For traditional Jews around the world, the central code of Jewish law is the 16th-century Shulḥan Arukh, composed by the great Spanish-born sage Joseph Karo. This work is a consolidation of Karo’s commentary on an earlier work, the Arba’ah Turim (“Four Rows”) of Jacob ben Asher (ca. 1269-1343), a German sage who immigrated to Christian Spain with his father—himself a great Talmudist—and embodied a synthesis of Ashkenazi and Sephardi schools of learning. Part of this work was recently acquired, in the rarest of forms, by the National Library of Israel. The Jerusalem Post reports:
The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem announced on Tuesday that it has obtained 90 singular pages from the earliest period of Hebrew printing.
The pages come from the only known copy of a late-15th-century edition of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher’s Arba’ah Turim, one of history’s most important works of Jewish law. No complete copies of it have survived, and the pages acquired . . . are not found in any other collection in the world, public or private. Prior to the acquisition, the library already held 59 pages from the book.
Works published prior to 1500 are known as “incunabula” (from the Latin for swaddling clothes, cradle; the earliest stage of something). During this period, less than 200 total Hebrew titles were printed, of which around 150 have survived until today. The National Library of Israel has copies of more than 80 of them.