Kroyvets (Kraków: Isaac ben Aaron Prostitz, 1571)

Author: Eva-Maria Jansson

Link to the digital facsimile edition

A kroyvets (alternative spelling and pronunciation modes may be; krovetz, kroyvetz, of krovets) is a collection of Jewish liturgical texts, either for the whole year or for specific holidays. In this it can be compared to the machzor (or machazor), the holiday prayer book(s). The present edition contains prayer for the New Year (Rosh ha-Shanah) and the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur). Every paragraph begins with the first Hebrew word(s) of the relevant phrase, and continues with a Yiddish translation or paraphrase of the Hebrew text.

Graphically, the difference between the Hebrew and Yiddisch texts is marked by the use of different typefaces (see below). It should be emphasised, that the Yiddish used here is not identical with the later, more standardised Yiddish, known from the East European literary production of the 19th and early 20th centuries, where the Slavic element is more prominent. In the Kroyvets, the syntax and the vocabulary is rather “German”, and the orthography very varied (e.g. is the place/name Prostitz spelled differently on the title page and in the colophon). The vowel signs, known from later Yiddish prints, are also absent.
History of this copy
This Kroyvets is, as both the title page and the colophon tells us, printed by Isaac, son of Aaron. This Isaac, who possibly was born in Italy, came from Prostějov/Prostitz/Prossnitz in Moravia, and in 1568, king Sigismund II Augustus gave him permission to set up a Hebrew printing house in Cracow. The Catholic authorities however complained over his printing of parts of the Talmud, and in the following year, not only the offending volumes but the whole printing press was confiscated by the city bailiff. By royal intervention, Isaac was given his equipment back in November of 1570, and he remained active, in Cracow and other cities, until his death in 1612/13. The Kroyvets was translated from Hebrew into Yiddish by one Avigdor, son of Moses, whose policy statement” can be seen on the last page of the book.
The copy of the Kroyvets (shelf mark: postink-jidk-1) came to The Royal Library as part of the private library of Rabbi David Simonsen, which the library acquired in 1932. Seemingly, Simonsen had acquired the volume in 1886. In his article ”Zur Bücherkunde. Kleine Mitteilungen”, printed in the Festschrift dedicated to the bibliographer Moritz Steinschneider (1816-1907) on his 80th birthday, this book of his own is one of the themes dealt with. Amongst other things, he notes that Steinschneider, in his catalogue of Hebrew Books in the Bodeian Library, Oxford, publiched 1852-60 (where he lists not only books actually in the Bodleian, but also books known from other sources), mentions the 1571 edition as being known from only later references (col. 390, no. 2552). Whether David Simonsen knew of Steinschneider’s comment at the time of his aquisition, or found it later, cannot be ascertained.
After being acquired by The Royal Library, the volume has been subject to preservation and rebinding (probably in the 1970s), when material from earlier reparations was reused, including the (assumed) origininal boards.
To the inner front page of the binding, which has been through a conservation, have four slips of paper been attached, probably cut-outs from a former end leaf or paste-down. One of them contains what is probably earlier owner’s signatures (“Moses son of Jacob Koppel Segal (?)” and “Tamar Zipporah, daughter of David Auerbach”), but also what seems to be writing exercises. The other three are in David Simonsen’s hand, and seem to be connected to his work on the article mentioned above.   
The book
On the title page of the book, the purpose for its publication is given as follows:

All of womanhood will rejoice in this machzor, it is a novelty, something that has not been seen since the world was created. And it is really well fartaytsht [translated into Yiddish, see below], so that everything can be well understood, as you will see for your selves, God willing.  

אלי פרואן לייט די ווערין זיך משמח זיין מיט דען \ מחזור עז איז איין חידוש דאז ניט מין איז ווארן \ גידרוקט דער ווייל דער עולם שטיט. אונ' איז \ בתכלית וואל פר טייטשט אונ' וואל מחובר דז מן \ אלז וואל מג פר שטין אז איר זעלב רט וואל ווערט \ זעהן אם ירצה השם

That Jewish religious literature directed at women was (and sometime still is) in Yiddish, is dependent on the fact that in the traditional Eastern European Jewish society, normally only boys received education in Hebrew, starting at the age of three, the parent’s economical situation permitting. All boys would at least be taught the basics in preparation for their bar mitzvah, the ceremony marking their religious maturity at the age of thirteen, where recitation from the Torah is one moment.  The girls, on the other hand, were normally taught by their mothers, mostly about the religious duties in connection with household chores and the different parts of the life cycle (though it cannot be excluded that the boys were listening as well). The different prayers and benedictions were (and are) in Hebrew, but the vernacular was Yiddish, at home and in the community. In the course of the 16th century, books were published in Yiddish, that were directed at “women and men, who are like women, in that they lack knowledge”, as the motivation is given in a work from 1596. The topics where paraphrases on the Bible, ethical guides etc. – written by men. But there are also works, where women are the authors, namely collections of prayers, often with “female themes” as their main topics. This genre is known as thkines (Yiddish for the Hebrew word tekhinot, “supplications”). This feminine connection also explains why the typeface used, is known as vaybertaytsh, “women’s German” – “German” is often used as a circumlocution for Yiddish, e.g. the meaning of fartaytshen being “translated into Yiddish”.

Why “Kroyvets”?
Kroyvets: these are the first [Hebrew] letters [in the words of the verse] “There are glad songs of victory in the tents of the righteous” (Ps. 118,15)

The word in itself does not exist in Hebrew, but as can be seen in this quote from the title page, it is explained as an acronym for a verse from Psalms. Another explanation comes from the liturgical situation in which these texts, especially the liturgical poems were read in the synagogue. It being the cantor’s task, he was summoned to the front with the words “come closer!” He was therefore “he, who steps closer” (Heb. korev, with a Yiddish pronounced koreyv) – and the texts recited by him became known as kroyvoys (fem. plural), which was corrupted into kroyvets. But maybe the real explanation is something entirely different ...  
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An investigation into the catalogues of other libraries has not revealed the existence of any other copy of this title. It can therefore be suggested that this item of the 1571 edition, in the collection of The Royal Library, is the only one remaining. And even if other copies should exist, it can still be regarded as a very rare item.
Link to the digitized facsimile of the work
References – and more to read in the collections of The Royal Library
Balaban, Majer: ”Zur Geschichte der hebräischen Druckereien in Polen”, Soncino-Blätter, III (1929-1930), s. 1-55
Cowley, A. E.: A concise catalogue of the Hebrew printed books in the Bodleian Library. Oxford 1929
Katz, Dovid: Words on fire: the unfinished story of Yiddish. New York: Basic Books, 2004
Weissler, Chava: Voices of the matriarchs: listening to the prayers of early modern Jewish women. Boston, Mass.: Beacon Press, 1998
Steinschneider, M.: Catalogus librorum Hebraeorum in Bibliotheca Bodleiana, jussu curatorum digessit et notis instruxit M. Steinschneider. Berlin 1852-60,
Zafren, Herbert C.: “Early Yiddish Typography”. Jewish Book Annual 44 (1986), s. 106-119
Zafren, Herbert C.: ”Variety in the Typograhy of Yiddish: 1535-1635”. Hebrew Union College Annual, vol. 53 (1982), s. 137-163.