The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Jewish Book Publishing between Leipzig and Vilnius.
A Transnational Transfer of Knowledge in the Nineteenth Century

In the 19th century, the book trade in Central Europe was transformed in parallel with the formation of a bourgeois public and the advent of industrialization. From 1825, the year in which the Börsenverein der Deutschen Buchhändler (German Booksellers’ Association) was founded, Leipzig developed into a center of the European book trade with a large number of far-reaching enterprises due to typographical innovations, the special geographical location between East and West, and the tolerant policy of the Saxon government. In Vilnius again, due to the duopoly of only two Jewish printing houses in Zhitomir and Vilnius established by a Tsarist decree in 1836, the printing house “Widow & Brothers Romm,” initially established in Grodno in 1789, went from being one of the oldest to probably the largest Jewish book enterprise in Eastern Europe, with significant Talmud, Mishnah and Midrash editions.

My lecture describes a printing and book-cultural translation project by devoting itself to material transfer processes of the typographical foundations necessary for this upswing: On the basis of a few but central examples from the history of the Vilnius enterprise, the change of the specific printing and text culture of the Eastern European Jewries will be traced in its connection with the general developments in contemporary book culture. In particular, it will be asked which networks of knowledge emanated from Leipzig as a European book metropolis of the 19th century, how these were taken up and adapted in Vilnius, and how these later had an impact on the Central European Jewries. The aim of the project is thus to provide an innovative insight into the concrete constitution of the European book trade in the 19th century by reconstructing the conditions for printing and publishing Hebraica and Judaica between Central and Eastern Europe using the example of the company “Romm.”