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Eli‘ezer ben Yitsḥak

(fl. 16th century), itinerant Hebrew printer. Eli‘ezer ben Yitsḥak learned the craft of printing in Prague, and went from there to Lublin upon the request of the Shaḥor family, who had moved from Prague to Lublin and established the city’s first Hebrew printing house there in 1547. After Yitsḥak ben Ḥayim Shaḥor and his brother-in-law Yosef ben Yakar had worked for 10 years in the trade, they both died of the plague, and their orphaned sons were too young and inexperienced to take on the business. Eli‘ezer thus became their manager in 1557. In 1559 the surviving children, Ḥayim ben Yitsḥak Shaḥor and Ḥanah bat Yosef ben Yakar, received a privilege from King Sigismund II Augustus to print and trade Hebrew books. In addition, they received the sole right to import Hebrew books produced outside of Poland. To defend their right as importers, the privilege stated that anyone found importing Hebrew books from abroad would be fined 20 marks.

Eli‘ezer ben Yitsḥak began the project of printing the Talmud, tractate by tractate, but in 1559 plague broke out in the city, and he and the children of the founders fled to the nearby town of Końska Wola, where they continued the project; and when the plague subsided, they returned to Lublin. Eli‘ezer then hired his own son Yitsḥak as a type engraver and assistant.

Eli‘ezer did not complete his printing of the Talmud. However, in Lublin he did print Maḥzor ke-minhag Polin (1567) and Ta‘ame ha-mitsvot (1571) by Menaḥem ben Shelomoh Recanati, a famous sixteenth-century kabbalist; the book provides explanations for some of the commandments. Eli‘ezer ben Yitsḥak also printed the well-known Sefer minhagim by Yitsḥak Tirna (1571), Seliḥot ke-minhag Polin (1571), and Orḥot ḥayim (1572), a treatise on ethics also known as Tsava’at ha-Rosh, by Asher ben Yeḥi’el. The final book that he produced in Lublin was Paḥad Yitsḥak, rabbinical legends by Yitsḥak ben Avraham Ḥayut (1573).

In the 1570s, Eli‘ezer left Lublin with his family; he sold his materials to the printer Kalonimos ben Mordekhai Yafeh and set out on his way, reaching Constantinople apparently in 1574 and forming a partnership with David ben Eliyahu Kashti. Together they issued two books: She’elot u-teshuvot ha-ge’onim (1575) and Tefilot ha-shanah ke-minhag kehilot Romanyah (1575). After parting company with Kashti, Eli‘ezer independently printed Mekor Barukh (1576), by Barukh Ya’ish ibn Yitsḥak, which contains a commentary on the Song of Songs.

In 1577, Eli‘ezer moved to the Land of Israel, where he opened a press in Safed. Though existing until 1587, the business was in fact only truly active for four years, and it printed just six books. In his first two years there, Eli‘ezer had as a partner a local magnate named Avraham ben Yitsḥak Ashkenazi. They produced three texts: Lekaḥ tov (1577) by Mosheh ben Yom Tov Tsahalon, a commentary on the Scroll of Esther; Kohelet Ya‘akov (1578) by Mosheh ben Mordekhai Galanti, on Ecclesiastes; and Sar shalom (1579) by Yitsḥak Aripol, on the Song of Songs. After the third book was printed, Avraham Ashkenazi may have been the person of that name who became an emissary to Yemen on behalf of the community of Tiberias, and the printing shop suspended operations. Eli‘ezer then returned to Constantinople and produced, with his former partner Kashti, Lev ḥakham (1586) by Shemu’el ben Yitsḥak Aripol, a commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Eli‘ezer then went back to Safed, where he worked again with Avraham Ashkenazi, and printed three additional books: Zemirot Yisra’el (1587) by the renowned poet Yisra’el Najara, some of whose hymns entered the liturgy and were also praised and utilized by Sabbatians; further poems by Najara under the title Mesaḥeket ba-tevel (1587); and Baraita de-Rabi Eli‘ezer along with Midrash agur, prepared for printing by Menaḥem de Lonzano (1587). The many other prominent authors resident in Safed at that time, however, chose to publish their writings abroad perhaps in order to ensure their distribution throughout the Jewish world. It is possible that Eli‘ezer ben Yitsḥak died of the plague in around 1587 or 1588.

Suggested Reading

Bernhard (Ḥayim Dov) Friedberg, Toldot ha-defus ha-‘ivri be-Polanyah (Tel Aviv, 1950), pp. 45–50; Abraham Meir Habermann, Perakim be-toldot ha-madpisim ha-‘ivriyim ve-‘inyane sefarim (Jerusalem, 1978), pp. 313–316; Marvin J. Heller, Printing the Talmud: A History of the Earliest Printed Editions of the Talmud (Brooklyn, N.Y., 1992), pp. 325–360; Raphael Nathan Nata Rabbinovicz, Ma’amar ‘al hadpasat ha-Talmud (Jerusalem, 1951/52), pp. 60–67, 225; Avraham Ya‘ari, Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-artsot ha-mizraḥ, vol. 1 (Jerusalem, 1937), pp. 10–11, 17–20; Avraham Ya‘ari, Ha-Defus ha-‘ivri be-Kushta (Jerusalem, 1967), pp. 30–32, 124–125, no. 188.



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green