THE FIRST JEWISH TRANSLATION OF THE PENTATEUCH INTO ENGLISH
The Law of God.
Item Number: 49020
Philadelphia: C. Sherman, 5605, 1845-46.
First edition of the “first English translation of the Pentateuch in America,” the 1845 Hebrew-English Bible by one of the most prominent and influential figures in American Jewish history. Octavo, 5 volumes. Translated by Isaac Leeser. Bound in contemporary polished calf, gilt titles and tooling to the spine, rebacked. Lightly rubbed, moderate wear. A very nice example of a scarce and important work.
Previous editions published by Jews in England had simply utilized the King James translation. The translator was Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), who worked without assistance. In his preface, he apologizes for any errors: "How can it be expected that I should escape, when I have no Jewish compositors, and have necessarily to be often away when the work goes to press?" Despite these obstacles, Leeser doubted that "the precious word of God ever appeared among us in a more beautiful form than the volumes in which I am now engaged." Leeser avoided reliance on earlier English translations, though he made some use of German translations, and noted that "the arrangement is strictly Jewish. My intention was to furnish a book for the service of the Synagogue, both German and Portuguese." Leeser’s “contributions to every area of Jewish culture and religion made him a major builder of American Judaism.” The publication of his Pentateuch was the first time that any portion of the Bible was published in America under Jewish auspices. “The translation of the Bible was Leeser’s great literary achievement and represented many years of patient labor and devotion to a task which he considered sacred… He made good use of the various German translations by Jews of the collective commentary known as the Biur and of other Jewish exegetic works. As a result his translation though based in style upon the King James version can be considered an independent work for the changes he produced are numerous and great… until the new Jewish Publication Society version was issued in 1917, it was the only source from which many Jews not conversant with Hebrew derived their knowledge of the Bible in accordance with Jewish tradition” (Waxman, 1090).