Accessing Hebrew Books in Early Modern England
Title page of: the Second Rabbinic Bible (Mikra’ot Gedolot, ‘Great Scriptures’ i.e. Hebrew Bible with Targum and commentaries), vol. 1 of 4, Venice, Daniel Bomberg: 1524.
Almost all Hebrew books in the 16th century were printed in continental Europe, mostly Germany and France. England imported nearly two-thirds of its books from the continent. By the middle of the 16th century, England had a growing number of accomplished English Hebraists.
A Rabbinic Bible has the biblical text in the centre with Jewish commentaries around it. The First Rabbinic Bible (1517) was also the first complete printed edition of the Hebrew Bible. The First Rabbinic Bible did not sell well to Jews as the printer Bomberg had used a Jewish convert to Christianity as his editor and obtained an exclusive papal privilege to print the Hebrew Bible. Realizing his mistake, Bomberg had the Second Rabbinic Bible (1524-25) edited by Jacob ben Hayyim. The Second Rabbinic Bible set the standard for most Hebrew Bibles until the 20th century.
The works of biblical interpretation by great Jewish scholars such as Rashi, David and Moses Kimchi, Gershonides, Nahmanides, and Saadia Gaon were considered indispensable by Christian translators.