Page 90 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 5 (1946-1947)

Basic HTML Version

By
S o l o m o n G r a y z e l
ANUARY 10, 1947, will mark the one hundredth anniversary
of the birth of Jacob H. Schiff, that extraordinary philanthro-
pist whose achievements for Jewish letters ought not to be for-
gotten. The United States, during the past century, has produced
many men whose generosity endowed institutions of learning and
who tried to correct social evils; but few of them did so with the
selflessness, the intelligence and the profound sense of duty which
characterized the activity of Jacob H. Schiff.
This is not the place to discuss Schiff’s purely humanitarian
interests, whether Jewish or general, except to say that they were
vast. Nor is it possible to do justice to his many contributions to
institutions of general learning. Columbia University, Barnard Col-
lege, New York University, Amherst, Harvard (where he founded
the Semitic Museum), Cooper Union, the New York Public
Library, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, Palestin-
ian archaeology and a great many other scientific projects were
the beneficiaries of his wealth, usually without the public knowing
anything about it. Even his specifically Jewish philanthropies
must be omitted here as well as his unfailing support of every
cultural Jewish institution, from the Hebrew Union College and
the Jewish Theological Seminary to the Young Men’s Hebrew
Association movement and the Jewish Welfare Board which de-
veloped during his lifetime. For all of these the reader is referred
to the two-volume work written by Cyrus Adler
(Jacob H. Schiffר
his Life and Letters
, Doubleday, Doran and Co., 1929). Here we
shall limit ourselves to the enumeration of his more important
contributions to the field of Jewish books.
Schiff’s interest in academic institutions may have been due to
the importance generally attached to education in the second half
of the 19th century; but his perennial concern with books stemmed
in all likelihood from his own background. For Jacob H. Schiff
came of a noted rabbinic family whose home had for centuries
been Frankfort on the Main and among whose members was the
Maharam
Schiff, one of the most famous commentators on the
Talmud. Curiously enough, from, this point of view, one of the
first publications to which Jacob H. Schiff made a substantial con-
tribution was the
Arukh Completum
by Alexander Kohut, when
78
JACOB H. SCHIFF AND JEWISH BOOKS