Isaac ben Aaron Prostic, part 2

In the years 1571 – 1578 only about twenty titles left Prostic’s printing house. The pace of publishing and editorial work clearly slowed down when compared to the previous period. We can only guess the reasons for this state of affairs: the death of King Sigismund Augustus in 1572 was not only the end of the Jagiellonian dynasty, but also the end of the so called “Golden Age” and marked the end of steady development of the Jewish community. Additionally, the period of interregnum caused uncertainty as to the fate of the family enterprise and was not encouraging of hard work. The situation did not improve after the election of Henri de Valois to the throne of the Republic (in 1573) who failed to acknowledge even the privileges the Jews have hold for a long time [1]. It was only when Stephen Bathory took the throne that the situation of the Jewish communities once again stabilized, as he was particularly sensitive to the issue of religious tolerance and legal equality of infidels.

Printing of the first Talmudic tractates

Although, as we know from the previous section, the re-released printing privilege for Prostic did not include printing of the Talmud, it seems that this idea was never abandoned by Isaac ben Aaron. He was only waiting for the right moment…  It came in the second half of the 1570s, when King Stephen confirmed the earlier privileges for the Jews and the influence at the royal court of the hostile towards Prostic groups connected to the Academy of Krakow weakened significantly [2].

Sensing favorable circumstances, the Krakow printer decided to start printing Talmudic tractates. And this happened in spite the fact that in the years 1559 – 1576 twelve tractates of the Babylonian Talmud were printed in Lublin printing houses [3]. Thus, Prostic printed in Krakow firstly just two tractates: Ketubot and Avodah Zarah. The choice of those particular pieces instead of others was not random. The Lublin edition did not include the tractate Ketubot so it was a natural complement to the books already available. The Avodah Zarah tractate on the other hand, was supposed to be a supplement to the Basel edition by Froben from the years 1578 – 1581, who was restricted by the Church’s censorship (which forbade printing of this tractate) and contacted Prostic with the proposal of supplementing his edition, as he knew that it was possible only in Poland [4].

While we can learn from the cover page of the tractate Ketubot that the printing begun on 24th of Av 5338 (28.07.1578) and ended on 28.01.1579 (1st of Adar, 5339), the Avodah Zarah tractate does not inform us on this issue, stating only that it was printed during the reign of King Stephen. Both of these Krakow tractates show similarities to the Venetian editions by Bomberg and Giustiniani – the folio format, wide spacing between columns of text and aesthetically pleasing typographic setting.

Isaac ben Aaron Prostic printed one more tractate in Krakow, but it should be considered separately from the previously mentioned. This third tractate was Pirke Avot, issued in the Quattro format, with Masoretic markings (vocalization) and a commentary by Yechiel ben Yedidiah. This all shows that it was a completely different project, only loosely related to the tractates of Ketubot and Avodah Zarah. However, it was a natural complement to the Lublin tractates and it also met the great demand for the work among the Polish Jews [5].

Prostic’s other prints

Since the year 1587 Prostic had worked on the next great work – a multi-volume release of Pentateuch, together with the Hamesh Megilloth and Haftarot. It was supplemented with Aramaic translation by Onkelos (Targum Onkelos) to the Pentateuch, the commentaries of Rashi (to the Pentateuch and Megilloth) and Ramban (only to the Pentateuch), commentary by Isaac Aboab and the commentary of David Kimchi to the Haftarot. Such a huge publishing enterprise exceeded the financial capacity of Prostic, therefore he acquired four partners to the project. Printing was completed at the beginning of the year 1588.

This monumental publishing project was also one of the last ones prepared under the supervision of Samuel ben Isaac Böhm. Böhm, who worked with Prostic since the very beginning of his printing career in Krakow, died on 13th of Sivan 5348 (13.06.1588) and was replaced in Prostic’s printing house on the position of the editor and proofreader by Yishayah haSofer ben Meir. His name appears for the first time in the prayer book Siddur Tefillot Mikol Hashanah printed in 1594.

Besides this, Prostic published also, among other works: Machzor (holiday prayer book) in 1584, Sefer Yosipon in 1589, Pardes Rimmonim in 1592, Chovat Halevavot and Menorat Hameor in 1593, Midrash Shmuel and Reshit Chochmah in 1593, Elyah sheluchah and Yalkut Shimoni in 1595, Amudei Geulah in 1596, Emek Brachah in 1597. Prostic also repeatedly printed Sefer minhagim – the first time in the year 1577.

In 1600, the old and weary Krakow printer passed the printing house onto the hands of his children – Aaron and Moses Joshua and Aharon’s son Issachar, and he returned to his native Prosciejow.


[1] Which should not come as a surprise, considering Henry’s resentment towards the dissenters, which had culminated in St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre just a few months before his election.

[2] This long-term rector of the Academy, whose actions led to the withdrawal of Prostic’s first privilege, Jakub Górski, sided with the rival of Stephen Bathory – Maximilian Habsburg – during the second interregnum. The new king had never forgotten about this…

[3] These were the following tractates: Shevuot, Gittin, Pesachim, Beitzah, Sukkah, Eruvin, Kiddushin, Niddah, Avoda Zarah, Yevamoth, Bava Batrah and Ta’anit.

[4] He probably knew about the Tractate Avodah Zarah printed a few years earlier in Lublin. Another theoretically possible place for printing, Constantinople, for political reasons was not a realistic option. However, even in the still quite tolerant Republic of Poland, the printing of tractate Ketubot by Prostic sparked opposition in religious circles, but it was limited only to written complaints to the Vatican and the royal court.

[5] Prostic printed later the tractate Pirke Avot a few more times, including one time in Yiddish (probably in the year 1590) and again in Hebrew, but this time with extensive commentary by Rabbi Yehuda Levi Betzalel (the Maharal) of Prague, titled Derech Chayim.

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