10 Things You Need to Know About Soncino

Distinguished Printers of Hebrew Books

1. The Soncino family were Italian Sephardic printers who derived their name from the town of Soncino in the duchy of Milan.

2. In Soncino in 1483, Nathan ben Samuel set up a Hebrew printing press. On February 2, 1484, he published his first Hebrew book – the Talmud tractate Berakhot.

3. Over the next century, through five generations, the press moved to many locations in Italy and as far abroad as Constantinople and Salonica. They published mostly Hebrew titles, but also general works and even works of religious significance with Christian symbols.

SoncinoTower4. In all, over 100 Hebrew books were printed, including books of the Talmud, mahzors, haggadot, Maimonides, Judah ha-Levi, Rashi, responsa, prophets, proverbs, Ibn Gabirol and the Pentateuch (see below). An equal number of books appeared in Latin and Italian. Their printer’s mark was a tower.

5. They printed the first Hebrew language Bible. Though they were not the first to publish in Hebrew, they were notable for the quality of their publications.

6. Gershon Soncino was the most famous of this family. His first book was Sefer Mtizvot Gadol by Moses of Courcy, published in 1488. The Library of Congress has two copies of this book in its Jefferson Library collection. In one of the copies is a handwritten bill pasted in the flyleaf signed “Gershon, the son of Moses Soncino of blessed memory, Printer.” It’s dated 25 Tevet 5249 (December 1488) in Soncino.

7. The last of the Soncinos worked in Constantinople, and the last printed book came out in the mid-16th century.

8. But if you are of a certain age, you know the Soncino Chumash, published in 1947 and edited by Chief Rabbi Joseph H. Hertz. It was published by the modern Soncino Press, based in the UK.

9. The Soncino Press uses the tower as a trademark.

10. The Soncino Books of the Bible, published in 14 volumes between 1945 and 1952 and edited by Dr. Abraham Cohen, contains wide-ranging commentaries covering the whole Tanakh. A second edition, deleting works from historical scholars and Christian commentators, was edited by Rabbi Abraham J. Rosenberg and published in 1990.

You’ll find Soncino Street in the Shekhunat Montefiore area of Tel Aviv.

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