Monday, October 16, 2017

Connecting the Words

In honor of “Dictionary Day,” Jewish Treats looks at a renowned Jewish dictionary that has served scholars and students since the turn of the 20th century.  A Dictionary of Targumim, Talmud Bavli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature, was authored by Marcus Jastrow. Known popularly as The Jastrow Dictionary, it was a unique project that demonstrated the connection of the Aramaic language of the Talmud to the Hebrew of the Torah. Although other lexicons of the Aramaic language have been created, almost none cover the breadth of language researched and charted by Jastrow.

Born in Prussia in 1829, Marcus Jastrow had a diverse education that was rich both in religious study and secular academics. He completed his studies at the University of Berlin and received a PhD from the University of Halle while also completing his studies for rabbinic ordination.

His first rabbinic position was in Warsaw, where he was quickly swept up in national politics, supporting the “revolutionaries” and ending up in jail before being sent back to Prussia. He then took a position as the District Rabbi of Worms.

In 1866, Jastrow accepted the pulpit at Congregation Rodeph Shalom in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and quickly became an active member of the American Jewish community. He taught courses at Philadelphia’s Maimonides College and helped found the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.

Jastrow began working on his dictionary, which took nearly twenty years to complete, in 1876, while he was recovering from an illness. During this time, Jastrow also worked on several other projects, including the Jewish Encyclopedia, for the Jewish Publication Society of America (now JPS International).

Dr. Jastrow, who received an additional doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania in 1900, retired from the pulpit in 1892, when Rodeph Shalom voted to join the Reform Movement. He passed away on Simchat Torah (October 13) 1903. His dictionary, with its alphabetical organization, cross-referencing and root charting, and index of scriptural references, is still in popular use today.

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