jewish
attitude to those possessing a burning desire to embrace Judaism.
There was no second-class citizenship for them; they were wel­
comed into the Jewish community and treated w ith deference.
Maimonides’ responsum to Obadiah the proselyte bears repeti­
tion here. The latter had inquired whether he was permitted to
recite “our God and the God of our ancestors, who sanctified us,
who chose u s ” etc. Maimonides’ rep ly is a magna carta of
tolerance:
You may recite everything as ordained, w ithout any change
whatsoever. You may say your prayers and blessings after
the manner of every Jewish c itizen . . . Do not hold your
lineage lightly; i f we claim descent from Abraham, Isaac
and Jacob, you claim descent from the C re a to r . . . It is
therefore clear that you may say, “Wh ich the Lord our God