SONCINO , family of Hebrew printers active in Italy, Turkey, and Egypt in the 15th and 16th centuries. The Soncino family originated in Germany and claimed among their ancestors Moses of Speyer, mentioned in the tosafot by *Eliezer of Touques (13th century). Five generations later another MOSES, resident at Fuerth, succeeded in driving the wandering Franciscan monk and rabble-rouser John of Capistrano (1386–1456) out of the town (see title page of David Kimḥi's Mikhlol, Constantinople, 1532–34). His sons samuel and simon left Fuerth for Italy, where in 1454 they obtained permission from Francesco Sforza, duke of Milan, to settle in Soncino near Cremona, from which they took their surname. Samuel's son israel nathan (d. 1492?), a physician, was renowned for his talmudic scholarship and piety; he died in Brescia. Printing had taken place in Italy from 1465, and it was, no doubt, under the influence of Israel Nathan and in partnership with him and his other sons (Benei Soncino) that his son joshua solomon (d. 1493) set up a Hebrew printing press which in 1484 produced its first book, the Talmud tractate Berakhot, with commentaries in the arrangement which became standard. This was followed by a complete, voweled Hebrew Bible (1488), the Maḥzor Minhag Roma (Soncino and Casalmaggiore, 1486), and 15 other works (to 1489). His were the first printed editions of the Hebrew Bible and Talmud tractates. From 1490 to 1492 Joshua Solomon printed at least nine works in Naples, and altogether more than 40 works are ascribed to his press.
His nephew gershom ben moses (d. 1534), also called Menzlein – perhaps for having learned the art of printing in Mainz – became one of the most successful and prolific printers of his time – and one of the finest of all times – printing from 1489 to 1534, not only in Hebrew (and Judeo-German?), but also in Latin, Greek, and Italian and using for non-Hebrew literature the names Hieronymus, Geronimo, or Girolamo. During his extensive travels, to France in particular, he obtained valuable manuscripts for publication, e.g., the tosafot of Eliezer of Touques which he was the first to publish. He was also the first to use woodcut illustrations in a Hebrew work (Isaac ibn Sahula's Meshal ha-Kadmoni, Brescia, c. 1491), and to produce secular Hebrew literature (Immanuel of Rome's Maḥberot, Brescia, 1492). Soncino also printed in small, pocket-size format, assembling an expert staff of literary advisers, typesetters, and proofreaders. His letters were cut by Francesco Griffo da Bologna, who also worked for the well-known Aldus Manutius.
Apart from Soncino and Casalmaggiore, Soncino also printed in Brescia, Barco, Fano, Pesaro, Ortona, Rimini, Ancona, and Cesena; both his Hebrew and non-Hebrew productions exceeded 100 volumes each, of which about 20 were
Hebrew *incunabula (before 1500). His constant wanderings were due as much to the chicaneries of the local overlords as to fierce and perhaps unfair competition, though in the decade 1494–1504 (with an interval from 1499 to 1502) he was the world's only Hebrew printer. Eventually Soncino had to leave Italy for Turkey, where he continued to print in *Salonika (1527) and *Istanbul (from 1530), assisted by his son eliezer (d. 1547). Gershom Soncino exerted himself in bringing relief to the victims of the Spanish and Portuguese expulsions of 1492 and 1497.
His brother solomon is mentioned as printer in only one work: Jacob b. Asher's Arba'ah Turim (1490?), though he belonged no doubt to the collective Benei Soncino. His son moses printed a number of books in Salonika from 1521 to 1527. Eliezer b. Gershom Soncino continued printing after his father's death, and after he died the press was taken over by his partner Moses b. Eliezer Parnas. His son gershom printed in Cairo, Egypt, in 1557, being the last of the known Soncino printers. joshua *soncino (d. 1569) of Istanbul was the author of a volume of responsa and novellae (Naḥalah li-Yhoshu'a, 1531). It is believed that the Hebrew press in Prague, where printing began in 1512, was founded by the Soncino family.
A.M. Habermann, Ha-Madpisim Benei Soncino (1933); A. Yaari, in: ks, 13 (1936/37), 121–30; idem, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Kushta (1967), 21–22; D.W. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909), index; M. Marx (Hieronymus) in: huca, 7 (1930), 427–50; C. Roth, Jews in the Renaissance (1959) index.
[Abraham Meir Habermann]