Jewish Encyclopedia

Not to be confused with Encyclopaedia Judaica.
Cover page from the Jewish Encyclopedia

The Jewish Encyclopedia[n 1] is an English encyclopedia containing over 15,000 articles on the history, culture, and state of Judaism and the Jews up to the early 20th century.[10] It was originally published in 12 volumes by Funk and Wagnalls of New York City between 1901 and 1906 and reprinted in the 1960s by KTAV Publishing House. The work's scholarship is still highly regarded: the American Jewish Archives has called it "the most monumental Jewish scientific work of modern times"[11] and Rabbi Joshua L. Segal noted that, "For events prior to 1900, it is considered to offer a level of scholarship superior to either of the more recent Jewish Encyclopedias written in English."[12] It is now in the public domain[n 2] and hosted at various sites around the internet.

The encyclopedia's managing editor was Isidore Singer. The editorial board was chaired by Isaac K. Funk and Frank H. Vizetelly. The other editors participating in all twelve volumes were Cyrus Adler, Gotthard Deutsch, Richard Gottheil, Joseph Jacobs, Kaufmann Kohler, Herman Rosenthal, and Crawford Howell Toy.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9] Morris Jastrow, Jr. and Frederick de Sola Mendes assisted with volumes I & II; Marcus Jastrow with volumes I, II, & III; Louis Ginzberg with the first four volumes;[1][2][3][4] Solomon Schechter with volumes IV through VII; Emil G. Hirsch with volumes IV through XII;[4][5][6] and Wilhelm Bacher with volumes VIII through XII.[7][8][9] William Popper served as the assistant revision editor and chief of translation for Vols. IV through XII.[4][5][6][7][8][9]

Relation to German scholarship

Jewish Encyclopedia Illustration, most are black and white ink.
French Jews of the Middle Ages, an image from the encyclopedia.

The scholarly style of the Jewish Encyclopedia is very much in the mode of the Wissenschaft des Judentums ("Jewish studies"), an approach to Jewish scholarship and religion that flourished in 19th-century Germany; indeed, the Encyclopedia may be regarded as the culmination of this movement. In the 20th century, the movement's members dispersed to Jewish Studies departments in the United States and Israel. The scholarly authorities cited in the Encyclopedia—besides the classical and medieval exegetes—are almost uniformly Wissenschaft figures, such as Leopold Zunz, Moritz Steinschneider, Solomon Schechter, Wilhelm Bacher, J.L. Rapoport, David Zvi Hoffman, Heinrich Graetz, etc. This particular scholarly style can be seen in the Jewish Encyclopedia's almost obsessive attention to manuscript discovery, manuscript editing and publication, manuscript comparison, manuscript dating, and so on; these endeavors were among the foremost interests of Wissenschaft scholarship.

The Jewish Encyclopedia is an English-language work, but the vast majority of the encyclopedia's contemporary sources are German-language sources, since this was the mother tongue of the Wissenschaft scholars and the lingua franca of Biblical scholarship in general in that period. Of the works cited which are not German—usually the more classical works—the large part are either Hebrew or Arabic. The only heavily cited English-language source of contemporary scholarship is Solomon Schechter's publications in the Jewish Quarterly Review. The significance of the work's publication in English rather than German or Hebrew is captured by Harry Wolfson writing in 1926 (Schwarz 1965):

About twenty-five years ago, there was no greater desert, as far as Jewish life and learning, than the English-speaking countries, and English of all languages was the least serviceable for such a Jewish work of reference. To contemporary European reviewers of the Jewish Encyclopedia, the undertaking seemed then like an effort wasted on half-clad Zulus in South Africa and Jewish tailors in New York. Those who were then really in need of such a work and could benefit thereby would have been better served if it were put out in Hebrew, German or Russian.
Harry Wolfson

The editors and authors of the Jewish Encyclopedia proved prescient in their choice of language, since within that same span of 25 years, English rose to become the dominant language of academic Jewish scholarship and among Jews worldwide. Wolfson continues that "if a Jewish Encyclopedia in a modern language were planned for the first time [i.e., in 1926], the choice would undoubtedly have fallen upon English."

Russian edition

The Jewish Encyclopedia was heavily used as a source by the 16-volume Jewish Encyclopedia in Russian,[13] published by Brockhaus and Efron in Saint Petersburg between 1906 and 1913.

Online edition

The unedited text of the original can be found at the Jewish Encyclopedia website.[14] The site offers both JPEG facsimiles of the original articles and Unicode transcriptions of all texts.

The search capability is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the search mechanism fails to take into account the decision to maintain all diacritical marks in the transliterated Hebrew and Aramaic from the 19011906 text, which used a large number of diacriticals not in common use today. Thus, for example, to successfully search for "Halizah" (the ceremony by which the widow of a brother who has died childless released her brother-in-law from the obligation of marrying her), one would have to know that they have transliterated this as "Ḥaliẓah". The alphabetic index ignores diacriticals so it can be more useful when searching for an article whose title is known.

The scholarly apparatus of citation is thorough, but can be a bit daunting to contemporary users. Books that might have been widely known among scholars of Judaism at the time the encyclopedia was written (but which are quite obscure to a lay reader today) are referred to by author and title, but with no publication information and often without indication of the language in which they were written. A list of abbreviations used in the encyclopedia is provided on the Jewish Encyclopedia website.[15]

See also


  1. Full name: The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day.[1][2][3][4][5][6][7][8][9]
  2. Note, however, that some websites hosting the text claim copyright over the digitized images. Public domain scans are available elsewhere, as at the Internet Archive.
  3. For example, in its article concerning marriage.[16]




Further reading

Internet Archive
KTAV Reprint
Volume From To
Volume 1 Aach Apocalyptic
Volume 2 Apocrypha Benash
Volume 3 Bencemero Chazanuth
Volume 4 Chazars Dreyfus
Volume 5 Dreyfus Goat
Volume 6 God Istria
Volume 7 Italy Leon
Volume 8 Leon Moravia
Volume 9 Morawyczyk Philippson
Volume 10 Philipson Samoscz
Volume 11 Samson Talmid
Volume 12 Talmud Zweifel
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