The Woman behind the First Printed Hebrew Prayer Book

Aug. 12 2021

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

How the U.S. Is Financing Bashar al-Assad

Due to a long history of supporting terrorism and having waged a brutal and devastating war on its own people, the Syrian regime is subject to numerous U.S. sanctions. But that doesn’t stop American tax dollars from going to President Bashar al-Assad and his cronies, via the United Nations. David Adesnik explains:

UN agencies have spent $95.5 million over the past eight years to house their staff at the Four Seasons Damascus, including $14.2 million last year. New Yorkers know good hotel rooms don’t come cheap, but the real problem in Damascus is that the Four Seasons’ owners are the Assad regime itself and one of the war profiteers who manages the regime’s finances.

The hotel would likely go under if not for UN business; Damascus is not a tourist destination these days. The UN claims keeping its staff at the Four Seasons is about keeping them safe. Yet there has been little fighting in Damascus since 2017. A former UN diplomat with experience in the Syrian capital told me the regime tells UN agencies it can only guarantee the safety of their staff if they stay at the Four Seasons.

What makes the Four Seasons debacle especially galling is that it’s been public knowledge for seven years, and the UN has done nothing about it—or the many other ways the regime siphons off aid for its own benefit. One of the most lucrative is manipulating exchange rates. . . . One of Washington’s top experts on humanitarian aid crunched the numbers and concluded the UN lost $100 million over eighteen months to this kind of rate-fixing.

What the United States and its allies should do is make clear to the UN they will turn off the spigot if the body doesn’t get its act together.

Read more at New York Post

More about: Bashar al-Assad, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, United Nations