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Sixteenth-Century Hebrew Books at the Library of Congress

The flowering of Hebrew printing across 16th-century Europe and the Ottoman Empire is amply illustrated on the shelves of the Hebraic Section in the Library of Congress. This online guide provides greater access to these books.

Introduction

Moses Maimonides. Title page of Moreh nevukhim. 1553. Hebraic Section, Library of Congress African and Middle Eastern Division. View bibliographic record in the Library of Congress Online Catalog

The art of Hebrew printing began in the fifteenth century, but it was the sixteenth century that saw its true flowering. As pioneers, the first Hebrew printers laid the groundwork for all the achievements to come, setting standards of typography and textual authenticity that still inspire admiration and awe.1 But it was in the sixteenth century that the Hebrew book truly came of age, spreading to new centers of culture, developing features that are the hallmark of printed books to this day, and witnessing the growth of a viable book trade. And it was in the sixteenth century that many classics of the Jewish tradition were either printed for the first time or received the form by which they are known today.2

The Library of Congress holds 675 volumes printed either partly or entirely in Hebrew during the sixteenth century. Many, though not all, of these books came to the Library via Ephraim Deinard, the legendary bookseller and bibliophile whose collections, purchased through the generosity of Jacob H. Schiff in 1912 and 1914, form the nucleus of the Hebraic Section at the Library of Congress.3 After reaching the Library, most of these books were stripped of their original binding and then recovered in the red buckram that is the hallmark of the Hebraic Section today; the exceptions—all too few and far between—are noted in the Finding Aid. The title of each book, and the place and date of printing (when known), were then stamped on the red binding in gold.

The original finding aid for this collection is available as a PDF.

Notes

  1. Hebrew printing began around 1470 and centered in Italy, Spain, and Portugal. Of the some 140 titles known today (estimates vary), the Library of Congress holds 37. View an annotated list of Hebrew incunabula in the Library of Congress [PDF] Back to text 
  2. There is a rich and fast-growing bibliography on all aspects of the Hebrew book in the sixteenth century. For a comprehensive list on the subject, see Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book (Leiden: Brill, 2004), Vol. II, pp. 987-997. One important addition to the growing bibliography is the recently-published collection of essays in The Hebrew Book in Early Modern Italy, eds. Joseph R. Hacker and Adam Shear (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2011). Back to text 
  3. The Library subsequently purchased two additional Deinard collections in 1916 and 1920. For a history of the Hebraic Section, see: Israel Schapiro, “The Hebrew Collections at the Library of Congress,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 36 (1916),” pp. 355-359; the overview by Michael W. Grunberger in Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress (Washington D.C.: The Library of Congress, 1991), pp. xv-xvi; and Myron M. Weinstein, “The First Deinard Collection of the Library of Congress,” Judaica Librarianship 12 (2006), pp. 31-49. An online account is also available at: http://www.loc.gov/rr/amed/hs/hscoll.html. Back to text