Plus it's a great peace of 'Historicana' about Jews in Palestine in the 1830's
"The First Hebrew Book Printed in Jerusalem
AZULAI, Hayyim Yosef David. Sefer Avodat Hakodesh. Jerusalem: Israel Bak, 1841. Two title pages, , 222pp. Five-line manuscript inscription on front pastedown. Original tree calf. Fine copy. Modern 1/2 morocco burgundy case.
THE FIRST BOOK PRINTED IN JERUSALEM BY THE PEOPLE OF THE BOOK. Published in Jerusalem in 1841, Avodat HaKodesh was the first Hebrew book ever published in the Holy City. This volume was published by Rabbi Israel Bak, ten years after coming to settle in the Holy Land. Bak originally made his home in Safed, in the upper Galilee. There he established a publishing house and published a number of books. In 1834, local Safed Arabs revolted against the governor, Habaashe, of Egypt. During the uprising, Safed was attacked and all of the Jews were robbed. Rabbi Bak's home and the publishing house were destroyed. The Jewish community was saved by a large military contingent sent from Egypt. The Jewish community was only beginning to recover, when in 1837, an earthquake leveled the cities of Tiberias and Safed, killing several thousand people. What little remained was taken from the Jewish community by force, a few years later, when the local population rebelled against the Egyptian regime a second time. In response to the destruction and the plundering, Bak traveled to Alexandria to entreat the governor to intercede. While Bak was in Alexandria, word of the blood libel being directed against the Jews in Damascus reached the Egyptian capital. Bak took it upon himself to collect letters from a good number of Jewish communities, describing what was taking place. He sent them directly to Sir Moses Montefiore in London. As a result of his actions, Montefiore came to Alexandria, personally, to offer political and financial assistance to the beleaguered Jewish community. Being embroiled in an escalating conflict with Constantinople, Habaashe would not see him and the mission ended in failure, forcing Bak to return to Safed with nothing. Unable to return home to Safed, Bak spent three months in Jerusalem, where with the aid and encouragement of Daniel Alkalai, he sought and received the endorsement of both the Sefardic and Ashkenazic leadership to establish the first Hebrew press in the Holy City. The financial backing for the project came from Hayyim Abraham Gagin and Benjamin Mordechai Navon. The first work chosen to inaugurate the landmark publishing house was Avodat HaKodesh. Until 1863, the Bak Press was the only Hebrew press in Jerusalem, printing over 130 books within a 22-year period.
The work, Avodat HaKodesh, by the famous scholar and mystic, Rabbi Hayyim Yosef David Azulai, is a compilation of seven treatises, formatted together into a complete, integrated work. The stated purpose is to make the material more comprehensible to the reader and more usable. The collected works include Moreh BeEtzba, Tziporen Shamir, Kesher Gudal, Kaf Achat, Yosef BeSeder, Sansan LeYair, and Shomer Yisrael. According to Bak, these interrelated works focus on moral teachings, ethical principles and meditations for individual instruction, contemplation and consistent practice.
At the time of printing of Avodat HaKodesh, the Jewish population of Jerusalem numbered approximately 5000 souls, the overall population being about 11,000 inhabitants. Palestine at beginning of the 19th century was but a derelict province of the decaying Ottoman Empire. The economy was primitive, its population sparse, its standards low. It was not a place of thriving culture and learning, of excitement and opportunity as it had been in ancient world or as it has become in the 20th century. It was not until the 1840's that physical changes began to take place in the Holy Land, that development occurredâ€”geographical exploration, transportation, postal services, buildings. It is for this reason that no books were printed in Jerusalem pre-1841, while for three centuries books poured out of the other world centers of printing. Jerusalem remained backwards, undeveloped, and no printing press. The Hebrew printing press established by Rabbi Israel Bak serves as a symbol of the rebirth of the Holy City. Avodat Hakodesh, then, in addition to being the first book printed in Jerusalem, also symbolizes the renaissance of Jewish life in the Holy City in modern times.""