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The Leeser legacy to American Jewish history is a well-documented life of pioneering accomplishments. As Bertram Korn succinctly puts it: "Practically every form of Jewish activity which supports American Jewish life today was either established or envisaged by this one man." Perhaps the most lasting testament to Leeser's energy and hopes can be found in the pages of his journal The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, of which he was the founder, editor, contributor, and occasional typesetter. The Occident contains arguably the single most important historical record of Jewish life in the Western Hemisphere in the mid-nineteenth century. Chronicled there, for example, is Leeser's ongoing confrontation with the rising movement for Jewish religious reform. As editor of The Occident, Leeser was able to give voice to his belief in and defense of observant Judaism and fiercely resisted many proposed changes to traditional Jewish rituals. Leeser's editorials also document his many public battles to defend religious freedom -- such as his losing effort to revoke Sunday closing laws and resistance to widespread missionizing activity. Finally, through the agency of The Occident, Leeser sought to accomplish in print what he never succeeded in doing in practice: to bring together in one common forum the many American Jewish communities that were otherwise divided -- by either geography or ideology.
In addition to his journalistic endeavors, Leeser also was renowned for his many translations. His Bible translation was THE Scriptural version read by English-speaking American Jews prior to that issued by the Jewish Publication Society of America in 1917. Leeser also was actively involved in supporting Jewish causes around the world, as evidenced by his galvanizing of the American Jewish community in 1840 to protest the Damascus Affair, a blood libel leveled against Jews in Damascus, and again in 1858 in response to the Vatican's support of the notorious abduction of Edgardo Mortara, an Italian Jewish boy who had been secretly baptized and then taken from his parents. No less significant was Leeser's support of proto-Zionist Jewish settlement of Ottoman Palestine.
It is our hope that the documents made available via this website will help to deepen our understading of the importance of Isaac Leeser's legacy and open up to the public new avenues for study and research.
The following bibliography represents those selected secondary sources, in addition to the dispersed Leeser collection itself, upon which the above outline was based. For the authoritative biography of Leeser, see most recently Sussman (1995).
Adler, Cyrus. Catalogue of the Leeser Library (Philadelphia: E. Hirsch and Company, 1883).
Ashton, Dianne. Women and Judaism in Antebellum America (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1997).
Davis, Moshe. The Emergence of Conservative Judaism (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1963).
Diner, Hasia R.. A Time for Gathering: the Second Migration, 1820-1880 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1992).
Glanz, Rudolf. “Where the Jewish Press was Distributed in Pre-Civil War America,” Western States Jewish Historical Quarterly vol. 5 (1972), pp. 1-14.
Grunberger, Michael, editor. From Haven to Home: 350 years of Jewish life in America. (New York: George Braziller in association with the Library of Congress, 2004).
Karp, Abraham. “America’s Pioneer Prayer books” Jewish Book Annual, vol. 34 (1976/77), pp. 15-25.
Kiron, Arthur. “An Atlantic Jewish Republic of Letters?” Jewish History, vol. 20, nos. 1-2 (2006), pp. 171-211.
Korn, Bertram W.. "Isaac Leeser: Centennial Reflections," American Jewish Archives, vol. 19 (1967), pp. 127-141.
Korn, Bertram W.. "The First American Jewish Theological Seminary: Maimonides College, 1867-1873," in Eventful Years and Experiences (Cincinnati: American Jewish Archives, 1954), pp. 151-213.
Marcus, Jacob Rader. United States Jewry, 1776-1976 [4 vols.] (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1989-1993).
Mendelsohn, Adam. “The Emergence of the Anglophone Jewish Diaspora in the mid-Nineteenth Century, American Jewish History vol. 93, no. 2 (2007), pp. 177-209.
Sarna, Jonathan D.. American Judaism: A History (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004).
Sellers, Maxine. “Isaac Leeser, Architect of the American Jewish Community,” (Ph.D. dissertation: University of Pennsylvania, 1966).
Sulzberger, Mayer. "No Better Jew, No Purer Man," originally appeared in the Occident, vol. 25, March (1868), pp. 593-601; reprinted in American Jewish Archives, vol. 21-22 (1969-70), pp. 140-148.
Sussman, Lance J.. "Another Look at Isaac Leeser and the First Jewish Translation of the Bible in the United States" Modern Judaism, vol. 5 (1985), pp. 159-190.
Sussman, Lance J.. "Isaac Leeser and the Protestantization of American Judaism," American Jewish Archives, vol. 38, April (1986), pp. 1-21.
Sussman, Lance J.. “The Life and Career of Isaac Leeser (1806-1868): A Study of American Judaism in Its Formative Period (Ph.D. dissertation: Hebrew Union College, 1987).
Sussman, Lance J.. Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism (Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 1995).
Whiteman, Maxwell. "Isaac Leeser and the Jews of Philadelphia" Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, vol. 48 (1959), pp. 207-244.
Whiteman, Maxwell."The Legacy of Isaac Leeser" in Jewish Life in Philadelphia: 1830-1940, ed. Murray Friedman (Philadelphia: Ishi, 1983), pp. 26-47.
Wolf, Edward. "Transfer of Custody of Leeser Library," The Dropsie College Register, Exercises on Founder's Day, March 10, 1913, published Summer Term, 1913 (Philadelphia: Dropsie College, 1913), pp. 26-39.