Page 187 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 41

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I believe that Fleischer is correct in mentioning among other
factors the commercial aspect. With the writing down of the
Talmud there undoubtedly developed a lively business in book­
selling to a degree that was unknown among Jews up to that time.
We know of a similar development among the Greeks in the fifth
century B.C.E., when the book business that grew up in Athens
served as the motivation for indicating the names of authors. It
was far easier to sell a book that carried the name of an author. We
may assume therefore that the sale of piyut collections was one of
the causes that led to the acknowledgement of authorship.
It may be that the paytanim preferred to give their names in
acrostic form since this method was indirect and could only be
grasped by the learned. As Fleischer states, “the deciphering of
signatures is not always a simple task; at times hidden signatures
of various kinds escaped the eyes of even skilled editors.”
At first the paytanim adopted the modest practice of indicating
only their names. Only on one occasion did Yannai record
together with his name his profession of
(i.e., paytan).
Eleazar ben Kallir added the names of his father and his town —
Kiryat Sefer (which has still not been identified). He also listed the
names of members of his family in acrostic form. In the course of
time, paytanim added words of blessing, such
the lengthy piyut of Akdamot, the paytan expanded the acrostic
to the following: “Meir, son of R. Yizhak, may he be great in
Torah and good deeds. Amen, be strong and resolute.”
Eventually, the custom of signing one’s name in acrostic form
became the accepted practice of the paytanim of all ages. Even
after it became customary for authors to affix their names to their
books, the paytanim continued to sign their names in acrostic
form down to the last days of liturgical composition.
The transition from anonymity to the acknowledgement of
authorship was a lengthy one. During the second half of the
Geonic period it was already common practice for the authors to
list their names.
Still, there were some literary centers where the custom was not
fully established. We find an important testimony in this matter in
the words of the tenth-century scholar Shabbetai Donnolo, who
in the introduction to his
Sefer Hakhmoni,
a commentary on the