The Hebrew Printing House

By Adv. Sh. Shibolet-Zang

After World War I, when the Jews of Keidan began to return from their places of exile, two Torah students decided to set up a small print shop to serve needs of the community. They were Alter Movshovitz and Motl Kagan, who had previously been a teacher in Keidan. Prior to the war, there had been in town a small printing press, on which the owner of the stationery shop used to print greeting cards, invitations and announcements. The shop owner set the type manually and operated the press himself.

Our two partners had bigger things in mind. They began seeking clients who were interested in printing religious books and commentaries. For this purpose they purchased a real press and typesetting system.

The two did not merely typeset and print their orders. All the work of installation, editing, and proofreading for typographical and author errors fell on the heads of these Torah students, who took it as their personal responsibility. They were sometimes forced to take the arduous path of reading published texts, the books of sages, Torah and its commentaries, checking the manuscripts they received for errors and correcting them based on their own knowledge.

It was thus no accident that the reputation of the Keidan printing house was very high among scholars and writers throughout Lithuania, as well as in other countries. The story was told of the rabbi of Veikshne (Viekśniai), who later became rabbi of Keidan. He was the late, martyred Rabbi Shlomo Feinsilber, of blessed memory, who traveled to Kovno to find a publisher for his manuscript. In Kovno he was told that if he wanted to publish a Torah commentary, he should go to the Keidan printers. He indeed had his manuscript printed in Keidan and, while he was there, he was invited by the Keidaners to apply for the position of rabbi.

The printing house developed and grew, and came to employ many workers. The manual typesetting system could not keep up with the increased demand for printing. So Motl Kagan traveled to Kovno to buy a used typesetting machine from one of the larger printing houses in that city. There, a friend and former student from his teaching days told him that if the press had enough work to require a typesetting machine, they should try to purchase a new American Linotype.

In fact, the owners did buy the first Linotype, and the Keidan printing house grew as a producer of both religious and national literature. This can be seen in the extensive list of books that were printed there during the life of the business, and it became a great source for lovers of Hebrew literature.

Translated by Chaim Charutz.