The People of the Book and the Printing Press

Feb. 10 2022

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


The Right and Wrong Ways for the U.S. to Support the Palestinians

Sept. 29 2023

On Wednesday, Elliott Abrams testified before Congress about the Taylor Force Act, passed in 2018 to withhold U.S. funds from the Palestinian Authority (PA) so long as it continues to reward terrorists and their families with cash. Abrams cites several factors explaining the sharp increase in Palestinian terrorism this year, among them Iran’s attempt to wage proxy war on Israel; another is the “Palestinian Authority’s continuing refusal to fight terrorism.” (Video is available at the link below.)

As long as the “pay for slay” system continues, the message to Palestinians is that terrorists should be honored and rewarded. And indeed year after year, the PA honors individuals who have committed acts of terror by naming plazas or schools after them or announcing what heroes they are or were.

There are clear alternatives to “pay to slay.” It would be reasonable for the PA to say that, whatever the crime committed, the criminal’s family and children should not suffer for it. The PA could have implemented a welfare-based system, a system of family allowances based on the number of children—as one example. It has steadfastly refused to do so, precisely because such a system would no longer honor and reward terrorists based on the seriousness of their crimes.

These efforts, like the act itself, are not at all meant to diminish assistance to the Palestinian people. Rather, they are efforts to direct aid to the Palestinian people rather than to convicted terrorists. . . . [T]he Taylor Force Act does not stop U.S. assistance to Palestinians, but keeps it out of hands in the PA that are channels for paying rewards for terror.

[S]hould the United States continue to aid the Palestinian security forces? My answer is yes, and I note that it is also the answer of Israel and Jordan. As I’ve noted, PA efforts against Hamas or other groups may be self-interested—fights among rivals, not principled fights against terrorism. Yet they can have the same effect of lessening the Iranian-backed terrorism committed by Palestinian groups that Iran supports.

Read more at Council on Foreign Relations

More about: Palestinian Authority, Palestinian terror, U.S. Foreign policy