The general public often has a misconception that the earlier the printing of a book, the rarer the title and the more valuable it is. While age of a book does often affect the monetary value, often the rarest of volumes are not the oldest. With Talmud editions, this is usually the case: while the first complete Talmud edition, published by Daniel Bomberg in Venice in the early 1500s, is the most famous and sought after, several later editions are exceedingly rare and are scarcely seen.
One such volume I was lucky to acquire this past week was a tractate Nedarim of the Lublin printing of the Talmud, printed in 1619. As with all Hebrew books printed in Eastern Europe prior to the Chmielnicki Pogroms (“Tach Vetat” – 1648-1649), very few survived the devastation of Jewish life of property that resulted from the Chmielnicki uprising.
Though Venice was the center of the printing in the century prior, the Talmud was under a strict ban of printing or even owning throughout the countries under Papal influence. Following the Burning of the Talmud in Rome on Rosh Hashanah, 1553, there was a scarcity of Talmuds throughout the world, as the centers of Jewish printing in Italy were now forbidden from printing the Talmud. This resulted in several partial or full Talmud editions being printed further East in Europe as well as in Turkey, out of the Pope’s reach and enforcement.
The papal decree also shifted the center of Talmudic studies to Poland, where the Jews were still allowed to study Talmud and many of the classic commentaries on Talmud were written and printed here in this era.
This Lublin Talmud edition began publication in 1617 and wasn’t completed until 1639. This edition was based on the Cracow and Giustianiani editions of the Talmud, but when possible, the printers of the Lublin edition reinserted the portions removed by the censors in earlier editions and reverted the “corrections” of the Christian censors. The printing of this edition corresponded with major local interferences, including severe plagues and the Thirty Years’ War, likely influencing the great delay in the printings completion. The title page of most volumes of this edition, including this Nedarim one, state that printing was made possible due to the support of Moses ben R. Eliezer of Vilna, whose contribution enabled the printing. An interesting feature of this volume is the stated completion date of the printing, as Saturday, Rosh Chodesh Nissan, 379 (1619). The printing being completed on Shabbat was most likely due to non-Jews being employed in the press, though no non-Jews are listed as typesetters in the credits at the volume’s end.
In it’s time, the Lublin edition was considered of the highest quality and was very desirable. There is extant a correspondence between a bookseller, Jacob Fidanque in Hamburg, and a customer from the period, Duke Augustus the Young of Braunschweig, where the dealer writes: “Wednesday, Erev Rosh Chodesh Tevet, concerning the Lublin edition of the Talmud. I have one to sell, and it is very fine in its beauty and its paper, in sixteen volumes and new. If my lord wishes to give me 40R. [Reichsthalers], that is, forty R., I will send it to him immediately upon receipt of his response. I will sell it for less, but if my lord wants to purchase an Amsterdam edition I will sell it for 40R. However, there is none like the Lublin [Talmud] in all the land for its beauty and paper. The binding of each and every volume is worth a R.”