Page 23 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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AMERICAN JEW ISH L ITERATURE
A Tercentenary Review
B y J
o s h u a
B
loch
1
ITTLE is known of the intellectual life of the handful of early
-J
Jewish settlers on M anha ttan Island and nothing of their
literary taste or interest. The fact th a t they came to a new land
in search of opportunity to live a Jewish life without interference
from persecution leads to the conclusion tha t such books as they
had for their exclusive use represented texts essential for their
liturgical needs and for the advancement of the religious education
of their children — the kind of books th a t sprang from the Jewish
heritage of the past — bibles, prayer books and works offering
guidance in religious belief and practice. These they brought
with them or imported from abroad.
Prior to the coming of the new arrivals to these shores, books
had found their way to colonial America or were published in
the New World which had an obvious appeal to Jews. Such a
publication was the now exceedingly rare
Bay Psalm Book
, which
appeared almost a decade and a half before the arrival of Jews on
Manha ttan Island. This book was the harbinger of many others
which brought Hebrew spiritual ideas to colonial America. Printed
in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in 1640, it represented an English
version of the Psalter made directly from the Hebrew. I t also
included the first dissertation on the Hebrew language and on
Hebrew poetry to be published in America. Almost a century
later there appeared in Boston (1716)
Psalterium Americanumy
The Book of Psalms
, in a translation exactly conforming to the
original.
The publication of the
Bay Psalm Book
and the early attempts
a t the introduction of a Scriptural calendar in the colonies were
motivated by a desire to plant on the American continent ideas
and institutions the character of which was distinctly Hebraic.
The appearance of Hebrew letters and Hebrew words in the pages
of early colonial imprints sufficed to impress upon the minds of
early Jewish settlers on American soil the fact th a t their non-
Jewish neighbors shared with them a common love for the Hebrew
Scriptures. Though not written or published by Jews, these