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

The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey