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Jesselson family collection of Isaac Leeser material


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 on December 12, 1806 in Neuenkirchen (in present day Germany), the son of Uri Lippman and Sara Isaac Cohen. He earned his education in Germany, first in Dulmen and later in Muenster. Following the deaths of his mother, father, and grandmother, his uncle Zalma Rehine, who lived in Richmond, Virginia, encouraged him to move to the United States in 1924, and his five years in that city resulted in his introduction to the Sephardic rite, the dominant Jewish rite practiced at that time in the United States.

By 1929, Leeser was living in Philadelphia, having been elected to the post of Hazan of the Congregation Mikveh Israel in Philadelphia, an institution with which he maintained a stormy relationship until his retirement in 1850. Leeser established, with Rebecca Gratz, the Free Sunday School movement in Philadelphia; wrote sermons and theological works including The Jews and the Mosaic Law (1834), the Hebrew Spelling-Book (1838), Discourses on Jewish Religion (1867); and translated many works such as Instruction in Mosaic Religion by J. Johlson (1830), The Form of Prayers According to the Custom of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews (1837), Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, and the entire Hebrew Bible. He worked as an editor and publisher, and among his contributions to American literary culture was The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, a monthly journal of news and opinion.

Throughout his life, Leeser was a rabbi, educator, writer, translator, editor and publisher; and proposed, founded, or led many significant civic, religious, and charitable institutions. He died in Philadelphia on February 1, 1868.

The above was abstracted from Biographical Sketch of Isaac Leeser, by Arthur Kiron.

The letters in this collection were largely written to Isaac Leeser from a variety of well-known Jewish literary figures and community leaders. There are a few letters authored by Leeser and a small number of letters that were neither written to nor from Leeser. Overall, these letters bear witness to Leeser's efforts to build the infrastructure of organized Jewish life in an English-speaking environment.

The correspondence features more than 200 letters to and from both family members (in particular, his uncle, Zalma Rehine) and Jewish leaders. Jewish leaders include: Grace Aguilar (Anglo-Jewish author), Isidor Busch (publisher of the first American Jewish weekly, Israel's Herold), Solomon N. Carvalho (painter, inventor, and photographer), Julius Eckman (publisher of the Jewish Weekly Gleaner), Rebecca Gratz (American Jewish communal leader); James Gutheim, Solomon Hirschell (British Ashkenazi "chief rabbi"), Henry S. Jacobs, Alfred T. Jones, Gershom Kursheedt, Max Lilienthal (a leader of the American Jewish reform movement), Leo Merzbacher, Jacob Mordecai, Rev. M.N. Nathan (minister of a Jewish congregation at Kingston, Jamaica), Isaac Mayer Wise (a leader of the American Jewish reform movement), and Simon Wolf.

Intellectually, this collection is arranged alphabetically by author of the letter; however, physically, the collection is arranged by item number, as assigned by the donor and which is reflected in the electronic versions (to see entire group of letters, go to: As a collection, these letters allow researchers to reconstruct the formative period of observant Jewish religious life and community building in a newly emergent Anglophone world.

Gift of Michael Jesselson, 2017.

University of Pennsylvania: Library at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies
Finding Aid Date
2018 July 9
Access Restrictions

This collection is open for research use.

Use Restrictions

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 Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.

Collection Inventory

Box 1 Folder 4
Box 2 Folder 57
Box 2 Folder 40
Barnard, George, Sherbrooke, Canada East, letter (item 89), 1849 February 12 (5609 February 12).
Box 2 Folder 4
Box 3 Folder 17
Bougin, Moses, letter to Isaac Leeser in Hebrew (item 86), undated.
Box 2 Folder 1
Box 2 Folder 42
Box 3 Folder 42
[Daunt], O.M., letter to Isaac Leeser (item 236), 1849 December 10.
Box 3 Folder 46
Box 3 Folder 1
Box 3 Folder 33
Box 2 Folder 43
Box 1 Folder 57
Box 2 Folder 44
Box 2 Folder 8
Finkelstein, Issac, St. Louis, MO, letter to Isaac Leeser in Hebrew (item 86A), 1848.
Box 2 Folder 1
Box 2 Folder 54
Box 3 Folder 18
Hirschberg, L., letter to Isaac Leeser (item 244), 1859 October 26.
Box 3 Folder 52
Box 3 Folder 14
Box 2 Folder 13
Box 2 Folder 3
Box 2 Folder 48
Box 3 Folder 31
Box 1 Folder 10
Box 3 Folder 35
Box 1 Folder 7
Box 1 Folder 29
Box 1 Folder 22
Leeser, Isaac, Philadelphia, PA, letter to Zalma Rehine (item 53), 1838 May 2.
Box 1 Folder 45
Box 1 Folder 14
Box 1 Folder 70
Box 2 Folder 58
Box 1 Folder 34
Box 1 Folder 21
Box 3 Folder 39
Box 2 Folder 31
Box 3 Folder 19
Box 2 Folder 10
Box 3 Folder 32
Box 1 Folder 47
Box 1 Folder 24
Box 3 Folder 6
Nathan, Moses, Kingston, Jamaica, letter to Isaac Leeser (item 249), 1861 October 4.
Box 3 Folder 57
Box 3 Folder 26
Phillips, S., letter to Isaac Leeser (item 246), 1852 October 4.
Box 3 Folder 54
Phillips, S., letter to David Hays Solis (item 247), undated.
Box 3 Folder 55
Phillips, S., manuscript for Occident (item 245), undated.
Box 3 Folder 53
Pleasants, H.R., Richmond, VA, letter to Isaac Leeser (item 248), undated.
Box 3 Folder 56
Box 2 Folder 39
Box 1 Folder 10
Unidentified, fragment of a letter to Isaac Leeser (item 243), undated.
Box 3 Folder 51
Box 2 Folder 7
Walser, David, Albany, NY, letter to Isaac Leeser (item 158), 1849 December 14 (5610 December 14).
Box 2 Folder 61
Wise, Dr., Albany, NY, letter to Isaac Leeser (item 117), 1849 December 18 (5610 December 18).
Box 2 Folder 28
Box 1 Folder 1
Box 2 Folder 68
Research and documentation, undated.
Box 4-5

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