Page 56 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 3

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THE FIRST AMERICAN JEWISH
PUBLICATION SOCIETY
By
S
o l o m o n
G
r a y z e l
The first American Jewish Publication Society was among the
most promising and most shortlived projects initiated by Isaac
Leeser. Since this first organized venture into the publication
of popular books for the Jews of America was started just one
hundred years ago, this is an appropriate occasion for recalling
its aims and achievements.
The Society introduced itself in 1845 through an “Address of
the Jewish Publication Committee to the Israelites of America.”
I t promised to make it possible for Jews “ to obtain a knowledge
of the faith and proper weapons to defend it against the assaults
of proselyte-makers on the one side and of infidels on the other.”
The need for self-defense against Christian proselytization was
referred to again in statements by the Committee; it was also
treated in several of its publications. But the annual Committee
statements emphasized still another aim — “ the placing of a mass
of good reading within the reach of even the poorest families.”
The Society proudly pointed out that its publications were of
the sort “which any parent can freely place in the hands of his
children without the least danger of tainting their minds with
ideas inimical to our holy religion.”
The dues of the Society were set at one dollar a year, but no
definite number of books was promised. The intention evidently
was to publish four a year. The third report, however, regrets
that failure of the financial resources to grow prevented the pub-
lication of more books. The Society actually published booklets
rather than books. Each publication consisted of about 125 pages
(4x6) in 8 point type.
Where the reports of the Publications Committee were signed,
they carried the names of Isaac Leeser, Chairman, A. Hart and
Solomon Solis. Leeser did the literary and editorial work and he
sometimes took considerable liberties with the material. He
eliminated a chapter, in one case, and substituted an introduction
of his own; he warned the readers, in another instance, against
the theological views of the author; the size of the publications
sometimes compelled the excision of material. The works the
Committee had to choose from were perforce limited in quality
and quantity. The poverty of Jewish American literature at that
time is illustrated by the fact that, with the exception of one brief
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