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The Jewish Encyclopedia is a scholarly opus originally published in New York between 1901 and 1906 by Funk and Wagnalls. It contained over 15,000 articles in 12 volumes on the history and then-current state of Judaism and the Jews in 1901. It is now a public domain resource.
University of Toronto librarian, Jenny Mendelsohn, in an online guide to major sources of information about Jews and Judaism, writes of the Encyclopedia, "Although published in the early 1900s, this was a work highly regarded for its scholarship. Much of the material is still of value to researchers in Jewish History."
In 2003 Reform Rabbi Joshua L. Segal described it as "a remarkable piece of Jewish scholarship" and added, "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." American Jewish Archives described it as "the most monumental Jewish scientific work of modern times."
The Jewish Encyclopedia and Wissenschaft des Judentums
The scholarly style of the Jewish Encyclopedia is very much in the mode of Wissenschaft des Judentums ("Jewish studies") studies, an approach to Jewish scholarship and religion that flourished in 19th-century Germany; indeed, the Encyclopedia may be regarded as the culmination of this movement. 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 Hoffman, Heinrich Graetz, etc. This particular scholarly style can be seen in the Jewish Encyclopedia's almost obsessive attention to manuscript discovery, manuscript editing and publication, manuscript comparison, manuscript dating, and so on; these endeavors were among the foremost interests of Wissenschaft scholarship.
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 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 (Schwarz 1965):
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.
— Harry Wolfson
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 [i.e., in 1926], the choice would undoubtedly have fallen upon English."
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. A list of abbreviations used in the encyclopedia is provided (See Listing of Abbreviations).
Jewish Encyclopedia in Russian
- Catholic Encyclopedia
- Encyclopædia Biblica (from which the Jewish Encyclopedia sometimes quotes nearly verbatim, parts of the 'marriage' article, for example)
- Encyclopaedia of Islam
- List of encyclopedias
- Nahum Goldmann
- Wikipedia:Jewish Encyclopedia topics
- Jenny Mendelsohn, Academic Guide to Jewish History: Encyclopedias and Biographies, University of Toronto Libraries. Last update: August 13, 2006. Accessed October 7, 2006.
- Joshua L. Segal, Rabbi's Message: Nov. 2003 - Cheshvan 5764: A Jewish Reference Library at Betenu, Betenu, Volume 21, No. 4: Nov. 2003. Accessed online October 7, 2006.
- "THE LARGER TASK - MARCUS". American Jewish Archives. Retrieved 17 October 2013.
- (Levy 2002)
- Singer, Isidore; Adler, Cyrus; (eds.) et al. (1901–1906) The Jewish Encyclopedia. Funk and Wagnalls, New York. LCCN 16-14703
- Schwarz, Leo W. (1965), "A bibliographical essay", in Lieberman, Saul, Harry Austryn Wolfson Jubilee Volume on the Occasion of His Seventy-Fifth Birthday, Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research.
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- Online version of the Jewish Encyclopedia
- The Jewish Encyclopedia system of transliteration for Hebrew and Aramaic
- The Making of the Enyclopaedia Judaica and the Jewish Encyclopedia (pdf document) (2002), by David B. Levy.
- (Russian) Electronic Jewish Encyclopedia based on The Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia (Краткая еврейская энциклопедия) published in Jerusalem in 1976-2005. The Society for Research on Jewish Communities in cooperation with The Hebrew University, Jerusalem