R. Shabbethai Bass’s (1641–1718) memory is alive and well today through his now classic work, the supercommentary on Rashi’s commentary on the Chumash, “Siftei Chachamimim,” today published with endless different editions of the Torah. During his lifetime, though, he was more famous for his role as a printer and bibliographer, and his achievements in this field are mostly unfortunately forgotten. This week I sold a fine copy of a book he published in his printed house in Dyhernfurth, a small town near Breslau, Germany, with a handwritten inscription by R. Bass. The book itself, published by Bass in 1693, is titled Ahavat Shalom and authored by R. Shlomo Elgazi of Izmir, Turkey.
In the year 1680, Bass published in Amsterdam his monumental Hebrew bibliography, titled Siftei Yeshenim (lips of the sleeping). This pioneering work, listed 2,000 different Hebrew titles that were published until that time, being the first attempt to create a comprehensive Hebrew bibliography. Each entry in Siftei Yeshenim includes a brief description, as well as printing and author information.
Bass writes that the majority of these 2,000 books he saw firsthand and examined. Bass had “created something new, which had never before been done” (from R’ Avigdor of Glogau’s haskamah), and his work led to several other Jewish bibliographies to develop.
The impact of his work was great, to the extent that several Christian Hebraists translated the work, and several such manuscripts are still extant. Johann Christoph Wolf’s Bibliotheca Hebræ, was loosely based on Siftei Yeshenim as well. The last years of his life were devoted to the second edition of his bibliographic manual, which he intended to issue in enlarged and revised form. He passed away without completing the work. By his passing in 1718, his printing presses turned out 132 publications, mostly catering to the large and growing market of Polish Jewry.