Page 167 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 48

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HESSEL / TEXTBOOKS IN JEWISH EDUCATION
1 5 9
by Isaac Gomez, J r . p rin ted in New York in 1820. T h e dem and
for specialized school books was not created until a formal
school existed with a need for common materials. In 1838, Re­
becca Gratz, o f Philadelphia, with the assistance o f Isaac Leeser,
opened the first free Hebrew Sunday School in America. The
curriculum included Jewish history and Hebrew reading. To
assist, Leeser published the first Hebrew primer,
The Hebrew
Reader,
designed as a simple guide to the Hebrew tongue for
Jewish children and those who wished to learn through self
instruction. Leeser re fe rred to it as a “Hebrew spelling book.”
One year later, in 1839, he published the first catechism for
Jewish children,
Catechism for Younger Children Designed as a Fa­
miliar Exposition of the Jewish Religion,
fashioned after the P ro t­
estant materials.6 This was supplemented in the Hebrew Sunday
School by books taken from the Christian Sunday School read ­
ing selections. Those existing texts which re fe rred to concepts
contrary to Jewish though t were changed for the Jewish child.
Passages objectionable in the Jewish setting were blotted out
o r pasted over with slips o f pape r to be disguised and look
like prin ting errors. Soon teachers in the Sunday School, an ­
gered by this approach and resentful o f the overwhelming Ger­
man influence in Leeser’s books, began to prin t their own ma­
terial.
Elementary Instruction in the Scriptures for the Use of Hebrew
Children
appeared in 1840 and th ree years later
Scriptural Ques­
tions for the Use of Sunday Schools for the Instruction of Israelites
was published. Every child had to memorize the stanzas posed
in question and answer form, such as:
Q: Who formed you child and made you live?
A: God did my life and my spirit give.
Q: Who keeps you safely, can you tell?
A: God keeps me safe and makes me well.7
JEWISH PUBLICATION SOCIETY
In 1888, the Jewish Publication Society was organized as a
non-profit educational institution devoted to bringing out im­
portan t religious, historical, literary and cultural works o f Jewish
interest. Its first publication was
Outlines of Jewish History,
by
6 . Ibid., p. 20.
7. Ibid., pp. 21-22.