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

What Israel Can Achieve in Gaza, the Fate of the Hostages, and Planning for the Day After

In a comprehensive analysis, Azar Gat concludes that Israel’s prosecution of the war has so far been successful, and preferable to the alternatives proposed by some knowledgeable critics. (For a different view, see this article by Lazar Berman.) But even if the IDF is coming closer to destroying Hamas, is it any closer to freeing the remaining hostages? Gat writes:

Hamas’s basic demand in return for the release of all the hostages—made clear well before it was declared publicly—is an end to the war and not a ceasefire. This includes the withdrawal of the IDF from the Gaza Strip, restoration of Hamas’s control over it (including international guarantees), and a prisoner exchange on the basis of “all for all.”

Some will say that there must be a middle ground between Hamas’s demands and what Israel can accept. However, Hamas’s main interest is to ensure its survival and continued rule, and it will not let go of its key bargaining chip. Some say that without the return of the hostages—“at any price”—no victory is possible. While this sentiment is understandable, the alternative would be a resounding national defeat. The utmost efforts must be made to rescue as many hostages as possible, and Israel should be ready to pay a heavy price for this goal; but Israel’s capitulation is not an option.

Beyond the great cost in human life that Israel will pay over time for such a deal, Hamas will return to rule the Gaza Strip, repairing its infrastructure of tunnels and rockets, filling its ranks with new recruits, and restoring its defensive and offensive arrays. This poses a critical question for those suggesting that it will be possible to restart the war at a later stage: have they fully considered the human toll should the IDF attempt to reoccupy the areas it would have vacated in the Gaza Strip?

Although Gat is sanguine about the prospects of the current campaign, he throws some cold water on those who hope for an absolute victory:

Militarily, it is possible to destroy Hamas’s command, military units, and infrastructure as a semi-regular military organization. . . . After their destruction in high-intensity fighting, the IDF must prevent Hamas from reviving by continuous action on the ground. As in the West Bank, this project will take years. . . . What the IDF is unlikely to achieve is the elimination of Hamas as a guerrilla force.

Lastly, Gat has some wise words about what will happen to Gaza after the war ends, a subject that has been getting renewed attention since Benjamin Netanyahu presented an outline of a plan to the war cabinet on Thursday. Gat argues that, contrary to the view of the American and European foreign-policy elite, there is no political solution for Gaza. After all, Gaza is in the Middle East, where “there are no solutions, . . . only bad options and options that are much worse.”

Read more at Institute for National Security Studies

More about: Gaza Strip, Gaza War 2023, Israeli Security