Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The yishuv in Eretz Yisrael in the early 1800s was relatively small, and economic opportunities were few and far between. One man who tried finding a suitable occupation for some of the old Yishuv‘s members was R. Yisrael Back.

Born in 1797 in Bardichov, he moved with his family to Eretz Yisrael in 1831 and founded a printing house in Tzfat, the first Hebrew printing press in the Holy Land in modern times. He also founded a Jewish Settlement on nearby Mount Jarmak, the first new settlement founded by Jews in modern times.


The earthquake that devastated Tzfat in 1837 put an abrupt end to Back’s activities in Tzfat, but by 1841, we find him in Jerusalem, where he founded the first Hebrew printing press in the city, with the support of Sir Moses Montefiore.

I recently acquired a first edition of Pe’at Hashulchan published by Back. The sefer, the last to be published in Tzfat before the earthquake, covers the halachot relating to Eretz Yisrael, shemittah, etc. and was written by Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, who led the group of the Vilna Gaon’s students that made aliyah to Eretz Yisrael. R. Shklov published the sefer since his rebbe, the Vilna Gaon, sought a halachic guide for olim arriving in Eretz Yisrael.