By Rabbi Yair Hoffman
The Lexmark printer company once commissioned a certain Dr. Aric Sigman, a British psychologist, to write a study about fonts. The study was to assess how the use of a particular font might influence what the reader thinks about the writer. Dr. Sigman wrote that using a “Times” font indicated that one is trustworthy and respectful. The “Courier” font is the equivalent of sensible old shoes.” Serif” styles, such as Times New Roman, show a compromise between old and new, conjuring up images of trustworthiness that have made them a favorite of lawyers.
Dr. Sigman writes in his study, “Using the wrong font may give people the wrong impression about you and could affect decisions that will shape your future.”
From a halachic-history point of view, Dr. Sigman’s point is true, as well. Use of the wrong font can give people false impressions that can affect decisions that will shape the future. Here is a historical explanation of how that once came about.
Shades of Schottenstein
The year was 1573 and a new edition of the Shulchan Aruch was about to be printed by Rabbi Meir Printz. This Shulchan Aruch was going to be different, however. Like the ArtScroll or Mesivta Gemorahs of today’s age, it was to be a new and improved edition that provided greater clarity for its readers.
The Printz edition would include explanations of the more obscure words found in the Shulchan Aruch. This edition also had a special name. It was to be called “Shulchan Aruch Lifnei Z’keinim im Ne’arim”—the Shulchan Aruch for the elders as well as the youth.
The translations were made primarily based upon the understandings and explanations found in the Aruch, Rashi, and the Bartenura. However, since everyone is human, and in every first attempt errors are inevitable, mistakes were made. It should be noted that Rabbi Meir Printz was a talmid chacham and a student of the great Rabbi Meir Katzenellenbogen of Padua, Italy. Nonetheless, it was a huge task and others, not necessarily of the caliber of Rabbi Printz were involved in the work, as well.
Perhaps the mistakes with the most impact came about because translations of terms were made without regard to the position of the Shulchan Aruch’s own understanding of these terms. Defining a word entirely differently from how the author uses that word can lead to some pretty serious misunderstandings. This, unfortunately, transpired with the Printz translation.
How did subsequent editions of the Shulchan Aruch that incorporated the translations of the Rabbi Meir Printz edition differentiate between the text and words of the Mechaber (Rav Yoseph Karo) and that of the translations? They actually compounded the error even further. These editions used a “Rashi font” for the Rabbi Meir Printz translations and regular Hebrew fonts for the words of the Mechaber – Rav Karo.
Most of us know that the Shulchan Aruch was written by Rav Yoseph Karo. Most of us also know that the additions of the Rama, Rabbi Moshe Isserless, were added to the Shulchan Aruch upon the Rama’s decision and that the combined appearance of the Mechaber and Rama’s opinions served to eventually make the Shulchan Aruch the universally accepted legal code of all Jewish people—for Sephardim as well as for Ashkenazim.
The first time that the Shulchan Aruch was printed with the Rama was not until 1577—four years after the Rabbi Meir Printz edition.
How did the printers of the new editions of the Shulchan Aruch with the additions of the Rama differentiate between the Rama’s additions and the original words of Rabbi Karo? They used a Rashi font for the Rabbi Moshe Isserles comments and regular Hebrew fonts for the words of Rabbi Karo.
This, of course, led to an era of confusion. Indeed, even great Rabbis misidentified the translations of the Rabbi Meir Printz edition with the positions of the Rama.
As many collectors of early-print Shulchan Aruchs know, the additions of the Rama are not all the same, either. The Rama himself passed away in 1572 and only merited to print his additions to the Shulchan Aruch on the Orach Chayim section of it. This he did in 1569 in the city of Cracow. The rest were done by his student, Rabbi Shmuel. He did so from 1577 to 1579 and also printed an Orach Chayim section of the Shulchan Aruch with the additions of his teacher, the Rama.
In the 1569 Cracow edition, the Rama’s additions were printed to the side of Rav Karo’s text—in the same manner that we would find the Raavad’s comments and additions to the Rambam. In the parlance of modern word processing, it was originally in its own text box. However, in Rabbi Shmuel’s printing, the Rama’s additions were incorporated within the text itself.
This was not the only change.
It seems that Rabbi Shmuel did not have a copy of that first 1569 edition of his rebbi’s Shulchan Aruch. Rabbi Shmuel redid it using his own notes of what his rebbi had added. We find, therefore, a number of differences in the actual texts between the 1569 edition and the 1579 edition, aside from the “textbox versus incorporated-in-the-text” difference. We find references to other chapters and paragraphs that did not exist in the original edition. These references refer both to the Rama himself as well as to Rabbi Karo’s words. We also find changes that the Rama made to the actual words of Rav Karo.
Shockingly enough, in later printings, there were also times that, on account of the text in Rabbi Karo’s words, the typesetter switched the font erroneously. For example, in Orach Chayim 11:15, where Rabbi Karo uses the word “peirush” (“meaning”), the typesetter changed that word and the three words that follow to the Rashi font of the Rama! Although this did not happen in the 1579 edition, it did occur in the Lemberg printing that we currently have.
In volume one of the new Friedman edition of the Orach Chayim section of the Shulchan Aruch, we find a number of examples of these differences highlighted in white, gray, yellow, and gold so that we can really see the differences.
In conclusion, we see that the incorrect use of fonts can lead to numerous misunderstandings. But, to paraphrase an oft-worn cliché: Fonts don’t make errors that lead to misunderstandings; people using fonts make errors that lead to misunderstandings.
The author may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org