8 Things You Need to Know About…Yisrael Bak

Pioneering Hebrew printer

1. Israel Bak was born in 1797 in Berdichev, Ukraine, where he became a printer and published close to thirty Hebrew books.

2. In 1831, he made aliyah, settling in Safed his family, two printing presses and tools for casting letters and for bookbinding.

Loc111a3. No Hebrew book had been printed in Eretz Yisrael for 245 years. In 1832, Bak printed a Sephardi prayerbook, reviving a moribund industry. The next year, he published the Book of Leviticus, the first book of the Pentateuch ever to come from a printing press in Eretz Yisrael.

4. After a peasant revolt in 1834 that destroyed his press and injured him, he began farming land on Mount Yarmak, overlooking Safed. His was the first Jewish farm in modern times.

5. He continued publishing, as well, the press employing 30 people at its height. But ill fortune continued to plague the people of Safed – an earthquake in 1837 and a Druze revolt in 1838. Again, his press was destroyed. In 1841, he moved to Jerusalem and established himself there, the first Hebrew press in Jerusalem. He continued printing books, some 130 in all, for 33 years.

6. He was a close correspondent of Moses Montefiore, who gave him a new press for his shop in Jerusalem.

7. In 1863, he founded the newspaper Havazzelet, but this venture was closed down by the Ottoman government after only five issues. After his death it was revived by his son-in-law and, though continually troubled, became an important organ for the Chasidic community.

8. With his son Nisan, he was a major force in establishing a central synagogue in Jerusalem for Chasidim. He died in 1874.

In Tel Aviv, you’ll find Yisrael Bak Street near the Ayalon River at Shekhunat Montefiore.

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