Page 41 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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B y B
e r n a r d
am b e r g e r
HERE are, to my knowledge, only two American Jewish trans­
lations of the Bible. We possess admirable renderings of
individual books of the Bible by American Jewish scholars,1 but
a complete English version of the Bible made by Jews for Jews
has been accomplished just twice in this country. The first, by
Isaac Leeser, was published in 1853; the second, sponsored by
the Jewish Publication Society of America, appeared in 1917.
We do not, unfortunately, possess an adequate biography of
Isaac Leeser. He was perhaps the most gifted of the “chazan
ministers” who provided spiritual leadership for American Jewry
prior to the arrival of ordained rabbis. Leeser served most of his
life in Philadelphia. An excellent preacher and conscientious
pastor, he was one of the few leaders of his time whose vision ex­
tended beyond the confines of his own community. To rouse the
scattered Jews of the United States to a sense of unity and joint
purpose, Leeser traveled extensively; to the same end, he estab­
lished the pioneer periodical,
The Occident.
Yet he still found
time to produce a good translation of the prayer book — in both
Sefardic and Ashkenazic versions — and to carry through the
great project of translating the Bible.
For example, Psalms and Job by Moses Buttenwieser; Job, Song o f Songs,
and Ecclesiastes, by Morris Jastrow; Amos by Julian Morgenstern; Ecclesiastes
by Robert Gordis. Mortimer J. Cohen’s
Pathways Through the Bible
covers on ly
selected portions.
In 1916, the Hebrew Publishing Co. (a privately owned enterprise) brought
out an edition o f the Hebrew Bible, frequently reprinted, w ith an English transla­
tion “revised by Alexander Harkavy .” Th is was essentially the Authorized Version,
modified to elim inate Christological interpretations and occasional obscurities.
Harkavy himself, famous for his work as a Yiddish lexicographer, seems to have
regarded this Bible revision as no more than a routine job . I t can hardly be con­
sidered an independent translation.
The great Yiddish translation o f the Bible by Yehoash was largely done in this
country, and may therefore be regarded as an American Jewish translation. Bu t ,
obviously, it must be studied in a different framework.