To the Editor:
Chaim Raphael [“Encyclopaedia Judaica,” August] must have a penchant for discarding known facts for the sake of his speculations. Thus, for him, by the end of the 19th century “there was virtually nothing except for Josephus that offered Jews any systematic account of their past after Bible times.” Heinrich Graetz’s voluminous (German) History of the Jews (not the shortened English translation), of which numerous editions appeared and which began in mid-century with the volume dealing with the post-biblical period, does not exist for Mr. Raphael. Nor do Abraham Geiger, Leopold Zunz, and the others who built up the Wissenschaft des Judentums during the 19th century.
The same must be said of his “story” about the Encyclopaedia Judaica. Mr. Raphael goes back seventy years to find sources, parallels, and inspiration in the Jewish Encyclopaedia of 1901-6 although it is obvious that the English Encyclopaedia Judaica took not only the name of the “incompleted German Encyclopaedia Judaica” but also much of its materials, and was originally organized to supplement it. One should therefore have a look at the history of the English Encyclopaedia Judaica.
Encyclopaedia Judaica (and a parallel Hebrew Eshkol Encyclopaedia) were founded in the 1920′s in Berlin by the late Dr. Jacob Klatzkin and Dr. Nahum Goldmann (with funds provided by German-Jewish communities and wealthy individuals). By 1933 when the Nazis came to power nine volumes (out of fifteen) of the German Encyclopaedia Judaica and two of the Hebrew edition were published. With the changed situation the impossibility of continuing the work in Germany became clear (although the tenth volume was still issued in 1934). A small office and the materials were transferred to Switzerland where Dr. Klatzkin was then living. There a very small skeleton staff carried on the preparation of further volumes in German and Hebrew until the fall of 1934 when financial problems called the project to a halt.
In the postwar years after Dr. Goldmann had established himself in the U.S., he wanted to have the Encyclopaedia Judaica completed, this time in English with himself serving in an honorary capacity (Dr. Klatzkin had died in the meantime). At the beginning of the 1960′s some funds became available for this purpose (from German sources) and editorial offices were set up in Philadelphia with a small (“liaison”) office in Israel and all the materials of the German Encyclopaedia Judaica, including those for the eleventh volume (letter “M,” etc.), were turned over to the editors. After four or five years’ work in the preparation and editing of articles for the first volumes, financial and personnel problems led to the closing of the office in the U.S. All the materials, including thousands of items and edited articles, were transferred to Israel where initially a government-sponsored organization took over the editorial work (Dr. Nahum Goldmann had succeeded in obtaining a considerable AID loan from the U.S. and another loan from the Israeli government). In the later stages a private corporation (Keter Publishing House in Jerusalem) took over responsibility for the Encyclopaedia Judaica.
Thus the Encyclopaedia Judaica cannot be said to have “originated in Israel” because it really goes back to the interwar Klatzkin-Goldmann Encyclopaedia Judaica and the subsequent editorial work in the U.S. from which the new Encyclopaedia Judaica took over thousands of items and many edited articles. The final changes made by the editors in Jerusalem—to judge on the basis of a few dozen items which came into this writer’s hands—hardly constitute sufficient “improvement” to make of it “an entirely new enterprise.” And, of course, in the light of the historical facts, Mr. Raphael’s statement “that there was the will, among those concerned, to meet the needs of world Jewry at this time with a work of this kind” remains at best a metaphor without any substance.
Bernard D. Weinryb
Russian Research Center
Chaim Raphael writes:
It seems to me self-evident that to produce a full-scale Jewish encyclopedia in 1972, reflecting, among many other things, the whole Nazi horror and the existence for nearly twenty-five years of the State of Israel, completely transcends in concept and execution the range of the earlier Encyclopaedia Judaica, which began to be produced in German in the 1920′s, and had to be dropped in the early 1930′s with only ten volumes completed, up to the letter “L.” The new encyclopedia from Israel pays full tribute in its introduction to the scholarship standards of this uncompleted work, which it received permission to draw on. It may well be that some entries of historical character could be utilized without many changes, as Bernard D. Weinryb avers. But this would hardly bear significantly on the originality of the new encyclopedia as a whole. Everything, old and new, had to be reassessed, not only because of the new Jewish experience, but also in the light of the remarkable developments in Jewish scholarship in our own day. Indeed, the fact that this field of study has been intensified to an extraordinary degree in Israel itself in the last few decades bore heavily on the decision to transfer the preparation of the encyclopedia to Israel, a move that was essential as well as appropriate. Dr. Nahum Goldmann’s role, from the early efforts in Germany until now, has clearly been of the greatest importance. It in no sense belittles the work of pioneers in the field to pay tribute, as I did, to the supreme effort which must have been necessary to distill all the existing material—whatever its source—and bring it to publication in a style (including wonderful illustrations) that would have been impossible years ago.
I believe that it is correct, also, to draw a parallel, in historical terms, with the publication of the first great Jewish Encyclopaedia seventy years ago. The achievement of that work was to bring to world Jewry a systematic distillation of a great deal of entirely new material that had been produced in the preceding decades, but mostly (as Mr. Weinryb admits) in German. Graetz had started publishing his Geschichte in the 1850′s, but the translation into Yiddish, Hebrew, English, and other languages had been carried through only toward the end of the 19th century. The old JE gave the ordinary Jews of the world (as distinct from scholars) the first chance to see their history and background in context. The new Encyclopaedia Judaica does the same, after a period in which almost everything connected with Jewish existence has been subjected to revolutionary change.