Menasseh ben Israel imprint

Copyright University of Leeds

Menasseh ben Israel, rabbi, scholar, philosopher, diplomat and Hebrew printer, 1604-1657

Menasseh ben Israel bridged the Jewish and the Christian worlds. He was a rabbi, a scholar and a publisher, who authored and printed works in Latin, Portuguese, Spanish and Hebrew. He also collaborated with Rembrandt, who etched his portrait.

Menasseh ben Israel is particularly interesting to Hebrew scholars and librarians. He revolutionised Hebrew printing and made Amsterdam the capital of Hebrew publishing. He helped create a new standard of Hebrew typography that became widely known, imitated, and pirated as “Defus Amsterdam” (Amsterdam print) and “Otiyot Amsterdam” (Amsterdam Letters). What is also striking is the multilingual nature of his world, publishing in Hebrew, Spanish, Portuguese, Latin, Dutch and English.

Menasseh’s work appears in Leeds University Library’s Special Collections in the collection of Cecil Roth. Roth was born in London in 1899 and died in Jerusalem in 1970. He was a British Jewish historian and collector of Hebrew books and manuscripts. He was honoured as a “Friend of the Sephardic Community”, and had a special interest in Menasseh ben Israel.

Roth’s monograph ‘A Life of Menasseh ben Israel: Rabbi, Printer, and Diplomat’ was first published in Philadelphia by the Jewish Publication Society of America in 1934. By the time he began his career as a collector, some of Menasseh’s imprints were already extremely rare.

Roth’s collection contains 12 books authored or printed by Menasseh ben Israel, spanning the years 1630 to 1710. They carry the shelfmarks Roth Collection 104, 111, 534, 629 to 636, and 889.

This resource reunites Roth’s rare works by Menasseh for the first time since they entered the Brotherton Library, and displays them together with treasures from other collections in the same library.

The image shows a bust of Roth, on display in the Special Collections Reading Room.

This resource was curated by Dr Eva Frojmovic, lecturer in the School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies, and director of the Centre for Jewish Studies.