Page 43 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 15

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Leeser’s translation met a real need. It was an English Bible
that could be read in the Synagogue without embarrassment, and
placed in the Jewish home without apprehensiveness. For the
student it was doubly useful because Leeser appended numerous
notes, referring to the authorities whom he followed, and giving
alternative renderings of difficult and uncertain passages. Amer­
ican Jews regarded it as a standard work; and even in England,
where two independent Jewish translations had been published,
Leeser’s version was widely read.
Nevertheless, in the course of a few decades the need for a new
rendering was voiced, at least by scholars and rabbis. Two events
served to underscore this demand. The Jewish Publication Society
of America was established in 1888, and its leaders not unnaturally
felt that a main undertaking of the Society ought to be the pub­
lication of the supreme Jewish classic. The second event was the
appearance in 1885 of the Revised Version (hereafter RV), in which
the leading Protestant scholars of England modified the King
James translation to make it more accurate and understandable.
(In 1901, the American Revised Version appeared, incorporating
many hundreds of further changes.) The fact that the Anglican
Church, for all its traditionalism, had not hesitated to modify the
hallowed wording of AV, must have been an encouragement and
stimulus to the Jews of the United States to attempt a similar
The undertaking was launched in 1892. The various books of
the Bible were assigned to a number of scholars; the renderings
they were to prepare would be reviewed by an editorial board
which was to give them uniformity of style. The procedure did
not work out well. Not all the assignments were completed — in­
deed many were not even begun — and consequently the editors
could not make much progress. In 1903, a tangible result was
finally achieved: the Book of Psalms appeared in a translation by
Dr. Kaufmann Kohler. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Marcus Jastrow,
the chairman of the Editorial Committee, died. A new committee,
headed by Dr. Solomon Schechter, tried to continue the work by
correspondence and found it was making little headway.
In 1906, a fresh start was made. Negotiations between the
Jewish Publication Society and the Central Conference of Amer­
ican Rabbis led to the establishment of a joint committee, headed
by Dr. Cyrus Adler, a man with a knack for getting things done.
In addition to Kohler and Schechter,2 the committee included
2 For one year, Dr. Israel Friedlaender served instead o f Dr. Schechter.