Jewish Printing Houses in Zhitomir

The first Jewish printing shop in Zhitomir was established in 1804 by Tzvi Hirsch ben Shimon haCohen. Tzvi Hirsch was already an experienced printer when he first arrived in Zhitomir – previously he was an employee in a printing houses in Nowy Dwor and Zolkiew, as well as an owner of printing houses in Kopyle (in 1796) and in Berezyce near Krzemieniec Wolynski (1803 – 1804). His printing house in Zhitomir was active for a very short time as well – only two years. During this period of time, at least nine books were published there, majority of them concerning chasidism and kabala (like Reshit Chochmah by Rabbi Eliahu deVidas).

The end of the tragic history of the Jewish press in Slawuta was its liquidation. However, the three Shapiro brothers: Chanina Lippa, Aryeh Leib and Joshua Heschel, the sons of Samuel Abraham Abba of Slawuta, moved most of the equipment to Jozefow, where they resumed publishing. For instance, during the years 1841 – 1842 they published Siddur Beit T’fillah. What’s interesting, the title pages of these books mention Slawuta in large, bold fonts as the printing location, and only in smaller font add information, “Printed in Jozefow, in a publishing press previously located in ...” Well, the brothers used the well-known, and highly regarded brand of a printing press to attract buyers. In a way, they did have some right to do that.

In the year 1847, however, the brothers moved their business once again and they started a new printing house in Zhitomir. Their new publishing houses (both in Jozefow and in Zhitomir) maintained very high standards in publishing and typography, to which customers of Slawuta press got accustomed. The printing house in Zhitomir was quite large – in it you could find 18 small printing presses and four large ones. Quite soon, however (in the year 1851), one of the brothers – Aryeh Leib – left the family business and started a new, competing printing shop. What where the reasons of such a decision? Unfortunately, we do not know…

In both of the printing houses, the Shapiro brothers printed only religious literature, including many Chasidic works. During the years 1858 – 1864, Chanina Lippa and Joshua Heschel printed a beautiful edition of the Babylonian Talmud with a commentary by Yitzhak Alfasi. Aryeh Leib responded to that by publishing during the years 1860 – 1867, a complete set of the Jerusalem Talmud. The brothers competed with each other, but maybe because they still remembered the events from Slawuty, they kept the competition within healthy boundaries.

Among the many books published by the Shapira brothers in Zhitomir the following are particularly worth mentioning: Mesilat Yesharim by Chaim Moshe Luzzatto (1847), Shulchan Aruch HaRav by Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi (1847 – 48), first edition of Likutei Torah (1848-51) and Torah Ohr (1862) by the same author, Siddur Tikunei Shabbat (1848), Chok LeIsrael by Rabbi Chaim Yosef David Azulai (1848 and again in 1865 - 66), Sefer Chasidim by Rabbi Yehuda ben Shmuel of Regensburg (1856), Sefer haZohar (1863) and Tikunei Zohar (1863).

In 1865 another printing house was established in Zhitomir by Avraham Shalom Shadov, and another one five years later, under the ownership of Yitzhak Moshe Bakst, a teacher in the local rabbinical school. Bakst published again Tikunei Zohar (1871), and Shadov published again Shulchan Aruch HaRav (1869), as well as Siddur Korban Mincha in 1870. These printer houses, however, in addition to the relatively small numbers of religious books, printed mostly secular books and Jewish press. For example it was in those printing houses, that the first Hebrew translation of Moses Mendelssohn’s Jerusalem was printed.

In the late 19th century, another two Jewish printing houses were established in Zhitomir.

Translated from Polish by Rochel Joanna Czopnik 

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