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Shemu’el ben Yisakhar Ber Segal

(d. ca. 1817), Hebrew printer of kabbalistic, Hasidic, halakhic, and ethical works. Shemu’el ben Yisakhar Ber Segal was a major Hebrew-language printer in PolandRussia at the end of the eighteenth and the beginning of the nineteenth centuries. In the third and final volume of his edition of the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (Berdichev, 1817), which appeared shortly before Segal’s death, prominent rabbis testified that he had trained generations of printers and was “the father of all printing craftsmen.” He carried out his career in six cities, sometimes in several at the same time.

Shemu’el Segal was the son-in-law of Tsevi Hirsh ben Aryeh Leib Margaliot (d. 1786), who was a printer as well. Segal worked at his father-in-law’s shop in Oleksiniec, near Brody, from 1766 to 1776. In 1776, Margaliot and Segal transferred their business to Korets, where they produced kabbalistic books until 1782 and were the first to print works expounding the teachings of the new Hasidic movement founded by the Ba‘al Shem Tov (the Besht). This suggests that Margaliot printed other, anti-Hasidic, works out of commercial considerations (among them Zemir ‘aritsim ve-ḥarvot tsurim, a collection of anti-Hasidic materials and documents), not to express his personal positions.

The texts printed in Korets included Toldot Ya‘akov Yosef (1780), which contains many teachings of the Besht and was the first Hasidic work to appear without approbations, and Ben Porat Yosef (1781), both by Ya‘akov Yosef of Polnoye. They also printed Magid devarav le-Ya‘akov (1781) containing the teachings of Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh (and the successor to the Besht as leader of the Hasidic movement), and Ḥok le-Yisra’el (1781), in which for the first time selections from the Zohar were included for daily readings, along with passages from the Pentateuch, Mishnah, and Talmud. After the publication of this edition, the first one of its kind to be printed in Europe, dozens of further editions followed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The appearance of Ḥok le-Yisra’el was a milestone in the process of the wide circulation of the Zohar and its establishment as a canonical book, alongside the Bible, Mishnah, and Gemara.

The new market opened by Margaliot and Segal for books of Kabbalah and Hasidism attracted one of the largest printing houses of the time, owned by the gentile Johann Anton Krieger, whose principal printing shop was located in Nowy Dwór. Krieger bought printing materials and rights from them and opened a branch in Korets in 1782. Margaliot and Segal started operations in Shklov that year, and worked there until 1786, when Margaliot died. Their publications included a significant number of works of Ethics, among them Sefer ha-yir’ah (1783) by Yonah ben Avraham Gerondi (ca. 1200–1263), Ḥovot ha-levavot (1784) by Baḥya ben Yosef ibn Pakuda’ (eleventh century), and Mesilat yesharim (1784) by Mosheh Ḥayim Luzzatto (1707–1747); and kabbalistic works such as Sefer ha-Bahir (1784), and Ma‘ayan ha-Ḥokhmah (1784).

Margaliot and Segal had begun printing the Zohar in 1786, but the death of the elder printer precipitated a dispute between his widow and his son-in-law. Segal then left Shklov and opened another business in Polnoye, producing an edition of the Zohar (1787–1789) and thus competing with his mother-in-law. He continued to print in Polnoye until 1793. Half of the 20 books he printed there were books of Kabbalah, none by a Hasidic author.

When Segal was at the apex of his career in 1789, he resumed work in Korets as well, until 1791. He began to print in Ostróg in 1795, participating in the publication of the Shulḥan ‘arukh, Yoreh de‘ah by Yosef Karo; in 1798, Segal produced an edition of Tikune Zohar. He remained active in Ostróg until 1809, printing another edition of Yoreh de‘ah. Meanwhile, he opened a branch of his business in Berdichev in 1807, and worked there until his death in 1817, though a fire at his shop in 1811 caused great damage and limited his capacity to produce books. His son Ya‘akov Finkelman succeeded him.

Segal received approbations from the Hasidic leader Levi Yitsḥak for all the books that the firm published in his community in Berdichev (Yid., Barditshev), including Hasidic titles such as Degel maḥaneh Efrayim by Mosheh Ḥayim Efrayim of Sudilkov, the grandson of the Besht (1807, 1815), and Magid devarav le-Ya‘akov by Dov Ber, the Magid of Mezritsh (1808). Segal also printed Shivḥe ha-Besht in 1815, shortly after the first printing of that title in Kopys in that year, and Kedushat Levi, a collection of sermons on the Torah by Levi Yitsḥak of Barditshev (1816). He planned to print a small edition of the Talmud, following the Metz edition (1768), but succeeded in issuing only Berakhot (1807). On the other hand he printed the whole of the Mishneh Torah by Maimonides, in three volumes (1808–1817).

In Berdichev, Segal also printed two volumes of poems by the maskil Tuviah Feder (but published anonymously): Shir hatslaḥat Aleksander (1814), in honor of the tsar, and Simḥah ve-sason (Joy and Gladness; 1814), also in praise of the monarch. Segal was apparently compelled to print these books, for fear that were he to decline to do so, the maskilim would inform the Russian authorities about his refusal.

Suggested Reading

Bernhard (Ḥayim Dov) Friedberg, Toldot ha-defus ha-‘ivri be-Polanyah (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 72–74, 88–90, 102–103, 116–118, 138–148, 153; Zeev Gries, Sifrut ha-hanhagot: Toldoteha u-mekomah be-ḥaye ḥasidav shel ha-Besht (Jerusalem, 1989/90), pp. 361–364; Yisra’el M. Ta-Shema, “Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-Ostraha’: Tikunim ve-haḥlafot,” ‘Ale sefer 6–7 (1979): 209–212; Aryeh Tauber, Meḥkarim bibliyografiyim (Jerusalem, 1932), pp. 15–52, suppl. to Kiryat sefer 9; Avraham Ya‘ari, “Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-Berditshov,” Kiryat sefer 21 (1944–1945): 100–102, 105–114; Avraham Ya‘ari, “Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-Shklov,” Kiryat sefer 22 (1945–1946): 50, 55–62; Avraham Ya‘ari, “Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-Ostraha’,” ‘Ale sefer 1 (1975): 109–128, 2 (1976): 163–190; Yitsḥak Yudlov, “Ha-defus ha-‘ivri be-Ostraha: Hosafot ve-tikunim,” ‘Ale sefer 8 (1980): 111–113.



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green