Philip Birnbaum

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Philip Birnbaum
Born(1904-03-30)March 30, 1904
DiedMarch 19, 1988(1988-03-19) (aged 83)
Manhattan, New York, United States

Philip Birnbaum (Hebrew: פַּלְטִיאֵל בִּירֶנְבּוֹים, romanizedPaltiel Birenboym; March 30, 1904 – March 19, 1988) was an American religious author and translator. He is best known for his work Ha-Siddur ha-Shalem, a translation and annotation of the Siddur first published in 1949.[1]


Title page of the Birnbaum Siddur

Birnbaum was born in Kielce, Poland and emigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Howard College and received his Ph.D. from Dropsie College. He served for several years as the principal of a Jewish day school in Wilmington, Delaware, and directed Jewish schools in Birmingham, Alabama,[2] and Camden, New Jersey. He was a regular columnist and book reviewer for the Hebrew-language weekly, Ha-Doar. He also served on the board of directors of the Histadrut Ivrit b'America, an American association for the promotion of Hebrew language and culture.[1][3][4]

His works include translations (with annotation and introductory material) of the Siddur (first published in 1949), the Machzor, the Torah with Haftorot, and the Passover Haggadah (published by the Hebrew Publishing Company). These translations sought to express reverence without appearing archaic. His Siddur and Machzor were pioneering in that the Hebrew text is of uniform typeface, "unlike the helter-skelter boldface paragraphing … found in Old World siddurim".[5] His Siddur also contains the rarely published Megillat Antiochus.

Until the recent advent of the Artscroll and Koren translations, the Birnbaum Siddur and Machzor were widely used in Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, selling over 300,000 copies.[3] These works presented "an accessible American English translation" and were pioneering in addressing American Jews' "perceived deficiencies in personal and communal prayer".[6]

Birnbaum is also well known for his works of popular Judaism: his excerpted translation of Maimonides Mishne Torah, was one of the first into English; his "Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts" and "A Treasury of Judaism" (an Anthology excerpting over 70 classic works) were widely referenced.[7] He also produced a "readable" summary and translation of the Tanakh.


On his death, one writer described him as "the most obscure best-selling author".[7]

The Jewish Agency's Culture department describes "the Birnbaum" as "one of the most useful versions of the prayerbook."[8]

Birnbaum's original gravestone misspelled his name, had the wrong birth year, and called him a "renouned author & scholar". In 2022, the original gravestone was replaced with one with all three mistakes corrected and a Hebrew verse from the High Holiday liturgy added.[9]


  • Birnbaum, Philip; Hal-Lewi, Yafet Ben Ali (1942). The Arabic Commentary of Yefet ben Ali the Karaite, on the Book of Hosea. ISBN 9781258042332.
  • Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur Ha-Shalem. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1977. ISBN 0884820548.
  • High Holyday Prayer Book. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1979. ISBN 0884822400.
  • Prayer Book for Sabbath and Festivals. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1977. ISBN 0884820548.
  • The Birnbaum Haggadah. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1976. ISBN 0884829081.
  • The Concise Jewish Bible. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1977. ISBN 0884824519.
  • Torah and the Haftarot. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1983. ISBN 0884844560.
  • Maimonides Mishneh Torah (Yad Hazakah). Hebrew Publishing Company. 1970. ISBN 0884824365.
  • Encyclopedia of Jewish Concepts. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1979. ISBN 0884829308.
  • A Book of Jewish Concepts. Hebrew Publishing Company. 1964.


  1. ^ a b Pereira, Shlomo (May 5, 2003). "Hadrat Melech: Biographical Notes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 2, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2006.
  2. ^ Elovitz, Mark H. (2003). A Century of Jewish Life In Dixie: The Birmingham Experience. ISBN 0817350217. Knesseth Israel Congregation … Among the venerable teachers were … Philip Birnbaum.
  3. ^ a b Sherman, Moshe. "Birnbaum, Philip". Jewish Virtual Library.
  4. ^ "Guide to the Records of Histadruth Ivrith of America". Jewish Ideas Daily.
  5. ^ Jager, Elliot (April 17, 2007). "Power and Politics: Prayer books and resurrection". Archived from the original on January 8, 2012.
  6. ^ Berman, Saul (August 19, 2009). "Even a New Siddur Can't Close 'God Gap'". The Forward.
  7. ^ a b Goldman, Ari L. (March 22, 1988). "Philip Birnbaum, 83, Author of Books For Jewish Liturgy". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "The Worship Service as a Cultural Experience". The Jewish Agency. August 30, 2005.
  9. ^ Goldman, Ari L. (July 19, 2022). "He wrote a beloved prayer book. But his gravestone misspelled his name". Archived from the original on July 19, 2022. Retrieved July 19, 2022.

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