The Woman behind the First Printed Hebrew Prayer Book

The story of Hebrew printing begins in Italy in the latter part of the 15th century. Among the lesser-known pioneers of this period of Jewish publishing was Meshulam Kuzi, who produced an edition of the s’liot—penitential prayers said in the days or weeks prior to Rosh Hashanah. Yori Yalon writes:

Kuzi . . . founded a small printing business in the Italian town Piove di Sacco [and] printed his texts in stunning “Ashkenazi letters.” . . . According to the National Library of Israel, “This s’liot prayer book from around 1475 is effectively the first Hebrew prayer book ever printed.”

Another interesting aspect of the book is the role women played in its production. The curator of the National Library’s Judaica collection, Yoel Finkelman, explains that Meshulam’s wife is believed to have been active in publishing the work. “We know that Rabbi Meshulam passed away before it was published, and his widow, Devorah, completed the work,” Finkelman notes.

The pages of this copy of the book include evidence it was used by at least two other Ashkenazi women, who made notes about their husbands. On the first page appears a sentence signed “Mrs. Esther, daughter of Rabbi Asher,” which was apparently written not long after the book was published. . . . Another woman wrote her name on one of the last pages, a few hundred years later.

Nor was this Devorah the only widow with that name to play a significant role in the history of Jewish printing. Devorah Romm took over Vilna’s Romm publishing house, founded in 1799, after the death of her husband in 1860, serving as its director until her own death in 1903. During this period, the Romm press produced its renowned edition of the Talmud—whose layout has been imitated by nearly every subsequent edition, and whose pagination remains the standard way by which the work is cited.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Italian Jewry, Prayer books, Rare books, Vilna, Women in Judaism

Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict