Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 33

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Judaica in the Encyclopedia Britannica
w h o
t u r n s
t o
the first edition of
Encyclopedia Britannica
(three volumes, published in 1771 “by a Society of gentlemen in
Scotland”) for the entry “Jews,” may miss it at first because at
tha t time the letters “I ” and “J ” were no t clearly distinguished,
but if he is diligent he will not be disappointed. I t is brief
enough (this edition omitted the fields of history and biography)
and can be quoted in extenso:
JEWS, those who profess obedience to the laws and religion of
When a modern Jew builds a house he must leave part of it un­
furnished, in remembrance that the t'emple and Jerusalem now lie
desolate. They lay great stress upon frequent washings. They
abstain from meats prohibited by the Levitical law; for which
reason, whatever they eat must be dressed by Jews, and after a
manner peculiar to themselves. Every Jew is obliged to marry,
and a man who lives to twenty unmarried, is accounted as actually
living in sin.
The Jews, it is said, were formerly at the disposal of t'he chief lord
where they lived, and likewise all their goods. A Jew may be a
witness by our law, being sworn on the Old Testament, and taking
the oaths to the government.
For a farther account* of the Jew, see the articles Caraites, Circum­
cision, Levites, Passover, Pharisees, Rabbins, Sadducees, Sanhedrim,
Synagogue, Talmud, etc.
Difficulties of definition alone would make for a far longer entry
today, bu t the latest edition attempts no definition. One is struck
by the fact tha t in the eighteenth century the stress laid by the
Jews on “frequent washings” received prominence in a short
article. I t would hardly do so today. The idea of bathing regu­
larly is said to have been brought from Ind ia by Englishmen,
and in 1771 it was probably still something exotic.
One is tempted to linger over related entries in tha t first
edition. Two only will be referred to. In view of New Testament