Page 101 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 7 (1948-1949)

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Sixty Years of The Jewish Publication Society of America
a u r i c e
acob s
HE romance of Jewish book publishing in America affords
an interesting sidelight on American-Jewish history. Jewish
book publishing has been, however, more than a mere concomitant
of the community’s physical growth; it has reflected the intel-
lectual needs of the emerging American Jewry and attempted to
guide its spiritual development. In colonial days, our Jewish
communities were small and scattered, and the demand for Jewish
books was slight and easily satisfied by importation from abroad.
As the immigration of Jews from Germany grew, and as the
children of these newcomers accepted the English language as
their mother tongue, the need for books in English dealing with
Jewish religion, history and literature began to be felt, less per-
haps by the average American Jew than by the rabbis and those
concerned with religious education.
The first attempt to fill the need for Jewish books was made
by the Reverend Isaac Leeser, the
of the Sephardic Con-
gregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, who practically unaided,
established the American Jewish Publication Society on November
8, 1845. The impulse which brought this organization into being
grew out of a genuine fear of the Christian missionary and his
free literature. The Jewish religion was in danger because there
were no Jewish books in English. Leeser, therefore, felt it neces-
sary to confound the missionaries, save the younger Jewish gen-
eration, develop a group of American Jewish writers, and try to
bring unity to a religiously discordant Jewish world through the
creation and development of common literary interests. Isaac
Leeser, in all probability, patterned his American Jewish Publi-
cation Society after one of the missionary and tract societies
which existed in London at the time.*
But the Society’s life was comparatively brief. I t met with
severe losses from a fire in Philadelphia, December 27, 1851, which
destroyed the building where nearly all the Society’s published
*An article on the “First American Jewish Publication Society” by Solomon
Grayzel appeared in the
Jewish Book Annual
III (1944-45).