Page 50 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 47

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JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
much larger and more established. It had a large number o f
religious schools which trained children in proficiency in He­
brew. London had a Jewish population o f almost 10,000 and
there was no need for a translation o f the prayerbook for its
congregants. New York Jewry at most comprised a few hundred
individuals, several o f whom were third generation descendents
o f original settlers. Their knowledge o f Hebrew was minimal,
perhaps even their ability to read the language non-existent.
Recent scholarship assumes that Isaac Pinto was also the trans­
lator o f the 1761 volume. The two works by Pinto seem to have
set a pattern for rabbinic or Torah scholarship in the United
States, for, oddly enough, during the first half o f the 19th cen­
tury and even continuing beyond, the most important works
that appeared in the United States in this area o f scholarly en­
deavor were translations o f both the prayerbook and the Bible.
The two major issues confronting the traditional Jewish com­
munity in 19th century America were the following: How to
preserve Jewish values and standards both o f knowledge and
observance in a new society which had no traditions o f such
values and which exerted extensive social pressure to conform
to the values o f the American majority. The second issue which
agitated the Jewish community was the appearance o f Reform.
Reform Judaism had its origins in Germany at the beginning
o f the century. It was transported to America by individuals
who were forced to leave Germany during the abortive revo­
lutions o f 1848. It has been pointed out that Reform in Germany
had only a minimal measure o f achievement, but Reform in
America proved highly successful in its accomplishments. In
a short time almost all o f the larger and wealthier synagogues
affiliated with the movement. Various Reform Jews became the
spokesmen and were viewed by the general community as rep­
resentatives o f American Jewry until well into the 20th century.
LEESER ’S WORKS
Despite the early successes o f Reform, the most influential
Jew in the United States during the 19th century was, without
doubt, Isaac Leeser. A rabbi from Philadelphia, he attempted
single-handedly to preserve Orthodoxy in America. Among his
many firsts was the publication o f important volumes which fall
into the area o f rabbinic literature. In 1837-1838 he published