This presentation by Centro Primo Levi of a selection of books from the Renato Maestro Library and Archive in Venice and the Library of Congress, is meant as an invitation to discover the dawn of Hebrew printing and its impact on the environments in which it flourished.
With the book at its center, this site is built like a mosaic of facets of a story that occurred in a distant time and place, where the modes of transmission of knowledge were limited to the reaches of individuals, to the time required by copying a manuscripts, and to the number of people who could gather for the purpose of learning.
The possibilities offered by the printing press changed the mental horizon of that society. It took time for people to grasp the implications of that change. Books did not immediately supplant manuscripts and for some time these two forms of transmission coexisted in close interaction and mutual influence.
This selection of books highlights two areas in which the Jewish and Christian worlds experienced encounter and contention: the printing of the Bible and that of Hebrew grammars.
The yearning and need to learn the language of the Scriptures shaped Jewish and Christian conscience interdependently and in different ways, and motivated at once dialogue, opposition and persecution.
The two libraries from which these volumes and manuscripts are taken, elicit some considerations on the preservation of written text. In Venice, the Renato Maestro Library and Archive is the repository of what remains of books that were wanted, created, read, censored, accepted, rejected, or modified in centuries of life in Venice. The mirror of a community, books blossomed within the community and lost relevance with its modern transformations.
The Hebraic collection of the Library of Congress was born at the beginning of the 20th century, from the idea of preserving and renewing a vanquishing past, an old world that was both dreaded and longed for.
The Congress Library Hebraic collection was not created without hurdles and hesitations. This new beginning, was also rife with need and desire to access the Hebrew text.
In the “New World,” books became, once again, a ground of encounter and uncertainty. There was no lack of prejudice but the horizon seemed broader and dialogue possible. In the words of Thomas Jefferson: “The [Jews’] Talmud must be examined and understood, in order to do them full justice.” A century after his exchange with John Adams over the Jews and their books, the "Congress Library" began to offer Hebrew texts.