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The Jewish Encyclopedia is an English language encyclopedia originally published in New York between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls, under the full title 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. It contained over 15,000 articles in 12 volumes on the history and then-current state of Judaism and the Jews. The text is now in the public domain, but the illustrations are marked as being copyrighted by the owners of the jewishencyclopedia.com
The managing editor was Isidore Singer. Section editors were Singer, Cyrus Adler, Gotthard Deutsch, Louis Ginzberg, Richard Gottheil, Joseph Jacobs, Marcus Jastrow, Morris Jastrow, Jr., Kaufmann Kohler, Frederick de Sola Mendes and Crawford Howell Toy.
University of Toronto librarian, Jenny Mendelsohn, in an online guide to major sources of information about Jews and Judaism, writes of the Encyclopedia, "Although published in the early 1900s, this was a work highly regarded for its scholarship. Much of the material is still of value to researchers in Jewish History."
In 2003 Reform Rabbi Joshua L. Segal described it as "a remarkable piece of Jewish scholarship" and added, "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." American Jewish Archives described it as "the most monumental Jewish scientific work of modern times."
The Jewish Encyclopedia and Wissenschaft des Judentums
The scholarly style of the Jewish Encyclopedia is very much in the mode of Wissenschaft des Judentums ("Jewish studies") 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 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."
Jewish Encyclopedia in Russian
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 1901–1906 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.
- Encyclopædia Biblica (from which the Jewish Encyclopedia sometimes quotes nearly verbatim, parts of the 'marriage' article, for example)
- Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia
- Encyclopedia Judaica
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- Encyclopaedia of Islam
- Lists of encyclopedias
- Nahum Goldmann
- Wikipedia:Jewish Encyclopedia topics
- "The Jewish Encyclopedia". New York Times. August 16, 1902. Retrieved March 17, 2014.
- Joshua L. Segal, Rabbi's Message: Nov. 2003 - Cheshvan 5764: A Jewish Reference Library at Betenu, Betenu, Volume 21, No. 4: Nov. 2003. Accessed online October 7, 2006.
- "THE LARGER TASK - MARCUS". American Jewish Archives. Retrieved October 17, 2013.
- "Abbreviations Listings". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2014-02-26.
- Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus; (eds.) et al. (1901–1906) The Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, New York. LCCN 16-14703
- Schwarz, Leo W. (1965), "A bibliographical essay", in Lieberman, Saul, Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research
- JewishEncyclopedia.com (see above), maintained by the Kopelman Foundation.
- multiple copies at the Internet Archive
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