First Impressions: Sefer Hasidim and Early Modern Hebrew Printing

Author: Joseph A. Skloot

Uncovers the history of creative adaptation and transformation through a close analysis of Sefer Hasidim

In 1538, a partnership of Jewish silk makers in the city of Bologna published a book entitled Sefer Hasidim, a compendium of rituals, stories, and religious instruction that primarily originated in medieval Franco-Germany. How these men, of Italian and Spanish descent, came to produce a book that would come to shape Jewish culture over the next four centuries is the basis of this kaleidoscopic study of the history of Hebrew printing in the sixteenth century.

“Who makes a book, the author or the publisher? Joseph Skloot studies a classic of medieval Jewish literature, Sefer Hasidim, to answer this old question in a new way. He takes the reader into two printing houses, one Jewish and one Christian, and shows how each
of them framed and transformed the book, giving it an author and sometimes rewriting its text, in their editions. A classic of medieval spirituality that remained labile in manuscript, Sefer Hasidim took on the form it would retain for centuries in the inky hands of correctors. This lively and learned book is a tour de force of book history, rich in textual and human detail.” Anthony T. Grafton, Princeton University

“Recent research has revealed that what we call Sefer Hasidim was composed from a loose collection of a variety of earlier ‘treatises’ and ‘text blocks’ without any coherent organization. In this groundbreaking study, Skloot demonstrates convincingly and in detail how this loose collection became a book in the proper sense of the word only during its printing process.” Peter Schfer, Professor Emeritus, Princeton University

About the Author

Joseph A. Skloot, Ph.D. is the Rabbi Aaron D. Panken Assistant Professor of Modern Jewish Intellectual History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. He is a historian of Jewish culture and religious thought.

Unacknowledged Kinships: Postcolonial Studes and the Historiography of Zionism

Editors: Stefan Vogt, Derek Penslar, and Arieh Saposnik

This book claims that there is an “unacknowledged kinship” between Zionism and post-colonial studies, a kinship that deserves to be discovered and acknowledged. It strives to facilitate a conversation between the historiography of Zionism and postcolonial studies by identifying and exploring possible linkages and affiliations between their subjects as well as the limits of such connections. The authors of the essays in this volume discuss central theoretical concepts developed within the field of postcolonial studies, use these concepts to analyze crucial aspects of the history of Zionism, and contextualize Zionist thought, politics, and culture within colonial and postcolonial histories. While the main purpose of the book is to test the applicability of postcolonial concepts to the history of Zionism, it also seeks vectors that move in the opposite direction. Postcolonial studies may gain from using the history of Zionism as an example of both colonial domination and the contradictory processes of national liberation and self-empowerment. Postcolonial studies and the historiography of Zionism profit from each other if they can bridge the political chasm that often underpins their disciplines. This does not mean that these fields should look upon the other without critical scrutiny, rather an open and critical exchange can help each discipline address its own limitations and weaknesses. This book is the first to systematically investigate the potential for a dialogue between postcolonial studies and the history of Zionism, and unique in suggesting that postcolonial concepts can be applied to the history of European Zionism. Most importantly, the book is an overture for a dialogue between postcolonial studies and the historiography of Zionism.

"This is a major volume attempting to create a rapprochement between postcolonial studies and the study of Zionism. The volume does what it sets out to do. It is the first serious attempt to rethink this relationship in both theoretical and concrete ways and is an enormously valuable first step in a mutual reassessment of contemporary theoretical approaches to Zionism. Given our present discussions about Zionism and anti-Semitism, a book that is of growing importance each and every day!" - Sander Gilman, co-author of Cosmopolitanism and the Jews

"The history of the Jews and of Zionism have entertained a supremely ambivalent relationship with postcolonial studies. As Europeans' most distinct and enduring 'inner' other, Jews were paradigmatic victims of colonialist practices and ideologies. Yet Zionism itself has often been accused of mirroring European colonialism. This immensely useful book brings much needed order to understand the tangled and ambivalent relationships between post-colonialism and the nationalist history of the Jews. More crucially, it shows that postcolonialsm is a need conceptual framework to further our understanding of the history and sociology of the Jews. This illuminating collection of texts will have a lasting impact of Israel and Jewish Studies." - Eva Illouz, Directrice d'Etudes, EHESS, Paris, and author of The Emotional Life of Populism

"Challenging the received wisdom that defines Zionism as a colonial enterprise, this volume breaks new ground in looking at its many if ultimately unsuccessful links with anti-colonial movements worldwide. It represents, in addition, a welcome effort to lend depth and complexity to the history of nationalism more generally." Faisal Devji, Professor of Indian History, University of Oxford

"This volume brings together the unusually rich collection of theoretical interventions, historical case studies, and long-deferred conversations that interrogate the fraught relationship between Zionism and post-colonialism. The editors make a strong case for bringing into dialogue the two phenomena and the abundant scholarship they have generated. The result is a deeply engrossing, provocative, and often surprising reading experience that requires one to think anew about core assumptions." - David N. Myers, Distinguished Professor and Sady and Ludqig Kahn Chair in Jewish History, UCLA

About the Editors

Stefan Vogt is Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter and research coordinator at the Martin Buber Chair for Jewish Thought and Philosophy, as well as a Privatdozent for Modern History at the History Department, both at Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main. His main research areas are German-Jewish history, the history of nationalism and the history of colonialism. 

Derek Penslar is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. He takes a comparative and transnational approach to Jewish history, which he studies within the contexts of modern capitalism, nationalism, and colonialism. 

Arieh Saposnik is Associate Professor at the Ben-Gurion Institute for the Study of Israel and Zionism at Ben-Gurion University in the Negev. A historian of Zionism and Jewish nationalism, Saposnik is interested in the construction of national cultures and identities in the modern world.