Rabbi Marcus Jastrow and His Vision for the Reform of Judaism: A Study in the History of Judaism in the Nineteenth Century

Rabbi Marcus Jastrow and His Vision for the Reform of Judaism: A Study in the History of Judaism in the Nineteenth Century

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Michal Galas

Series: Jews of Poland
ISBN: 9781618113450 (hardcover)
Pages: 265 pp.
Publication Date: December 2013

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Rabbi Marcus Jastrow (1829-1903) was one of the most important figures of nineteenth-century Judaism, but is often neglected. This volume presents his life and his views on the reform of Judaism in the context of the changes and developments of Judaism in his lifetime. It covers his early life and his career in Europe as a preacher and rabbi in Warsaw, Mannheim, and Worms, and then discusses his activities in the United States, where he served as rabbi of Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, as well as his work on his famous dictionary. Jastrow was deeply involved in the important religious and scholarly initiatives of American Jewry: he took part in the emergence of Reform as well as Conservative Judaism, being involved in major controversies and polemics regarding them, and had a great impact on the creation of Jewish scholarship and Judaic studies in America.


Reviews

It is a service to the broader field of Jewish Studies that [this] book is now available in an English translation. . . . The book is a valuable contribution to our understanding of a rabbi who, in three different countries, showed considerable courage in the stands he took on both political and religious issues, and who made a significant and largely unappreciated contribution to American Judaism, over and above the Dictionary that is his major contribution to scholarship. The dramatic events of Jastrow’s life as presented by Galas reveal an individual who deserves to be known for more than his Dictionary.
— Marc Saperstein, in the Journal of Jewish Studies, Vol. LXVI, No. I, Spring 2015
Overall, this is by far the best treatment that we have of Jastrow, and makes an important contribution. Hopefully, it will stimulate further studies of Jastrow and his scholarship—Galas certainly makes a persuasive case for his significance.
— Jonathan Sarna, Brandeis University
This biographical study of Marcus Jastrow, today remembered largely for his monumental Dictionary of the Targumim, The Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and The Midrashic Literature, presents the reader with a remarkable—and largely unknown—history from the world of nineteenth century Judaism. On the basis of meticulous research in archives and libraries of three continents, Michal Galas traces the life of his rabbinic hero from West Prussia in the age of the Haskalah to the bastion of American Reform Judaism in Philadelphia in the last decades of the nineteenth century. We see Jastrow, a world-renowned preacher and rabbi committed to the progressive principles of his day, stand shoulder to shoulder with the Poles struggling for their independence from Russia and then help shape American Judaism in its formative years.
— Adam Teller, Brown University
This book is full of surprises. Most American Jews associate the name ‘Marcus Jastrow’ with his classical dictionary of rabbinic texts. However, Galas’s book reveals that this quiet German Jewish rabbi and scholar had played a prominent role in the Polish revolutionary movement while serving in Warsaw and came to the United States only after he was freed from a Tsarist prison. Moreover, in America, Jastrow’s interest in combining innovation with tradition led him to major—and largely overlooked—contributions to the formation of the Conservative movement and to various cultural and educational institutions. Galas uncovers these forgotten chapters in Jewish history and thought with grace and perception.
— Shaul Stampfer, Hebrew University