Philip Birnbaum

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Philip Birnbaum (Hebrew name: Paltiel; 1904–1988) was an American religious author and translator, best known for his translation and annotation of the siddur (Jewish Prayer Book), first published in 1949.[1]


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, Hadoar. 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 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] It is noteworthy that an immigrant at age 19 should achieve such status as a translator into English.

Pedagogical innovation[edit]

Birnbaum's siddur's introduction said: "Children, trained in reading the large type in the siddur, gradually develop a prejudice against whatever appears in the smaller print."

An individual who described his own background with "every shul in the neighborhood was Orthodox" was interviewed after serving as "deputy undersecretary .. in the Pentagon" and said about a trip abroad "I explored the base.. and was very surprised to find Birnbaum siddurim in one corner."[8]

Influence and beyond[edit]

The Jewish Agency's Culture department describes the Birnbaum as "One of the most useful versions of the prayerbook."[9]

A Concordance listing[10] of the Birnbaum vs. the "Expanded version of Siddur Eit Ratzon"[11] shows more than Oscar Wilde's "Imitation is the sincerest form of..."[12]

Editing rejected[edit]

Artscroll has rejected Birnbaum's reasoning for his change of a single letter in the Yigdal prayer,[13] which appears to display either Birnbaum's unfamiliarity or disagreement with Perek Shirah.


  • The Arabic Commentary of yefet Ben Ali the Karaite, on the Book of Hosea, 1942. 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 Shlomo Pereira (May 5, 2003). "Hadrat Melech: biographical notes" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on May 2, 2014. Retrieved September 25, 2006.
  2. ^ Mark H. Elovitz (2003). A Century of Jewish Life In Dixie: The Birmingham Experience. ISBN 0817350217. Knesseth Israel Congregation ... Among the venerable teachers were ... and Philip Birnbaum.
  3. ^ a b "Jewish Virtual Library: BIRNBAUM, PHILIP".
  4. ^ Guide to the Records of Histadruth Ivrith of America,
  5. ^ Jager, Elliot (2007-04-17). "Power and Politics: Prayer books and resurrection". Archived from the original on 2012-01-08.
  6. ^ Berman, Saul (2009-08-19). "Even a New Siddur Can't Close 'God Gap'". The Forward.
  7. ^ a b Goldman, Ari L. (1988-03-22). "Philip Birnbaum, 83, Author of Books For Jewish Liturgy". The New York Times.
  8. ^ "From .. The Travels of .". Hamodia.
  9. ^ "The Worship Service as a Cultural Experience". The Jewish Agency. August 30, 2005.
  10. ^ Zondervan NASB Exhaustive Concordance. 2000. ISBN 0310236258. lists every ... ..if not every then at least the major
  11. ^ "HaSiddur HaShaleim by Philip Birnbaum, 1949" (PDF).
  12. ^ Oscar Wilde, Missing or empty |title= (help)
  13. ^ "Daily Prayer Book: Ha-Siddur ha-Shalem (Birnbaum)/Introduction".

External links[edit]