Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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48
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
rapidly, tha t Jewish cultural needs would be met. Not only did
Amsterdam respond by meeting its own needs admirably, but,
as was befitting, it became an exporter of books and ideas as
well, a center that other Jewish communities did no t hesitate
to emulate.
I t was a relatively short stay at the top for Amsterdam Jewry.
Economic cycles h it the Jews hard in the eighteenth century and
never again could their wealth and prominence be regained.
Even in the remarkable seventeenth century, there were humble
beginnings and we should not forget them while we focus on
accomplishments, nor should we assume tha t life was good for
everyone. But this
was
a period and place of upward mobility
or it might not have attracted so many. And Amsterdam was
the unquestioned center of Hebrew p rin ting by the end of the
century, even though not every worker in the prin ting trade
was a captain of industry.
At first, books had to be imported. In the first quarter of the
century, there were few Jews altogether; many of these were
just beginning to take advantage of relative toleration to discard
the cloak of Christianity and to profess Judaism, and they were
more concerned with setting up religious services, finding rabbis,
providing dowries as necessary, and starting schools than with
printing books. Just as they imported their first rabbi (Joseph
Pardo) from Italy, so the Jews imported their first books from
Venice. Spanish prayerbooks—since many of the new Jews did
not yet know Hebrew—were brought in by 1604; and others were
printed in Venice for Amsterdam, sometimes in Spanish only,
sometimes in Spanish and Hebrew, in 1609, 1622, and 1623.
E A R L Y H E B R EW P R IN T IN G
T he Netherlands had become a major factor in European p r in t­
ing and it was to be expected that Jews would not long remain
dependent on the outside world for their book needs. Indeed,
Hebrew fonts of the sixteenth and early seventeenth century
were available from Paris, Antwerp, Leyden and other places
not far away. Even in Amsterdam, from about 1605 to 1610,
some books were printed in Hebrew, bu t not at all for the needs
of the Jewish community, bu t ra ther for Christian studies. By
the time there was an urgent, perceived Jewish need early in