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Important Hebrew books printed by the Elsenwanger press

Abraham Farisol, Iggeret Orhot Olam [Epistle on the Ways of the World], Prague, Elsenwanger Press, 1793, illustrated by Anton Balzer
Israel Landau, Hok le-Yisra’el [Law of Israel], Prague, Elsenwanger Press, 1798, illustrated by Johann Carl Balzer
Jewish Museum in Prague’s collection of rare printed books and manuscripts and JMP library collection
Originally in the Prague Jewish Community’s library (Prager Israelitische Cultus-Gemeinde Bibliothek) collection

Both of these works, which are illustrated with impressive engravings by Anton and Johann Carl Balzer, are among the most beautiful and interesting books printed by the Hebrew press of Barbara Elsenwanger, which was active between 1788 and 1804. This press, located on Železná Street in the Old Town of Prague, was founded in 1788 on the instigation of the enterprising Christian Barbara Elsenwanger as a successor to the bankrupt Jewish Bak-Katz press. A close colleague of Elsenwanger was Israel Landau (1758–1829), the son of Prague rabbi Ezekiel Landau and one of the region’s first proponents of the Haskalah (Jewish Enlightenment). It was thanks to Israel Landau’s influence on Elsenwanger that her press published Haskalah texts, in addition to traditional Jewish religious works. It was Israel Landau who edited an Enlightenment edition of Abraham Farissol’s well-known early 16th-century geographic work Iggeret Orhot Olam, which was accompanied by Landau’s own commentary. In the preface, Landau gives a summary of the history of Jewish scholarship from the handing over of the Torah at Mount Sinai through to the reign of the Habsburg monarchs Josef II, Leopold II and Francis II, who are thanked for opening libraries and schools for Jews. Landau’s next work, Hok le-Yisra’el, containing the 613 mitzvot, was also accompanied by an Enlightenment commentary. Both of these books are without doubt among the supreme works of the early Prague Haskalah, which the Elsenwanger press helped to spread.

This topic, among other things, is covered in one of the papers in the monograph Hebrew Printing in Bohemia and Moravia (ed. Olga Sixtová), which was published at the end of 2012 by the Academia publishing house in collaboration with the Jewish Museum in Prague for the 500th anniversary of the first Hebrew book to be printed in Prague.

JMP, Call No. 1.917 (Iggeret Orhot Olam), 8°, 17.5 x 11.5 cm, original half-leather binding
JMP, Call No. 3.411 (Hok le-Yisra’el), 4°, 24 x 19.5 cm, original half-leather binding

“A wolf, a lamb, a kid-goat and a leopard will quietly graze there in safety, peace and calm will flourish there like palm trees, and mouths will taste honey in precious words and kind speeches.” The library as an allegory of the Messianic Era. A. Farisol, Iggeret Orhot Olam, Prague: Elsenwanger, 1793, fol. 4a, illustration by A. Balzer

“They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; these see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep.” (Psalm 107:23-24) A. Farisol, Iggeret Orhot Olam, Prague: Elsenwanger, 1793, fol. 31a, illustration by A. Balzer

“The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein.” (Psalm 24:1) A. Farisol, Iggeret Orhot Olam, Prague: Elsenwanger, 1793, fol. 1a, illustration by A. Balzer

I. Landau, Hok le-Yisrael (Sefer ha-Mitzvot), Prague: Elsenwanger, 1798, title page, illustration by J. C. Balzer

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