The material collected here is an important resource for the study of this history. The individual books, pamphlets and broadsides (the majority in Hebrew with others in both Hebrew and, for example, Yiddish, German, Ladino, Hungarian, Romanian or Judeo-Persian) come from over one hundred Eastern European cities, many of which were too small to support a non-Jewish printing house. Most of the items are the first example of Hebrew printing from these cities; of the remainder, most are the earliest existing example. The collection also includes a number of rare or previously-unknown titles, including several not listed in the two major bibliographies of early Hebrew printing, and some that demonstrate the existence of a history of Jewish printing in towns not generally known to have had such a history.
The remarkable range and variety of the collection also demonstrates the ways in which small Jewish printing houses across Eastern Europe were able to respond to the needs of local Jewish communities. The collection brings together not only the “economic staples of Jewish printing” (The Yivo Encyclopedia of Jews in Eastern Europe), texts for ritual and household use such as prayer books, Pentateuchs and calendars, but a large number of sophisticated rabbinical texts, noteworthy not only for their erudition but for the fact that they were printed by local printers for such small communities. There are also examples of Hasidic literature (books generated by the Hasidic movement came to occupy an important place in Jewish print culture by the early nineteenth century), textbooks, collections of poems and folksongs, and children’s books. Among the highlights of the collection are a rare Hebrew Bible printed in St Petersburg in 1816 when Jews were still forbidden to live in the city [Freimann, p.57; Rosenfeld 290] and the satirical text "Makel hovlim" [Freimann, p.60], printed in Przemysl in 1869, in which the Galician Yiddish poet Benjamin Wolf Ehrenkranz satirises a dispute that tore apart the Galician Hassidic community.
The ephemera in the collection are also important, providing a valuable insight into the life of individual Jewish communities across Eastern Europe and a lasting record of them. There are flyers advertising businesses (including a number of bakeries offering different matzot for Passover), lottery tickets raising money for the construction of new synagogues and fundraising appeals in aid of the wider Jewish community. One broadside, issued by the Jewish Help Committee in around 1918, appeals to the Jews of Brochaw to help Jewish communities in post-war Poland and Lithuania, afflicted by terrible hunger and poverty. Another broadside, from Tashkent and probably printed around the same time, responds to government cuts to social and educational programmes (in an attempt to keep the inflation of the rouble under control) and warns Jewish communities that they will need to provide for themselves.
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