A 500-Year-Old Rif – The Jewish Press – JewishPress.com

Posted By on October 28, 2020

Photo Credit: Jewish Press

I recently acquired a volume of the Rif printed in Venice by Daniel Bomberg in 1521.The Rif is the most significant halachic compendium prior to the Mishneh Torah, and R. Joseph Caro based his Shulchan Aruch on it, Maimonides, and the Rosh.

The edition I acquired was published alongside the first complete edition of the Talmud published by Daniel Bomberg, a landmark in Hebrew printing which standardized the layout of the Talmud daf.

The printer, Daniel Bomberg (c.1483 c.1549), was a Christian who employed in his printing press rabbis, scholars, as well as apostates. The local government in Venice at the time forbade Jews from owning printing presses, which is why Bomberg printed the first Hebrew books in Venice. (All printing presses that printed Hebrew books prior to Bomberg were owned and operated by Jews.)

Bombergs first printed volume was the first Mikraot Gedolot, which received the approval of Pope Leo X. This edition was also the first Hebrew Tanach to include chapter and verse numbers.

Bombergs most impressive achievement, though, was his first complete Talmud, printed between 1519-1523 and overseen by Rabbi Chiya Meir b. David, a rosh yeshiva and dayan on the Venice rabbinical court. Prior to his edition, no uniformity in layout and content existed in printed Talmud. Nearly all future editions, though, followed Bombergs edition.

The Rif described here was printed alongside and as a companion to the Bomberg Talmud. While Talmud editions today often contain the Rifs commentary, until the 19th century, they were generally published as separate volumes.

Bomberg editions were of the highest quality and were truly a luxury to acquire even 500 years ago. Unfortunately, surviving copies are rare since on August 12, 1553, Pope Julius III ordered the Talmud and related volumes such as the Rif and Ein Yaakov destroyed. On the following October 21, a large fire was made in Piazza San Marco into which was fed all the confiscated books dealing with the Talmud.

By the time the ban on the Talmud was lifted many years later, Venice ceased to be the center of Hebrew printing and no additional editions of the Talmud or the Rif were published in Venice.

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A 500-Year-Old Rif - The Jewish Press - JewishPress.com

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