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CHAPTER 5 Sixteenth-Century Jewish Internal Censorship of Hebrew Books Joseph R. Hacker While Christian censorship of Hebrew books in the sixteenth century has received considerable scholarly attention, both after the opening of the Vatican archives in 18811 and, more recently, the opening of the Archive of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith in 1998,2 Jewish censorship of Hebrew prints, exercised by Jewish rabbinic or lay authorities, has rarely received attention.3 Although researchers have explored the participation of Jewish scholars in the process of Christian expurgation,4 very little is known about Jewish censorship. The lack of archival documentation is the main cause for the state of knowledge in the field, but no one has attempted to check systematically the Hebrew prints for traces of Jewish censorship. This article will attempt to do so on the basis of the literary evidence and the examination of some Hebrew prints printed in the second part of the sixteenth century. The paper addresses four major questions: (1) Was there any Jewish censorship in Italy performed to force contemporary authors or entrepreneurs either to abide by certain rules or to conform to halakhic norms or a widely accepted theology? (2) Were the Jewish public and its leadership engaged in avoiding or erasing heretical views or improper issues from Hebrew prints? (3) Was there a mechanism of control operated or activated by rabbis or by community leaders to examine the prints, before or after print, from the Jewish point of view? (4) Could it be that the Christian 110 Chapter 5 printers and their Jewish editors and correctors interfered in the text, eliminated sentences, erased expressions, or even extracted sections to accommodate the text to certain Jewish demands or requirements, in the same manner as they acted to satisfy the Christian authorities by avoiding antiChristian positions? Attempts to Curb the Hebrew Printing Industry by a Communal Control System Very few communal documents that address printing matters or policies of publication in Hebrew have survived. But we do possess at least four ordinances by separate sixteenth-century communities that address printing policy. One ordinance was even renewed, at least once. The first is an ordinance from Salonica, in the Ottoman Empire. In August 1529, the sages (marbiz .ei Torah) of the city, some of whom were officially appointed as rabbis in several of the city’s communities, convened; and, after lamenting the fact that improper material had been printed, decided: No Jew will be allowed to print henceforth any manuscript without the consent and the approval of the Rabbis of six communities of the city. The transgressor of this ordinance will be banned and if some people will not abide to this rule, the printers and the buyers will be excommunicated. Even if the printing process was already on its way, they will not be allowed to complete it, only by the consent of all the six Rabbis, who have to convene together at one place and approve their approbation by signature.5 This ordinance does not differentiate among the printing of new materials and books by contemporary authors, books and writings of former scholars , and books that were part of the accepted consensus. Books printed in Salonica after 1529 do not show traces of the implementation of this ordinance , and it was probably never executed. Nevertheless, the rabbis were probably aggravated by the print of ‘‘vanity’’ and popular literature in the vernacular, and their decision led to the departure of the famous printer Gershom Soncino from Salonica to Istanbul after 1529.6 It proves that the Jewish establishment was concerned with the religious, moral, and cultural Internal Censorship 111 consequences of an uncontrolled printing industry at the beginning of the sixteenth century. The Catholic Church was concerned with these issues much earlier, and already in 1478–79 acted to establish press censorship by authorizing the University of Cologne to oversee and to inspect the new industry. But the first known call for a book to be censored dates from 1470, and it was intended against incompetent editorship. Therefore, it is very unlikely that the Jewish establishment was unaware of the possible impact that the new industry of printing might have had on religious, moral, and political issues for the public, and for its leadership in particular. Although Hebrew printing started around 1470 in Italy (Rome?)7 , we do not encounter any documentation on attempts to regulate and control the printing of Hebrew in Italy until 1554. Could the fact that...


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