The Jewish Encyclopedia

The Jewish Encyclopedia: A Descriptive Record of the History, Religion, Literature, and Customs of the Jewish People from the Earliest Times to the Present Day is an English-language encyclopedia containing over 15,000 articles on the history, culture, and state of Judaism up to the early-20th century.[1] The encyclopedia's managing editor was Isidore Singer and the editorial board was chaired by Isaac K. Funk and Frank H. Vizetelly.

The work's scholarship is still highly regarded: the American Jewish Archives deemed it "the most monumental Jewish scientific work of modern times",[2] and Rabbi Joshua L. Segal said "for events prior to 1900, it is considered to offer a level of scholarship superior to either of the more recent Jewish encyclopedias written in English."

It was originally published in 12 volumes between 1901 and 1906 by Funk & Wagnalls of New York,, and reprinted in the 1960s by KTAV Publishing House. It is now in the public domain.

Jewish Encyclopedia Cover Page
Cover page of the 1901 edition



Singer conceived of a Jewish encyclopedia in Europe and proposed creating an Allgemeine Encyklopädia für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums in 1891. He envisioned 12 volumes, published over 10-to-15 years, at a cost of 50 dollars as a set. They would contain scientific and unbiased articles on ancient and modern Jewish culture. This proposal received good press coverage and interest from the Brockhaus publishing company. However, after the House of Rothschild in Paris, consulted by Zadoc Kahn, offered to back the project with only 8 percent of the minimum funds requested by Brockaus, the project was abandoned. Following the Dreyfus affair and associated unpleasantness, Singer emigrated to New York City.[3]

Initially believing that American Jews could do little more than provide funding for his project, Singer was impressed by the level of scholarship in the United States. He wrote a new prospectus, changing the title of his planned encyclopedia to Encyclopedia of the History and Mental Evolution of the Jewish Race. His radical ecumenism and opposition to orthodoxy upset many of his Jewish readers; nevertheless he attracted the interest of publisher Isaac K. Funk, a Lutheran minister who also believed in integrating Judaism and Christianity. Funk agreed to publish the encyclopedia on the condition that it remain unbiased on issues which might seem unfavorable for Jews. Singer accepted and was established in an office at Funk & Wagnalls on 2 May 1898.[4]

Publication of the prospectus in 1898 created a severe backlash, including accusations of poor scholarship and of subservience to Christians. Kaufmann Kohler and Gotthard Deutsch, writing in American Hebrew, highlighted Singer’s factual errors, and accused him of commercialism and irreligiosity. Now considering that the project could not succeed with Singer at the helm, Funk & Wagnalls appointed an editorial board to oversee creation of the encyclopedia.[5]

Editorial board

Funk & Wagnalls assembled an editorial board between October 1898 and March 1899. Singer toned down his ideological rhetoric, indicated his desire to collaborate, and changed the work’s proposed title to The Jewish Encyclopedia. Despite their reservations about Singer, rabbi Gustav Gottheil and Cyrus Adler agreed to join the board, followed by Morris Jastrow, Frederick de Sola Mendes, and two published critics of the project: Kauffmann Kohler and Gotthard Deutsch

Theologian and Presbyterian minister George Foot Moore was added to the board for balance. Soon after work started, Moore withdrew and was replaced by Baptist minister Crawford Toy. Last was added the elderly Marcus Jastrow, mostly for his symbolic imprimatur as America's leading Talmudist. In March 1899, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, which had been contemplating a competing project, agreed to discuss collaborating with Funk & Wagnalls—thus securing the position of the Jewish Encyclopedia as the only major project of its kind. Shuly Rubin Schwartz describes the payment scheme arranged at this time as follows:

Members of the local executive committee, exclusive of Singer and, of course, Funk, would receive one thousand dollars per annum, while the rest of the department editors would receive five hundred. All collaborators, editors included, would be paid five dollars per printed page of about one thousand English words. If the article was written in a foreign language, payment would be only $3.50 per page. Singer's compensation was forty dollars a week (thirty-five plus five for a life insurance premium). His salary was considered an advance, since Singer alone was to share with the company in the profits.[6]

Other editors participating in all 12 volumes were Gotthard Deutsch, Richard Gottheil, Joseph Jacobs, Kaufmann Kohler, Herman Rosenthal, and Crawford Howell Toy. Morris Jastrow, Jr. and Frederick de Sola Mendes assisted with volumes I to II; Marcus Jastrow with volumes I, II, and III; Louis Ginzberg with the first four volumes; Solomon Schechter with volumes IV through VII; Emil G. Hirsch with volumes IV through XII; and Wilhelm Bacher with volumes VIII through XII. William Popper served as assistant revision editor and chief of translation for volumes IV through XII.

The editors plunged into their enormous task and soon identified and solved some inefficiencies with the project. Article assignments were shuffled around and communication practices were streamlined. Joseph Jacobs was hired as a coordinator. He also wrote four hundred articles and procured many of the encyclopedia's illustrations. Herman Rosenthal, an authority on Russia, was added as an editor. Louis Ginzberg joined the project and later became head of the rabbinical literature department.[7]

The board naturally faced many difficult editorial questions and disagreements. Singer wanted specific entries for every Jewish community in the world, with detailed information about, for example, the name and dates of the first Jewish settler in Prague. Conflict also arose over what types of Bible interpretation should be included, with some editors fearing that Morris Jastrow's involvement in "higher criticism" would lead to unfavorable treatment of scripture.[8]


Jewish Encyclopedia Colored Illustration
"Ark of the Law"

The scholarly style of The Jewish Encyclopedia aligns directly to the Wissenschaft des Judentums, an approach to Jewish scholarship and religion that flourished in 19th-century Germany. The encyclopedia may be regarded as the culmination of this movement, which sought to modernize scholarly methods in Jewish research. In the 20th century, the movement's members dispersed to Jewish Studies departments in the United States and Israel.

The scholarly authorities cited in the encyclopedia—besides the classical and medieval exegetes—are almost uniformly Wissenschaft figures, such as Leopold Zunz, Moritz Steinschneider, Solomon Schechter, Wilhelm Bacher, J.L. Rapoport, David Zvi Hoffmann, and Heinrich Graetz. Its scholarly style is evident by The Jewish Encyclopedia's almost obsessive attention to manuscript discovery, editing, publication, comparison, and dating. These endeavors were among the foremost interests of Wissenschaft scholarship.[9]

The Jewish Encyclopedia is an English-language work, but the vast majority of the encyclopedia's contemporary sources are German-language sources, since this was the mother tongue of the Wissenschaft scholars and the lingua franca of Biblical scholarship in general in that period. Of the works cited which are not German—usually the more classical works—the large part are either Hebrew or Arabic. The only heavily cited English-language source of contemporary scholarship is Solomon Schechter's publications in The Jewish Quarterly Review. The significance of the work's publication in English rather than German or Hebrew is captured by Harry Wolfson writing in 1926:

About twenty-five years ago, there was no greater desert, as far as Jewish life and learning, than the English-speaking countries, and English of all languages was the least serviceable for such a Jewish work of reference. To contemporary European reviewers of The Jewish Encyclopedia, the undertaking seemed then like an effort wasted on half-clad Zulus in South Africa and Jewish tailors in New York. Those who were then really in need of such a work and could benefit thereby would have been better served if it were put out in Hebrew, German or Russian.[10]

The editors and authors of The Jewish Encyclopedia proved prescient in their choice of language, since within that same span of 25 years, English rose to become the dominant language of academic Jewish scholarship and among Jews worldwide. Wolfson continues that "if a Jewish Encyclopedia in a modern language were planned for the first time, the choice would undoubtedly have fallen upon English."


The unedited text of the original can be found at The Jewish Encyclopedia website. The site offers both JPEG facsimiles of the original articles and Unicode transcriptions of all texts.

The search capability is somewhat handicapped by the fact that the search mechanism fails to take into account the decision to maintain all diacritical marks in the transliterated Hebrew and Aramaic from the 1901–1906 text, which used a large number of diacriticals not in common use today. Thus, for example, to successfully search for "Halizah"—the ceremony by which the widow of a brother who has died childless released her brother-in-law from the obligation of marrying her—one would have to know that they have transliterated this as "Ḥaliẓah". The alphabetic index ignores diacriticals so it can be more useful when searching for an article whose title is known.

The scholarly apparatus of citation is thorough, but can be a bit daunting to contemporary users. Books that might have been widely known among scholars of Judaism at the time the encyclopedia was written (but which are quite obscure to a lay reader today) are referred to by author and title, but with no publication information and often without indication of the language in which they were written.

The Jewish Encyclopedia was heavily used as a source by the 16-volume Jewish Encyclopedia in Russian, published by Brockhaus and Efron in Saint Petersburg between 1906 and 1913.

See also



  1. ^ New York Times. 16 Aug. 1902.
  2. ^ Marcus 1974.
  3. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 25–27.
  4. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 28–31.
  5. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 33–36.
  6. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 37–51.
  7. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 51–56.
  8. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 57–59.
  9. ^ Schwartz 1991, pp. 2–4.
  10. ^ Schwarz 1965.


  • "The Jewish Encyclopedia". The New York Times. 16 August 1902.
  • The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. IIIIIIIVVVIVIIVIIIIXXXIXII. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. 1901–1906. LCCN 16014703.
  • Marcus, J. R. (1974). The Larger Task (Speech). Ninetieth Ordination Exercises of the Hebrew Union College. Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives.
  • Schwarz, L. W. (1965). "A Bibliographical Essay". In Lieberman, S. Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume. Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research.
  • Schwartz, S. R. (1991). The Emergence of Jewish Scholarship in America: The Publication of the Jewish Encyclopedia. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union. ISBN 0878204121.

External links

Alexander Harkavy

Alexander Harkavy (Yiddish: אַלכּסנדר האַרקאַווי‎, Russian: Александр Гаркави, Aleksandr Garkavi; May 5, 1863 at Nowogrudok (Yiddish: נאַוואַרעדאָק‎), Minsk guberniya (governorate), Russian Empire (now Navahrudak, Hrodna Voblast, Belarus) - 1939 in New York City) was a Russian-born American writer, lexicographer and linguist.


Armilus (Hebrew: ארמילוס‎) (also spelled Armilos and Armilius) is an anti-messiah figure in medieval Jewish eschatology, comparable to medieval interpretations of the Christian Antichrist and Islamic Dajjal, who will conquer Jerusalem and persecute the Jews until his final defeat at the hands of God or the true Messiah. His inevitable destruction symbolizes the ultimate victory of good over evil in the Messianic age.

Elisha ben Abuyah

Elisha ben Abuyah (Hebrew: אלישע בן אבויה‎) (spelled variously, including Elisha ben Avuya) was a rabbi and Jewish religious authority born in Jerusalem sometime before 70 CE. After he adopted a worldview considered heretical by his fellow Tannaim and betrayed his people, the rabbis of the Talmud refrained from relating teachings in his name and referred to him as the "Other One" (אחר, Acher). Rabbi Louis Ginzberg, writing in the Jewish Encyclopedia (1901–1906), says that "it is almost impossible to derive from rabbinical sources a clear picture of his personality, and modern historians have differed greatly in their estimate of him. According to Grätz, he was a Karpotian Gnostic; according to Siegfried, a follower of Philo; according to Dubsch, a Christian; according to Smolenskin and Weiss, a victim of the inquisitor Akiva."

Emil G. Hirsch

Emil Gustav Hirsch (May 22, 1851 – January 7, 1923) was a major Reform movement rabbi in the United States.


An enemy or a foe is an individual or a group that is verified as forcefully adverse or threatening. The concept of an enemy has been observed to be "basic for both individuals and communities". The term "enemy" serves the social function of designating a particular entity as a threat, thereby invoking an intense emotional response to that entity. The state of being or having an enemy is enmity, foehood or foeship.

Frederick T. Haneman

Frederick Theodore Haneman (20 September 1862 - 3 May 1950) was an American author best known for being a main contributor to the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Haneman lived and worked in Brooklyn, New York. While writing articles for the Jewish Encyclopedia, he was managing editor of The New York Medical Journal. He also wrote the American Jewish Yearbook. He was a main contributor to the New International Encyclopedia on the subject of toxicology.


Gomer is the name of two people in the Hebrew Bible:

Gomer (גֹּמֶר, Standard Hebrew Gómer, Tiberian Hebrew Gōmer, pronounced [ˈɡomeʁ]; Greek: Γαμὲρ, translit. Gamér) was the eldest son of Japheth (and of the Japhetic line), and father of Ashkenaz, Riphath, and Togarmah, according to the "Table of Nations" in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10).

Gomer was also the wife of the prophet Hosea, and the daughter of Diblaim: mentioned in the Book of Hosea.

Hosea 1:2 refers to her alternatively as a "promiscuous woman" (NIV), a "harlot" (NASB), and a "whore" (KJV) but Hosea is told to marry her according to Divine appointment.

For more information see: Gomer (wife of Hosea).

The eponymous Gomer, "standing for the whole family," as the compilers of the Jewish Encyclopedia expressed it, is also mentioned in Book of Ezekiel 38:6 as the ally of Gog, the chief of the land of Magog.

The Hebrew name Gomer refers to the Cimmerians, who dwelt in what is now southern Russia, "beyond the Caucusus", and attacked Assyria in the late 7th century BC. The Assyrians called them Gimmerai; the Cimmerian king Teushpa was defeated by Assarhadon of Assyria sometime between 681 and 668 BC.

Goodman Lipkind

Rabbi Goodman Lipkind (1878 – 1973) was a London rabbi who later emigrated to New York City. He wrote several articles for the Jewish Encyclopedia in 1906. He is today mainly remembered for having been the factual base for the picture of Joseph Strelitski, the rabbi who emigrated to America in Israel Zangwill's Children of the Ghetto.

Gopher wood

You may be looking for the tree Torreya taxifolia, sometimes called "gopher wood".

Gopher wood or gopherwood is a term used once in the Bible for the substance from which Noah's ark was built. Genesis 6:14 states that Noah was to build the Ark of gofer (Hebrew גפר), more commonly transliterated as gopher wood, a word not otherwise known in the Bible or in Hebrew. Although some English Bibles attempt a translation, older English translations, including the King James Version (17th century), leave it untranslated. The word is unrelated to the name of the North American animal, the gopher.

Herod of Chalcis

Herod of Chalcis (d. 48-49 AD), also known as Herod V, listed by the Jewish Encyclopedia as Herod II, was a son of Aristobulus IV, and the grandson of Herod the Great, Roman client king of Chalcis. He was the brother of Herod Agrippa I and Herodias.

Isidore Singer

Isidore Singer (10 November 1859 – 1939) was an editor of The Jewish Encyclopedia and founder of the American League for the Rights of Man.

Joseph Jacobs

Joseph Jacobs (29 August 1854 – 30 January 1916) was an Australian folklorist, translator, literary critic, social scientist, historian and writer of English literature who became a notable collector and publisher of English folklore.

Jacobs was born in Sydney to a Jewish family.

His work went on to popularize some of the world's best known versions of English fairy tales including "Jack and the Beanstalk", "Goldilocks and the three bears", "The Three Little Pigs", "Jack the Giant Killer" and "The History of Tom Thumb". He published his English fairy tale collections: English Fairy Tales in 1890 and More English Fairy Tales in 1893 but also went on after and in between both books to publish fairy tales collected from continental Europe as well as Jewish, Celtic and Indian fairytales which made him one of the most popular writers of fairytales for the English language. Jacobs was also an editor for journals and books on the subject of folklore which included editing the Fables of Bidpai and the Fables of Aesop, as well as articles on the migration of Jewish folklore. He also edited editions of The Thousand and One Nights. He went on to join The Folklore Society in England and became an editor of the society journal Folklore. Joseph Jacobs also contributed to The Jewish Encyclopedia.

During his lifetime, Jacobs came to be regarded as one of the foremost experts on English folklore.

Kaufmann Kohler

Kaufmann Kohler (May 10, 1843 – January 28, 1926) was a German-born American Bible scholar, Reform rabbi and theologian.

Lazar Grünhut

Lazar, Grünhut (Hebrew: אלעזר הלוי גרינהוט‎ born at Gerenda, Hungary, May 10, 1850- died in Petah Tikva, February 2, 1913) Hungarian rabbi and writer. He is especially renowned for his research & publications in the field of Midrash.

Receiving his diploma as rabbi while a mere youth, he went to Berlin, where he attended the lectures of Dr. Israel Hildesheimer at the rabbinical seminary, as well as those at the university. He graduated (Ph.D.) from the University of Bern. For eleven years he officiated as rabbi at Temesvár, Hungary.

In 1892, he moved to Jerusalem on invitation to be director of the Jewish orphanage at Jerusalem. There he was active in teaching and in Zionist political activism. He was active in the Mizrachi movement and was their representative in the Zionist Congress.


The Mannaeans (country name usually Mannea; Akkadian: Mannai, possibly Biblical Minni, מנּי) were an ancient people who lived in the territory of present-day northwestern Iran south of lake Urmia, around the 10th to 7th centuries BC. At that time they were neighbors of the empires of Assyria and Urartu, as well as other small buffer states between the two, such as Musasir and Zikirta.

In the Bible (Jeremiah 51:27) the Mannaeans are called Minni. In the Jewish Encyclopedia (1906), Minni is identified with Armenia, but it could refer to one of the provinces in ancient Armenia; Minni, Ararat and Ashkenaz. According to examinations of the place and personal names found in Assyrian and Urartian texts, the Mannaeans, or at least their rulers, spoke Hurrian, a non-Semitic and non-Indo-European language related to Urartian, with no modern language connections.


According to the Torah, Merari (Hebrew: מְרָרִי, Mərārî) was one of the sons of Levi, and the patriarchal founder of the Merarites, one of the four main divisions among the Levites in Biblical times. The Hebrew word Merari means sad, bitter or strong (in the sense that a dish with a bitter taste might be said to have a "strong" taste). The Merarites were charged with the transportation and care of the structural components of the tabernacle.Richard Elliott Friedman attributes the genealogy to the Book of Generations, a document originating from a similar religiopolitical group and date to the priestly source. According to some biblical scholars, the Torah's genealogy for Levi's descendants is actually an aetiological myth reflecting the fact that there were four different groups among the levites - the Gershonites, Kohathites, Merarites, and Aaronids; according to the Jewish Encyclopedia, Levite was originally just a job title, deriving from the Minaean word lawi'u meaning priest, rather than having been the name of a tribe.

Meyer Kayserling

Meyer Kayserling (also Meir or Moritz, 17 June 1829 – 21 April 1905) was a German rabbi and historian.


Nicodemus (; Greek: Νικόδημος) was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin mentioned in three places in the Gospel of John:

He first visits Jesus one night to discuss Jesus' teachings (John 3:1–21).

The second time Nicodemus is mentioned, he reminds his colleagues in the Sanhedrin that the law requires that a person be heard before being judged (John 7:50–51).

Finally, Nicodemus appears after the Crucifixion of Jesus to provide the customary embalming spices, and assists Joseph of Arimathea in preparing the body of Jesus for burial (John 19:39–42).An apocryphal work under his name—the Gospel of Nicodemus—was produced in the mid-4th century, and is mostly a reworking of the earlier Acts of Pilate, which recounts the harrowing of Hell.

Although there is no clear source of information about Nicodemus outside the Gospel of John, the Jewish Encyclopedia and some historians have speculated that he could be identical to Nicodemus ben Gurion, mentioned in the Talmud as a wealthy and popular holy man reputed to have had miraculous powers. Others point out that the biblical Nicodemus is likely an older man at the time of his conversation with Jesus, while Nicodemus ben Gurion was on the scene 40 years later, at the time of the Jewish War.

Richard James Horatio Gottheil

Richard James Horatio Gottheil (October 13, 1862 – May 22, 1936) was an American Semitic scholar, Zionist, and founding father of Zeta Beta Tau Fraternity.


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