Posted on April 26th, 2009 No comments
Golda Meir, Bella Abzug and So Much More: The Jewish Women’s Encyclopedia
Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia is a welcome addition to the landscape of great Jewish resources. Hosted by the Jewish Women’s Archive and launched recently on March 1st in honor of Women’s History Month, this encyclopedia represents a rich and critical resource for those interested in all matters Jewish. Publishers Alice and Moshe Shalvi together with editors Paula Hyman and Dalia Ofer, have gathered critical information about Jewish women in an extensive collection of topical and biographical essays.
At their best encyclopedias take the world of scholarship and distill forth the key ideas providing lay and scholarly readers alike with the ability to easily access information and to move easily from topic to topic. In the era of the internet, on some level, this seems superfluous, after all if you want to explore a topic one need only enter a few words into a search engine and “entries” immediately appear. Indeed, fewer and fewer people these days are willing to wade into the library, find the right encyclopedia, look up the topic under consideration and follow cross references across articles or volumes. Yet in “googling” we often fall prey to the most popular rather than the most authoritative information and miss out on the organizational and editorial benefit of the traditional encyclopedia. The Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia works well to focus and direct our looking, creating a rich and enriching resource for Jewish learning.
By placing this work, which has been available previously as a CD-ROM, on the web, the Jewish Women’s Archive has made a critical contribution to our study of Jewish history. The search features make it easy to find material specific in any number of ways; one can look for Mary Antin or scroll through the list of writers to find her among other great and lesser known women of the pen. Browse features ensure that the serendipitous pleasures of the print format are preserved. A global search allows for one to look for the appearance of a term or name in any entry. Borrowing from the best practice of collaborative knowledge, readers are encouraged to add comments, insights or more information.
In addition to providing a good place to check facts, such as those about midrashic representations of Batsheva, it is also the perfect source for inspiration for sermons or charges to the board. It is a great resource for our own learning; with references to rabbinic texts cited and bibliographies. The quality of the writing is high but accessible. B’nai mitzvah students would feel quite comfortable in these pages.
For the sake of full disclosure, I contributed to one of the entries. But my interest in this resource is far from personal. One of the great joys of this encyclopedia is the journey that it provides far beyond our own areas of knowledge and understanding. Looking around on the day it first appeared on the web, I learned about Lane Bryant Malsin the Jewish pioneer of maternity wear and niche marketing, gaining new insights and appreciation for this hard working innovative immigrant; I deepened my understanding of wife beating in Jewish tradition thanks to the scholarship of Naomi Graetz and I got some sense of the breadth and depth of those who might be called Jewish writers. The online Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia has the potential to take us all far beyond the obvious with ease.
Posted on April 26th, 2009 1 comment
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.