The printing press is an amazing invention, one that has revolutionized the way people communicate and store knowledge all over the world. From Asia to Europe, the proliferation of printed texts has advanced the march of civilization, bringing news, spreading wisdom, and making religious works more accessible to the common people.
Several places on our previous kosher Europe tours touched down on locales with rich histories in Jewish printing, such as Amsterdam. The printing press played quite an important role in the distribution of Jewish religious texts, making the tedious task of writing and rewriting responses, comments and additions easier. Take the Talmud, for example. One of the definitive editions of the printed Talmud was first published by The Widow and the Brothers Romm, under the guidance of an exceptional woman and a canny writer. This is the story of Devorah Romm.
Life of Devorah and the Romm Printing House
Devorah Harkavy was born some time in the 19th century, the exact date uncertain. She was the daughter of Talmudist Bezaleel Harkavy, and would come to live in Vilna, the capital of Lithuania. Devorah married Davod Romm, whose father owned one of the few Jewish publishing houses left in Lithuania.
After the latter’s death, Devorah took control of the publishing house alongside her late husband’s brothers, the firm afterwards being known as the Widow and the Brothers Romm. With the assistance of writer Samuel Shraga Feiginsohn, Devorah would help modernize and improve the publishing house, using better machinery for the texts. This publishing house would later be well known for publishing the Vilna Edition Shas, the definite printed edition of the Talmud, complete with commentaries and notations painstakingly gathered for the purpose of publication. Together with her co-owners she cannily commanded the publishing firm until her death in 1903.
Legacy of the Printing Press
The Widow and Brothers Romm were influential during their time, helping distribute printed religious texts in a time when there was a lack of Jewish printing presses. Devorah’s acute leadership skills and intelligence allowed the printing house to make a name for itself, and even years after her death the Vilna Shas continues to be the standard for the Talmud in the modern day.
While you’re on your Jewish travel tours, think about all the religious texts you’ve had, and all the great Jewish figures who helped compile and print them for people to use in the modern day.