Lot 121
  • 121

[Judaica] - American Pentateuch

4,000 - 6,000 USD
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  • [Judaica] - American Pentateuch
  • The Law of God. Philadelphia: Printed by C. Sherman for the Editor [Isaac Leeser], 1845.
  • Paper, Ink, Leather
5 vols., 8vo (7 1/2 x 4 3/4 in.; 190 x 119 mm). Hebrew and English text on facing pages; owner's inscriptions on front free endpapers; library blind-stamp on title pages; library cards and pockets, inside front covers, marbled edges. Contemporary blind tooled green morocco; gilt spine; Lightly browned, worn, spines faded, spine of the first volume fragile. 


Solomon B. Solomon- 1863, a gift from his father, B.L. Solomon. Solomon B. Solomon was the editor of the Jewish Messenger and a co-founder of the 92nd Street YMHA;  Henry Woolf 1903; Temple Beth Israel (blind stamp).


Goldman, 7; Lance J. Sussman, "Another Look at Isaac Leeser and the First Jewish Translation of the Bible in the United States", Modern Judaism, Vol. 5, No. 2, Gershom Scholem Memorial Issue. (May, 1985), pp. 159-190.


Lightly browned, worn, spines faded, spine of the first volume fragile.
In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective qualified opinion.

Catalogue Note

More than any other person of his time, Isaac Leeser (1806-1868) envisioned the development of a major center of Jewish culture and religious activity in the United States. He single-handedly provided American Jews with many of the basic religious texts, institutions, and conceptual tools they needed to construct the cultural foundation of what would later emerge as the largest Jewish community in the history of the Jewish people.

Printed in 1845, this edition of the Pentateuch in five volumes, entitled The Law of God, included a vocalized Hebrew text of each of the Five Books of Moses together with an English translation and notes, as well as the haftarot (prophetic readings). Leeser actually began working on The Law of Godin 1838.  According to Lance Sussman, three factors were involved in his decision to begin systematically working on a translation at this time. First, Leeser had recently completed his six-volume rendition of The Form of Prayers According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (1838) and felt encouraged by his English version of the Psalms in the Sephardic Liturgy.  Second, Rebecca Gratz's Sunday School met for the first time in March 1838, in Philadelphia, and was desperately in need of appropriate study material. Students were compelled to use the King James Bible for want of a Jewish alternative. Religiously objectionable passages in other texts provided by Protestant organizations were either pasted over or torn out by Gratz's staff. Leeser, who supported the Sunday School and was its chief academic resource person, felt compelled to find more suitable texts for the students. Finally, a popular German-Jewish translation of the Hebrew Bible by Leopold Zunz had just been published in 1837-38.  Leeser used the translation in Zunz's liturgy as the prototype for his own work.

After seven years, his translations of the Pentateuch appeared in 1845. This was followed by Biblia Hebraica (1848), the first vocalized Bible printed in America, and, finally, his complete Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures (1853-54). The last named work was the first English translation of the complete Hebrew Bible by a Jew. 

The impetus for Leeser throughout was always his desire to provide the Jews of America with an English text of the Bible that was produced by one of their own and was not tainted by conversionist motivations.  In the preface to the first volume, Leeser could not be any plainer in his declaration that "however much a revised translation may be desired by all believers in the Word of God, there is no probability that the gentiles will encourage any publication of this nature, emanating from a Jewish writer," a revealing comment on the contemporary state of Jewish-Christian relations in the America of 1845.