C Hebrew Printing
As early as the 16th century, Viadrina is equipped with a print shop. The monopoloy on printing is held by the Eichorn family from 1594. As the Hebrew language is taught at the university, there is a need for relevant printed matter. The Eichorn print shop fulfils this need by borrowing letters from other cities. In 1589, the book publisher Hans Hartmann also tries to establish a Hebrew print shop. However, Eichorn maintains his monopoly. From 1591 he has at his disposal a Hebrew type font and prints the Professor for Hebrew language Jakob Ebert's Christianology.
During this time a plan comes to fruition at Viadrina, to publish a Hebrew bible. Eichorn probably makes an offer that is too expensive, so in the end Hans Hartmann and his son Friedrich get the permission to print. They recruit specialists from Wittenberg and are able to publish the Biblia Hebraica Hartmannorum in 1596. It finds a market particularly in nearby Poland.
Hebrew printing in Frankfurt sees its heyday in the second half of the 17th century, in connection with Johann Christoph Beckmann. Beckmann comes from Zerbst and arrives in Frankfurt in 1659 at the age of eighteen. After a short period as a teacher, he gets a travel scholarship from the Brandenburg Elector and travels through Europe. In Amsterdam in 1663 he meets not only Jewish students but also the rabbinical scholar Jakob Abendana. He studies the Talmud and comes back to Frankfurt in 1666.
From his travels, Beckmann brings the ideas of the early Enlightenment to the Viadrina. He teaches at the university until his death in 1717 and is Rector there eight times in total. Because of the admission of Jewish students, the Viadrina develops to become an "Amsterdam of the East", where besides Hebrew studies, orientalism also gains in importance. In 1673, Beckmann purchases a print shop. He is given permission to employ two Jewish printers who, in spite of the protests of Frankfurt city, have the direct protection of the university. He manages to recruit renowned Jewish experts, from Prague among other places. The demand for Hebrew writings is huge and the print shop prospers. Beckmann is permitted to employ further Jewish printers and begins his most important work: the new edition of the Babylonian Talmud, last published in 1645.
The Talmud (in English instruction/learning) is, along with the Hebrew Bible, the Tanakh, the most important basis of the Jewish religion. It is made up of many parts. At the centre there is the Mishnah, representing the core of the Five Books of Moses. The Mishnah is complemented by the Gemara, commentaries from the fifth to eighth centuries. And finally there are the commentaries and doctrines of Jewish scholars of later centuries.
Particularly in the Poland of the time, there is a large demand for Talmud editions, as there is hardly any Hebrew literature left after the Cossack rebellions, even in larger communities. The Elector hopes for stimuli for Frankfurt as an important trade-fair location and, against church resistance, allows the Beckmann printers the privilege of a fresh print of the Talmud in 1693. Beckmann merges with the Frankfurt bookseller Michael Gottschalck. When he fails to find a financer for his ambitious plans, he sells the print shop to his partners and again devotes himself fully to scholarship.
In 1697, Gottschalck manages to win the court banker of the Saxony Elector as a financer. He is able to deliver the first edition of the Talmud in the same year. The twelve-volume edition of 2000 copies sells well all over Europe. This commission makes Gottschalck a wealthy man. His print shop prospers and prints another edition of the Talmud in 1722. In spite of this, Gottschalck gets into financial difficulties shortly before his death in 1734, and must even sell his house.
After Gottschalck's death, the Professor for Philology Johann David Grillo takes over the print shop. The start of his involvement is overshadowed by catastrophies which almost ruin him. A fire breaks out in an Amsterdam warehouse where a new edition of the Talmud is stored. Another part of the edition is on a ship which sinks. Finally, the Talmud is hard to market, as there is now competition. Grillo goes bankrupt. However, he still manages to keep the printing business going and to lead it to a new prime.
The thriving print shop remains the Grillo family's business until 1796. In that year the Professor of Theology Christian Friedrich Salomo Elsner takes over, but he has no luck as an entrepreneur. In 1813, the print-shop employee Hirsch Meyer Baschwitz becomes the first Jewish businessman to take over the shop. However, after the university is closed in 1811, the printers of Frankfurt gradually have to close down due to lack of demand. It is no longer clear when exactly the Hebrew print shop closed down.
Ralf-Rüdiger Targiel: Gedruckt mit den Typen von Amsterdam. Hebräischer Buchdruck in Frankfurt an der Oder, in: Jüdisches Brandenburg - Geschichte und Gegenwart, Berlin 2008, S. 450-481.
Dr. Jan Musekamp of the Eastern European History Professorship, European University Viadrina