hebrew printing

  • Issue: June 1977
  • Designer: Z. Narkiss
  • Stamp size: 25.7 x 40 mm
  • Plate no.: 503
  • Sheet of 15 stamps Tabs: 5
  • Printers: Government Printers
  • Method of printing: Photogravure

"A Nation of Writers", the "People of the Book"-these are two apposite descriptions of the Jewish people who throughout their history of wandering from one country of exile to another always carried the written word with them. It is not surprising, therefore, that they were among the first to appreciate the immense importance of the invention of the printing press which they would use to keep contact with their scattered communities and to preserve their spiritual heritage.

The first Jewish printing press in the Holy Land was set up just 400 years ago in the year 1577 (5337) some hundred years after the printing of the first Hebrew book in the Diaspora. The explanation for this is to be found in the fact that the Jews of the Holy Land were a small, poor community, persecuted by the Christians and far removed from the important centres of Judaism in Europe.

It was only following the Ottoman conquest of Palestine in 1517 that the country was opened up to the Spanish and Portuguese Jews living within the borders of the Turkish Empire, many of them came to Zefat which was an important crossroad between Damascus, the Syrian and Islamic capital and the Mediterranean seaports of Acre, Tsur, Sidon and Beyrouth.

Many of these Jews were wealthy and enterprising while others such as Joseph Caro, Isaac Luria ("An"), Israel Najara, Solomon Alkabetz, etc. were outstanding Jewish scholars and through them Zefat became an important economic metropolis and centre of Jewish learning particularly in the fields of the Bible and the Kabbala.

The scholars of Zefat published their books in Constantinople, Salonica and mainly in Venice which was a very expensive undertaking given the difficulties of communication in those days. The veteran printer from Prague, Eliezer bar Yizhaq, who wanted to fulfill the holy command to return to the Land of Israel, firmly believed that the Jews of the Diaspora would willingly purchase books printed in the Holy Land. He decided, therefore, to come and settle in Zefat and publish the works of the local sages. He was encouraged in his venture by Avraham bar Yizhaq Ashkenazi of Zefat who helped him set up his printing press and even went into partnership with him.

When we consider the great progress made by the printing trade in Israel-the use of machines capable of setting up 10,000 letters an hour and the acquirement of technical skills which have placed Israel among the top ten countries of the world for printing stamps and posters-it is difficult for us to appreciate the achievement of Zefat's first printer who published only ten books in ten years.

It was not the custom in those days to transport type and printing presses. Furthermore, the printers of those days did not regard their occupation as a source of livelihood. Because of the difficult travelling conditions it was also very difficult to find a market for books and Avraham and Eliezer travelled to Aden and Constantinople in an effort to sell their books.

The printer's prayer "May the Almighty, blessed be He, grant me the privilege of publishing an unlimited number of books in the Land of Israel" went unanswered and he was compelled to close down the press in the year 1587. It was to be another 245 years until printing was renewed in the Holy Land-once more in Zefat.

Israel Bak, a master printer from Berdichev, a man skilled in the art of engraving, came to settle in Zefat in the year 5591 (1831) bringing with him the tools of his trade and a number of workers. Israel Bak too, did not prosper in Zefat and in the year 1840 moved to Jerusalem where he set up his press. Since then, there has been a continuous development of the printing trade in the Holy Land and today, presses are to be found in almost every town and large village, including the development towns.

Even in this era of television and radio, the printed word is still a powerful force in our lives and the products of the printing press serve Man throughout his life in countless ways-in the field of science and literature; information-through Israel's multilingual newspapers and posters; communications-with the aid of the postage stamp and the bus ticket.

Printing contributed much to the Jewish people's national re-vival and the clandestine press played a key role in the struggle against the British mandatory power. This is probably a suitable occasion on which to recall that the "Doar lvri" stamps were printed in secret at a time when it had not even been decided on the name to be given to the embryo State.

The printing trade was created and developed by a large community of authors, newspapermen, graphic artists, advertising men and publishers at the core of which are to be found the printers and their workers who had to fight for decent working conditions while engaged in their labour of love. Credit is due to these workers and to their union "the National Union of Printing Workers" for establishing the Museum of Printing in Zefat which houses exhibits illustrating the development of Jewish printing in the Holy Land from the very early books to the sumptuous products of our own day; maps illustrating the wanderings of the Jewish press and a reconstruction of the first printing shop from the 16th century; the press on which the "Doar lvri" stamps were printed. The Museum also contains a memorial tablet recalling the past generations of Jewish printers of the Holy Land and the Diaspora.

top top 

400 years hebrew printing in Zefat