Orthodox Rabbi and Magnificent Talmudic Scholar
Marcus Mordecai Jastrow was born in Rogasen, a town of Prussian Poland, province of Posen, on 4 Sivan 5589 (June 5, 1829). At the age of 15 he entered the gymnasium to prepare for his university studies. In 1852 he entered the University of Berlin, studying under the leading professors of the day. He then went to Halle, where he was graduated in 1855, receiving the degree of doctor of philosophy. In the meantime he continued his Jewish studies and in 1853, at the age of 24, he received his rabbinical ordination from Rabbi Moses Feilchenfeld in Rogasen and later, in 1857, from Rabbi Wolf Landau in Dresden. After having taught briefly at religious schools in Berlin, first at a school by Doctor David Rosen then at Michael Sachs' school, he received his first call, the leading congregation of Warsaw electing him as its rabbi.
During the revival of the Polish national movement in 1861 he delivered a notable address, calling upon the Jews to join the Polish patriots in fighting for their political rights. Dr. Jastrow was arrested by the Government of Russia, and, after an imprisonment of three months, was forced to leave the country. He went to Breslau, and shortly afterward received a call to Mannheim. He remained there a few months, and then resumed his rabbinical office in Warsaw. In consequence of a revolutionary outbreak he returned to Germany, and in July of 1864 accepted a call to Worms, in Hesse-Darmstadt. During his stay in Worms he published a series of historical lectures on "The Four Centuries of Jewish History."
In 1866 Dr. Jastrow accepted a call from the orthodox synagogue, Rodeph Shalom Congregation, of Philadelphia. After his arrival, he published a series of polemic responses directed against Rabbi Isaac Mayer Wise, then leader of Reform Judaism in America.
As rabbi, he responded to his congregation's continuous yearning for reforms. In some instances he permitted the reforms. These were not reforms in Orthodox Judaism but changes to the conventions that had been in use. For example, it was a major step just to give a sermon in the language of the country rather than the traditional Yiddish. Another major change was the moving of the women's section of the synagogue from a balcony to the main level. Today these are common in many ultra-Orthodox congregations. Other changes that were made are not in vogue even with today's modern-Orthodox, like permitting a Gentile to accompany the Sabbath services with organ music. In many instances however, he did not concede to the wishes of the congregation. When members wanted to abolish the calling of men to the Torah readings, Rabbi Jastrow wrote that this could only be done in the extreme circumstance that the congregants could not recite the blessings, in which case there could not be a Torah reading altogether. Based on this ruling the Board decided to maintain their current ritual. It is difficult to determine which changes he was content with making and which he conceded to, regarding them as permissible only ipso facto. Ultimately, even these moderate alterations did not elicit the results he had envisioned. Later, he decried the reforms noting that "the more the Spanish Jews were imbued with Arabic science and culture the more did they cultivate their own." . . "Why do we delude ourselves by prating of our religious advance? If we have advanced it has surely not been along the path of religion."
During the last twenty five years of his life, Jastrow dedicated most of his time to the research and publication of his monumental dictionary, "A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli, and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature." This was a vastly researched lexicon of the above sources. Curbing the trend in the scientific community to disregard any traditional interpretations and to look for external influences found in these sources, Jastrow would first turn to the traditional sources, as he believed that "a living tradition accompanies the written Gemara, almost in the same manner as the verbal Gemara accompanied the Mishnah." Complementing his loyalty to the traditional interpretations he rigorously analyzed and dissected the texts. He deferred to many men in seeking expert opinions on law, medicine, and natural science. Leading the height of an intellectual renaissance of a sort of "scientific Judaism," Jastrow combined traditional Jewish scholarship with modern scientific scholarship. No scholar today can presume a competitive knowledge of traditional Jewish scholarship, nor as vast an index comparing all of the sources, nor as deep a study of the modern methods and resources for analyzing these texts, let alone to combine all three. His dictionary is one of the greatest accomplishments in the history of Talmudic study.
In 1886 together with Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes (founder of the Orthodox Union) he helped Rabbi Sabato Morais establish the Jewish Theological Seminary of America (for more on Sabato Morais see "Champion of Orthodox Judaism" by Max Samuel Nussenbaum). It was only later, several years after his passing, that the next generation of management altered the Orthodox principles of the school, and from them emerged Conservative Judaism.
He was removed by his congregation in September 1892 in favor of the Reform ordained Dr. Henry Berkowitz. Dr. Jastrow attributed this decision to the growing popularity of liberal reforms and the congregation's desire to compete for membership with the more liberal synagogues. In his farewell speech he chastised his congregation insisting that "he who does not feel himself in unison with the tenets of Israel's religion as they have been transmitted from generation to generation, [is] not justified in occupying a Jewish pulpit established for the proclamation of Jewish doctrines." Several efforts were made by him to prevent the introduction of reforms, including articles in the public press. In 1894, the Board felt the necessity to write him to ask him to refrain from publishing articles that might create strife in the congregation. He served as rabbi emeritus of the congregation until his passing on Shemini Atzereth, 22 Tishri 5664 (October 13, 1903).
Publications by Marcus Jastrow
Offene Erklärung an herrn J. M. Wise:
Beleuchtung eines ministeriellen gutachtens über die lage der Juden im königreich Polen.
Offenes Schreiben an den Grossh. Synagogenrath in Mannheim
Vier Jahrhunderte aus der Geschichte der Juden von der Zerstörung des ersten Tempels bis zur makkabäischen Tempelweihe : in zwölf Vorlesungen
Antwort an herrn J. M. Wise :
Gegenerklärung auf die "Erklärung" des herrn J.M. Wise, in der "Deborah," nro. 17.,
Israelitisches Gebetbuch :
Israelitish prayer book, for all the public services of the year.
A lecture on temperance,
Gebete für Kinder für Haus und Schule
Israelitisches Gebetbuch für die häusliche Andacht.
Family service for the eve of Passover, Hebrew and English,
The Hebrew reader, for schools :
Songs and prayers and meditations for divine services of Israelites ; Avodat Yisrael
Der ganze Mensch.
Turn not to folly again :
Transposed stems in Talmudic Hebrew and Chaldaic :
Addresses delivered at the opening ceremonies of the exhibition of objects used in worship,
A Warning voice:
Der neunzigste Psalm;
An interpretation of two psalms /
The history and the future of the Talmudic text.
A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli, and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic literature
Book articles by Marcus Jastrow
Articles in news publications by Marcus Jastrow
The Jewish exponent (dates - ?)
Books about Marcus Jastrow
Book articles about Marcus Jastrow
The Jewish exponent almanac for the year 5652 (1891 & 1892)
The history of Jewish education in Philadelphia, 1782-1873 : from the erection of the first synagogue to the closing of the Maimonides College
Twenty-fifth anniversary number; history of the Jews of Philadelphia
Articles in news publications about Marcus Jastrow
The Jewish exponent (dates - ?)
Books about Sabato Morais
Champion of Orthodox Judaism : a biography of the Reverend Sabato Morais, LL.D.
Books about H. P. Mendes
Henry Pereira Mendes (1877-1920)
Much more to come . . .
If you are interested or have additional information e-mail me.