Complications of Bible Production
While Hebrew Bibles including the New Testament had been imported in relatively small quantities since the foundation of the State, import laws made it difficult to bring in the numbers to meet increasing demands. Like any enlightened state, Israel wanted to protect its own industries. The law stated that any book containing more than 15% Hebrew needed special permission for import.
Some distribution organizations tried to get around this by mailing many small packages of Bibles or by having groups of tourists bring them in. The Bible Society was prevented by its own constitution from operating in any way which could be construed as contrary to the law, and so the only alternative was to print in Israel. While this looked idealistically like a step in keeping with good Zionism, it also brought serious drawbacks. For one thing, the whole process was considerably more expensive than printing, say, in the Far East and importing.
But there were more serious problems. The Bible is a large book, often reaching 1500 pages or more. To keep a book of that length to one volume, it is necessary to print it on special paper, paper which is very thin but of a quality high enough to prevent the text on one side of the page showing through to the other side. The average printing equipment cannot handle such thin paper. In Israel in the early years the only printers working with such paper were those who printed religious books such as the Hebrew Old Testament or the Talmud. While the printers themselves may not have been orthodox, their customers were. To agree to print the New Testament in Hebrew could lose a printer a lot of business, and it was a risk that almost no one was ready to take.
The Bible Society located a secular printer with offices in Tel Aviv and its print operation in Nazareth. This was a company which specialized in coloring books and other things for children. Precision was not a major consideration in their operation. Several editions of scriptures in Hebrew were printed by them, but the quality was always marginal.
The special Bible paper is not produced in Israel and had to be imported. It was subject to customs duties, which made each Bible just that much more expensive. However, government office responsible for fixing customs payments operated under a guideline which said that paper used for printing the Tanach (Hebrew Old Testament) was exempt from payment. Because part of the books being produced was the New Testament, it could not be determined until after printing how much of the paper had been used for the Tanach. This resulted in the following scene: After a printing of 5000 Bibles, one copy was taken to the customs office. There an official physically separated the New Testament and weighed it. The amount of paper in the New Testament was then multiplied by 5000, and customs duties were fixed based on this figure.
The Bible Society decided to challenge this discrimination, and a lawyer was engaged. As often happens in such cases, a letter from a lawyer threatening to take the matter to court was sufficient to bring about a change of practice (and a refund). It seems that the law itself had only said something about exempting “holy scriptures,” and internal interpretations in the customs office had applied that exclusively to kosher books.
At about the same time the Bible Society got tired of printing sub-standard Bibles and began a campaign to receive permits to import books. This meant convincing a certain official in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry that reasonable quality Bibles could not be printed in the land. Mr. Biala was an old-school sort of individual. He grew mint for his tea in a window box, and he was quite familiar with the New Testament. But he saw it as his duty (which it was) to prevent people importing things which they should be getting in Israel. The director of the Bible Society met with him several times, showed him the low quality of recently printed Bibles, and submitted letters from several big print houses stating that they were not ready to print Bibles with the New Testament. The campaign was successful and resulted in a renewable permit to import attractive Bibles which, unlike the old ones, did not resemble building blocks in both shape and weight. And they were less expensive.
On another occasion, involving the annotated Hebrew New Testament, a printer was found in Jerusalem. He himself did not bind books but sent them out. After many false starts, a binder was found in a religious neighborhood of Jerusalem. The man said that he was opposed to religious coercion and had no problem with binding the New Testament or anything else. However, most of his customers were orthodox Jews, and he would have to do the work after hours. In the end, he could not even use his regular workers, and so three Bible Society staff members worked late into the night and helped him bind books.
Overall, it has become far easier in recent years to find professionals in all areas of publishing (typesetting, printing, and binding) ready to work with the New Testament.
New Hebrew Bible
For several decades Hebrew Bibles were composed of a strange mixture of typefaces and styles. No new typesetting had been done for perhaps thirty years, and Hebrew Bibles distributed before 1991 had different typefaces and page layouts in the Old and New Testaments. The Hebrew Bible published by the Bible Society in 1991 was completely new. It was laid out in two columns, saving space and making reading easier. It also included subject headings and running titles at the top of the page so you could find your way around more easily. Qere readings were clearly listed at the bottom of the page. And for the first time the Israeli user could read all of the Aramaic sections of Daniel and Ezra in Hebrew translation. Because of the new layout, the book only had about 1200 pages and for the first time looked like a book you can carry rather than like a brick.