The People of the Book and the Printing Press

In a 1477 book of Hebrew commentary on the Psalms, the printer notes with wonder that the words “shine like sapphires in the eyes of all who see them.” He also remarks on the extraordinary capacity of the printing press to produce “300 copies all at once,” allowing Jews to preserve their faith “for all generations.” Early print books in Hebrew like this are rare, with only some 170 titles known to exist. Thirty-seven reside in the Library of Congress; as Ann Brenner notes in the Library’s blog, they—and one printer’s poem in particular—reflect a wondrous marriage of the ancient and new.

It was apparently a case of love at first sight. How else to describe those first encounters between the earliest Hebrew printers and that newfangled technology that was spreading across Europe? Already in the first dated Hebrew book, printed in Italy in 1475, the printer expressed passionate wonder over the new invention, and he was not alone. In Spain, in Portugal, in Italy, Hebrew printers took to the new technology with enthusiasm, turning out classics of the Jewish bookshelf one after another: rabbinic law codes and responsa; prayer books; translations of Arabic philosophy; belles lettres; even the entire Hebrew Bible itself, complete with commentaries and Aramaic translation.

As we move through the digital age, it might be difficult for us to appreciate just what the printing press meant to those first Hebrew printers. Yet they were just as excited and moved by the new technology as we are by the technology in our own day and age, and just as alive to its transformative powers.

The invention of printing caught the Jewish people at a critical moment in history. Spanish Jewry, once the most important Jewish community in the world, was crumbling under the pressures of the Reconquista and, from 1478, from the terrors of the Inquisition. Entire Jewish communities were in flight; Hebrew texts were going up in flames. And now, here was an invention that could produce multiple copies all at once and, by doing so, ensure the survival of Jewish teachings and perhaps of Judaism itself.

Read more at Library of Congress

More about: Medieval Spain, Rare books, Spanish Inquisition

While Israel Is Distracted on Two Fronts, Iran Is on the Verge of Building Nuclear Weapons

Iran recently announced its plans to install over 1,000 new advanced centrifuges at its Fordow nuclear facility. Once they are up and running, the Institute for Science and International Security assesses, Fordow will be able to produce enough highly enriched uranium for three nuclear bombs in a mere ten days. The U.S. has remained indifferent. Jacob Nagel writes:

For more than two decades, Iran has continued its efforts to enhance its nuclear-weapons capability—mainly by enriching uranium—causing Israel and the world to concentrate on the fissile material. The International Atomic Energy Agency recently confirmed that Iran has a huge stockpile of uranium enriched to 60 percent, as well as more enriched to 20 percent, and the IAEA board of governors adopted the E3 (France, Germany, UK) proposed resolution to censure Iran for the violations and lack of cooperation with the agency. The Biden administration tried to block it, but joined the resolution when it understood its efforts to block it had failed.

To clarify, enrichment of uranium above 20 percent is unnecessary for most civilian purposes, and transforming 20-percent-enriched uranium to the 90-percent-enriched product necessary for producing weapons is a relatively small step. Washington’s reluctance even to express concern about this development appears to stem from an unwillingness to acknowledge the failures of President Obama’s nuclear policy. Worse, writes Nagel, it is turning a blind eye to efforts at weaponization. But Israel has no such luxury:

Israel must adopt a totally new approach, concentrating mainly on two main efforts: [halting] Iran’s weaponization actions and weakening the regime hoping it will lead to its replacement. Israel should continue the fight against Iran’s enrichment facilities (especially against the new deep underground facility being built near Natanz) and uranium stockpiles, but it should not be the only goal, and for sure not the priority.

The biggest danger threatening Israel’s existence remains the nuclear program. It would be better to confront this threat with Washington, but Israel also must be fully prepared to do it alone.

Read more at Ynet

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, U.S. Foreign policy