Page 64 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 2

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JEWISH ENCYCLOPEDIAS
By J
UL1US
H.
G
r e e n s t o n e
The stupendous literary undertaking of the present generation,
the
Universal Jewish Encyclopedia
, has reached completion. The
tenth and last volume of this reference work in English, appeared
recently, thus bringing to a successful conclusion the labors of a
staff of experts and more than 600 contributors, endeavoring to
present to the Jewish and to the general public an authoritative
work of large magnitude.
Jewish encyclopedias are a comparatively recent phenomenon
in the realm of Jewish letters. While some individuals have
attempted the production of books of general reference at various
times, the first combined effort did not materialize until the early
years of the present century. The
Jewish Encyclopedia
began to
make its appearance in New York in 1902, as a result of the bold
initiative of an Austrian Jewish immigrant scholar, Dr. Isidor
Singer, and of the far-sightedness of a Christian publishing house,
the Funk and Wagnalls Company. The arrival, in 1902, of Dr.
Solomon Schechter to assume the leadership of the Jewish Theo-
logical Seminary of America gave a strong impetus to Jewish
learning in America, which aroused the interest not only of stu-
dents but also of laymen who began to feel that, together with
their laudable efforts to build institutions for the preservation of
the Jewish body, they should also endeavor to maintain Jewish
spiritual treasures. Thus it was that when, after the issuance of
the first volume of the
Jewish Encyclopedia
, the publishers found
that the response of the public was inadequate, a number of
wealthy and public-spirited Jews, headed by Jacob H. Schiff, came
to their assistance and the publication of the work proceeded
unhindered. This monumental work, in twelve volumes (1906),
is the product of the genius and effort of American and European
scholars and it will continue to maintain its well-deserved authori-
tative position among students and inquirers regarding the Jewish
past and Jewish thought throughout the ages.
Even if we concede the truthfulness of Ahad Haam’s assertion
that only after a people has become culturally sterile does it begin
to produce encyclopedias, after these have once been produced
they serve as a most potent stimulus to students to delve into
some branches of learning touched upon in these works which at-
tract them and continue further investigation and study. Tha t the
production of the
Jewish Encyclopedia
had this effect upon the
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