The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Quantitative Methods and the History of the Jewish Printed Book, 1510–1630

Between 1510 and 1630, 2,412 titles were printed in Hebrew characters according to the Bibliography of Hebrew Books database (the Universal Short Title Catalogue lists 352,143 titles for the same period). The minuscule size of the production in Hebrew characters makes the use of quantitative methods highly attractive especially in case of the learned literature in Hebrew (ca. 1,700 titles). Compared to liturgy or books printed in Yiddish, this segment of the production is almost completely preserved and well catalogued. This project presentation will show examples from the new listing of all the learned Hebrew books printed in the 120 years from the decade in which the Bomberg press was established until the emergence of Amsterdam as the new center of Hebrew printing. The list (in progress) will contain diverse qualitative data, collected directly from paratexts of the early editions and will enable their statistical analysis. When completed, it will make it possible for the first time to posit questions about the genre distribution in time and space (halakhah, kabbalah, ethics, etc.), about various editing and authorial practices (e.g. occurrences of haskamot, lists of errata) or to trace the careers of makers of Jewish books. At least the major decorative elements such as title page borders, cartouches and printers’ marks will be included in the list, making it possible to learn about the transfer of the printing material among different print shops and about changing aesthetic preferences. Combination of detailed qualitative analysis, which builds on the theory of material text (Roger Chartier) with the subsequent quantitative processing of the data will provide a more precise picture of the production of printed learned books in Hebrew. The topic is suitable also for a panel dedicated to the history of Jewish book or textuality, or for an early modern panel.