Page 55 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 12

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FRIEDMAN ----AMERICAN JEWISH LITERARY “ FIRSTS”
49
The Reverend John Eliot was sent out to convert Indians in the
belief that by Christianizing these Jews he was both delivering
them from Hell and at the same time hastening the millennium.
In 1812 John Eliot, Jr., of Boston published
The History of
The Jews from the Destruction of Jerusalem to the Nineteenth
Century
, in two volumes, written by Hannah Adams. Hannah
Adams was the earliest of Boston Blue Stockings, a learned lady
and much interested in religion and in the conversion of Jews.
This was the first history of the Jews written by an American and
published here. It was not a very good piece of work. Largely
borrowed from Basnage’s
The History of the Jews from Jesus
Christ to the Present Time
(1708) which had appeared in an English
translation, it devoted but a single chapter to American Jewish
history. A great missed opportunity. The book, however, had a
good circulation. Republished in London and translated into
German, it has its place as a “first” in American literary history.
In 1824 appeared the first Jewish “defence” publication in
America; Solomon H. Jackson edited in New York the first num-
ber of his magazine,
The Jew; Being A Defence of Judaism Against
A ll Adversaries.
This was offered as an answer to the publication
Israel's Advocate
and the activities of the American Society for
Meliorating the Condition of the Jews, which was engaged in
an active proselyting campaign and setting up of a community
for converted Jews in upper New York.
Although Emma Lazarus is outstanding amongst American
Jewish poets, the first Jewish poetess in American history is
Penina Moise, born in Charleston, South Carolina, in 1797. An
ardent Jewess, she wrote hymns, taught in the religious school
of Beth Elohim, and was a voluminous contributor to the press
of her day — not only with poems, but with a wide variety of
articles. This American Jewish literary “first” lived on until
almost our own day, until September 18, 1880.
It was in the year 1853-54, that the first English translation
of the Hebrew Bible, by an American Jew, made its appearance
in Philadelphia. It was the crowning literary effort of the Rever-
end Isaac Leeser. His translation was not superseded in this
country until the appearance of the new version of the Jewish
Publication Society of America in 1917. Leeser, in the opening
lines of his Preface, outlined what motivated him in making
this translation:
In presenting this work to the public, the translator would
merely remark, that it is not a new notion by which he was
seized of late years which impelled him to the task, but a desire
entertained for more than a quarter of a century, since the