Soncino and Bomberg: The Quest to Print the Talmud

Getting the full Talmud Bavli printed was no simple task in the 15th century, a fact the Soncino family found out even after their best efforts. It wasn’t until a Christan printer named Daniel Bomberg came along that the task was completed.

By reporter

Thousands of priceless treasures lie on the shelves and safes of the Central Chabad Library, right next door to 770. The average chossid, however, won’t have the chance to see the most precious of them. Until now, that is.

A new series, launched by in partnership with the Rebbe’s library, will showcase some of the most unique and historic books and items in the Rebbe’s library.

The fourth episode showcases three early editions of the printed Talmud Bavli, editions that set the tone for all future prints, until this very day.

“Printed in the Year גמר”א”

In 1483 Joshua Solomon Soncino opened a Hebrew press in Soncino, Italy. The press, one of the first Hebrew presses, printed almost twenty books in approximately five years.  

Among the books he published were volumes of the Talmud. 

He began printing with tractate Berakhot, completed in 1484 (the numbers of the corresponding Hebrew year, 5244, are numerically equal to the word “Gemara”). 

This tractate is printed with Rashi and Tosafot in the margins. The Library has several folios from the Soncino tractates, found in the bindings of books printed in the mid-sixteenth century. 

Among the fragments is the present colophon to tractate Berakhot. 

See below – Image #1

Soncino Split-Off  

Gershon, one of the members of the Soncino family moved from Soncino to Pesaro, Italy, where he continued printing.

Like the other members of his family, he retained the last name Soncino, after the city where they had begun their printing empire. 

Gershom Soncino opened his press in Pesaro in 1507, and continued to print for twenty years, until 1527, publishing more than fifty books, about half Talmudic tractates, printed between 1509-1519. 

The page exhibited here is from tractate Eruvin, Pesaro 1511.  

See below – Image #2

Finally: The First Complete Shas
The first Bomberg Talmud- 1520-23

In 1520, Daniel Bomberg, a Christian who was one of the most important printers of Hebrew books, began printing the Talmud.

He published the editio princeps – the first printed edition – of the entire Talmud  in Venice from 1520-23.

Following the format created by Joshua Solomon Soncino, the Talmud is printed with Rashi and Tosfos in the margins. The edition is also significant in that it established the standard both in terms of page layout as well as pagination followed by almost all subsequent editions to the present. 

The Library has numerous tractates from this edition.  

See below – Images #3-4


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