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Marcus Jastrow, Rogassen 1889 - Philadelphia 1903

MARCUS MORDECAI JASTROW was born on June 5, 1829 in the town of Rogassen, in eastern Prussia (Westpreussen), into a poly-lingual environment. He grew up in a Yiddish-speaking family, in a German-speaking province, in what formerly had been part of the Kingdom of Poland before its three partitions between 1772 and 1795. Initially home-schooled in Hebrew and rabbinic studies, Jastrow graduated from a Prussian Gymnasium (high school) in the provincial capital of Posen in 1852. He then left for Berlin, the cosmopolitan center of Prussian culture, where he attended Berlin University while also being tutored in traditional rabbinics. Jastrow next pursued graduate studies at the University of Halle and was awarded a Ph.D. in 1855, at the age of twenty-six.  Two years later his rabbinical ordination (originally conferred in 1853 by Rabbi Moses Feilchenfeld), was confirmed and signed by Rabbi Wolf Landau, of Dresden. In 1858, on the eve of his thirtieth birthday, Jastrow moved to Warsaw to serve as a religious leader.

Now living in Poland’s capital, Jastrow devoted himself to the mastery of the Polish language.  He also identified with and was active in the Polish independence movement. His involvement led to his arrest, imprisonment and eventual exile back to Prussia. In 1863, his decree of expulsion was revoked and Jastrow anticipated returning to his pulpit in Warsaw. With the outbreak of the Polish revolution that same year, however, his Prussian passport was abruptly canceled. Forced to earn a living elsewhere, Jastrow remained in Germany where he became the district rabbi of Worms. In 1866, at the age of thirty-seven, he accepted an invitation from Philadelphia to cross the Atlantic Ocean to become the officiating rabbi of that city’s Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

Jastrow introduced a new type of religious leadership and learning to America, one heavily influenced by the academic model of the German university, the spirit and methods of historical-critical inquiry, and the religious reform of Jewish theology and ritual observance. As David Werner Amram, a scholar of early Hebrew printing and friend, put it in a memorial address “[Jastrow’s] thought was a blend of Talmudism, classicism, and modernism.”  Jastrow’s arrival meant that familiarity with the best of European scholarship would now enter the mainstream of American Jewish cultural life. Indeed, Jastrow’s three major scholarly contributions – his English-Aramaic rabbinic dictionary, his role in the creation of the first English-language Jewish Encyclopedia, his contribution to the first Jewish critical translation into English of the Hebrew Bible – as well as the scholarship of his son Morris, all bear witness to this revolutionary cultural and intellectual transfer.


The Jastrow Dictionary

Marcus Jastrow, compiler.
A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature.
London : Luzac & Co., and New York , G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1886-1895.
Marcus Jastrow. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature. London and New York, 1886-1895.
Marcus Jastrow, compiler.
A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature.
London : Luzac & Co./ New York : G.P. Putnam’s Sons, 1903.
Marcus Jastrow. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature. London and New York, 1903.

Marcus Jastrow published the first edition of his dictionary in two volumes over the course of the last seventeen, illness-plagued years of his life.  A prefatory note dated July 1886 printed in the first volume details the plan for the complete future edition. But this single volume, covering only the first half of the Hebrew alphabet, was published, as is evident from the title page, in 1895. It may be the case that fascicles of the dictionary appeared prior to 1895 as installments of a work in progress. The complete two-volume set, however, would not appear until 1903, shortly before Jastrow’s death. In his preface to the 1903 edition, Jastrow acknowledged his scholarly debts, most notably to Jacob Levy, Alexander Kohut and to other major figures of 19th century German-Jewish scholarship. Unmentioned is the fact that the format of the Jastrow dictionary entry ultimately derives not from Jewish sources, however, but from a seventeenth-century Christian Hebraist lexicographer, Johannes Buxtorf.



Marcus Jastrow, compiler.
A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature.
New York/Berlin: Verlag Choreb; London : Shapiro, Vallentine & Co., 1926.
Marcus Jastrow. A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature. New York/Berlin, London, 1926.

The second, “authorisited” [sic!], edition of the Jastrow dictionary was published in 1926 in one volume.  Subsequent re-printings appeared in both two and one volume editions ( eg., 1943, 1950, 1967 in two volumes; 1971, 1985, 1996 in one volume).  The 1926 edition, meanwhile, introduced a Hebrew title page opposite the English-only original, as well as two new publishers, Shapiro Vallentine & Co., in London and Choreb in New York and Berlin , attesting in part to the wider distribution and popularity of the work.  The essential format of the Jastrow dictionary entry remained unchanged.


Marcus Jastrow and Anglo-American Jewish Scholarship

Cyrus Adler, Isidore Singer, et al., eds.
The Jewish Encyclopedia. 12 vols.
New York: London, Funk & Wagnalls company, 1901-1906
The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1901-1905.  Titlepage.

Among the greatest monuments to modern Jewish scholarship is the first English-language Jewish Encyclopedia, published simultaneously in New York and London between 1901 and 1906. Marcus Jastrow served on the encyclopedia’s editorial board and supervised its “Department of Talmud”; his son Morris Jastrow, Jr., also was a member of the editorial board, overseeing the “Department of Bible.”  Displayed here is the title page of the decorated deluxe edition printed in 1910, specially prepared as a family gift.


The Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text [Torah, Nevi'im, u-Khetuvim].
A new translation with the aid of previous versions and with constant consultation of Jewish authorities.
Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 5677 (1917 C.E.).
Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text. Philadelphia: JPS, 1917. Titlepage.
Titlepage
Holy Scriptures according to the Masoretic text. Philadelphia: JPS, 1917. Page v.
Preface, page v

This new translation of the Hebrew Bible was designed to provide the best modern Jewish critical Bible scholarship to an English-speaking audience and to revise previous English translations that reflected christological understandings of controversial passages.  So, for example, the contested word ‘almah in Isaiah 7:14 is translated as “young woman” rather than the pre-figurative “virgin.”  As the preface to the 1917 edition shows, Marcus Jastrow served on the original editorial committee and prepared a translation of the Book of Job for the Jewish Publication Society of America during the first stage of the project.  


Morris Jastrow and Anglo-American Jewish Scholarship

Morris Jastrow.
The Book of Job.
Philadelphia & London, J.B. Lippincott company, 1920.
Morris Jastrow. The Book of Job. Philadelphia & London, 1920. P. 310.
Page 310. Morris Jastrow's translation of Job, chapter 28

Morris Jastrow, Professor of Semitic Languages and Librarian of the University of Pennsylvania from 1898 to 1919, authored numerous works on Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern Studies and helped pioneer the critical study of religion in the American university setting.  Jastrow’s new translation of the Book of Job, published in 1920, is dedicated to Edgar Fahs Smith, Provost of the University of Pennsylvania and a professor of Chemistry.  Curiously, Jastrow makes no mention of his father’s efforts twenty years earlier to translate the same Biblical book.


Morris Jastrow and Richard J.H. Gottheil, eds.
Semitic Studies Series No. 11:The Annals of Ashurbanapal.
Transcribed text by Robert J. Lau; Glossary by Stephen Langdon.
Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1903.
The Annals of Ashurbanapal.

Aside from his teaching, research and administrative responsibilities at Penn, Morris Jastrow also served as the co-editor, with Richard J. H. Gottheil, Columbia University ’s first professor of Jewish Studies, of a “Semitic Studies Series.”  Published in this series is a glossary of words found in ancient inscriptions recovered from the extraordinary Royal Library established by Ashurbanapal, ruler of Assyria, during the 7th century B.C.E..  In his introduction to this volume, Morris Jastrow explains the lexicographical design of the glossary – how, for example, it directs the reader from each entry to the line and column number in which the word appears in the original text.  Similarly, Jastrow explains that the list of ideographs displayed here (these original signs do not appear in the glossary) is arranged numerically: each number corresponds to superscripted numbers assigned to ideographs in the body of the hand-copied texts.