Isaac Leeser (1806-1868), a German-born immigrant to America, contributed significantly to the growth of Jewish life in his adoptive country by establishing The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, the first successful national Jewish newspaper; helping to organize several important Jewish communal institutions; and translating a number of foundational Jewish texts into English. Having published a five-volume Pentateuch-cum-haftarot (lections from the Prophets) translation in 1845-1846, as well as a complete, vocalized and accentuated Hebrew Bible in 1848 (the first such edition published in America), he proceeded, from April 1852 to September 1853, to extend his translation efforts to the entire Hebrew Bible. Relying heavily on ancient Jewish Aramaic translations (the Onkelos, Jonathan ben Uzziel, Jerusalem Targums) and medieval rabbinic commentaries (Rasag, Rashbam, Ibn Ezra, Radak, Ralbag, and especially Rashi), he also consulted previous (Christian) English versions and the modern German renditions of Moses Mendelssohn (1729-1786), Leopold Zunz (1794-1886), and Ludwig Philippson (1811-1889).
The result was his Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures, the first translation of all of Tanakh into English by a Jew, complete with short explanatory notes. Leeser explained in the preface to his magnum opus that he undertook the project in order to provide Anglophone Jewry with a vernacular version of the Bible “which has not been made by the authority of churches in which they can have no confidence” (pp. iii-iv). The book went through multiple editions and quickly won wide acceptance among English-speaking Jews (and even some Gentiles), especially (but not exclusively) in America, until the appearance in 1917 of the Jewish Publication Society Hebrew Bible translation.
The present lot is an exceptionally beautifully-bound copy of the Leeser Bible presented in 1866 to Emily Sarah Davis (d. 1902) by her fiancé Lewis Abraham Franklin (d. 1879) – scion of an important Anglo-Jewish family active in communal, public, and economic life – about five months before their wedding in London. (The bride’s mother, Eliza Davis of Tavistock Square [d. 1903], whose husband James Phineas [d. 1886] purchased their home from Charles Dickens in 1860, carried on a now-famous correspondence with the author about his attitude toward Jews as manifest in the novels Oliver Twist and Our Mutual Friend, and also presented him with a Hebrew Bible.) The opening sheet of the volume is poetically inscribed by Franklin to his bride-to-be with a vision of their future life together guided by the principles of the Torah. In addition, several pages at the rear contain extended family records of marriages, births, and deaths written in various hands, including those of Emily Sarah and her daughter Miriam.
Emily Sarah Davis. 13. July, 1866. 5626. (bookplate on upper board)
Miriam May (née Davis) (family records in her hand at the rear of the volume)
Israel Abrahams, “Isaac Leeser’s Bible,” By-Paths in Hebraic Bookland (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1920), 254-259.
Murray Baumgarten, “‘The Other Woman’ – Eliza Davis and Charles Dickens,” Dickens Quarterly 32,1 (March 2015): 44-70.
Cumberland Clark (ed.), Charles Dickens and His Jewish Characters (London: Chiswick Press, 1918).
Ephraim Deinard, Kohelet america: yakhil reshimat kol ha-sefarim asher nidpesu ba-america mi-shenat 495 (1735) ad shenat 686 (1926) u-bikkoret ketsarah kim‘at al kol sefer, vol. 2 (St. Louis: Moinester Printing Company, 1926), 133 (no. 847).
Arthur Ellis Franklin, Pedigrees of the Franklin Family and Lists of Collateral Relations (London: G. Routledge and Sons, 1915).
Yosef Goldman, Hebrew Printing in America 1735-1926: A History and Annotated Bibliography, vol. 1 (Brooklyn: Yosef Goldman, 2006), 12-13 (no. 12).
Jonathan D. Sarna and Nahum M. Sarna, “Jewish Bible Scholarship and Translations in the United States,” in Ernest S. Frerichs (ed.), The Bible and Bibles in America (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988), 83-116, at pp. 84-92.
Robert Singerman, Judaica Americana: A Bibliography of Publications to 1900, vol. 1 (New York: Greenwood Press, 1990), 245 (no. 1271).
Israel Solomons, “Charles Dickens and Eliza Davis,” Miscellanies of the Jewish Historical Society of England 1 (1925): iv-vi.
Lance J. Sussman, “Another Look at Isaac Leeser and the First Jewish Translation of the Bible in the United States,” Modern Judaism 5,2 (1985): 159-190.
Lance J. Sussman, Isaac Leeser and the Making of American Judaism (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1995), 150-151, 185-193.
Vinograd, Philadelphia 21
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