23 June 2009

A Couple of Interesting Quotes About Printing & Censorship

While at the gym today, I read Amnon Raz-Krakozkin's "From Safed to Venice: The Shulhan Arukh and the Censor"* (HT MB) and came across the following two really interesting quotes. The first is from pages 100-101, that:
rather than being a measure directed against the Jews alone, censorship was initiated precisely because Christians were reading Jewish literature. Thus, censorship should be examined in the framework of the rise of Christian Hebraism in the 15th and 16th centuries – that is, the growing interest of Christian scholars in certain branches of Jewish literature, regarding them as essential for understanding Scripture and for confirming the Christian faith. As such, censorship must be seen as a means of incorporating Jewish literature into Christian discourse and into the category of permitted knowledge. It simultaneously created two communities of readers: books that were of common interest to Jews and Hebraists – biblical exegesis, midrash and Kabbalah; and books designed primarily for Jewish readers, such as halakhic literature. Most of the deletions of censors are to be found in the books of the first group. Most of the books that belong to the second (with the exception of Ashkenazi prayer books) were left mostly untouched. Furthermore, censorship should not be seen.
Continuing on page 101, Raz-Krakozkin continues, further developing a novel idea:
Furthermore, censorship should not be seen merely as an agent that denies knowledge; it must also be understood as a constitutive factor, one of the elements that participated in the reshaping of literacy during the critical stage of the transition to print. Censorship is undoubtedly a controlling agent with a definite role, the intention of which (in the case of Church procedures) was to define the boundaries of orthodoxy. Yet its consequences must be examined in relation to other formative agents that took part in the cultural process and accompanied the transition to print, such as publishers, printers, editors and, in particular, the communities of readers. With the implementation of the principle of expurgation, censorship was also integrated into the process of preparation of texts for publication, and the censors served as one of the agents participating in the formation of the domain of reading. The explicit intention of the censors was to prevent forbidden contents; the practice of censorship, however, entailed a careful reading of various texts and resulted in the authorization of what the Church considered to be permissible knowledge. Censorship was imposed upon the Jews and definitely had an impact on Hebrew literature, but it did not necessarily deny knowledge.
* Amnon Raz-Krakozkin, "From Safed to Venice: The Shulhan Arukh and the Censor," in Chanita Goodblatt & Howard Kreisel, eds., Tradition, Heterodoxy and Religious Culture: Judaism and Christianity in the Early Modern Period (Beer Sheva: Ben-Gurion University of the Negev Press, 2006), 91-115.

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