MINHOGIM (YIDDISH CUSTUMAL), SIMEON HA-LEVI GÜNZBURG, VENICE: GIOVANNI DI GARA, 1589
66 of 74 folios (7 1/2 x 5 1/2 in.; 192 x 138 mm) on paper; modern foliation in pencil in Arabic numerals in upper-inner corner of recto (not accounting for pages replaced in facsimile); Hebrew words generally printed in square font, Yiddish in vaybertaytsh; table of contents on f. 74v. Decorative woodcut letters forming title on f. [1r]; Joseph Shalit’s printer’s device on f. [1r]; chart on ff. 47v-48r; decorative element on f. 74r; marginalia in pen (crossed out) on f. 9v; pen trial on f. 39r. Lacking ff. -5, 37, 41, 74 (ff. -5, 74 replaced in facsimile); staining and dogearing; lower edges, and especially lower-outer corners, repaired throughout, with slight loss of text on ff. 6-29, 67-68, 73; small holes on ff. 6, 31, affecting individual letters; tears in gutters of ff. 8, 29-33, 58-59 repaired; small holes in margins of ff. 38, 40; short tear in upper edge of f. 55. Modern tan elegantly blind-tooled calf; spine in five compartments with raised bands; title, place, and date lettered on spine; modern paper flyleaves and pastedowns. Housed in a matching tan blind-tooled calf slipcase, very slightly scuffed and lined with marbled paper.
The exceptionally rare first edition of this canonical Yiddish book of customs.
In the years 1588-1609, Giovanni di Gara’s printshop was apparently the only press in Venice that owned a set of the distinctive vaybertaytsh font used to print most Yiddish books. The present lot, issued by di Gara’s firm, is the first edition of a classic, comprehensive compendium of Ashkenazic custom for the entire liturgical year produced in Yiddish by Simeon ha-Levi Günzburg, a publisher and communal functionary (but not a rabbi) descended from German Jews who had migrated to Northern Italy. It is based in large part on the Hebrew custumal compiled by Rabbi Isaac Tyrnau in the first half of the fifteenth century, but it also expands on the latter’s work with explanations of various practices and additional comments on ritual and religious life.
Günzburg’s Minhogim was aimed at the entire Ashkenazic Diaspora, and it included the customs of Ashkenazim living not only in the Rhine Valley but also in Italy (velsh land), Moravia, Bohemia, and Poland. Like Tyrnau’s own work, it was written in a clear style meant to be accessible even to laymen and met with great commercial success, going through dozens of printings (sometimes with small adjustments) well into the modern period. In fact, the introduction to the second edition (Venice, 1593) declares that the book had to be reissued because the editio princeps had already sold out! Perhaps on account of the book’s extraordinary popularity and repeated use, most copies have not survived. Only a single complete exemplar, housed at The Library of the Jewish Theological Seminary, is known, and three incomplete volumes are held by the National Library of Israel, the Butler Library of Columbia University, and the Berlin Staatsbibliothek.
Jean Baumgarten, “The Seyfer ha-minhogim by Shimon ben Yehuda ha-Levi Guenzburg (Venice, 1593) and the origin of an Old Yiddish literary tradition,” in Shlomo Berger (ed.), Between Yiddish and Hebrew (Amsterdam: Menasseh ben Israel Institute, 2012), 7-35.
Naomi Feuchtwanger-Sarig, “How Italian are the Venice Minhagim of 1593? A Chapter in the History of Yiddish Printing in Italy,” in Michael Graetz (ed.), Schöpferische Momente des europäischen Judentums in der frühen Neuzeit (Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag C. Winter, 2000), 177-205, at pp. 188-189 n. 42.
A.M. Habermann and Isaac Yudlov, Ha-madpis juan di gara u-reshimat sifrei beit defuso, 324-370 (1564-1610) (Lod: Mekhon Habermann le-Mehkerei Sifrut, 1982), 62-63 (no. 117).
Marvin J. Heller, The Sixteenth Century Hebrew Book: An Abridged Thesaurus, vol. 2 (Leiden; Boston: Brill, 2004), 812-813.
Lucia Raspe, “Minhag and Migration: Yiddish Custom Books from Sixteenth-Century Italy,” in Javier Castaño, Talya Fishman, and Ephraim Kanarfogel (eds.), Regional Identities and Cultures of Medieval Jews (London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2018), 241-259.
Agnes Romer-Segal, “Sifrut yidish u-kehal kore’eiha ba-me’ah ha-16: yetsirot be-yidish bi-reshimot ha-‘zikkuk’ mi-mantovah, 1595,” Kiryat sefer 53,4 (1978): 779-790.
Chone Shmeruk, “Shishah defusei mantovah be-yidish she-lo hayu ve-lo nivre’u,” Alei sefer 8 (1980): 74-78, at p. 78.
Chone Shmeruk, “Defusei yidish be-italyah,” Italyah 3,1-2 (1982): 112-175, at pp. 126-127, 149-153 (no. 18).
Chone Shmeruk, “Ha-iyyurim min ha-minhagim be-yidish, venetsyah 353/1593, be-hadpasot hozerot bi-defusei prag be-me’ah ha-17,” Studies in Bibliography and Booklore 15 (1984): 31-52, at p. 34 (no. 1).
Chone Shmeruk, Ha-iyyurim le-sifrei yidish ba-me’ot ha-16-ha-17: ha-tekstim, ha-temunot ve-nim‘aneihem (Jerusalem: Akademon, 1986), 13-15, 33, 42-46, 50-55, 81.
Chava Turniansky, Erika Timm, and Claudia Rosenzweig (eds.), Yiddish in Italia (Milan: Associazione italiana Amici dell’Università di Gerusalemme, 2003), 80-82 (no. 40).
Vinograd, Venice 746