Michael Levi Rodkinson

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Michael Levi Rodkinson

Michael Levi Rodkinson (1845–1904) was an American publisher, known for being the first to translate the Babylonian Talmud to English.


Born with the surname "Frumkin", Michael Levi was the son of Alexander Sender Frumkin and half brother of Israel Dov Bär Frumkin, the editor of The Havatzeleth newspaper in Jerusalem, Arieh Tzvi Hirsch Frumkin and Guishe Frumkin-Navon. Michael Levi was named after his grandfather, Aaron ha-Levi ben Moses of Staroselye, a prominent rabbi of the Chabad movement, who created his own Hasidic group in Usha and then in Starosjle. Michael therefore grew up in a Hasidic Chabad atmosphere.

He changed his name to Rodkinson for unknown reasons, maybe after his mother's name "Rada". He lived in Germany for a period of time where he published some of his books, then moved to the United States and settled in New York City, where he worked as a publisher. Among his works is an uncompleted translation of the Babylonian Talmud to English. The translation was harshly reviewed, eliciting the derision of talmudists such as Kaufmann Kohler, who labeled Rodkinson a "sham scholar" for the many apparently misinformed or naive translations of common talmudical terms.[1][2]

Rodkinson collected many stories from his childhood amongst the Hassidim, and compiled these into books that he later published. These were among the first books to tell stories in Hebrew and Yiddish. (Until then, Hebrew and Yiddish books were mostly explanations of the Jewish law.)[citation needed]

Rodkinson married three times; his oldest child with his first wife was Rosamond Rodkinson. She helped her father translate the Talmud and also traveled the world to gather support. His next child with his second wife was his son Max Rodkinson, a famous actor of the Yiddish theater in New York. Max changed his name to "Rudolph Marks" because his father did not want him to use the "Rodkinson" name as a Yiddish actor. After a few years of acting he left the stage and became a lawyer, taking back his original name. His third child also from his second wife was Norbert Mortimer Rodkinson, who also helped his father translate the Talmud into English. Michael Levi Rodkinson had another son and two daughters with his third wife.


  1. ^ Kohler, K. The American Hebrew, volume 59 n.11, July 17, 1896, p.272
  2. ^ Kohler, K. The American Hebrew, volume 59, number 18, September 4, 1896, p.457


  • Jonatan Meir, Literary Hasidism:The Life and Works of Michael Levi Rodkinson, Syracuse University Press, 2016
  • Goldman, Yosef. Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926, A History and Annotated Bibliography (YGBooks 2006). ISBN 1-59975-685-4.
  • Israel Dov Frumkin, Jewish Encyclopedia. Accessed 2007-08-03.
  • Jonatan Meir. Michael Levi Rodkinson and Hasidism, Tel Aviv: Hakibbutz Hameuchad, 2012, 248 pp. (Hebrew)
  •  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainRosenthal, Herman; Eisenstein, Judah David (1903). "FRUMKIN, ISRAEL DOB (BÄR)". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. 5. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 524–525.

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