Page 59 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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AFREN / AMSTERDAM
49
the second quarter of the century, there was almost a race to see
hich of two entrepreneurs would produce the first Hebrew
ook.
Menasseh ben Israel, rabbi of Neveh Shalom beginning in
1622, and perhaps most famous for his efforts to secure the
eadmission of Jews to England under Cromwell, won the honor
of producing the first Hebrew books for Jews in Amsterdam.
Finished on January 1, 1627, the first book was a Spanish rite
small prayerbook of almost 400 pages. In a sense, this essay is
celebrating its 350th anniversary!
Menasseh did not content himself with acquiring Hebrew
types already available and printing with them. He felt that
totally new types were called for by this historic venture. He
proceeded to have new faces designed by an expert scribe, Michael
Judah Leon, and matrices prepared by an expert Christian crafts­
man. He also had woodcuts made in the Dutch style and utilized
fleurons and other metal ornaments in the contemporary Dutch
manner. Menasseh established Jewish printing with a note­
worthy level of artistic typography and thus set a high standard
for others to follow.
Menasseh did not win by much the race to be first. Daniel de
Fonseca established a press in Amsterdam in the same year, 1627.
His first book appeared in August of that year and proclaimed
From German R ite Festival Prayers in Yiddish. Amsterdam, Uri Phoebus
ha-Levi ben Aaron, 1670