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Fayvesh Family

(Also spelled Phoebus), printers active in the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. Their descendants included the Madpis, Rosanes, and Letteris families of printers.

Uri Fayvesh ben Aharon ha-Levi (1625–1715) was born and raised in Amsterdam, where he worked as a printer from 1658 to 1689 and became a member (under the name Phylips Levi) of the city’s guild of booksellers, printers, and bookbinders. In the 1680s, Fayvesh’s business activities became focused increasingly on Eastern Europe, especially Poland. Realizing that the Jewish printing industry in Poland had declined, Fayvesh obtained permission from King Jan III Sobieski on 1 November 1690 to open a Hebrew printing house and to circulate books throughout Poland. Fayvesh moved to Żółkiew the next year; his first printed work there consisted of two texts in one volume: Ḥidushe halakhot, by Shemu’el Edels, along with Derekh yam ha-Talmud, by Mordekhai ben Mosheh Katz (1692).

Fayvesh faced stiff competition in Poland, a factor that led him twice to request assistance from the Council of the Four Lands. In 1696, the council issued a ruling about distributing books that had been printed in Poland: the rabbis praised the beauty and accuracy of Fayvesh’s books, and maintained that by comparison, his competitors allowed errors and used inferior type. In an edict issued in 1699, the council again praised his books as superior “in beauty, and in handsomeness, in new type and good paper.” They forbade the import of books printed outside the area of the council and emphasized that they were prohibiting daytshwarg (German merchandise—books printed in the cities of Germany, as well as in Amsterdam).

Fayvesh’s printing house operated for more than 150 years, mainly in Żółkiew but also in Lwów (Lemberg), where Jewish printers from the region relocated after a decision by Austrian authorities in the 1780s to concentrate Jewish printers in one area so they could be more closely supervised. Fayvesh himself left Poland in 1705, returning to Amsterdam.

Fayvesh’s descendants continued to work in the field. His great-grandson Aharon was active in the business from 1812 to 1835, and Aharon’s son Ḥayim David took the family name Madpis (Heb., printer). Avraham Yosef Madpis, Ḥayim David’s son, was also active in the business (from 1848 to 1883), as was Aharon’s daughter, Yudis (or Yehudis)—wife of the rabbi of Lwów, Tsevi Hirsh Rosanes—from 1772 to 1805. The firm was then in the hands of her son from a previous marriage, Hertz Grossman, and Grossman’s widow, Ḥaykah, and his daughter Feige, who was active from 1806 to 1858.

Uri Fayvesh’s second grandson in Żółkiew was Gershon, whose son Ze’ev Volf took the family name Letteris, and was active in the business from 1782 to 1789. Ze’ev Wolf’s son Gershon Letteris worked there from 1793 to 1828; Gershon Letteris’s son was the Hebrew poet and editor Me’ir Letteris. From 1716 to 1850, the descendants of Uri ben Aharon printed well over 300 books, a catalog that included prayer books, individual tractates of the Talmud, essential books of halakhah and ethics, and books of Kabbalah.

Suggested Reading

Marion Aptroot, Bible Translation as Cultural Reform: The Amsterdam Yiddish Bibles, 1678–1679 (Oxford, 1989); Marion Aptroot, “‘In Galkhes They Do Not Say So, but the Taytsh Is As It Stands Here’: Notes on the Amsterdam Yiddish Bible Translations by Blitz and Witzenhausen,” Studia Rosenthaliana 27.1–2 (1993): 136–158; Isabella Henriette van Eeghen, De Amsterdamse boekhandel, 1680–1725, voI. 4 (Amsterdam, 1967), pp. 211–217; Bernhard (Ḥayim Dov) Friedberg, Toldot ha-defus ha-‘ivri be-‘arim ha-eleh shebe-Eropah: Avignon, Izna (Antwerp, 1937), pp. 24, 28–31; Bernhard Friedberg and Ḥayim Dov Friedberg, Toldot ha-defus ha-‘ivri be-Polanyah (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 62–65; Lajb Fuks, “De twee gelijktijdig te Amsterdam in de 17e eeuw verschenen Jiddische bijbelvertalingen,” Het Boek, Nieuwe reeks 32 (1955–1957): 146–165, see also the Hebrew version in Gal-Ed 1 (1973): 31–50; Lajb Fuks and Renate G. Fuks-Mansfeld, Hebrew Typography in the Northern Netherlands, 1585–1815: Historical Evaluation and Descriptive Bibliography, vol. 2 (Leiden, 1987), pp. 233–286; Marvin J. Heller, Printing the Talmud: A History of the Individual Treatises Printed from 1700 to 1750 (Leiden and Boston, 1994), pp. 285–320; Erika Timm, “Blitz and Witzenhausen,” in Studies in Jewish Culture in Honour of Chone Shmeruk, ed. Israel Bartal, Ezra Mendelsohn, and Chava Turniansky, pp. 39–66 (Jerusalem, 1993).