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In Jewish life it is impossible to divorce the charitative from the cultural; Jewish welfare institutions, philanthropic in origin, were also social, religious, and cultural in intent. Sabbath Sunday schools which owe their origins to “Uptown” social workers, were more educational in nature than religious. Jewish culture is woven into the fabric of every aspect of Jewish life and faith. Thus any analysis of Jewish education and culture as separate entities is unhistoric, un-Jewish in its approach. Unlike Christianity, Judaism is not merely a religion, a relationship to the Deity, it is much more; it is a many-faceted distinct way of life, a total all-embracing culture. And if culture must be defined, then let it be said that it is any activity of Jewish content that furthers the intellectual and emotional faculties and responses of the Jew.

The Central European Jews who made their way here in numbers throughout the nineteenth century found an indigenous American Jewish culture awaiting them, a cultural communal structure that was already almost two centuries old. The Sephardim had established synagogs, schools, and charities; the Germans accepted these institutions, adapted them for their own use, and built new ones as the need arose. Not one of these was devoid of cultural quality or implications. Thus the Germans became a link in a cultural-education chain that stretched back to 1654 and was destined to be strengthened and shaped anew by the traditions of constantly arriving newcomers. Among them were Slavic Jews who were sufficiently numerous to build a socioreligio-cultural community of their own as early as the 1850’s. All three American Jewish groups—Sephardim, Germans, and East Europeans—were synchronous; any treatment of them is complicated by their interplay. This difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that the newcomers, the Germans and then the Slavs, had to come to terms with the prevalent American complex of thoughts and manners. Many of the basic institutions of the later nineteenth century were established by the Germans in order to integrate the newcomers into the German American community, but by 1900 at the latest, émigrés from the Slavic lands constituted the majority of the Jews in the United States. The history of the Germans, fathers and sons, from 1900 to 1920, is the record of a Jewish minority.


Very few of the Central European Jews were illiterate; they brought with them a modicum of learning in the secular and religious areas. They could read the Hebrew prayers and were familiar with the traditional rites and observances; a few had subscribed to the German Jewish press back home. After their arrival their cultural goals remained Germanic; they loved the German language and its literature, yet they were equally set on being good Jews, German style. Jewish book learning in the German and English vernaculars was not discouraged. It was taken for granted that their boys would be bar mitzvah and join as “men” in the worship service. The new generation was expected to maintain a Jewish home though there was little agreement as to its essentials; every paterfamilias was a Moses in his own right. Above all there had to be continuity, loyalty to the group in this new and challenging setting. America and Judaism were also the goals of the incoming East Europeans but with this major difference: the East Europeans were much slower in accepting American culture. The German Jews, already Germanized, affected by Enlightenment liberalization were sympathetic to the national state and its culture; the Russians, rejected by the Panslavic Russian people and state were not Russified. To them, the state per se was suspect; it was the traditional enemy who sought to destroy them culturally. It is no wonder that the East Europeans did not rush to embrace Mother America and to emancipate themselves from their religiocultural past.


The Central European emigrants of the six decades after 1860 sought to reach their Jewish educational goals through informal and formal media. American Jewry’s social and social-welfare institutions were also cultural in nature. This was true of the clubs, the “Ys,” the lodges, and the settlement houses; many of them had reading rooms, libraries, and occasional classes in Hebrew, Jewish history, and literature. The Philadelphia “Y” had 1,600 volumes in its library and the best collection in the country of American Jewish periodicals, to say nothing of an excellent magazine of its own. The antebellum lyceum enthusiasm, reinforced by the postbellum Chautauqua interest in lecturing, stimulated a desire for popular lectures under Jewish auspices. If Judge Charles Patrick Daly appeared before Jewish audiences it was to talk to them about Peter Stuyvesant and the Jews of New Amsterdam. Jewry listened to lectures on the Talmud and on Judah Touro; the Philadelphians were instructed by the Anglo-Jewish scholars Solomon Schechter and Joseph Jacobs. But the Jews of that day were anything if not ecumenical. Bayard Taylor and Carl Schurz did not address themselves to Jewish themes when they spoke to Jewish audiences. The latitudinarian Sinai Literary Association of Chicago was very much concerned in 1877 as the members debated: “Was Queen Elizabeth justified in beheading Mary Stuart?” At the other end of the spectrum was the Jewish Educational Alliance of New York City which in the early 1900’s sheltered the Dr. Herzl Zion Club, a Hebrew-speaking society for teenagers. When a random visitor, an Uptown director of the Alliance, admonished the lads for speaking in a language which he could not understand, one of the youngsters asked him: “Would you feel the same way if we conducted our meetings in French or German?” The man blushed and walked out.1

A Christian historian wrote in 1872 that societies for polite literature were increasingly popular among the Jews. Some of these groups, as in Chicago, were part of the congregation; many were semi-autonomous units in the “Ys”; most were on their own, drawing their membership from the community at large. Some, as in Madison, Indiana, were created to foster Judaism and to study its history. The initiate in that Ohio River town society had to pay fifty cents to join; dues were ten cents a week. Rosa Sonneschein, a rabbi’s wife, organized the Pioneers in St. Louis in 1879. The members bragged that they were the first Jewish women’s literary society in the United States; they were still alive in the 1890’s giving a course in Jewish history. By the 1880’s even the East European immigrants or at least the Russian intellectuals among them, never unaware of what the Jewish elite was doing, had come together as Seekers After Hebrew Literature (Dorshe Safrut Ha-Ivrit).2

After the turn of the century when the Jewish youth, particularly those of Slavic background, began to enter colleges, Jewish culture clubs began to abound. The Yale men had their Hebraic Club to which Christians were also invited. Oscar Straus who had written on Hebraism in colonial America was elected an honorary member and vice president. At that time, 1908, he was still Secretary of the Department of Commerce and Labor. It is true that in very many of the literary societies the Jewish program was minimal but it was present. Curiously, in this the land of mergers and corporations, no effort was made as in Germany and in England to embrace these societies into one national whole, unless of course the effort to encompass the “Ys” since the 1880’s may be so deemed.3

Societal life was but one aspect of informal Jewish education. Jewish books in English, Yiddish, and German were popular as well. Few German Jewish books were printed after the third quarter of the nineteenth century but older German works were still used; the English and German translations that accompanied the Hebrew prayer books were a source of instruction; all the pulpits, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox, brought learning if not enlightenment to the congregants. Equally important was the Jewish press which in German, Yiddish, English, and Hebrew influenced thousands. Emil G. Hirsch published his brilliant addresses in the Reform Advocate. Undoubtedly the most influential cultural force in the life of the individual was the community itself. Association with fellow Jews furthered a Jewish enculturation, the Jewish way of life.


In their search for religiocultural survival, committed Jews were apt to lean heavily on formal media. They put their trust in institutions that cultivated the arts and sciences. Scholars worshipped at the shrine of the Science of Judaism; they established a Jewish historical society and helped write the Jewish Encyclopedia. American Jewry grew intellectually through its libraries, its publication societies, its Chautauqua, its teacher training schools, its seminaries and colleges, its belles lettres, its press, and its schools. Among the formal disciplines nurtured on this side of the Atlantic by the 1870’s, was the Science of Judaism, an objective historicocritical study of Jewish history and literature. This school of thought was something new in Jewish life. There were intimations of it in Italian Jewry of earlier centuries under the impact of the Renaissance, and Moses Mendelssohn’s (1729-1786) approach to Jewish knowledge had been modern, rational, even critical, but like Erasmus he never broke with traditional authority. The new scientific “school” had its origins in Central and Eastern Europe in the early nineteenth century. It began in Germany with Leopold Zunz (1794-1886) and his Association for Culture and Science; it was speedily complemented in the Slavic East by the work of two choice spirits: Nachman Krochmal (1785-1840) and Solomon Judah Loeb Rapoport (1790-1867).

Scholarly Jews everywhere embraced the new methodology in order to obtain exact knowledge; they wanted to determine their origins, how they had actually come into being. Influenced by German nationalism and romanticism they intensified their sense of ethnic pride and were eager to show an unreceptive world what Jews had accomplished in the past. Knowledge of Jewish achievements would, they hoped, expedite emancipation and speed the entry of the Jew into the European polity. Though this latter motivation was apologetic, hence partisan, the new social science did open up the Jewish past in all its cultural phases. The Central European Jews, German-speaking, dominated the new discipline down to the day of the Nazis. As late as 1922 a young instructor at the Hebrew Union College desiring to do graduate work had no choice but to study in Germany; in 1922 Jacob R. Marcus began his studies at the Berlin Juedische Hochschule or Lehranstalt. The practitioners of the new methodology here in the United States were German immigrants trained abroad, East Europeans who had come under Central European influence, and American natives who had studied abroad or whose teachers here were Germans. Emanu-El of New York used its scholarship funds to send students to Europe, primarily to Germany. Among the Americans who studied the new science abroad, natives or Europeans who had come here as youngsters, were Simon Tuska, Henry W. Schneeberger, Samuel Sale, Abram S. Isaacs, Emil G. Hirsch, R. J. H. Gottheil, Samuel Schulman, Bernard Drachman, George A. Kohut, Marcus Jastrow, Jr., and Felix Adler. American Jewry was in close touch with German scholars. The learned rabbis here did not forget to congratulate Zunz on his significant birthdays, and they commemorated the anniversaries of Rapoport, Zacharias Frankel, and other notables. Abraham Geiger carried on a correspondence with his colleagues here, and both Columbia and the Hebrew Union College awarded honorary degrees to Moritz Steinschneider, Jewry’s most distinguished bibliographer.4


Not all learned men genuflected in the direction of the new science, particularly America’s Orthodox. One could be a very learned talmudist, yet remain untouched by the teachings of Zunz and Rapoport. America had sheltered many such rabbinic scholars since early colonial times; Abraham Rice, a talmudist, officiated in Baltimore in the 1840’s. The German rabbis who began to arrive in that decade were at home in rabbinic literature, and by the time of the War of 1861 there were knowledgeable Hebraists in all parts of the country. Poets too were composing in Hebrew for the antebellum Jewish press. A transcontinental traveler (a schnorrer of quality?) wrote and later published poems in honor of two San Francisco congregations and a local jeweler. They had probably been generous to him. After the assassination of Lincoln, Isaac Goldstein of New York published an acrostic poem memorializing the martyred president. Most of these pre-Civil War Hebraists were not adherents of the new critical school.5

Among the Hebraists who came to the United States in antebellum days were learned men from the Russo-Polish lands. A few were Maskilim, “Enlighteners,” who were trying to harmonize Hebrew traditional learning and Jewish practice with modern western culture. Thus they were not unsympathetic to the Zunzian school of thought. Some of them never succeeded in becoming social scientists because they were too deeply rooted in Orthodoxy. A man who may well have been an exception was the Lithuanian immigrant Samuel Hillel Isaacs (1825-1917), who arrived here in 1847. By 1852 he was serving as a reader for the newly established Russian congregation in New York City; in later years he was a well-known Hebrew school principal. Isaacs was a learned student of rabbinic literature, an observant Jew, a modern cultured scholarly gentleman who wrote for the Hebrew, English, and Yiddish press on talmudic and cognate subjects. His brother-in-law who never settled in the United States was the scholarly Zebi Hirsch Filipowski who edited a sixteenth-century Hebrew chronicle and published erudite articles on the Hebrew calendar. Isaacs, too, was a calendarian. For many years he made his living as a cigar worker, owner of a small cigar factory, and as a wholesaler of leaf tobacco, a very common Jewish business. His home was a rendezvous for learned and scholarly men, a salon for Hebraists.

Isaacs was but one of many East Europeans who found their way to these shores in the middle decades of the nineteenth century. A few of the learned ones among them continued their studies here; there were a number of traditional study-houses on New York’s East Side. Litterateurs among them wrote for the Hebrew press in Europe and in Palestine. In 1860 Rabbi Joshua Falk published a Hebrew commentary on the ethical talmudic tractate, The Fathers; this was probably America’s first rabbinic work. Seven years later a Hebrew broadside circulated among the Jewish electors in New York City asking them to cast their ballot for Albert Jacob Cardozo, a candidate for judicial office. Were there that many Hebrew-reading citizens in the city? If not why circulate this appeal?6

The East Europeans, observant for the most part, had so grown by the 1870’s that they turned to their rabbinical leaders here peppering them with ritual, halakic questions. The rabbis in turn began to publish responsa to the queries from troubled faithful which flowed in from different parts of the country. “Can the Jew buy a church and then use it for a synagog?” After the 1881 Russian riots rabbinic scholars increased in numbers here. These were men of high intellectual quality, for in Russia and Poland where the professions were almost closed to Jews brilliant minds often gravitated to the rabbinate. Rabbinic law was in a way the common law for East European Jewry. These newly arriving religious leaders, who were soon found in many of America’s large towns and cities, wrote and published Hebrew works on homiletics, on talmudic tractates, on ritual practices, on kosher slaughtering, on the Bible, on ethics, and even on history. They were quick to engage in apologetics; the favorite targets for their polemics were Reform Jews and their new Judaism.7


By 1900 these scholars had made America a land where traditional learning was finding a new home. In their methodology most of these men trod the ancient paths; tradition—Orthodoxy—and historicocritical inquiry were mutually exclusive. Yet there were exceptions; rabbis of the old schools were willing to accept and to apply the new scientific criteria as long as the Bible and the authority of the ancient traditions were not impugned. Among the devotees of the new social science were Slavic Jews like Judah David Eisenstein who had been here since the 1870’s. He and others of his school had been influenced, probably, by East European periodicals which under German Jewish influence were committed to the new historiography. The United States was particularly receptive soil for the Science of Judaism because freedom of expression was almost completely unhampered. Political conservatism and religious orthodoxy in all the lands east of the Rhine tended to hinder freedom of speech and expression. Practitioners of the new science in America included liberal Orthodox, the emerging Conservatives, and the Reformers. Scholars of the latter two groups were particularly zealous in transporting modern concepts from Central Europe to this country. A left-wing Chicago rabbi wanted to organize a society for the new science in this country but it was to be a good fifty years before a few savants gathered together to fashion the American Academy for Jewish Research.

The first actual devotees of this art, Germans, had come here in the 1830’s though there were immigrants in this country in the 1820’s who were in touch with the Zunzian group and were fully cognizant of its aims. Isaac Nordheimer was, it seems, the first of the new school to teach in this country. He came to the United States in 1835 after having earned his Ph.D. in Oriental languages at the University of Munich. He received an appointment, without salary, to teach Arabic and Syriac at the University of the City of New York. He probably made his living by teaching German and other languages, for he was an exceptional linguist. For a time he was employed by the Union Theological Seminary where he had to cope with zealous Christians eager to convert him. In 1838 Nordheimer began to publish his two-volume Critical Grammar of the Hebrew Language, the best to appear in this country in the nineteenth century. When he died in 1842 of tuberculosis he was only thirty-three years of age.8

Nordheimer was but the first of a trickle of scholars, a thin stream that has never ceased flowing. The men who came here had learned their craft in the German universities or in Jewish teacher academies; a few had attended the modern rabbinical colleges, the first of which, Breslau, opened its doors in 1854. Some were rabbis; others were laymen; the distinction is somewhat arbitrary for scholarly laymen who came often followed the line of least resistance by taking rabbinical posts and assuming the title of rabbi and doctor. At least fifteen of these men were in this country by 1860. On the whole they were not productive; there was no seminary to employ them, and the universities preferred to invite Christians to teach Hebrew. Those Jews who were fortunate to secure rabbinical appointments were too busy to do any sustained serious research and writing. Thus it was that most of these immigrant scholars produced no magnum opus. Despite the fancy salaries which a few received they were uprooted men, exiles. “How can we sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?” (Ps. 137:4)

Selig Newman (1788/1790-1871), who came to New York sometime in the 1840’s, was a native of Posen. He was a fine biblical scholar and taught Hebrew at Oxford where as an Orthodox Jew he had no possibility for advancement. He published two Hebrew lexicons in London in the 1830’s and finally immigrated to the United States already a man of about sixty. Here in 1850 he prepared a polemical work, Challenge Accepted, denying that Jesus was the promised Messiah. Newman was a competent biblical scholar. One of his contemporaries, Moritz (Maurice) Mayer was a Forty-Eighter who first served as a rabbi in Charleston and then moved on to New York City where he practiced law. He was a German Ph.D., a good Hebraist, an active Jewish communal worker, and a translator of some of the writings of Geiger and of Salomon Munk, one of France’s most distinguished Jewish scholars.9

Men from whom one might have expected scientific works of quality did very little. David Einhorn and Samuel Hirsch wrote no monographs in this country. Hirsch’s son Emil Gustav, rabbi of a great congregation, found time to do some teaching at the University of Chicago, to serve on the editorial board of the Jewish Encyclopedia, and to write some articles for it. Adolph Huebsch, who had a fine pulpit in New York, had published a scientific work in Europe but after landing here wrote only an occasional article for the better European periodicals, including the scholarly Monatsschrift. His papers deposited in the American Jewish Archives by his son, the publisher B. W. Huebsch, indicate that he was a well-trained Semitist. What a pity. These men gained the world but lost immortality in the field of learning. This is particularly regrettable in the case of Samuel Adler who was superbly qualified to work in many areas. All that is left of his work is a collection of fugitive essays in German and in English. His successor at Emanu-El, Gustav Gottheil (1827-1903), though in no sense comparable to Adler in the field of scholarship, was a learned and successful rabbi. In his communal accomplishments he was outstanding. He established a preparatory school for rabbinical training, edited a hymnal, helped fashion the New York Board of Jewish Ministers in 1881, and organized the exemplary Emanu-El Sisterhood of Personal Service. On his seventy-fifth birthday his friends endowed a lectureship in Semitic languages at Columbia in his honor.10

Moritz Mayer had received his doctoral degree at Munich. Another alumnus of that school was Max Lilienthal who in the late 1830’s published some scholarly bibliographical notes on the Hebrew manuscripts in the Royal Library at Munich. Lilienthal was thus trained to do research but there were no libraries, no manuscript collections here where he could work. In his later years his scholarly interests were reflected in the Hebrew Review which he edited. His Cincinnati colleague and friend, Isaac M. Wise, aspired to be recognized as a scholar of repute but this accolade was denied him by competent contemporaries both Jewish and Christian. He was academically undisciplined. The yeshivah had left its mark on him. He was a curious mixtum compositum—to use his own phrase—of Orthodox belief, eighteenth-century rationalism, and nineteenth-century critical methodology.

Wise’s future father-in-law, Jonas Bondi, a scholarly rabbi, speedily left the rabbinate to edit a Jewish newspaper; Wise’s friends Jacob Kohlmayer (Kohlmeyer) and Isidor Kalisch were also men of learning. Kohlmayer, rabbi in New Orleans, taught Hebrew at the University of Louisiana. Kalisch, a native of Posen, was like Moritz Mayer a Forty-Eighter. He came here in 1849, occupied a number of pulpits, but it would seem, was not a very successful rabbi. He finally retired to New Jersey where his son Samuel was a prominent lawyer. Many years after father Isidor had been translated to the Academy on High, the son was appointed to the state supreme court by Governor Woodrow Wilson. Kalisch père was a Hebrew and German poet, a frequent contributor to the American Jewish and European Jewish press, and author of a polemical work emphasizing the differences between Judaism and Christianity.

As the nineteenth century drew to a close learned, cultured, and scholarly rabbis began to make their presence felt. Maurice Fluegel published essays in German, Rumanian, English, and French, writing on the Bible, Jesus, Paul, Mohammed, and the East Indian religions. Aaron Hahn of Tifereth Israel, Cleveland, a competent student of rabbinics, wrote an English work on talmudic dialectics. By 1897 the Jewish Theological Seminary was already graduating rabbis who were to secure academic appointments. One of these men, Henry M. Speaker, who had studied Talmud in his native Russia, served for a while as a prison chaplain, worked as a journalist on Jewish newspapers, studied law, and finally became the principal of Gratz College.11


Laymen interested in Jewish studies, men who were at home in the original literature or had read good secondary works, were never numerous in America but there were notable examples. The antebellum physician and college professor, Joshua I. Cohen of Baltimore, continued in the decade of the 1860’s to read and collect Hebrew books and to purchase incunabula. A younger contemporary of his who apparently knew no Hebrew was the brilliant and ambitious Leo Levi (d.1904), a lawyer and communal worker. Levi, a Texan who had read widely in Jewish history, goaded the American rabbinate, challenging it to define Judaism. He later became the international president of the B’nai B’rith and was widely acclaimed for his efforts to stem the persecution of the Jews after the Kishnev pogrom. The Hot Springs, Arkansas, Leo N. Levi Memorial Hospital is named after him. No less zealous in his Jewish loyalties but far more conversant with the Jewish sources was Lewis H. Dembitz (1833-1907) of Louisville. He had come to the United States in 1849 as a youngster with the Brandeis-Dembitz-Goldmark-Wehle clan. A successful lawyer who had written some sound works on land titles, Dembitz had somehow or other managed to acquire an excellent Jewish education and had kept up with the writings of the German masters in the Science of Judaism. He translated biblical books for the Jewish Publication Society, wrote articles on the Talmud for the Jewish Encyclopedia, and in 1898 finished his Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home. In his personal religious life he was traditional, observant, resisting the onslaughts of assimilation.12

It is an index to the growing importance of America as a burgeoning center for Jewish culture that Jewishly knowledgeable laymen increased in number by the turn of the century. Philadelphia alone provided an encouraging environment for several of them. The Bohemian Lewis W. Steinbach (1851-1913), who had come to Philadelphia at the age of nineteen, studied medicine and became a noted surgeon. His training in Jewish lore back home impelled him to continue his Hebraic and Judaic studies and to become a leader in the work of the Publication Society, the Jewish Chautauqua, and the New York Jewish Theological Seminary. The potentialities of America for natives who wished to work in the Jewish field are reflected in the career of the Philadelphian David Werner Amram (1866-1939). This practicing lawyer also taught law at the University of Pennsylvania. He was one of the city’s most active Jewish communal workers, a leader in the “Y,” Gratz College, the Publication Society, in Zionism, and in the Conservative religious movement. Amram contributed to the Jewish Encyclopedia, wrote on the Jewish law of divorce, and was the author of Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909), a beautifully printed informative and scholarly work.

Much more eminent than Steinbach or Amram was their fellow Philadelphian, Mayer Sulzberger (1843-1923). Since he had come here from Baden at the age of six it is obvious that for all intents and purposes he was a native American. He grew up to become a distinguished judge and the first president of the American Jewish Committee (1906). In his earlier years he translated and published parts of Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed and in later decades after he had more leisure he wrote monographs on the polity of the ancient Hebrew government and on the status of laborers in biblical days. In the technical sense he was no critical scholar but his writings evince an abiding interest in Jewish lore. In their pursuit of Jewish learning these Philadelphians were not unique; there were knowledgeable laymen in other cities.13



The United States of 1900 was home for close to 1,000,000 Jews. No wonder that there were a number of notable scholars here, men who were productive in the areas of history, philosophy, theology, rabbinics, Semitic languages, and Bible. Most were polymaths, competent to work in several fields; indeed few limited themselves slavisly to any specialty. It is worth noting that none of the professional historians was concerned with American Jewish history as a distinct discipline. It was not considered an area for serious Jewish research. Most American Jewish scholars were trained in the field of rabbinics; a knowledge of Hebrew and Talmud could not be exploited in a study of American Jewry. In those days the scholars here looked to Europe as their spiritual and cultural homeland for most of them were born across the seas. When World War I dealt an almost fatal blow to Europe and cut off their scholarly roots it was too late for them to turn to American Jewish history as a life work. Indeed some of them, probably most of them even then, could not gauge the cultural potential of American Jewry.

One of America’s three or four greatest scholars in the field of Jewish studies was Harry Austryn Wolfson (1887-1974), the Nathan Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Philosophy at Harvard. When the appointment was made in 1925 this Jewish chair was the first to be endowed in an American secular school. It marked the beginning of a trend that by the late twentieth century witnessed the establishment of numerous Jewish chairs in many universities. At the time of his death Wolfson, one of America’s most illustrious humanist scholars, was working in the field of Jewish philosophy and its relations to the cultures it confronted, the Greek, the Arabic, the Latin. Wolfson, a Lithuanian, had come here at the age of sixteen and worked his way through high school. After he won a scholarship and had gone through Harvard he traveled and did research abroad. He received his Ph.D. at his alma mater in 1915 and taught there but received no salary from the school; he was paid by outside sources. Harvard was actually about to let him go for the lack of permanent financing when the Littauer chair was established.14


Wolfson belongs to a later period; all of his works were published after 1925. There were however two men working in the field of Jewish philosophy by 1920, Isaac Husik (1876-1939) and David Neumark (1866-1924). Both were foreign born. Husik had come over as a young boy and is thus in reality American trained. Though he taught general philosophy at the University of Pennsylvania he was particularly interested in the works of medieval Jewish thought and wrote a very readable survey, the first of its kind, A History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy (1916). David Neumark also taught philosophy; from 1907 he occupied the chair at the Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati. A native Galician, he was a very learned rabbinical scholar and a devotee of modern Hebrew literature. As a child prodigy—and this is not altogether unusual—he had started Hebrew at two-and-a-half and his talmudic studies at six. His History of the Dogmas of Jewry began to appear in Hebrew in 1912; another Hebrew work, the History of Philosophy in Jewry, began to appear in 1921. It was based on German originals that were first published in 1907. “Pat” Neumark was popular with the students because of his cleverness, his wit, and his capacity to anticipate all the tricks in the repertoire of his teenage clientele. He received his name “Pat” because he sported a red beard like the stereotype Irishman of the stage. His importance lies not only in his writings—often controversial—but in that he helped American Jewry prepare itself for world leadership by synthesizing Hebraism, Judaism, and modern culture.15


Philosophy and theology are closely allied. If there were few Jewish philosophers in this period, there were even fewer Jewish theologians. Theology is a Christian métier, not a Jewish one. Jews save their speculative adventures for talmudic dialectics. The many-sided Solomon Schechter wrote Some Aspects of Rabbinic Theology (1909), an attractive well-written book in which he described the Jewish God concept and the election of Israel. The outstanding Jewish theologian of his day was Kaufmann Kohler (1843-1926), although he was actually more a historian of theology than a theologian. Geiger thought much of this young Ph.D. and when Kohler sailed for America in 1869 the great German Reformer and scholar recommended him warmly to Samuel Adler. In his letter to the rabbi of Emanu-El Geiger voiced the hope that one day both Judaism and humanity would flourish in the new American republic. With the clarity and perspective that distance often lends Geiger sensed that Judaism might well come into its own on the transatlantic frontier.

When the Jewish Encyclopedia was in the making it was inevitable that Kohler be appointed head of the department of theology and philosophy. The Society for the Promotion of the Science of Judaism in Germany commissioned him to prepare a work on Jewish theology. That the Germans turned to him as the most eminent authority in the field was indeed a compliment to an American scholar. His book Jewish Theology appeared in German in 1910 and in a revised English edition in 1918. It is a systematic presentation of the religious thinking of Jews throughout the ages, dealing with their concepts of God and His relationship to the world and the Jewish people. Kohler wrote voluminously; he commanded the whole field of Jewish studies writing more than 2,000 articles on the Bible, Hellenism, patristic literature, and comparative religion. He was an erudite researcher in the field of early Christianity, stressing the Jewish sources of Christianity’s early missionary activity. Kohler was a member of the first Bible translation committee of the Jewish Publication Society for which he translated the Book of Psalms, but he also served with the scholars who in 1915 finally produced their own “authorized” English version of the Old Testament.

In 1913 European and American scholars honored this noted Reform leader with a Festschrift. In his early days Kohler had been a right-wing adherent of Orthodoxy; later he swung sharply to the left and was one of the first rabbis in the United States to inaugurate Sunday religious services. Once again he shifted ground and moved to the center becoming, and remaining, a classical but not a radical Reformer like his brother-in-law Emil G. Hirsch. This short, heavy-set, white-bearded patriarch was always a religious zealot, pious, yet—and this is almost incongruous—a vigorous discerning critic of the traditional sources of Judaism. Because of his universalism and his belief in the widely accepted concept of the Mission of Israel to bring light to an unenlightened world, he was opposed to Jewish political nationalism. He was and remained an anti-Zionist. In essence, in his personal life, he was a very childlike naive person, kind-hearted and well-meaning, completely, utterly devoted to learning and scholarships.16


If few facets of Jewish learning were alien to Kohler this was even more true of Israel Friedlaender (1876-1920), a Pole whom Schechter had brought over to strengthen his faculty at the Jewish Theological Seminary. Though he was primarily an Arabist, Friedlaender also taught Bible and was at home in the fields of medieval Jewish philosophy, modern Hebrew, and East European history. He was a respected and admired communal leader, active in the areas of Jewish education and Zionism. In 1920 while on a philanthropic mission for the Joint Distribution Committee he was murdered in the Ukraine. His death was an almost irreparable loss to the American Jewish community. That Friedlaender was a Semitist is in no sense unusual. In reality most scholars working with Jewish sources were Semitists, after a fashion. Semitic languages had a great vogue in the nineteenth century, a time when all classical languages were vigorously cultivated in European universities. The Semitic languages were important because they were keys to the Old Testament. American secular colleges and seminaries, influenced or dominated by religionists, encouraged these studies. By the last quarter of the nineteenth century the Christian monopoly on Hebraic studies in the schools of higher learning was somewhat relaxed and Jews were invited to teach Hebrew and cognate tongues. Thus William Popper, a native, received his Ph.D. at Columbia for a study of the censorship of Hebrew books but taught Arabic at the University of California. Disguised as a Bedouin he made a perilous journey into the Arab desert. Immanuel Moses Casanowitz, who may at one time have been a convert to Christianity, was a curator at the Washington National Museum. He was a brilliant Semitist and Bible exegete.17

Wise at the Hebrew Union College envisaged his seminary as a center for Semitic studies and some courses on the subject were taught by Caspar Levias and Moses Buttenwieser but the school did not begin to emphasize this field of study and research till the presidency of Julian Morgenstern when notable Semitists were recruited. In 1890, Sinai Congregation, Chicago, made a substantial grant to further the University of Chicago; two years later Emil G. Hirsch began to teach Jewish courses at the college, and in later years the Jewish Theological Seminary and Dropsie offered instruction in the languages and cultures of the Middle East. The Jewish Encyclopedia employed Jewish Semitists, primarily Arabists. The Arabic language was stressed because of the romantic aura that enveloped the Spanish Golden Age when the Arab vernacular was employed by Jewish philosophers, writers, and scientists.17

Two American Jewish Semitists had notable careers as communal leaders; the one was the English-born Richard James Horatio Gottheil (1862-1936), the other the native, Cyrus Adler (1863-1940). Gottheil, son of Gustav, became a professor of Semitic languages at Columbia and in the course of years was an editor and coeditor of two Oriental language monograph series. He was a founder of the American Zionist organization, the Jewish fraternity, Zeta Beta Tau, head of the Oriental Division of the New York Public Library, vice president of the American Jewish Historical Society, and president of the American Oriental Society. Adler, the nephew of Judge Sulzberger, was more important, not as a scholar but as a communal leader. His career was a notable one. Though born in a small Arkansas town he was no yokel. As a youngster he had studied Hebrew under Morais, Marcus Jastrow, and Samuel Hirsch. His doctoral degree in Semitic languages, earned at Johns Hopkins was said to be the first American degree granted in that discipline. He remained at Hopkins teaching till he moved on to the United States National Museum, and to the Smithsonian Institute. Later he became one of the leaders of the Jewish Publication Society, president of Dropsie College, and finally of the Jewish Theological Seminary, though he was never ordained. Like Gottheil he too took office as president of the American Oriental Society. He was a founder and head of the American Jewish Historical Society, of the Jewish Welfare Board during World War I, and of the powerful American Jewish Committee. There was hardly an important project or a major American Jewish organization in which he was not active or in which he did not exercise a controlling influence. Though many opposed him vigorously he was, after the death of Louis Marshall in 1924, one of the most powerful Jews in this country. Like his uncle he too was traditionally observant, but unlike many of his fellow workers who recited the old prayers petitioning the Deity for the restoration of the ancient state, he was not a Zionist. Adler was a notable administrator but it is a question whether his control of so many organizations was good for American Jewry. Too much power was concentrated in the hands of one man. His integrity and devotion were never questioned.18


Many if not all Semitists were also students of the Hebrew Bible; the typical rabbinic Bible is always accompanied by an Aramaic translation. As far back as 1879 the anti-slavery Michael Heilprin, who was friendly with members of the new scientific school, published a two-volume work, The Historical Poetry of the Ancient Hebrews. George Foot Moore reviewed it unfavorably, but he was a harsh critic, a man who did not easily brook error. In 1886 Szold of Baltimore published in Hebrew a learned commentary on Job. Morais of Philadelphia produced no work of substance but he was a competent Hebrew poet and grammarian. He taught Bible at the Jewish Theological Seminary as he had at the earlier Maimonides College. Far superior as a biblical exegete to these three scholars was the Polish immigrant, Arnold Bogumil Ehrlich (1848/1849-1919). He was a superb Arabic, biblical, and rabbinic student. His was a hard life for he never had an academic appointment good enough to provide a living and the wherewithal to continue his studies with some degree of ease. In his early years he had attempted to alleviate his miseries by submitting to conversion; later he returned to the Jewish faith of his fathers. In his effort to keep body and soul together he sometimes worked as a manual laborer. Beginning in 1899 he published a series of volumes in Hebrew on The Bible and Its Plain Meaning, and in 1908 started another series, this time in German, of seven volumes of Marginal Notes to the Hebrew Bible. His work was highly esteemed by the cognoscenti.19

Though Isaac M. Wise’s methodology left much to be desired he recognized and respected scholarship. He set out to build a first-class faculty and in fact the Hebrew Union College was the first Jewish institution in the United States of a scientific character. Wise recruited Mielziner for Talmud, Buttenwieser for Bible and Semitic languages, Gotthard Deutsch for history, and Max L. Margolis, too, for Bible. There were all learned men, all university graduates. To strengthen the Bible department further he issued an invitation to the brilliant young Louis Ginzberg, a Russian, who had been trained in Germany to teach biblical exegesis. Someone reported that Ginzberg was a believer in the documentary thesis that the Bible was great literature to be sure but not of supernatural origin in any sense. Thereupon though Ginzberg had already landed Wise rescinded the appointment; the man was too radical for him. The doughty president of the Hebrew Union College would have stared in unbelief had anyone prophesied that Ginzberg would one day become America’s most distinguished Jewish scholar.

Wise had taken this drastic action because he was opposed to the documentary thesis of the composition of the Hebrew Bible. In the introduction to the Bible which he had published in 1891, the Pronaos, he accepted the Mosaic origin of the Pentateuch. The new critics, he believed, were denigrating the uniqueness of the ancient Israelitish moral teachings. He believed, as would Schechter later, that higher criticism was higher anti-Semitism. Wise was no reactionary and would have been shocked had he heard his older contemporary Professor Charles Hodge of the Princeton Theological Seminary thunder forth: “A new idea never originated in this seminary.” Yet Hodge, and Wise too in his later years, were both part of a countermodern school striving to salvage what it could of the old beliefs in an age when evolutionary theories were eroding the ancient bulwarks. Wise wanted to save the Pentateuch, an “authentic” book. Like some Catholics and Protestants in postbellum America, Wise became fearful of some aspects of modernism, “Americanism,” heresy. The year after Wise published his defence of the first five books of Moses was the year that Charles A. Briggs was hailed before a Presbyterian court of inquiry for his unorthodox views.20

Wise was unsympathetic toward the higher critics; Kohler, his successor, had begun his scholarly career in Germany with a dissertation built on the new approach to the Bible. It was Kohler who finally made the Hebrew Union College a scientific school in every sense of the term. Under his new regime Buttenwieser, a radical textual critic, flourished. His favorite subject was the prophets of Israel, the first great preachers of the social gospel. The professor’s enthusiasm often swept his students off their feet and in every class there were always some votaries who were fired by him to denounce the evils of our modern society. Their comfortable middle-class congregants often wondered why the rabbi was so inflamed.

From 1905 to 1907 Buttenwieser had a colleague in the department of Bible by the name of Max Leopold Margolis (1866-1932). This man was one of America’s most distinguished biblical scholars. Margolis, a native of eastern Europe, had received both an excellent rabbinic and secular education and was versed in the modern and classical tongues. Like many other scholars he had been a precocious child. At the Hebrew school, all of five years of age, he had denounced his teacher as an ignoramus and walked out. After coming to the United States as a man of twenty-three he took his degree at Columbia under Gottheil and taught under Wise at the College for several years. Apparently he and the O. M. (the Old Man) got along well together. In 1897 he left to teach Semitics at the University of California and then came back in 1905 for two years to serve under Kohler. At that point in his career Margolis was a classical Reformer but very speedily he announced his allegiance to the new Zionist heresy thus breaking with Kohler and was compelled to leave. There is no question that Kohler’s anti-Zionism made for dissension between him and the Zionist dissidents on his faculty. But there was more to this bitter battle than that. There was a clash of personalities; there was a coterie at the school that was hostile to Kohler and would have liked to push him out. Kohler won the power struggle that ensued and his opponents left. But the very year that Margolis resigned, Kohler hired Neumark, another Zionist.

Margolis’s successor as a teacher of Bible was the American-born, German-trained Julian Morgenstern, a radical textual and higher critic of Holy Writ; when Morgenstern became president in the 1920’s Bible study and historicocritical studies were strongly emphasized. Margolis, in 1908, found full play for his scholarly capacities as the editor of the new Jewish Publication Society committee that was working to prepare a good modern authoritative translation of the Old Testament. Margolis did the basic work. The following year he was appointed professor of biblical philology in the new Dropsie College where he devoted much of his time to his Septuagint studies. He sought to demonstrate to the scholarly world how the Greek translation of Scriptures could be helpful in understanding the original Hebrew text. In a field devoted to scholarship and research he found time to publish English and German manuals of the Aramaic language, to write commentaries and a work on the Bible, and to edit two important professional journals. Together with Alexander Marx he wrote an annalistic but accurate one-volume history of the Jews from the days of Abraham the patriarch to the opening of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in April, 1925. This substantial tome of over 800 pages was the first good one-volume history of World Jewry in English.21


Scholars like Margolis, Kohler, and Ehrlich were at home in the Talmud and the later rabbinic literature. After a fashion the Bible and the postbiblical Aramaicized Jewish literature were of one piece, for all that the rabbis wrote was in essence a commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. It is this literature, not the literal word of the Old Testament, that determined the way of life of most Jews in the United States and in all other lands. By the second half of the nineteenth century there were numerous practitioners with scientific training who were studying the writings of the rabbis. They deemed it their task to further a more accurate knowledge of the development of Jewish history and belief since postexilic days. One of the earliest of these students was Rabbi Bernhard Felsenthal of Chicago, the city’s first Reform Jewish offciant (1858). His influence in Jewry was far-reaching for he was one of the founders of the Jewish Publication Society in 1888 and, four years later, the American Jewish Historical Society. Felsenthal was one of Reform’s first leading Zionists. Though he had attended no university in his native Germany, his methodology was impeccable; he was at home in almost all areas of Jewish knowledge. Impressed by the man Wise offered him the professorship of biblical exegesis at a very handsome salary in 1879 but the Chicagoan refused the call; he had no respect for Wise as a scholar.

Felsenthal wrote no monograph of a scholarly calibre to serve as his monument, but the bibliography of his essays and articles in Hebrew, German, and English numbers over 300 items. He was in constant touch with American and European Jewish scholars and thus helped unite them into one single republic of letters. As his acidulous remarks on some contemporary American Jewish scholars indicate his academic standards were high. However his scholastic influence was dimmed, certainly among the younger generation, by his persistence in adhering to German as his prime medium of communication. He was highly respected everywhere, especially in Chicago. The pastor of a local Unitarian church asked him to participate in the dedication of its new building, but when some of the members of the church objected Felsenthal withdrew. In 1866 the University of Chicago conferred an honorary Ph.D. degree upon him.22

It was of course the burdens of the rabbinate that made it difficult for Felsenthal to devote more time to research. This too explains why the notable German Jewish scholars in this country found no time to prepare magisterial works. There was one notable exception, Alexander Kohut. His coming marked the emergence of a vigorous left-wing American Orthodoxy; the new Conservative Movement owes him much. His field was Talmud and long before he left Hungary he had already begun to publish a talmudic lexicon, the Arukh ha-Shalem, the Arukh Completum. Kohut finished this monumental work after he landed here. Ultimately there were nine volumes. When he passed away his international reputation was such that a Festschrift was published to memorialize him, the first in this country dedicated to a scholar in the field of Jewish research. Among the contributors to Semitic Studies in Memory of Rev. Dr. Alexander Kohut were six Americans, four Jews and two Christians. The participation of American Jews is striking evidence that Jewish scholarship was making headway here. The two American Christians were both Presbyterians. One was a believer in the Mosaic authority of the Pentateuch; the other was tried for heresy as a biblical critic. Admiration for Kohut brought them together between the covers of a book.23

While Kohut was finishing his lexicon Marcus Jastrow (1829-1903) of Philadelphia was starting a new one, the Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature. Jastrow like Kohut was rabbi of a large metropolitan congregation yet he too found time to be scientifically productive. Jastrow’s two-volume lexicon is a completely American work. Though he has been criticized for leaning too heavily on the earlier work of Jacob Levy, it is nevertheless a very valuable reference tool, especially for American students of the Talmud and the allied literature. Jastrow was a well-trained German who had served a Warsaw congregation and had been imprisoned and expelled for his Polish sympathies during the days of the anti-Russian revolt. Rodeph Shalom brought him here at a very high salary, a far cry from Jacob Lippman, the congregation’s first “rabbi” who in 1819 was paid $50 a year and had to keep a clothing store in order to survive. The Philadelphia-centered Jewish Publication Society asked him to serve as editor-in-chief of its first committee to prepare a new English translation of the Hebrew Bible. This was the work that Margolis later undertook and brought to a successful conclusion. Jastrow’s son Morris wrote works on the Bible and, as an Assyriologist, described the religions and the cultures of the great Middle Eastern empires.24

Scientific rabbinic studies which had gotten off to a good start in the 1880’s flourished in the new century; by then a number of scholarly Slavic Jews with talmudic background and western training had come to the United States. Some worked on the Jewish Encyclopedia; others taught in the rabbinic seminaries and at Dropsie. Among the early arrivals here was Judah David Eisenstein (1854-1956). He had no western schooling, no critical meticulous training; hence his work, particularly as an editor of documents, leaves much to be desired. But he was a brilliant learned man and he did succeed in publishing a series of Hebrew anthologies which are very useful source books for medieval Jewish studies. In an unusually long life this businessman found time to compile anthologies on midrash, polemics, and travels. He published a lexicon on Jewish customs and practices and a volume of personal memoirs. For the new American Jewish Historical Society he wrote articles on the first East European Jewish community here and on the religiolegal decisions of the country’s Orthodox rabbis who were called upon to resolve ritual problems for the American faithful.

Eisenstein, unlike most East European Jews who had come under the spell of the Science of Judaism, remained well within the ambit of Orthodoxy. So did Bernard Revel (1885-1940). He was a scholar who wrote his dissertation on the halakah, the Jewish law, of the Karaitic sect. Like Neumark and Margolis he too had been a child prodigy; his intellectual quality manifested itself most strikingly after he had landed here at the age of twenty-one. Six years later this foreigner already had a M.A. from New York University and a Ph.D. from Dropsie. His was the first degree which that Jewish college conferred. In 1915, still only thirty years of age, he undertook the task of reorganizing the Isaac Elchanan yeshivah on modern American lines. One of his principal goals was to mesh together Orthodox beliefs and scientific critical thinking—a task to which he addressed himself with a degree of success. Revel’s interest in the Karaites was shared by his older contemporary Henry Maker who wrote what may be considered a definitive biography of Saadia Gaon, the religious leader of Mesopotamian Jewry in the first half of the tenth century. Saadia had attacked the Karaitic heresy. Maker, a good English, German, and Hebrew stylist, was an Arabist and talmudist whom Wise had brought to the Hebrew Union College after he had rejected Ginzberg. Like Margolis, Maker was an anti-Kohler dissident and left the College in 1907. Two years later he became professor of Talmud at Dropsie where he devoted himself to the challenge of perfecting a methodology to establish the original text of talmudic tractates.25

Malter was not the first to teach Talmud at the Hebrew Union College. He had been preceded by Moses Mielziner (1828-1903), the first scholar coopted by Wise in his new school. Mielziner was the man who helped the Cincinnati Reformer change the College from an academy for teenagers into a full-fledged rabbinical seminary. Mielziner came to Cincinnati in 1879, the year that Felsenthal rejected Wise’s offer of a chair. The new professor, a native of Posen, had received a good traditional training in Talmud but had also earned a doctor’s degree at a German university. After coming to New York in 1865 as a rabbi he ran a private school before accepting Wise’s invitation. Before the war, while still in Europe he had written Slavery Amongst the Ancient Hebrews, suggesting that this institution, though tolerated, was never in good odor with the Chosen People. The conclusion might well be drawn that slavery was certainly not a divine institution. His book was translated into English and used as a tract for the times by American abolitionists. While at the College Mielziner wrote a work on the Jewish laws of marriage and divorce and also an introduction to the Talmud which is still in use. In 1900, after Wise’s death, this charming cultured gentleman served as Acting President; his successor was Kaufmann Kohler.

Several years after the death of Mielziner, Kohler brought Jacob Zallel Lauterbach to occupy the chair of Talmud. Lauterbach, a native of Galicia, had come to America like others to work on the Jewish Encyclopedia. He was learned, brilliant, charming, genial, a bon vivant, beloved by students and respected by his colleagues. Among his writings were studies of folklore and superstition—which he often took seriously—works on the origin and culture of the Pharisees, on the beginnings of the codified rabbinic law, and finally a scientific edition of the Mekilta, an early rabbinic commentary on the book of Exodus.26

Kohler was eager to bring men of repute to the College not only because of his own dedication to learning but also because he knew that he had to compete with the Jewish Theological Seminary. The Seminary was undergoing a rebirth through the genius of its new president Solomon Schechter. Kohler and Schechter were friendly and when the new Hebrew Union College buildings were dedicated in 1912-1913 Schechter came and spoke on “His Majesty’s Opposition.” Like Friedlaender, Neumark, Lauterbach, Malter, Margolis, Revel, and a host of others, Schechter was an East European with an excellent background in rabbinics coupled with a good western education which he had acquired the hard way. Unlike the others Schechter was largely an autodidact. It was while holding a modest post at Cambridge in England that he went to Cairo and exploited the genizah, an almost forgotten hideaway for torn and tattered manuscripts. The documents which had lain in that Cairo depository for centuries are of prime importance for a study of Jewry in the Mediterranean and Mesopotamian world of the tenth through thirteenth centuries. Among the fragments he rescued were segments of the Hebrew original of the Wisdom of Ben Sira, Ecclesiasticus, a pre-Christian work now incorporated into the Apocrypha.

Schechter was finally induced to come to the United States to assume the presidency of the Jewish Theological Seminary. It took him some time to make up his mind. European scholars still looked upon the United States as a Jewish cultural frontier and American positions were sometimes hard to fill, particularly with first-rate men. The Cincinnati College faced a problem in finding a successor to Wise and Mielziner. At least two men turned the job down; the post was not deemed a prestigious one. Schechter was a charming English stylist with a great capacity for popularization. His several volumes of studies on Judaism touched on many facets of Jewish lore. Among the scientific works which he edited were a homiletical midrash on Genesis and the ethical talmudic tractate Aboth de Rabbi Nathan. He published works on pre-Christian Jewish sectaries, on Saadia, and on rabbinic theology. He was an excellent scholar, but what was even more important for the Conservative Movement which he led, he was able and clever, with many of the qualities that made for leadership. The portrait by Leo Mielziner documents all these characteristics in an almost startling fashion.

Schechter’s determination to build the Jewish Theological Seminary into an outstanding scholarly institution prompted him to appoint a number of men who soon became leaders in the Science of Judaism. One of them was Israel Davidson (1870-1939). This man had received a good traditional training in rabbinics in his native Russia before he landed in America with a coffee pot, an overcoat, a pillow, and about $5 in Russian currency. Like many others before him he peddled on the streets, sold shoelaces and matches, and worked in a grocery store from five in the morning till ten at night for his meals and fifty cents a week. There was little that he did not attempt, for he taught Jewish literature at the Educational Alliance, tutored immigrants in English, and succeeded finally in earning his Ph.D. at Columbia under Gottheil in 1902. This was fourteen years after he disembarked with his assorted lares and penates. After receiving an appointment at the Theological Seminary in 1905 he still had to do odd jobs to augment a very modest salary. He served as a prison chaplain, taught at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum, and catalogued books for the Seminary library; all this till he became professor of medieval Hebrew literature. Davidson found time to write for the English and Hebrew press, to publish his dissertation on parody in Jewish literature, and to edit a number of medieval works of significance. One of them was a polemic of Saadia against a freethinker who had harshly criticized some of the religious concepts embodied in the Old Testament. Davidson’s magnum opus was the five-volume Thesaurus of Medieval Poetry which recorded more than 35,000 poems and prayers.

Among his many achievements Schechter may claim credit for recognizing the merits of Louis Ginzberg (1873-1953) whom he appointed to teach at the Seminary. Ginzberg had wandered west from Eastern Europe, studied Oriental languages, history, and philosophy, earned a degree at Strassburg and in 1899 moved on to the United States. From 1900 to 1903 he worked for the Jewish Encyclopedia and wrote many of its most important articles. Though brief these monographs are classical in their simplicity and erudition. In 1903 he was invited to teach at the Seminary and soon demonstrated that his knowledge was all encompassing. Through his scholarship he threw light on the relationship of the Church Fathers to Judaism; he opened new vistas in the vast fields of the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds, particularly the latter. He pondered over genizah fragments and wrote on post-talmudic literature, the liturgy, mysticism, and Jewish history. With the possible exception of his studies on the Jerusalem Talmud his seven volumes of Legends of the Jews is his most important contribution. In this folkloristic work he exploited all the important literary sources covering the biblical period from creation to the time of Esther. It is very significant that this scholar, one of the most eminent in World Jewry, did most of his work here in the United States; Ginzberg did much to make this country a great Jewish cultural center.27



Among the Jews who since the 1840’s sought to build a new life for themselves in the United States were men, and women too, of substantial culture. Some of the rabbis were not only learned in traditional lore but were also poets, dramatists, romance writers. They wrote in German, English, and even in Hebrew. A few were competent researchers, at home in the new critical methodology. Scholarship got off to a slow start. All immigrants here were very busy taking root, earning a livelihood, building their careers. But once they had established themselves they set out to establish rabbinical seminaries and then, but only then, did they turn to scholarship. All this took time. The strongest cultural influences here in the United States were European. The United States was just beginning to stand on its own two feet in the 1880’s; people still turned to England, France, and especially Germany. The Americans respected the Germans for their scientific interests, their meticulosity, their exact knowledge. It has been estimated that up to World War I about 10,000 American students, among them a few Jews, had studied in Europe. Some like Louis D. Brandeis devoted themselves to general studies; others, however, were dispatched abroad to prepare themselves for the rabbinate. Jews here were in very close touch with the German leaders of the Science of Judaism. Every American Jew with any pretensions to learning religiously read the Monatsschrift, the German monthly for the “history and science of the Jews.”

The American Jewish workers in these areas of study were at first primarily Germans, but after the 1870’s these scholars enjoyed more opportunities at home and saw no need to exile themselves to America. By the 1890’s the German Jewish scholars in the United States were outnumbered by East Europeans whose combination of rabbinic knowledge and western education equipped them to become leaders here in the Science of Judaism. By 1920 American Jewry was already a center (not the center) for Jewish scholarship. Wealth and numbers brought opportunities. Festschrifts had begun to appear, the publishers of the Jewish Encyclopedia had coopted a learned staff from Europe, the seminaries were expanding, and Dropsie College had begun to grant Ph.D. degrees in the field of Jewish learning. Unfortunately, non-rabbis, scholars without pulpits or academic appointments, found it difficult to become productive.

If by 1920 the American Jews were beginning to manifest an interest in the new discipline it was because they had already envisaged its possibilities as early as the 1860’s. What is more to the point they did what they could to further training here in Jewish studies. In 1865 Felsenthal had pleaded publicly for chairs in Semitics at American colleges. Even earlier Isaac M. Wise had pleaded for faculties in Jewish theology in general universities. From the 1870’s on Jews began to fill jobs as fellows, instructors, and professors in Bible, Hebrew, and Semitics. Most of these appointments were subsidized by Jews and if the Gentile world of academia went along it was a tribute not only to Jewish scholarship but a recognition of the increasing importance of Jewry in the world of finance and politics. Thus it was that Felix Adler taught at Cornell, Wolfson at Harvard, A. S. Isaacs at New York University, Gottheil at Columbia, Jastrow at Pennsylvania, Cyrus Adler and Rosenau at Hopkins, E. G. Hirsch at Chicago, and Popper at California.28


While these Jewish chairs were being filled to educate both Christians and Jews, rabbis and laymen with scholarly interests were coming together locally, regionally, and nationally to further themselves professionally and culturally. The Chicago rabbis were forgathering as early as 1873, and by 1879 the Jewish clergy of the country led by Lilienthal had fashioned a Rabbinical Literary Association which included some laymen. The rabbis needed a forum for discussion and exchange of views because the Union of American Hebrew Congregations would tolerate no religious wrangling fearing, probably with reason, that an open debate on religious differences would tear it to pieces. At their meetings the Rabbinical Literary Association members discussed their cultural and school problems and read papers, some of which may have been published in their quarterly.

Thus by the 1880’s the rabbis of the country were organizing themselves. It is difficult to determine what moved them. Were they influenced by the Christian clergy? Were they developing a sense of pride? Was it their intention to raise the status of the profession in an age when congregational presidents tended to be high-handed? Were they eager to improve themselves professionally, culturally, scientifically? For whatever reason or more probably combinations of reasons, the move toward union was widespread and sometimes even cut across religious lines. During the decade of the 1850’s the university-trained Orthodox and Reform rabbis of New York City joined together as a Board of Jewish Ministers (1881); the Southern rabbis, with New Orleans as their center, had effected a regional association (1885), and by 1889, possibly in rivalry with the New Yorkers, Wise and his disciples established the Central Conference of American Rabbis. This was a national institution.

The next decade witnessed the founding of rabbinical societies in San Francisco and the establishment of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada (1900). By 1901 the Conservative rabbis had set up an alumni association; this was the later Rabbinical Assembly of America. In the decade following, the faculty of the Hebrew Union College and the local rabbis organized a Jewish Theological Society of their own. There can be no question that among other motivations and purposes these various rabbinical associations were eager to advance Jewish learning. In a sense all this banding together for professional and cultural goals was a prelude to the creation in 1920 of the American Academy for Jewish Research, influenced probably by the Academy for the Science of Judaism that had been fashioned in Berlin in 1918. Were the Germans and the American scholars, too, moved to act because they realized that with the rise of the communistic Soviets in Russia that great center of traditional learning was doomed? The American Jewish Academy got off to a very slow start. Eventually it began to publish its papers in an annual volume of Proceedings. Unlike the rabbinical associations it was a purely scholarly society dedicated to research. On the whole it avoided current issues and contemporary problems. It was oriented toward rabbinical literature, not Jewish society.29


Felsenthal had prophesied in 1865 that Jewish life and culture would develop here because America was a land of freedom. His reasoning was correct but only in a somewhat limited sense for there is no absolute freedom of thought in any denominational seminary. Was there not complete freedom in a Jewish secular college such as Dropsie which was dedicated to Oriental studies? This college was dominated by Jews of strong Conservative leanings; left-wing Reformers who did not observe the Sabbath in a traditional fashion would not have been tolerated on that faculty. What is true is that all of these American savants, whatever their religious affiliation, had for two generations brought the best of European Jewish learning to America. It was they who had expounded here a critical, that is to say, a correct knowledge of the origins and development of Jewish history, literature, institutions, beliefs, and practices. Their influence on the Reform Movement was particularly profound for the Science of Judaism is in essence a rational movement and Reform, equally rational, is dedicated to the harmonization of traditionalism and modernism.

This new science brought with it exact knowledge and comprehensive overviews; it opened vistas to eager, curious students. A perceptive child of today who reads a good textbook knows more of the course of Jewish history to the end of the eighteenth century than even a Moses Mendelssohn. The new breed of American Jewish scholars, children of the enlightened nineteenth century, edited learned journals and annuals, translated European works, and published monographs in the area of Bible, philosophy, theology, rabbinics, and history. These same men organized learned associations, established a history and publication society, edited an encyclopedia, translated the Bible, built libraries, staffed the seminaries, and were invited, albeit in small numbers, to teach in some of the American universities.

Did this new scholarship exert any influence on the American Jewish commonalty? Indirectly some of it, not much, filtered down through the pulpit, the press, and the textbooks. The masses were comfortable in their folkways. Mr. and Mrs. Cohen were Jews emotionally, not intellectually. But there were always individuals who were interested in sound knowledge, a knowledge of the past that fed their pride. It is significant that even during the lifetime of Zacharias Frankel, a notable German scholar, a group of B’nai B’rith members in distant Galveston honored him by establishing the Zacharias Frankel Lodge. As World War I drew to a close the United States emerged as an important center for Jewish scholarship not only because of its past achievements but because the decline of Europe had pushed the United States and its Jewry to the forefront. The real development of the Science of Judaism in this land came in the decades after 1920. By that time there was a generation of American-born scholars in an affluent Jewry. As the United States became an imperial power, as the European Jewish communities collapsed, American Jewry began to exercise political and cultural hegemony in the Jewish world. This new responsibility brought in its wake an even greater interest in Jewish learning and scholarship.30

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