With Hanukkah and Tu b'Shvat behind us, these are generally chilly months, when we hibernate, and more often than not, take a break from holidays marking historical milestones. But there is something of a remarkable historical footnote that took place on January 23, 1492. This date in Jewish history is resoundingly important as it brings to the fore the question of whether we are still a People of the Book or the Kindle.
When we come to the JCCH or many other synagogues around North America, we find ourselves more often than not during a prayer service leafing through a red Hebrew Bible called the Etz Hayim Chumash. While it is a recent edition to Conservative communities thanks to the RA and USCJ, the first-ever printed Pentateuch or Chumash with Megilot was published by a Jewish family named, Nahmias from Spain, who were singlehandedly responsible for bringing the printing press to the Ottoman Empire. On January 23, 1492, the first Hebrew printing press—and the first printing press in any language in the Ottoman Empire— was set up in Istanbul by David and Samuel ibn Nahmias. While their first book was actually a halakhic codex, called, Jacob ben Asher's Arba'ah Turim, their bestseller followed a year later, namely the Pentateuch with Rashi, haftarot with David Kimhi's commentary, the Five Scrolls with the commentary of Abraham ibn Ezra, and the Antiochus Scroll. In this early period of Hebrew printing in Istanbul more than 100 books of remarkable range and quality were published. Every day, countless Jewish readers are asking themselves (con-tinued on page 5)
that same question the Nahmias family asked themselves (albeit under very different circumstances); namely---what book shall I take with me on my next journey? This can actually become a daunting question, considering the hundreds of titles one can download onto a Kindle today. So it is with great pleasure (and relief) that I recently discovered a new tool for guiding our Jewish reading habits today—for those who still read print, The Jewish Review of Books, and for those who read online,http://www.jewishreviewofbooks.com. This popular intellectual review journal was recently established as an alternative to The New York Review of Books, providing a lighthouse through the seas of new publications available in Jewish literature. So the next time you find yourself asking that perennial question, what book shall I take with me on my next journey? Remember you are not alone; rather you are part of an ongoing journey of those who continue seeking the truth in the word, written, printed, online, or kindled.