Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin. The Censor, The Editor, and The Text: The Catholic Church and The Shaping of The Jewish Canon in The Sixteenth Century. Translated by Jackie Feldman. Philadephia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2007. viii + 314 pp. $69.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-0-8122-4011-5.
Reviewed by Stephen G. Burnett (Department of Classics and Religious Studies/Department of History, University of Nebraska-Lincoln)
Published on H-German (March, 2009)
Commissioned by Susan R. Boettcher
Censors and Other Editors
Finding traces of censors' work in Italian Jewish books printed during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries is hardly a challenge for present-day scholars, though reading such books can be. Censors all too frequently inked out individual words and entire lines of text, occasionally even removing entire pages. At other times their activity is evident in textual gaps, such as blank spaces left by a compositor on a printed page (alerting readers to missing content), and passages where words were removed and the printers left no cue to readers that they are reading an "incomplete" text. Later owners of these books or manuscripts sometimes "restored" their texts by writing in the missing words or providing marginal annotations of their own, but all too often, censors succeeded in their endeavors. In this brilliantly argued book Amnon Raz-Krakotzkin seeks to explain the role of Catholic censors within two contexts: their place within the church's institutional quest to set boundaries of "permitted knowledge" and to reshape the boundaries of Catholic orthodoxy on the one hand, and their role in reshaping Jewish texts on the other, frequently making the kinds of textual changes that Jewish editors had been making to classic Jewish texts since the Soncino family began printing them almost seventy years before. Raz-Krakotzkin posits that since the sorts of changes that Jewish editors made before 1553 reflected shifts in Jewish taste (as well as a measure of prudence concerning the possible consequences of printing certain anti-Christian opinions), that such changes were an indicator of a larger shift in Jewish mentality. Against all expectation, the efforts of Catholic censors (mostly Jewish converts) reinforced this shift in Jewish mentality from medieval to modern, which was already underway among the members of a community already seeking to redefine itself as an ethnic religious group within early modern society.
Raz-Krakotzkin's book is divided into a lengthy theoretical introduction, five chapters, and a conclusion. In his introduction he lays out several important themes: first, that Hebrew censorship was part of a larger process of institutionalization of censorship generally that took place in response first to the growth of printing itself, and then to the Protestant Reformation; and second, that censorship itself was not only an effort to deny information to readers, but it was also a constitutive factor in the formation of texts. Censors were but one agent in the creation of printed books: others included publishers, printers, editors, and readers themselves. It was the dialogue between censors, Christian Hebraists, and representatives of the Jewish community that provided a framework within which "Jewish print culture was shaped and the boundaries of reality were defined" (p. 3). Raz-Krakotzkin stresses the importance of "Hebraist discourse" as a cultural space in which Jews and Christians shared common interests and could embark on common projects as a factor in shaping the Jewish literary canon (p. 24).
The five chapters of the book serve as individual studies of the themes that Raz-Krakotzkin laid out in his introduction. The first concerns the suppression of the Talmud, the most difficult case to square with his framework. The adamant, uncompromising opposition from much of the Catholic leadership to the Talmud, he argues, was uncharacteristic of its attitude toward most Jewish literature. They were willing to allow halakhic codes to be printed, such as Jacob ben Asher's Turim, which contained quotations from the Talmud, and even the Mishnah could be printed, but not the Talmud. Between the first condemnation of the Talmud in 1553 and its final condemnation in 1596, a series of discussions took place, both within the Catholic hierarchy and between it and representatives of Italian Jewry, on how to create a Talmud text that would be tolerable to the former. In the end, however, the negotiations were unsuccessful. Jewish converts, Christian Hebraists such as Andreas Masius, Catholic cardinals (whose opinions varied a good deal), and Jewish representatives all weighed in on the question, giving a very public example of the kind of "negotiations" that would take place concerning less controversial books.
In chapters 2-4 Raz-Krakotzkin discusses the various mechanisms of early modern press controls used by the Catholic church from the establishment of the Index of Prohibited Books, which listed some Jewish books such as the Talmud, to pre-publication vetting of texts by censors (only introduced in Italy after 1553) and expurgation of books and manuscripts already in the hands of Jewish owners. In the third chapter he focuses on the use of the Index as a tool for indicating permitted knowledge and the boundaries of such knowledge. Raz-Krakotzkin does a fine job of discussing the Index, but I think he overemphasizes its importance as an indicator of Catholic Hebraist influence and interest, especially in Spain and Portugal. Both countries had sizable numbers of New Christians, some of whom were marranos and used Jewish texts (mostly the Old Testament), remembered traditions such as prayers, and reports from their fellows who had occasion to travel outside of Iberia to fashion a distinctive religious identity for themselves. Jewish biblical commentaries, prayer books, or other texts, whether in the original Hebrew, or in Latin or vernacular translations--books that were specifically condemned in the Madrid and Lisbon indexes--would have been far more useful to them than the handful of works by Christian Hebraists, mostly university professors at Alcala, Salamanca, Valencia, or Coimbra, who were active there in the late sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.
Italian Jewish print shops, mostly Christian-owned but Jewish-run, are the subject of the fourth chapter. The pressroom was one of the few venues where all of the parties interested in the production of Jewish texts actually met face to face, and where Christians and Jews participated in common projects. Raz-Krakotzkin provides a good discussion of the often tangled motives that would lead a printer such as Gershom Soncino to print an anti-Jewish book such as Galatinus's De arcanis Catholicae veritatis (1518), or move Daniel Bomberg and his Jewish convert assistants to produce the first and second editions of the Miqra'ot Gedolot (Rabbinical Bible) in 1517 and 1524.
In the fifth chapter, Raz-Krakotzkin explores one of the most important texts in the history of Catholic press controls of Jewish books, the Sefer Hazikuk (Book of Purification) of Domenico Gerosolimitano (1555-1621). Domenico was one of the most active expurgators of Jewish texts, revising by his own estimate "thousands of books" (p. 88). His manuscript guide to expurgation is an extremely useful tool for understanding the working principles of censorship, since he provided his readers with both general guidelines and advice on the treatment of specific passages. Having discussed Domenico's approach to expurgation, Raz-Krakotzkin then compares Domenico's theory to his practice, and also to Jewish editorial practice both before and after 1553. Surprisingly, Domenico's principles and actual examples of his expurgation show striking similarities to the kinds of changes that Jewish editors and printers introduced to Jewish texts even before 1553. Equally surprising, expurgators such as Domenico were not in the business of completely obliterating Jewish statements not in accord with Catholic orthodoxy, but only of removing statements that were patently offensive or blasphemous. In most cases, they actually left some vestige of the polemical statement, but changed its target to the idolaters of the past, leaving Jewish readers to make the (often correct) surmise that the original passage referred to Christianity. Still, Raz-Krakotzkin argues that by eliminating such central terms of demarcation as goyim (Gentiles) or replacing them with more ideologically neutral terms such as shel aku''m (worshippers of celestial bodies), censors did contribute to a long-term shift in Jewish mentality by removing some of the most charged words of demarcation that especially Ashkenazic Jews had used to describe the Christian Other.
I find Raz-Krakotzkin's interpretation of Domenico's goals in expurgation convincing, but I think that he overstates the interest of the Catholic authorities in using censorship and expurgation to create an acceptable source of permitted Jewish knowledge. I believe that Raz-Krakotzkin has underestimated the seriousness of blasphemy both as a sin and a crime to early modern Christian thinkers. It was an offense that implicated not only the individual blasphemer, but also the entire community for tolerating his or her taunting, challenging, or denying of God in public. By refusing to silence the offender the community itself was complicit and deserved divine punishment according to biblical and Roman law. Luther asserted in his tirade, On the Jews and their Lies (1543), "Since [the Jews] live among us, we dare not tolerate their conduct, now that we are aware of their lying and reviling and blaspheming. If we do, we become sharers in their lies, cursing and blasphemy." I think that a concern to avoid complicity in blasphemy was far more important to Italian Catholic authorities than to make the books themselves fit for Christian Hebraists to read.
Apart from this criticism, however, I found Raz-Krakotzkin's argument compelling on how censors and other interested parties "negotiated" the form of Jewish texts and how this process coexisted quite well with an astonishing period of Jewish cultural production. The book is also extremely well documented, and the endnotes alone are worth a thorough reading.
. Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, From Spanish Court to Italian Ghetto. Isaac Cardoso: A Study in Seventeenth-Century Marranism and Jewish Apologetics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1971), 35-38, and 38, n. 55-56.
. Raz-Krakotzkin based his discussion of Domenico on Gila Prebor's then-unpublished dissertation on him. It has since appeared in print: Gila Prebor, "'Sepher Ha-Ziquq' by Domenico Yerushalmi," Italia 18 (2008): 7-296 [Hebrew]. See also Shifra Baruchson-Arbib and Gila Prebor, "Sefer Ha-Ziquq: the Book's Use and its Influence on Hebrew Printing," La Bibliofilia 109 (2007): 3-31.
. Deuteronomy 28:15-46; Corpus iuris civilis, novelle, §77. See Stephen G. Burnett, "The Regulation of Hebrew Printing in Germany, 1555-1630: Confessional Politics and the Limits of Jewish Toleration," in Infinite Boundaries: Order, Disorder, and Reorder in Early Modern German Culture, ed. Max Reinhart and Thomas Robisheaux (Kirksville: Sixteenth Century Journal Publishers, 1998), 329-348, here 346, n. 65 (available online: digitalcommons.unl.edu/classicsfacpub/49).
. Martin Luther, On the Jews and their Lies, in Luther's Works, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and H. T. Lehmann, 55 vols. (St. Louis and Philadelphia, 1955-86), 47: 268; the original is found in D. Martin Luthers Werke: Kritische Gesamtausgabe (Weimar: Hermann Böhlaus Nachfolger, 1883-1996), 53: 522, lines 30-32.
. Typographical errors: Fagius not Pagius (pp. 149, 259, n. 54); Pellicanus, not Pelicanus (p. 231, n. 81); Andreas Masius, not Andreus Massius (p. 241, n. 71).
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