The Significance of the Location and Date of the Shulhan Arukh

The location and date are both of enormous significance, as was the material form the book actually took. Venice was the capital of Hebrew printing for much of the sixteenth century. So much of early modern Jewish culture took material form there: The cultural renaissance in Safed appeared in print at presses in Venice and elsewhere in northern Italy; these same printing houses were meeting places for Jews, converts, Catholics, and Protestants; Hebrew printing in Venice and its environs had a dramatic impact upon the publication of Yiddish texts; and the Bible and the Talmud became printed books in Venice in the first half of the sixteenth century. It is not an accident that Karo’s work, intended to serve as a standard law code for all Jews, appeared there. The date is also of considerable consequence. After the burning of the Talmud in 1553 and a bitter feud between the two most important printers of Hebrew, the production of Hebrew books in Venice had ceased. With its resumption in 1564, a new regime of censorship was imposed upon it, and the Talmud could not appear in print. Karo’s Shulhan ‘arukh was one of the first texts to appear under this new regime.

Yaacob Dweck, “What is a Jewish Book?” AJS Review 34:2 (November 2010), 369.

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