Isaac Leeser collection
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies [Contact Us]420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19106-3703
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Isaac Leeser was born in the village of Neuenkirchen, which at that time was part of the Prussian province of Westphalia, on December 12, 1806. Leeser's father, Uri Lippman (Uri ben Eliezer) was a merchant of limited financial means and educational background. The name "Leeser" is reputed to have been selected for Isaac by his paternal grandfather, Eliezer (i.e., Liezer). Little is known of Leeser's mother, Sara Isaac Cohen, who died when Leeser was eight. Her name only recently came to light when a Dutch descendant, Ms. Helga Becker Leeser, discovered it while doing genealogical research in the Dulmen Stadtarchiv name-taking act of September 22, 1813.
Isaac was the second of three children; his one older sister was named Leah Lippman and his younger brother was named Jacob Lippman. Leah married a butcher named Hirsch Elkus who moved the family to the small town of Denekamp, Holland located near the Dutch-German border. Leeser's younger brother Jacob died of smallpox at the age of twenty-five in 1834, one year after emigrating to America. Jacob contracted the disease from his brother Isaac after coming to Philadelphia to care for him. While surviving the disease and the trauma of his brother's death, Leeser' face remained deeply pock-marked, a disfigurement that would cause him great embarrassment throughout his life. Both Jacob and Isaac died bachelors.
Leeser received his early education in Dulmen (in Germany), where his family had moved no later than 1812. Leeser was raised by his paternal grandmother Gitla, a devout woman who strongly influenced Leeser. With the death of his father and grandmother in 1820, Leeser found himself orphaned at the age of 14. That same year Leeser left for Muenster where he attended the secular Gymnasium. While living in Muenster, Leeser was befriended by the city's district Rabbi, Abraham Sutro, who was a strong opponent of the burgeoning movement for Jewish religious reform. The relationship appears to have had a determining character on Leeser insofar as he would take up the cause of traditional Judaism against the Reformers later in America. Leeser emigrated to the United States at the age of 17, arriving on May 5, 1824. He came on the invitation of his maternal uncle Zalma Rehine who lived in Richmond, Virginia. Rehine, who ran a fairly prosperous dry-goods business, was married to Rachel Judah, whose mother was the sister of Reverend Gershom Seixas, one of early America's most important Jewish religious leaders. Rachel Judah's sister Rebecca was married to their first cousin, Isaac Seixas, who was Hazan of the Beth Shalom Synagogue in Richmond. Seixas befriended Leeser and taught him the Sephardic rite, the dominant Jewish rite then practiced in America. Rachel's brother Isaac Judah was another Richmond relative with whom Leeser formed a strong friendship. In all, Leeser would spend five years in Richmond, a time he would later describe as among his happiest, and in that time become Americanized in one of the more traditional, conservative Jewish communities of the South.
Leeser first achieved national renown in 1828 for his moving response, published in The Richmond Whig, to an attack on the Jews which had appeared in the London Quarterly Review and then been re-printed in American newspapers. Leeser's response was widely circulated and eventually re-published in book form in 1841 as The Claims of the Jews to an Equality of Rights. In 1829, with his reputation established and at the urging of Jacob Mordecai, one of Richmond's leading Jewish figures, Leeser applied for and was elected to the post of Hazan (Cantor and Reader of the prayer service) of the Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia.
Leeser's tenure at Mikveh Israel was marked by constant bickering with the Board of the synagogue over the extent of the Hazan's authority, his status and independence, as well as over Leeser's on-going demands for a life-time contract and salary increase. The Board also resisted several innovations by Leeser, such as his introduction into the weekly service of a regular English language sermon, the first of its kind of note in the United States (first begun on June 2, 1830). Even as his relations with Mikveh Israel were to sour, however, Leeser was to begin a period of intense literary productivity and remarkable organizational activity.
During the 1830's, Leeser worked closely with Rebecca Gratz, the famous Jewish educator and civic leader, to establish the Free Sunday School movement in Philadelphia. Leeser's Hebrew Spelling-Book, which he published in 1838 (the first Hebrew Primer for children in the United States) was created specifically for use in the Hebrew school which he and Rebecca Gratz opened that same year.
Leeser's career as a translator also began in Philadelphia in 1830 with the publication of his rendering from German of J. Johlson's Instruction in the Mosaic Religion. Leeser, as part of his ongoing efforts to contribute to the development of Jewish education and culture in America, translated a number of important works into English from German, Spanish, French and Hebrew. Among his most important translations were Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem, Joseph Schwartz' Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, as well as his renowned Bible translations, first of the Pentateuch and later of the entire Hebrew Bible.
Leeser first published his own major theological work, The Jews and the Mosaic Law, in 1834. Here can be found his expressed belief in the divine origin of the Pentateuch as well as his defense of Judaism, expanded upon from its earlier voicing in the Richmond Whig (1828). Over the next thirty years, Leeser produced a flood of sermons and theological works, including his two-volume (later a third volume was added) Discourses, Argumentative and Devotional, on the Subject of the Jewish Religion (1837) and his massive ten volume Discourses on the Jewish Religion published at the end of his life in 1867. In 1837, Leeser completed his English translation of the Sephardic prayer book in use at Mikveh Israel, The Form of Prayers According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews and two years later in 1839 published a new Catechism for Younger Children, Designed as a Familiar Exposition of the Jewish Religion.
During the 1840's, Leeser began working as an editor and publisher. Among his many contributions to American literary culture were his editions of Louis Salomon's The Mosaic System in its Fundamental Principles (1841), Grace Aguilar's The Spirit of Judaism (1842), Benjamin Dias Fernandes' A Series of Letters on the Evidences of Christianity (1859), and Hester Rothschild's "Meditations and Prayers" (1866). In 1843, Leeser began publishing what would become perhaps his greatest literary achievement: The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, a monthly (with the exception of a brief and unsuccessful appearance as a weekly) journal of news and opinion, which he was to edit and publish until his death in 1868.
Leeser continued to play an unceasing role in creating the cultural foundations of Jewish life in Philadelphia and throughout North America. In 1845, Leeser founded the first American Jewish Publication Society and in the same year published his translation of the Pentateuch entitled The Law of God, a bi-lingual edition which included the unpointed (unvocalized) Hebrew text. Three years later, in 1848, Leeser published with a local Episcopalian minister, Joseph Jacquette, a masoretic (pointed) Hebrew edition of the entire Hebrew Bible, Biblia Hebraica, the first of its kind to be printed in America. That same year, Leeser also managed to issue his translation of the Ashkenazic prayer book.
In addition to his professional activities as minister, educator, writer, translator, editor and publisher, Leeser also played a fundamental role in either proposing, founding, or leading many significant civic, religious, and charitable institutions. Leeser was the proposer of a "Plan of Union" of American Hebrew congregations (to be based on shared traditional principles and featuring a "Central Religious Council" modeled after the concept of the Bet Din); the proposer of the first Union of Hebrew Benevolent Societies; founder of the American Jewish Bible Society; founder of the Hebrew Education Society; founder of the Philadelphia Jewish Hospital; supporter of the Jewish Foster Home of Philadelphia.
Leeser was also a member of the Jewish Order of B'nai Brith; member of the Board of Hebrew Ministers; member of the committee of the Hebrew Fuel Society; vice-president until his death of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites -- the first American organization devoted to the cause of Jewish defense; founder, first provost, president of the faculty, and professor of Homiletics, Belles Lettres and Comparative Theology, at Maimonides College, "The First American Jewish Theological Seminary."
Leeser's stormy relationship with the Congregation Mikveh Israel lasted through 1850, at which point he left his ministry. Undeterred by this setback, Leeser embarked on an extensive journey across the United States, travelling over 5,200 miles from November 9, 1851 through February 27, 1852.
He visited isolated and emerging Jewish communities, where he lectured on a variety of topics and spoke out on behalf of Jewish causes. After returning to Philadelphia, Leeser continued his work as editor of The Occident, publisher, bookseller, dealer in Judaica and translator. In 1853, Leeser completed his monumental English translation of the entire Hebrew Bible, known popularly as "The Leeser Bible." In 1857, the same year in which the second (folio-size) edition of the "Leeser Bible" was issued, a new congregation was formed for him in West Philadelphia, where he served until his death eleven years later. The congregation, called Beth El Emeth, was composed chiefly of supporters of his who had formerly belonged to the Congregation Mikveh Israel. From his new pulpit, Leeser continued to advocate his longstanding goal of bringing unity to the American Jewish community under the banner of traditional Jewish practice.
In many ways, Leeser's personal life was filled with quiet anguish. He led a lonely, often sickly life. Reports have it that he caused a stir by living in a boarding house run by a non-Jewish woman, and he was rumored to have been eating there non-kosher food. According to several accounts, one of his ill-fated romantic hopes was dashed by the father of his beloved, Simha Peixotto. Conflict was characteristic of much of Leeser's public life as well. During the divisive Civil War years, to cite one example, Leeser feared he had been placed on a "suspect list" of southern sympathizers, and was warned by his friend Moses Aaron Dropsie that he might have to flee the city.
Isaac Leeser died in Philadelphia on February 1, 1868, at the age of 61, and was buried in the Beth El Emeth congregation cemetery in West Philadelphia located at 55th and Market Sts.
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.
The Isaac Leeser Collection spans the years 1822 through 1868, with the bulk of the collection concentrated between the years 1848 and 1867. Categories of documents to be found include correspondence, literary productions, financial records--largely relating to The Occident, and legal and printed materials.
Notable among the literary productions are: the complete manuscript of Leeser's translation from the original German into English of Moses Mendelssohn's famous work Jerusalem; a nearly complete manuscript translation of J. Johlson's Instruction in the Mosaic Religion, drafts of various published and unpublished discourses and sermons by Leeser, an incomplete manuscript of Leeser's Jews and the Mosaic Law; Leeser's school notebooks from his youth in Germany--the oldest materials in the collection--dated 1822. Among the fragmentary writings is a report, apparently translated into English, from the "Committee central for the building houses [sic] for the poor and the pilgrims in Jerusalem to the noble benefactors and the friends of this undertaking." The central committee is named as Jacob Ettlinger, Rabbi at Altona, Josef Hirsch, merchant at Halberstadt, and Dr. Israel Hildesheimer, Rabbi at Eisenstadt. The local committee is named as Moses Sachs, Josef Goldberger, Selig Hausdorf, and Meyer Schonbaum. Also of note are several letters and drafts of writings by and in the hand of Grace Aguilar, the prominent nineteenth century British Jewish literary figure. Several letters from Rebecca Gratz are also found in the correspondence series.
Of particular note is Leeser's correspondence with the Jewish community of Latin America. Leeser maintained a close relationship with Jews in Barbados, Curacao, Grenada, Jamaica, St. Thomas and Venezuela.
Unfortunately, virtually nothing of Leeser's strictly personal correspondence is to be found--a fact that may be explained in part by one report that "after his death (Leeser's) executors found among his many effects many strictly private letters, concerning family and business affairs. Every vestige of this correspondence was entirely destroyed" [see Edward Wolf's statement in The Dropsie College Register, Summer Term (1913), p. 13].
Nonetheless, among the surviving remnant of Leeser's personal papers is his correspondence with individuals from several significant southern Jewish communities, such as Boston (MA), Charleston (SC), Savannah (GA), Mobile (AL), New Orleans (LA), Richmond (VA), as well as many other letters from Jews in Baltimore (MD), Cleveland (OH), London (England), Louisville (KY), Montreal (Quebec), San Francisco (CA), St. Louis (MO), St. Paul (MN) and New York city as well as several other cities in New York state as well as in Texas.
In addition to Leeser's personal papers, a complete set of The Occident, including a bound volume of the advertising supplements (to vols. 13-24), is held at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, and now forms part of the Leeser Collection. Many of the first editions of Leeser's published works also are held by the Institute. The so-called "Leeser library," which is composed of Leeser's own personal library and those books added to his collection by the Hebrew Education Society after his death (and catalogued by Cyrus Adler in 1887), constitutes an important part of the Institute's unique collection of rare nineteenth century Judaica Americana. The Institute also possesses copies of several unpublished dissertations about Leeser.
Parts of the Leeser Papers were microfilmed by the American Jewish Archives (AJA) in 1955-56 and copies of those microfilms, as well as copyflow made from them, are available at the Library of the Katz CAJS. These microfilms are significant because they contain reproductions of original sources whose present location are unknown. The copyflow made from these microfilms is found in box 25 of this collection. No item-level indices yet exist either to these microfilms or to the Library of the Katz CAJS current holdings.
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.
From the Library of Dropsie College.
Apparently, and not unusually, the fate of the Leeser collection received by Dropsie College from the Hebrew Education Society has been determined by its users. When the transfer of the Leeser Library to Dropsie College was effected, various calls for a biography of Leeser were made. Unfortunately, several unsuccessful attempts to answer those calls resulted, in part, in the chaotic condition in which the papers were recently found. As Dr. Jacob Rader Marcus notes in his recent book, United States Jewry, 1776-1985, "(The) Emily Solis-Cohen collection in the Marcus collections (located at the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati) no doubt was originally part of the Leeser collection (at Dropsie College) (p. 732, note 15)." Marcus also records other Leeser material found in "the Leeser papers in the Marcus Collections" and "Leeser Papers in the Emily Solis Cohen Collection in the Marcus Collections" (p. 733, note 15). Additional information pertaining to the dispersal and current location of that Leeser material originally received by the Dropsie College may be found in Lance Sussman's helpful bibliographical essay in his dissertation [see above, Sussman: 1987].
The Leeser Collection was found in considerable disarray at the time of processing. Upon initial inspection, the Leeser Papers were identified as constituting two distinct collections -- Leeser material and material about Leeser, mainly in the form of three related (and incomplete) unpublished biographies of Leeser by Emily Solis-Cohen which she attempted during the 1930's. These two distinct collections have been separated according to standard archival practice, following the rule of provenance.
Original transcriptions and/or translations of Leeser material prepared by Emily Solis-Cohen for her biography have been photocopied on to acid-free paper and have been attached to the corresponding originals in the Leeser Collection. The acidic originals of the Solis-Cohen material can be found in the Emily Solis-Cohen Collection and have been arranged to correspond to the chronological arrangement established for the Leeser Collection. Virtually all of the translation work appears to have been done by Dr. Solomon Grayzel, later a professor of Jewish history at Dropsie College, who apparently was hired (whether this was a contractual arrangement is not known) by Emily Solis-Cohen to aid her research. Grayzel's work is generally reliable although his dating of correspondence is sometimes estimated or inferred.
An undetermined amount of the transcription work appears to have been similarly commissioned by Emily Solis-Cohen and not done by her personally. Researchers may wish to keep the aforementioned facts in mind when using the Leeser Collection--i.e., to check the original documents rather than relying solely on the transcriptions and/or translations despite their obvious convenience.
A large part of the physical processing of the Leeser collection involved piecing together Leeser's drafts and writings from the hundreds of stray sheets of paper found scattered throughout the collection. The effort to match and reconstruct Leeser's writings was undertaken with great caution but no doubt errors may have crept in. It should be repeated that this collection was found in great disarray. The process of piecing together the collection required much guess-work in order for it to be fully processed. The methods used and steps taken for matching and reconstructing the writings were as follows:
The term "pagination" used here is only meant to indicate those sheets upon which page numbers were found written. Unfortunately, several different sets of numbers, symbols and pagination sequences, some belonging to Leeser (usually related to the Occident) and some apparently written by or for Emily Solis-Cohen, were found inscribed on most of the stray pages. An effort was made to evaluate these different systems as they were found in order to identify them. When sequentially matching numbers within an identifiable system were found, they were grouped together.
2) Paper Features
The term "paper features" is meant to indicate such factors, in descending order of priority as: the size, color (or discoloration) of paper; colors of ink; number of lines to a page and/or creases or folds on the page that resemble the creases or folds of other pages (i.e., paper creases occasionally will show that sheets once folded together match). It was not assumed that writings were always composed consistently on the same size paper or written with the same color ink.
The term "catch words" is meant to indicate the occurrence of the word to appear on the following page at the end of the preceding page (a scribal practice not uncommon to Hebrew manuscript writing).
The term "handwriting" is meant to refer to the distinctive scripts and distinctive hands found. This type of approach, even when it is scientifically based, is always uncertain, but did help to distinguish, at minimum, material written in Leeser's hand from material not written by him.
The term "context" is meant to indicate the actual textual logic involved in the matching of sheets of paper. This method was always the final method of verification used and simply involved reading the last few lines of one sheet and then seeing if a given sheet followed naturally from it. The criteria used for this evaluation were generally grammatical or topical. For example, if the preceding page to be matched ended with a period then the first line on the next page would grammatically be expected to be the beginning of a new sentence. Similarly, if the topic of the previous page's discussion was ritual sacrifice then one would expect that the following page would not immediately begin with a discussion of the fate of Jews in Switzerland. While exceptions to each of these methods may be imagined, these strategies were generally found to be effective.
A thorough knowledge of the contents of The Occident in advance of processing would have been of great help. This certainly would have expedited a comparison between the fragments in the collections with the known, published works of Leeser. If this method were to be pursued in the future, use of Abraham Shinedling's unpublished index to The Occident would probably be of valuable assistance, despite its reputation as being idiosyncratic. It is available on microfilm from the American Jewish Archives in Cincinnati and is reputed to be composed of approximately 500,000 index card entries.
NOTES FOR RESEARCHERS
The unmatched fragments which have not yet been fully identified are listed as miscellaneous sub-series six of series II, i.e., "Fragmentary writings." Each fragment or fragmentary grouping has been provided with a brief identification. The term "brief identification" written on the upper right-hand side of the file folder is meant to indicate any identifying heading -- i.e., "sermon," "in Leeser's hand" or "not Leeser" (i.e., not written in his hand), "n.d." (no date), "n.p." (no page numbers) the listing of the page number or numbers appearing on the fragment, "for The Occident" (abbreviated as "Occ" ) etc., assigned in the hope of eventually assisting a more complete identification and/or reconstruction of the remaining fragments. Many of these attempts to provide "brief identifications" are only preliminary guesses and should not be taken as fixed groupings.
Researchers should keep the "fragmentary writings" sub-series in mind as they go through the collection. It may be the case that the attachment to, beginning, continuation, or end of a previously arranged, identified (albeit fragmentary) letter or other document may be found in this sub-series.
Post-Biblical lectures 1-43, in the hand of S. Morais, have been removed to the Morais Collection.
The legal papers of Marcus Cauffmann have been removed and grouped with related papers found in the Sulzberger Collection.
An engraving (framed) of Leeser has been removed and is located in an oversized storage in the Archives room (other visual images of Leeser may be found in Box 9, FF11-12).
The Occident volumes have been removed to the stacks of the Library at the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies (Call number BM1 .O33 1843 Per B-2).
- Jewish periodicals
- Occident and American Jewish advocate
- Sermons, English -- 19th century
- Jews -- Pennsylvania -- Philadelphia
- Mendelssohn, Moses, 1729-1786. Jerusalem
- University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
- Finding Aid Author
- Arthur Kiron
- Finding Aid Date
- 1992 June 12
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
The majority of the original documents in the Leeser collection are in relatively good condition. Nonetheless, while much of the paper is not suffering from rapid acidic decay, many letters, for example, are written on fragile paper. Acidic and fragile documents have been interleaved with acid-free paper. Extra caution should be taken in handling anything marked: "* fragile *."
NOTE: All materials must be kept in the exact order in which they are found.
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies.
Sulzberger, Mayer. "No Better Jew, No Purer Man." American Jewish Archives. Cincinnati, OH: 1969. Published eulogy of Isaac Leeser.
Abrahams, Israel. "Isaac Leeser's Bible," in By-Paths in Hebraic Bookland. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1920. pp. 254-259.
Dated correspondence spans the years 1826-1868, with the vast majority of the correspondence addressed to Leeser.
Noteworthy letters, in addition to the Caribbean correspondence mentioned above, include: a Mordecai Manuel Noah autograph; an extensive correspondence with the (traditional) Jewish leaders of Montreal and Baltimore -- Abraham de Sola and Abraham Rice, respectively; several letters from Rebecca Gratz and Grace Aguilar; a lengthy letter from Isaac Mayer Wise to Leeser arguing against the doctrine of resurrection (apparently for publication in the Occident); a few letters from Gershom Kursheedt as well as Judah Touro, of New Orleans. Unfortunately, few of the extensive, original Kursheedt letters reported to be in the collection have been located (see below, Korn: 1955). There are several letters from Moses Sachs who occasionally wrote to Leeser from Jerusalem. In addition, there also are several extracts, apparently re-written for Leeser, of letters received by Abraham Hart, then President of Mikveh Israel, from Warder Cresson, the "Quaker, Shaker, Rabbi," Philadelphia mystic who converted to Judaism and settled in Jerusalem. Among the other letters of Sachs is one that mentions Moses Montefiore. A Moses Montefiore autograph also is found among the correspondence.
Important correspondents and/or authors represented in the Leeser Collection include:
Grace Aguilar, A. Ansell, B. Behrend, (?) Belinfante, M. Belisaria, A.J.H. Bernal, G.D. Bernheim, E. J. Bernheimer, L. Blumenthal, Jonah Bondi, Samuel Bruel, Isidor Bush, L. Buttenwieser, J.M. Cardeze, J. Cardozo, J.M. Carvalho, M. de Cordova, Jacob de la Motta, Abraham de Sola, Cecilia Cohen, Samuel Daniels, Abraham H. DeLevante, A.J. Dovale, Moses Aaron Dropsie, W. Dryfus, L.H. Elkus, Isaac Epstein, Josephine Etting, Jacob Ezekiel, Bernard Felsenthal, Joseph Freedman, Edward Gaskill, A. Ginzberg, Isaac Goldstein, B.H. Gotthelf, Rebecca Gratz, James Gutheim, B.M. Hall, Abraham Hart, Alexander Henry, Judah Hirschberg, B. Illoway, Henry Jacobs, Alfred T. Jones, I. Judah, R. Judah, Isidore Kalisch, Gershom Kursheedt, M. Kuttner, D.C. Labatt, A. Lazarus, Solomon Lazarus, Sam Lewis, Benjamin Levy, Isaac Levy, Michael Light, Max Lilienthal, A.A. Lindo, Benjamin Lindo, Jacob Lippman, J.M. Lyons, Hayyim Malaggi, Myer Manheim, Elya Marcuson, M. Mayer, David Meldola, A. Michel, M.R. Miller, R.C. Moise, Thomas Moise, Sabato Morais, Phineas Moses, Isidore Myers, M.N. Nathan, S. Nussbaum, Samuel Oppenheim, Nathan Ottinger, B.F. Peixotto, Jacob Peres, David Pizal, G. Posznanski, M. J. Raphall, J.S. Redfield, Zalma Rehine, Abraham Rice, J. Solis Ritterband, Jacob Rosenfeld, A. Rosenheim, Hester Rothschild, M. Sachs, E. Sampson, Joseph Schwarz, I. Seixas, (?) Seligman, Moses Slatkin, Isaac Slatky, M. Strauss, S. C. Thwing, Simon Tuska, Judah Touro, Isaac Mayer Wise, Daniel Wolf, A. Wolf.
Dated correspondence addressed to Leeser has been arranged chronologically by year, with each year chronologically sub-arranged by month and day. Correspondence written by Leeser has been arranged after the main body of the correspondence addressed to him. Legal-sized correspondence is located in Box 9, FF14-18 and has also been arranged chronologically.
Arranged after this main body of correspondence are the (mostly undated, although signed) correspondence of several well-known individuals whose letters have been placed in separately labeled folders and arranged in alphabetical order. Following these letters are other miscellaneous, undated correspondence which have been alphabetized whenever possible.
Following that group are completely miscellaneous correspondence-related materials, such as envelopes and fragments of letters. Also to be found among the miscellaneous correspondence are several letters which remain unidentified because the date was stated in Hebrew in the form of an (as yet un-deciphered) puzzle.
Includes a photo (of Gratz' niece?)
Includes correspondence from Isaac Mayer Wise, Isidore Kalisch, and others.
Leeser wrote this as dictated by his professor.
Includes only those writings that have been reconstructed and are complete, as opposed to fragmentary.
Includes those fragmentary writings yet to be fully identified and/or pieced together, such as sermonal material written by or in the hand of Leeser, material for publication in The Occident and miscellaneous writings and fragments not authored by Leeser (and/or not written in Leeser's hand, intended for the Occident)
This item is very fragile.
Ephemeral published materials stamped "Leeser Library/Hebrew Education Society", and other published materials relating to Leeser, such as off-prints.
Includes: a partial list of subscribers to the Occident; letter signed by Leeser, Abraham Israel, Moses Abraham, J. L. Hackenburg admitting Rebecca Hyneman as a convert; notes and fragments.
This series consists of financial records, checks and receipts and spans the years 1841-1868. These documents principally pertain to the publication of The Occident as well as to the other businesses in which Leeser was engaged, such as book sales and the sale of Jewish ritual objects (Judaica). One check signed by Leeser, dated April 11, 1848, was also found.
All financial documents have been arranged in chronological order. Undated and miscellaneous financial material may be found at the end of this series.
Various legal papers apparently only indirectly related to Leeser were found among the Leeser personal papers. These include contracts, mortgages and deeds, as well as documents of indenture.
This series is composed of broadsides, brochures, circulars, clippings, flyers, invitations, pamphlets and other forms of printed material and ephemera.
No effort was made to arrange systematically the materials -- either chronologically or alphabetically -- due to the variety of material.
5 reproductions of the memorial plaque honoring Isaac Leeser, which was created at the time of the transfer of the Leeser Library to Dropsie College.
Memorial circular printed on the occasion of the death of Isaac Leeser, with a picture of him; An engraving of Isaac Leeser.
Another copy of this engraving (framed) is held in over-sized storage.
This series consists exclusively of a complete edition of the journal by the same name edited and published by Leeser (and for one year after his death by Mayer Sulzberger). The complete set consists of volumes derived from several different private collections, including that of the Leeser Library itself (catalogued by Cyrus Adler in 1883), as well as that of the library of Dr. Joshua I. Cohen (catalogued by Cyrus Adler in 1887), a prominent nineteenth century Jewish physician who lived in Baltimore, MD. Both of these collections, reputed to have been among the most outstanding private Hebraica collections in nineteenth century America, now form part of the Library at the Katz CAJS's collection of rare Judaica Americana.
Researchers interested in The Occident should note that a partial list of subscribers to and/or readers of The Occident could be reconstructed through the correspondence series, which contains many notices of subscription cancellations as well as quite a few letters to the editor (i.e., Leeser). For what appears to be a list of subscribers to the Occident, see Box 10, FF 28. Financial records bearing upon the Occident are described above in Series III (financial documents).
This series consists of the copyflow (hardcopy) generated from microfilms of some of the Dropsie College Leeser Papers as they appeared in 1956. As noted above, the copyflow is important because it contains reproductions of materials no longer found in the collection, including eg. the transcriptions of numerous letters from New Orleans from Gershom Kursheedt, etc..