Judaic Resources at the
American Antiquarian Society
The American Antiquarian Society has almost all American Judaica published before 1801, more than three-quarters of what was published before 1820, and well over half of the imprints published through 1840 (a total of 733 titles, according to Robert Singerman’s bibliography Judaica Americana – for more, see information about access in the sidebar). For the later years, between 1841 and 1876, the Society’s holdings are more selective and represent about a quarter of the almost 1800 titles identified in Singerman’s bibliography for those 35 years. Especially for these later years, AAS continues to actively add to our Judaica collections through gift and purchase; this is evinced by the fact that a number of the selections described below are recent acquisitions.
Jewish immigrants came to the United States starting in the 1650s largely to escape religious persecution or for economic betterment, as most immigrants did, and they faced similar challenges of balancing a newfound identity as Americans while maintaining or adapting Jewish traditions. The United States was viewed by many as a safe haven and land of opportunity for Jews when compared with persecution faced elsewhere, yet sources in the collections of the American Antiquarian Society also document aggressive proselytizing efforts, negative caricatures, and discrimination.
A significant aspect of Jewish Americans’ experience was its integral connection to the history of the book, an area in which AAS collections are particularly strong. Jews were understood to be a “people of the Book” and shared some of their sacred scriptures with the dominant Christian culture; this shared heritage could make the balance of distinction and acculturation for Jewish Americans particularly fraught. American publications of Jewish interest followed a similar trajectory of exponential growth as the Jewish population in the U.S. First isolated Hebrew words appeared in Christian publications in the seventeenth century. Then Jewish booksellers, bookbinders and publishers began working in major cities like New York in the late eighteenth century and early nineteenth century. As the nineteenth century progressed, Jewish printers and publishing houses were established and began publishing works specifically marketed to the American Jewish reading public.
Books and Manuscripts
First Hebrew Type in First Book (1640)
The VVhole Booke of Psalmes Faithfully Translated into English Metre. [Cambridge, Mass.: Stephen Day], 1640. [catalog record]
The Jewish heritage of the United States is integrally connected to its printing heritage; both trace their origins to a common point known as the Bay Psalm Book. The first complete book published in British North America in 1640, it is an American translation of the Psalms of David that features Hebrew type. Wooden Hebrew type was used to print six words in the preface and the entire Hebrew alphabet in Psalm 119 in the Bay Psalm Book. The American Antiquarian Society has that first book, but also a majority of the titles of Jewish interest from the first 200 years of American printing and life.
First Hebrew Textbook in Manuscript (ca. 1722) & Print (1735)
Before the printed version of Harvard professor Judah Monis’s Hebrew Grammar was printed in 1735, manuscript copies were made by Harvard undergraduates for their own studies. In addition to the Grammar, Monis prepared several other texts for students to copy, including this Nomenclator, a brief Hebrew/English vocabulary. This copy was made by David Hall, who graduated from Harvard in 1724.
Judah Monis. Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet. A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue. Boston: Jonas Green, sold by the author at his house in Cambridge, 1735. [catalog record]
Hebrew was a requirement for Harvard undergraduates and the author persuaded college officials to fund 1,000 copies of his textbook, which students were obliged to purchase. The job was executed using Hebrew types—the first complete font made available to an American press—donated to Harvard by English benefactor Thomas Hollis.
Five additional views
First Rabbinic Sermon Published (1773)
Haijm Isaac Karigal. A Sermon Preached at the Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode-Island, Called "The Salvation of Israel." Newport: S. Southwick, 1773. [catalog record]
The first rabbinic sermon given in an American synagogue to be published was “The Salvation of Israel,” given by Haijm Isaac Karigal in Newport, Rhode Island. Rabbi Karigal came to America as a visitor from the Holy Land in 1773. He spent most of his time in Newport’s flourishing Jewish community of more than 1,000 people, where the Touro Synagogue had been founded a decade earlier. Asked to give a sermon during the festival of Shavu’ot, Karigal spoke about the giving of the laws and the importance of the continuation of the Jewish traditions among those in exile. The sermon, given in Spanish, was so influential and moving that the congregation arranged for it to be translated and printed.
Early 19th Century Jewish Book Binder in Jamaica
Thomas Campbell. The Pleasures of Hope; with Other Poems. Edinburgh: Printed for Mundell & Son, 1799. [catalog record]
The first documented bookbinding from the British Caribbean in the AAS collection bears the engraved binder’s ticket of “M. Abrahams, book-binder.” The part of the lower half of the engraved ticket containing the binder’s address has been carefully excised and updated with a piece of paper on which is written in manuscript: “Tower & Church Street Kingston Jamaica.” The owner’s inscription on the title page—“Miss Madelina Chisholm … April 1800”—would seem to date this binding to within a year of the book’s publication. Nothing is known of M. Abrahams, other than that he was a member of Jamaica’s large Jewish community. The binding is an elegantly tree (i.e. acid-stained) calf with yellow-stained edges and marbled endleaves, the spine lettered direct in gilt with distinctive gilt rosette tools and acid-stained false bands. The binding’s fine condition suggests that it did not remain long in Jamaica’s tropical climate.
First Hebrew Bible Printed in America (1814)
Just Put to Press, and Will be Published With All Convenient Speed, the First American Edition of Van der Hooght's Hebrew Bible, Without the Points. By J. Horwitz. [Philadelphia: Thomas Dobson, 1813] [catalog record]
AAS has this 1813 prospectus for the first Hebrew Bible published in America, as well as a copy of the two volume Biblia Hebraica itself which was published in 1814 [catalog record]. The title page of the full Bible indicates that it is a reprinting of the second edition of the Joseph Athias Bible, edited by Leusden with Latin notes by Everardo Van der Hought, and that the Hebrew is printed without vowels.
First Jewish American Printer (1822)
John Adems Paxton. The New-Orleans Directory and Register. New Orleans: Printed for the author by Benjamin Levy & Co., 1822 [catalog record]
Benjamin Levy is regarded as the first American Jew to combine printing, publishing, and selling (plus bookbinding as well!), though his imprints were not Jewish in content. Before Levy, there had been Jewish booksellers and publishers in New York, but men like Benjamin Gomez and Naphtali Judah contracted out the actual printing work to others. Levy started with a similar business model in New Orleans, but soon added printing to his repertoire and was an active printer, publisher, and bookseller from 1822 to 1841. This early New Orleans Directory was one of Levy’s first printing jobs. Inside the directory, his business Levy & Co. was listed as “booksellers and stationers,” but the advertisement printed on the lower boards was for his “printing and book-binding establishment,” indicating the breadth of his involvement in the book trades.
Early Synagogue Dedication (1825)
Congregation Mikveh Israel (Philadelphia, Pa.) Form of Service, at the Dedication of the New Synagogue of the "Kahal Kadosh Mickvi Israel" in the City of Philadelphia. New York: Printed by S.H. Jackson, 5585.  [catalog record]
S.H. Jackson, Jewish printer in New York, can be described as the first printer and publisher determined to issue Jewish books. He started by publishing the anti-missionary periodical The Jew in 1823 and was the first to issue a Haggadah in the U.S. in 1850, both of which are also at AAS. Given the lack of other Jewish printers, it is perhaps not surprising that he was doing printing jobs for a Philadelphia synagogue. Congregation Mikveh Isreal is one of the oldest continuous synagogues in the United States, dating its beginning to 1740, and by 1825 the congregation had grown so much a new synagogue was needed. Four hundred copies of this form of service were printed for the dedication of the building designed by prominent architect William Strickland. It prints the text of seven Hakafas constituting the proceedings in Hebrew, with English translations on facing pages.
Jewish Cemetery in Newport Described in 1849
The Vacation or A Visit to Newport. Newport, R.I.: C.E. Hammett, Jr., 1849. [catalog record]
A wood engraving of the Newport Jews’ Cemetery provides a precious visual record of the early Jewish presence in Newport. According to the text, there were no longer any Jews in Newport but Mr. Touro’s fund continued to keep the cemetery “in perfect repair.” The Vacation chapbook was designed to introduce children to the sights of Newport, which by the 1840s had become a vacation destination; it is also an example of juvenilia in that its printer, Charles Edward Hammett, Jr. (1832-1902) was only seventeen at the time of publication.
Hebrew Texts for Jewish Audiences
Blossom and Fruit. A Choice Collection of Hebrew Texts for Jewish Public and Private Instruction=Tsits u-Feri. Compiled and published by Julius Katzenberg. New York: Industrial School, Hebrew Orphan Asylum, 1882. [catalog record]
AAS certainly has Hebrew texts geared to Christian divinity students, but this text is geared to the needs of Jewish children and youth. AAS has just one other children’s book printed by the Hebrew Orphan Asylum Industrial School, which was a gift book printed as a fundraiser for Mount Sinai Hospital. Books like Blossom and Fruit reflect the emergence of a vibrant middle class Jewish community in nineteenth-century New York.
Newspapers and Periodicals
First Jewish Newspaper in the American West
The Israelite. Cincinnati, OH, Oct. 26, 1860. [catalog record]
The Israelite was the first Jewish newspaper to be published west of the Alleghenies. It was begun on July 15, 1854 by Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, shortly after he moved to Cincinnati. During the first half of the nineteenth century, Cincinnati was a gateway to regions west of it and had become a major center of manufacturing. It was also one of the most important centers of printing and publishing for the Midwest. When Rabbi Wise had the idea of a weekly Jewish newspaper, none of the Christian printers would take on the job and there were no Jewish printers at the time. He finally found Dr. Schmidt, the proprietor of a local German-language paper called Der Deutsche Republicaner. It was a big risk because there was not a large Jewish audience that could read English in Cincinnati at the time, so Wise had to promise to make good on any losses to Schmidt in the first year. Over time Wise built up both readers and a reputation for representing all Jews nationally in his publication. Besides being the editor, in the first years he often had to write the stories that appeared in the paper because of lack of contributors. He edited it until his death in 1900. The paper still exists today under the title of American Israelite.
Unrecorded Jewish Periodical from 1868
The Western Hebrew. Devoted to the Literary and Social Advancement of the Jews. Chicago, July 3,1868. [catalog record]
This publication was found in a box of miscellaneous Chicago newspapers and periodicals given to the Society by the Indiana State Library. It had sat uncataloged in the state library's collection because it is not an Indiana imprint. The title does not appear in any of the bibliographies for Chicago newspapers and periodicals, Judaica Americana, and German-American newspapers. No publisher is given in this issue, but according to the Jewish Messenger (New York, NY) of July 17, 1868, this Chicago publication was under the management of the firm E.H. Salteil & Co., with M. Hofmann the editor of the German section. This issue is possibly the only issue ever published, despite the claim they had 25,000 subscribers. This was a bold claim considering the Jewish population of Chicago at that time was less than half that number.
Jewish Artistry (1864-65)
Levi David Van Gelder. Our Creator and Former Almighty Redeemer. Lithograph. Chicago: L.D. Van Gelder & Co., 1864-65. [catalog record]
Levi David Van Gelder (1816-1878) was a Jewish artist and a specialist in ornamental pen work who produced calligraphic Mizrachs in Holland prior to his move to the United States around 1860. This large lithograph (104 x 76 cm) reproduces one of his most astonishing achievements. Tiny scenes of the Garden of Eden, Cain and Abel, the Tower of Babel, and many others, with accompanying text, are woven intricately together with liturgy from the High Holy Days (both Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur), and Masonic imagery. It is surrounded by ropes of text, microtext, and elaborate borders formed from both English and Hebrew words. This print is the first known Mizrach by Van Gelder to be made in English and Hebrew, as earlier examples are done in Dutch and Hebrew.
“Union List of Nineteenth-Century Jewish Serials Published in the United States” (in English, German & Yiddish) in Singerman, R. Judaica Americana, vol. 2. [catalog record]
Hebrew Printing in America, 1735-1926: A History and Annotated Bibliography by Yosef Goldman (2006) [catalog record]