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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