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A book on Hebrew Typography? What would it contain?

I have just finished reading the marvellous book by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole on the Cairo Genizah, Sacred Trash. I am also busy at work (again, but perhaps this time with actual visible results to come soon) on a new website on Hebrew Typography. While such a site should contain an active blog (as this one does not, but could), it should also contains information that, like the many shards found in the Genizah, is not available elsewhere and needs to be assembled into a coherent whole. If I could tell that story as well as Hoffman and Cole have illuminated both the process of exploring the hundreds of thousands of Genizah artifacts, and what we have learned from them, it would be a big deal.

Unfortunately, while I have been quite facile with web technology this past decade or so, I find my memories of Hebrew type in need of refeshment. So, what should such a site cover?

  • Hebrew lettering—obviously, some discussion of Hebrew letterforms, including the early "chicken scratches" used until (if we assume that Birnbaum is still authoritative on this subject) the first exile. A few words at least on mystic traditions attached to the forms? Obviously, some space on the various calligraphic styles that have developed over the past two or three thousand years
  • Hebrew printing—we start in Italy with the earliest printers, then on to Soncino (credit Griffo?) and Bomberg and how Bomberg's Talmud really changed how we study Talmud--is this the first time we got the hypertext layout? Then on to early European types, the "Yiddish types" (Ittai Tamari has done great research on this subject, but only in German--has he published in English? Then there is Herbert Zafren's work), the great Hebrew types of the Middle Ages--Le B^eacute;, Kis, Van Dyke (not convinced); certainly spend time on the early 20th century with Frank-Ruehl, Chaim, etc.; then the great Israeli explosion of the 1950s (more of less--start w/Koren which is earlier, but then types of David, Narkis, Friedlander, Yarkoni); modern Israeli type--there is some wonderful work happening, both traditional and avant garde--note Oded Ezer)
  • Multilingual typography—The difference between what we are used to seeing (dueling languages and straight, opposite margins), and what thoughtful typographers do to ensure usability, grace, and readability (how/when to position Hebrew, transliteration, translation in reference to each other and examples that make the case that paying attention makes a difference. This, of course, is my own favorite subject. Should also be some notes on appropriate sizing of say Latin U/lc and Hebrew w/ or w/o vowels.
  • Technology?—It may be worth inserting something somewhere about the difficulty of setting Hebrew with nikud, trup, etc., from the setting of separate lines in the metal, to the various compromises used in modern systems, if only to help explain why there are some things that require special software (or lots of time and effort in cold metal), so that people know what the problems are and when to look where for solutions.

Does this make sense? What am I missing (or including, pointlessly)? What are sources to which such a series of writings must refer? (by which I mean not just the Birnbaum volumes or Friedlander's booklet on designing Hadassah, but, say, the Porro polyglot)

Until I fix this blog (coming, I hope), just email me comments.

About the printer, Judith Rosanes

At the Jewish Women's Archive we got the following query last week from a correspondent in Lima, Peru (How appropriate to get a question about Jewish printing on the eve of Shavuoth!):

I would like to know if you could help me find a list of books published by Judith Rosanes on the internet. I have not been successful in my attempts. It would be very helpful.

The question was prompted by an article in our Encyclopedia of Jewish Women on Jewish women printers. Rosanes was one of the printers profiled briefly in the article, which also notes:

"Among the many women printers in Eastern Europe, perhaps the most interesting phenomenon is the preponderance of Jewish women involved in the printing profession in the city of Lemberg (Lvov) in the nineteenth century. Until 1782, when the Austrian authorities ordered the Hebrew printers of Zolkiev, a small city near Lemberg, to move to Lemberg to facilitate censorship, Lemberg had no Hebrew printing, but it quickly became a printing center for Jewish books which were then distributed throughout Eastern Europe and the Balkans. "

At the suggestion of Scott-Martin Kosofsky, I emailed several notable bibliographers, and got an immediate post-Shavuoth reply from Sharon Lieberman-Mintz of JTA.

"I did a quick search of the name רוזאניש, יהודית in the The Computerized Thesaurus of the Hebrew Book and saw there were numerous entries under her name in both Zolkiev and Lemberg. This resource, on a disc is available at some of the major Judaic Libraries (JTS, NYPL etc). One needs Hebrew to access all the information. You can also find information on "The Bibliography of the Hebrew Book" a bibliographic database covering approximately 90% of all the books published in the Hebrew language over a period of 500 years—from the year 1470 to 1960. The Institute of the Hebrew Bibliography (IHB), also known as the Mif'al Habibliographia Ha'ivrit (MHH) is jointly administered by the Hebrew University and the Ministry of Education and Culture. This is also an online resource available through many Judaica Libraries."

which took the original question and provided information on the specific and so much more. If you have other information relevant to the question, please comment here or email me and I will happily convey it further. Many thanks to Scott and especially to Lieberman-Mintz for suggestion and an excellent, research-expanding answer.

Wonderful Hebrew Type Bibliography

I was just checking out "Hebrew Typography" on Google when I came across this An Anotated Bibliography of Hebrew Typesetting put together by Sivan Toledo at Tel Aviv University, Sep 23, 2001. I have really enjoyed reading it, and it is far more comprehensive than my own bibliography.

Hebrew Type Bibliography

Well, I need one to hand out at KlezKanada, so I've put together a basic Hebrew Type bibliography. Feel free to send in suggestions, annotations, etc.

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