Constantinople’s Controversial Sabbath Bookseller

March 20 2018

The Ottoman empire’s first printing press was established by Jews of Spanish origin in the late 15th century to publish Hebrew books. In 1546, Constantinople saw the publication of the responsa of the 14th-century Spanish rabbi Isaac ben Sheshet Perfet, edited by Samuel Halevi Hakim. Hakim also took on the role of publicist—which would quickly earn him notoriety, as Ann Brener writes:

From a manuscript now housed in the National Library of Israel, we learn that Hakim printed the volume “quire by quire,” that is, section by section, and that he brought the individual quires into synagogue in order to sell them after the Sabbath morning prayers, though of course no money changed hands on the Sabbath itself. The reason for this selling strategy was simple enough: Sabbath prayers, to use Hakim’s own words, attracted “many good and righteous men . . . able to bring down the rains of generosity”—[that is], cold hard cash. . . .

“The quires are distributed to men with deep pockets,” Hakim explained, unrolling his strategy, “men who willingly agree to purchase what I have [in print] as well as that which is due [to be printed].” Interestingly, . . . he cast the purchase of his own book in the same sacred light: “By agreeing to purchase the books [of responsa] for themselves and for others,” he continues, “they multiply Jewish learning and exalt Divine Law.” After all, publishing a large book like this was a very expensive undertaking; selling his book quire by quire, Hakim explained, gave him the financial wherewithal to complete the publication of the entire volume. . . .

But not everyone was on board with this argument. In Bursa, a city in northwestern Anatolia, one Rabbi Isaac ibn Lev decried the practice as a clear desecration of the Sabbath, thundering: “Woe to the generation when its most venerable sage errs so egregiously and permits that which is forbidden for the sake of profit.”

Meanwhile, back in Constantinople, Hakim remained unfazed. . . . Books continued to be printed and sold in similar fashion in Constantinople—and apparently only in Constantinople—up to the very end of the 16th century.

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More about: Books, History & Ideas, Judaism, Sabbath, Turkish Jewry

For Israelis, Anti-Zionism Kills

Dec. 14 2018

This week alone, anti-Zionists have killed multiple Israelis in a series of attacks; these follow the revelations that Hizballah succeeded in digging multiple attack tunnels from Lebanon into northern Israel. Simultaneously, some recent news stories in the U.S. have occasioned pious reminders that anti-Zionism should not be conflated with anti-Semitism. Bret Stephens notes that it is anti-Zionists, not defenders of Israel, who do the most to blur that distinction:

Israelis experience anti-Zionism in a different way from, say, readers of the New York Review of Books: not as a bold sally in the world of ideas, but as a looming menace to their earthly existence, held at bay only through force of arms. . . . Anti-Zionism might have been a respectable point of view before 1948, when the question of Israel’s existence was in the future and up for debate. Today, anti-Zionism is a call for the elimination of a state—details to follow regarding the fate befalling those who currently live in it. . . .

Anti-Zionism is ideologically unique in insisting that one state, and one state only, doesn’t just have to change. It has to go. By a coincidence that its adherents insist is entirely innocent, this happens to be the Jewish state, making anti-Zionists either the most disingenuous of ideologues or the most obtuse. When then-CNN contributor Marc Lamont Hill called last month for a “free Palestine from the river to the sea” and later claimed to be ignorant of what the slogan really meant, it was hard to tell in which category he fell.

Does this make someone with Hill’s views an anti-Semite? It’s like asking whether a person who believes in [the principle of] separate-but-equal must necessarily be a racist. In theory, no. In reality, another story. The typical aim of the anti-Semite is legal or social discrimination against some set of Jews. The explicit aim of the anti-Zionist is political or physical dispossession.

What’s worse: to be denied membership in a country club because you’re Jewish, or driven from your ancestral homeland and sovereign state for the same reason? If anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism are meaningfully distinct (I think they are not), the human consequences of the latter are direr.

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More about: Anti-Semitism, Anti-Zionism, Hizballah, Israel & Zionism, Palestinian terror