Academic Year 2012-2013
Debra Glasberg is a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of History at Columbia University. Her research interests include the cultural history of Jewish law books and Jewish communal regulation of printed material in the early modern period. She received her B.A. with honors from Columbia College and an M.A. in modern Jewish history from the Bernard Revel Graduate School. Debra is also a recipient of graduate fellowships from the Wexner Foundation, the Graduate Program in Advanced Talmudic Studies at Yeshiva University, and the Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at the Cardozo School of Law.
Controlling Print: Jewish Communal Restraints on Print in Early Modern Italy
The introduction of Hebrew print in early modern Italy afforded opportunities to the Jewish masses and challenges to the Jewish establishment. Print expanded the universe of authors and readers beyond the educated elite, which might result in new Jewish texts propagating practices and beliefs contrary to established law. My project examines how Italian Jewish leaders responded to this potential challenge to the existing halakhic and theological norms of Jewish society. Lacking the legal authority to enforce laws governing Christian-owned print shops, Jewish communal leaders found indirect, extra-judicial methods to confront this threat. The primary such mechanism at their disposal was rabbinic approbations (haskamot)—a form of public approval—for all newly printed Hebrew books. By writing these endorsements and issuing ordinances requiring their use, rabbinic authorities sought to control the content of printed Jewish texts. The evidence for this thesis rests in analysis of all haskamot issued from the advent of Hebrew print through the middle of the seventeenth century as well as examination of Jewish communal ordinances requiring approbations. Such research seeks to illuminate the currently unsubstantiated theory concerning the cultural purpose of haskamot, as a means of preserving and constraining the boundaries of the Jewish literary canon, thereby filling a scholarly lacuna in how Jewish authorities responded to the emergence of Hebrew print in the Italian context.