Photo Credit: Israel Mizrahi

The efforts involved and challenges faced by printers and authors of old are hard to comprehend today. It was thus a delight this past week when I was able to acquire a letter which brought to light some of the challenges involved in the printing of a classic rabbinic work, in 19th century Vilna. The letter was written by a printer in Vilna, dated 1858 and addressed to Rabbi Yisrael Lifschitz (1782-1860), in reference to the printing of his now famous work, the Tiferes Yisrael commentary on the Mishna.

R. Yisrael Lifschitz was rabbi first in Dessau and then in Danzig (Gdansk, Poland, of today). His commentary on the Mishna was first published in 1830 in an abridged version, and at the time of this writing the author was looking to publish the first edition of the complete work that we are familiar with today. In the letter, the printer in the distant Vilna writes back to R. Lifschitz regarding the process of printing which has been delayed. Noting that the local paper mill in Vilna burned down and no paper was available locally, he apologizes for the delay in getting the process started as they were awaiting a batch of paper from Warsaw. Dismissing an option to print on low quality paper, the printer writes that in their vicinity such paper is not used.


In response to R. Yisrael Lifschitz’s request to print a separate run in Berlin, the Vilna printer urges against this action, as he writes that printing another run even in another country would be detrimental to his efforts, as one way or another, legally or not, someone will import the foreign edition, effecting the sales of the Vilna edition.

It is interesting to note that at the end, this edition that was discussed was not published, perhaps for the reasons noted in the letter, and was only published in 1862 in Berlin. In the decades that followed the Tiferes Yisrael was published several times in Warsaw and then finally two decades later in Vilna.

Suggested price: $950.

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Israel Mizrahi is the owner of Mizrahi Bookstore in Brooklyn, NY, and He can be reached at [email protected].