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  • Old Jastrow is New

    Posted on April 26th, 2009 Ruth Abusch-Magder 1 comment
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    Marcus Mordecai Jastrow

    Marcus Mordecai Jastrow

    It is impossible to imagine the study of traditional rabbinic sources without the aid of dictionaries and other aids that help us decode the complexities and subtleties of Hebrew that have evolved with time and place. Already in ancient times, scholars like Sadia Gaon engaged in the study of Hebrew language as they worked to understand the meaning of biblical and early rabbinic passages. The publication in 1886 of A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature, marked an important transition from the ancient and medieval study of Hebrew to the modern academic method of inquiry. Not only was one of the early wave of Jewish scholarly works to be published in the United States with English as the base language, but it remains after more than a century one of the most essential tools for the serious study of Jewish text.

    Jastrow, as the dictionary is known, was compiled by Marcus Mordecai Jastrow. Born in Rogassen, Prussia in 1829, the young Jastrow grew up in a multicultural, multilingual environment. He was home schooled as a child in a household that spoke Yiddish. The vernacular of the street was German but the Polish influence was strong as well. He attended university as well as rabbinical school receiving a Ph. D. and ordination as a rabbi. In 1866, Jastrow was invited to Philadelphia to become the rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Shalom.

    Living in the United States, he worked on many projects that helped set the foundation for intellectual Jewish life in the US. In addition to the dictionary which he worked on for over seven years, he participated in the compilation of the first English-language Jewish Encyclopedia and the first Jewish textually critical translation of the Tanakh into English.

    Today, the Jastrow has made another leap. This essential text is now available online, for free. Tyndale House, an independent fundamentalist conservative Christian research library in Cambridge England dedicated to the study of the Bible, has scanned the entire text of Jastrow and has created a search function. Clicking on the first letter of a word, users bring up a menu of all the entries beginning with that letter. It is easy to find the word you are looking for by scrolling through the list. Those accustomed to the layout of the paper and ink Jastrow will be comforted as clicking on the desired word brings up the original text and format of the book. An additional feature is the ability to size the text so that magnifying glasses and squinting are not at all necessary. With the Jastrow Dictionary only a click away, we can all take immediate advantage of this brilliant resource.

    For more information about the life and work of Marcus Mordecai Jastrow and the field of Hebrew Lexicography I recommend highly a site put together by the University of Pennsylvania libraries on the topic.

    Photo credit University of Pennsylvania Library.

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    One response to “Old Jastrow is New”

    1. Great job on your blog.

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