In the fall of 2014, we are planning to open an exhibition “Amsterdam of Polish Jews — old prints from the collection of the Jewish Historical Institute.” It will be a unique exhibition showing the relationship between the censorship of the publication imposed in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth by theJewish Council of Four Lands and the development of the production of books in Hebrew and Yiddish in Amsterdam against a background of Polish-Dutch economic and cultural relations. We are working on the exhibition together with dr. hab. Jan Doktór.
The basis for the exhibition will be, remaining in the collections of the Jewish Historical Institute, having more than 200 volumes, a collection of Amsterdam’s old prints from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.
The authors selected from it, 30 elements that they think illustrate the period of the development of Hebrew printing the best.
Strict regulations of the Jewish Council of Four Lands imposed on printing books contributed in the second half of the seventeenth century to the fall of the Hebrew publishing houses operating in the areas of the Commonwealth. Fullest advantage of this situation took printers in the Netherlands, who largely took over the production of Jewish books for the Polish market. With cooperation of the Jewish authors, editors, proofreaders, and typesetters of Polish descent, Amsterdam publishing houses started custom-printing books for Polish Jews. Amsterdam in the second half of the seventeenth century became the world Jewish publishing center.
In Amsterdam’s publishing houses found work also printers, proofreaders and typesetters from Poland: Jehuda ben Mordechaj from Poznań and brothers: Jaakow and Awraham Cwi from Cracow. For the books aimed for distribution in the Commonwealth it was the safest to obtain the approval from the Council of Four Lands, Vaad Arba Aracot, or approvals signed by the Polish rabbis. One of the most interesting examples of the production of the publishing houses in Amsterdam for the market in the Commonwealth is the edition of two different translations of the Tanakh into Yiddish, published simultaneously in 1679 by Uri Fajwusz and Josef Athias.
In Amsterdam, a city famous for its liberal editorial policy, where many texts appeared in print that had no chance to be published elsewhere, also Polish Jews used to release their messianic works. Naftali Bacharach released Emek ha-melech, a famous translator of parts of the Zohar into Yiddish, a heretic and believer in Sabbatai Zevi, Tzvi Hirsz ben Jerachmiel Chocz, released his commentary Chemdat Tzvi. The extremely interesting title page of this book, full of mystical content, with numerous references to Sabbateans, has been chosen to be the material advertising the entire exhibition.
Our team has already begun working on the exhibition, as the objects presented on it will require specialized conservation. In addition, we are planning to prepare the catalog of the exhibition, in which there will be descriptions of the objects shown in the exhibition and illustrations. I invite you to track our future entries about the progress of our work.