Special edition for the Siyum Harambam: One of the earliest Seforim to be printed was the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah. Learn about the earliest prints, the dramatic fight between two non-Jewish printers over the Rambam, and its tragic results.
By Anash.org 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 Anash.org in partnership with the Rebbe’s library, will showcase some of the most unique and historic books and items in the Rebbe’s library.
In a special edition in honor the Siyum Harambam, we will explore some of the earliest prints of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah and the fascinating history behind them.
The earliest copy of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah owned by the library is an edition published in the Soncino Printhouse 1490, ten years after it was printed for the first time in Rome.
The library does not own a complete volume, but does have 20 individual pages, found in bindings of later seforim. Catalog number 12069.
In 1524, the famous printer Daniel Bomberg, who was discussed in previous lectures, printed his own edition of the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah in Venice.
What was unique about this edition was that it included meforshim on the Rambam; namely the Migdal Oz by Rav Shem Tov ben Abraham ibn Gaon; the Maggid Mishneh by Rav Vidal of Tolosa, who later became known as ‘Harav Hammagid’ after his work; and the Haggahot Maimuniyyot by Rav Meir HaKohen of Rottenberg.
In 1548, Bomberg retired, and two new print shops began competing to publish seforim. Both were owned by non-Jews, with one founded by Alvise Bragadin, and the other by Marco Antonio Giustiniani (“Justinian”).
The two dueled over who would first print the Mishneh Torah, but then Giustiniani ran into an issue. Bragadin hired Rav Meir Katzenellenbogen, known as the ‘Maharam Padua’ to edit his edition and to author a commentary that would be printed alongside the Rambam. Giustiniani knew that under such circumstances, his completion would take over the market, and no one would purchase his edition.
His solution? As soon as Bragadin published his edition, Giustiniani got his hands on one copy and copied it, publishing a pirated edition shortly afterward.
His act of deceit led to a full-out war between the parties, with Rav Meir reaching out to his relative Rav Moshe Isseles, the Rema, for support. The Rema publically backed him, and in response Giustiniani denounced the rival publishers to the non-Jewish censors, eventually leading to a massive burning of volumes of the Talmud and other Jewish works in the Venetian Republic.
The library also own the first edition of the Mishneh Torah printed with the Kesef Misneh, authored by Rav Yosef Karo, known as ‘The Mechaber’, and published during his lifetime.
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