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Joseph Medoff Collection


Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Archives at the Library of the 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: Archives at the Library of the 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

Joseph Medoff was born in Russia in 1876. Medoff was one of six children, three sisters and two brothers. Medoff married a woman named Becky (Rebecca?). They had at least one child. Joseph emigrated to the United States in July of 1891 by himself at the age of fifteen. Medoff's journey, which lasted almost five months, left a lasting impression on him. Waiting for him in Philadelphia was his father, Barnet Medoff, who had emigrated to the United States a few years earlier. Barnet ran a private Hebrew school where Joseph assisted him upon his arrival.

Medoff attended Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania as an undergraduate, and later went on to complete his Doctorate of Philosophy in the Department of Biblical Studies, with minors in Rabbinical literature, Syriac and Arabic, at Dropsie College. Medoff's dissertation, "Prolegomena to a Greek Hebrew and Hebrew Greek Index to Theodotian," was unanimously approved by his dissertation committee, chaired by Max Margolis, with Henry Malter and B. Halper concurring. Medoff was the fourth graduate of Dropsie College (March 9, 1915).

Medoff worked as the Principal of the Philadelphia North Eastern Talmud Torah Association and also was the second principle of Gratz College where he held the post of instructor in pedagogy. Medoff's known writings include an (unpublished?) short novel, apparently meant for edification, entitled "The Battle of Life" as well as a reputedly published edition of his Index to Theodotian, based on revisions of his dissertation. No date of death has yet been found for him.

The Joseph Medoff collection, while being small in volume, contains a number of unique and valuable items of potential historical significance. Possibly of interest to social and immigration historians, for example, is Medoff's account of his emigration from Russia to the United States. His odyssey involved escaping from Russia by crossing the Lithuanian frontier into Germany, spending four months in cholera-ridden Hamburg (a delay caused in part by the United States having temporarily closing its doors to new immigrants because of the epidemic), his departure from Germany, through Bremen, to Rotterdam, then on to Grimsby, England, then Liverpool, England, and finally arriving in New York and Rhode Island before joining his father in Philadelphia. His account includes detailed information about the process of leaving Russia and the conditions in Hamburg for emigrants en route to the United States in 1891.

As noted above, Medoff was one of the first graduates of Dropsie College, and his diploma, signed by the college's president Cyrus Adler and Ephraim Lederer, the secretary of the College, bears testimony to the first generation of twentieth century North American Jewish scholarship produced by Dropsie College.

The collection has been divided into two basic series based on type of materials: manuscript and photographic materials. Both groups require conservation attention and should be handled with care. Among the questions that remain unanswered and would add to understanding of this collection is, for example, the extent of Medoff's writings and the role he played in Philadelphia Jewish education in the first half of this century.

University of Pennsylvania: Archives at the Library of the Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
Finding Aid Author
Arthur Kiron.

Collection Inventory

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Finding Aid, 1991.
Box 1 Folder 1

A bound notebook containing a handwritten undated draft of a novel by Joseph Medoff entitled "The Battle of Life.".
Box 1 Folder 2
Medoff's handwritten account of his emigration 1904 to the United States entitled "My Journey to America.".
Box 1 Folder 3
A letter by Joseph Medoff to his father, 1906, and two postcards in Hebrew and Yiddish, 1903 and 1905 postmarked from Kiev.
Box 1 Folder 4
Medoff's recollection of his "First Sight 1903 of an Electric Car.".
Box 1 Folder 5
Joseph Medoff's diploma from Dropsie College, 1915.
Box 2 Folder 1

Reproductions of a news photo [1901] of Joseph Medoff and his father both of whom simultaneously attended the University of Pennsylvania, with a handwritten note to that effect by Barnet Medoff. (Apparently the facsimiles of the clipping were made in 1972--as evidenced from the envelope in which they were found.).
Box 2 Folder 2
Photo (portait) of Joseph Medoff (?), undated.
Box 2 Folder 2
Photo of an unidentified group sitting. Joseph Medoff (?) is also seated, undated.
Box 2 Folder 3
Photo of Gratz School of Practice, Class of 1919, with Joseph Medoff (?) (seated), 1919.
Box 2 Folder 4
Photo of an unidentified school class, with Joseph Medoff (?) standing, undated.
Box 2 Folder 5

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