This section brings imprints from Menasseh’s printing press and its Christian publishers – in Spanish, Portuguese and Hebrew (sometimes with Latin) – together with those of his Jewish competitors.
Menasseh ben Israel started printing in 1626/7. In the same year, Daniel de Fonseca opened a rival printing press in Amsterdam, which folded after printing only two Hebrew books. By contrast, Menasseh, with the support of the Christian publishing entrepreneurs Henricus Laurentius and Johannes Janssonius, and later with the assistance of his two sons, managed to keep his press going for almost three decades until his departure for England in 1655.
His success was due to his intellectual stature as the rising leader of the Sephardi communities in Amsterdam. The communities merged into a single congregation in 1639, during a period of rapid growth. This growth came from the ranks of Conversos who had fled the Spanish and Portuguese Inquisitions, and who found religious tolerance in the Protestant Northern Netherlands.
These Converso refugees had, in many cases, lost their connections with the fundamentals of the Jewish religion and the ability to access texts in Hebrew. Menasseh catered for them by means of translations, transliterations, and teaching materials in a variety of languages. The remarkable revival of this nearly lost community is due, not least, to Menasseh’s vision as a teacher, author and printer.
Many of Menasseh’s early prints are lost, although a number have turned up since the first modern attempt at listing them was made in 1927. It is hoped that more may be found in the near future.
Menasseh or his heirs (his two sons predeceased him) appear to have sold his stock of typefaces, cut expressly to his specifications by the eminent typecutter Nicholas Briot, to the Hebraist Christianus Ravius. Ravius took them to Uppsala University; he mentions them in a letter in 1668 as lying unused. Their subsequent fate is unknown – if they have not been melted down, they may still be languishing in a Scandinavian storage room.