Four hundred years ago a Hebrew book was printed in a Polish Jewish community for the first time. It was issued by Helicz Brothers in Krakow, under the title of Shaare Dura, a work on dietary laws, by Isaac Meir, a German rabbi of the thirteenth century. Since then the Jewish presses of Poland have been working uninterruptedly.
In commemoration of the 400th anniversary of the introduction of Hebrew printing in Poland the New York Public Library placed on exhibition, which will last through the summer, a selected number of imprints representing characteristic productions. Most of the books shown are considered rarities. They include Rabbi Meir’s opus.
Cases containing them are on the second floor of the central building, Fifth avenue and Forty-second street. The display is supervised by the Jewish Division headed by Dr. Joshua Bloch.
Today Hebrew and Yiddish books in Poland treat of the widest possible variety of subjects, but in those days there was considerable limitation. It was only in 1851 that a Lemberg publisher brought out “Robinson Crusoe” in Yiddish. This also is on display in the library. And so is “Folk Medicine,” by Joel Baal Ahem, famed as a miracle worker in Ostrog during the seventeenth century. Then there is “Ayyil Meshulash,” a treatise on geometry, by Elijah B. Solomon (Vilna, 1833).
Early specimens show Italian influence in ornaments, initials, etc. As the scene of printing activities shifts from town to townâ€”Krakow, Lublin, Zolkiewâ€”one observes changes in influence, with the latter place showing Dutch effects. Cabbalist and Chassidic characteristics are apparent in the publications of the eighteenth century. Various editions of the Talmud are prominent. Also shown is “A Polemic Against Philosophy,” by Joseph B. Chayyim Jabez (Lublin, 1596).
A stamp of approval from the Russian government censor is in evidence at the end of a number of volumes. Visitors in the library raise many questions in connection with the exhibit and take them to Dr. Bloch and his staff for clarification.