Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home


Encyclopedias of General Content in Hebrew and Yiddish Outside of Israel

The first Hebrew encyclopedias were translations or adaptations of Arabic works, which were intended as systematic presentations of the sciences in the medieval Aristotelian scheme, not usually arranged in alphabetical order. The first of these was Yesodei ha-Tevunah u-Migdal ha-Emunah by *Abraham b. Ḥiyya ha-Nasi of Barcelona (in the early 12th century), which included sections on mathematics, geometry, astronomy, optics, and music. Only the preface and the beginning of this work have been preserved in manuscript. In 1247 Judah b. Solomon ibn Matka, a native of Toledo, Spain, wrote an Arabic work that he later translated into Hebrew as Midrash ha-Ḥokhmah. The first part deals with logic, physics, and metaphysics, in addition to commentaries on passages in Genesis, Psalms, and Proverbs; the second, with mathematics, in addition to a kabbalistic study of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; there is also an enumeration of Bible passages that are to be interpreted philosophically. Again, only fragments of this encyclopedia have been preserved.

Shem Tov b. Joseph *Falaquera, another Spanish scholar of the 13th century, wrote De'ot ha-Filosofim, dealing with physics and metaphysics, based mainly on Averroes. Although the two extant manuscripts of this work ascribe its authorship to Samuel ibn *Tibbon, Zunz and Steinschneider identify Falaquera as its author. *Gershon b. Solomon of Arles presents a vivid picture of the scientific works available in Hebrew in the late 13th century in his Sha'ar ha-Shamayim. In the introduction he states that he used only Hebrew sources or works in Hebrew translation; thus, it is known that at this time some of the works of the major writers of classic antiquity had become part of the Jewish cultural background. His book is divided into three parts: physics, subdivided into a discussion of the four elements, minerals, plants, and animals; astronomy, according to Almagest (see *Ptolemy), *Avicenna, *Averroes, *Aristotle, and others; and theology or metaphysics, according to Averroes and Maimonides. This work is the oldest medieval encyclopedia to be printed, although in abridged form, first in Venice in 1547 and several times in the 19th century, as a part of the program of the East European Haskalah to broaden the horizon of the masses. Based in part on Sha'ar ha-Shamayim is the Shevilei Emunah by the 14th-century Spanish scholar Meir ben Isaac *Aldabi, whose intent was to combine natural sciences and Jewish religious tradition (Riva di Trento, 1518). Between the 15th and 18th centuries no major encyclopedia was written by Jews, as their interest in the general sciences declined. In 1530–32 the Sephardi physician Solomon b. Jacob *Almoli published a plan for such a work, Me'assef le-Khol ha-Maḥanot, in Constantinople. Another small work was Kelal Kazẓr mi-Kol ha-Rashum bi-Khetav by Judah ibn Bulat, another exile from Spain in Constantinople, who attempted to organize the sciences systematically (Constantinople, 1531–32; reprint Jerusalem, 1936).

Jacob b. Isaac *Zahalon, a physician in Ferrara, Italy, had prepared a large work to be called "Oẓar ha-Hokhmot," but only the third part, devoted to medicine, appeared, Oẓar ha-Hayyim (Venice, 1683). In the 17th century physicians were the only Jews in Central and Eastern Europe who had an opportunity for secular education. Thus, another representative of that profession, Tobias *Cohn (Tobias b. Moses Narol of Metz), compiled an encyclopedic work, Ma'ase Toviyyah (Venice, 1707), covering metaphysics, physics, astronomy, geography, medicine, and pharmacology.

With the rise of the Haskalah, an interest in publishing a general encyclopedia in Hebrew developed. In particular David *Franco-Mendes, a Jewish community leader and Hebrew poet in Holland, formulated such a suggestion in Ha-Me'assef (1785), but except for a prospectus, Ahavat David, nothing came of it. A pupil of the Gaon of Vilna, Phinehas Elijah b. Meir Horowitz, tried to present the general sciences from the point of view of Jewish tradition in his Sefer ha-Berit (Bruenn, 1797). This work became quite popular, as is evidenced by the publication of several editions in the 19th century. In 1856 Julius *Barasch, a Romanian physician, published the philosophical part of a general encyclopedia under the title Oẓar ha-Ḥokhmah. The first alphabetically arranged general encyclopedia in Hebrew was attempted by Isaac Goldmann in Warsaw in 1888; it was called Ha-Eshkol, but only six parts came out, and even the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet was not completed.

Joseph *Lurie and Ḥayyim Dov *Horowitz began the first general encyclopedia in Yiddish, Di Algemeyne Yidishe Entsiklopedye, in St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1904, but only three parts were published before the venture failed. In 1917 the well-known Yiddish writer and journalist Hillel *Zeitlin began Di Ershte Algemeyne un Yudishe Hand-Entsiklopedye with similar abortive results. David Goldblatt's Algemeyne Ilustrirte Entsiklopedye (2 vols., New York, 1920–23) was more successful, but it did not get beyond alef either (it should be remembered that an initial alef for transliterated words is equivalent in the Latin alphabet to a, e, i, o, and u).

The most ambitious attempt in Yiddish encyclopedias was Algemeyne Entsiklopedye, published by the Dubnow Fund from 1931, first in Paris and then in New York. After the first five volumes, devoted to general subjects, seven more on Jews and Judaism, arranged according to topic, were published by 1966.

Encyclopedias of Jewish Content Only

The first large Jewish encyclopedia in alphabetical arrangement was Paḥad Yiẓḥak (13 vols., 1750–1888) by Isaac ben Samuel *Lampronti, a physician in Ferrara, who worked on this reference book covering Talmud, rabbinics, and responsa throughout his life, part of it being published posthumously. It was the first such enterprise to be completed to the last letter of the alphabet. In each entry the history of the topic is traced through Mishnah, Talmud, and the responsa up to Lampronti's day.

With the development of the study of Judaism and Jewish history on a scientific basis in the 19th century, the Jews sought to emulate others in promoting encyclopedias devoted to their interests alone. The Jewish historian Isaac Marcus *Jost suggested such a project in his journal Israelitische Annalen in 1840. In 1844 the prestigious scholars Moritz Steinschneider and David Cassel published Plan der Real-Enzyklopaedie des Judenthums, zunaechstfuer die Mitarbeiter. Some of the articles intended for this work found their way into the general encyclopedia edited by Ersch and Gruber, Allgemeine Enzyklopaedie der Wissenschaften und Kuenste, into other journals, or into separate monographs. Another talmudic dictionary was begun by the Prague chief rabbi, Solomon Judah Leib *Rapoport, under the title Erekh Millin (Prague, 1852), but it did not go beyond the letter alef.

The first Jewish encyclopedia in German was the Real-Encyclopaedie fuer Bibel und Talmud by Jacob *Hamburger, chief rabbi of the German principality of Mecklenburg-Strelitz. It treated biblical and talmudic subjects in two separate volumes with a six-part supplement and appeared in three editions, the latest between 1896 and 1901. In spite of many defects, it was considered an achievement for its time, since it was helpful in tracing Jewish religious ideas in the Bible and Talmud.

Aḥad Ha-Am's suggestion to publish a Jewish encyclopedia in Hebrew did not gain much support. He had wanted to present the salient areas of Judaism and Jewish history and literature in a systematic, rather than an alphabetical scheme. There were objections that Hebrew literature was in its beginnings and could not sustain such an ambitious venture. Others believed that a general encyclopedia in Hebrew was needed more urgently than one devoted to Jewish subjects only. On Aḥad Ha-Am's suggestion, a sample of the Oẓar ha-Yahadut was published in Warsaw in 1906, containing four articles by four young scholars who later made their mark in Jewish learning, David *Neumark, Hirsch (Ẓevi) Perez *Chajes, Ismar *Elbogen, and Joseph *Klausner.

Despite the great accomplishments in Jewish studies in Europe during the 19th century, it was not granted to European Jewry to publish the first synthesis of its rich harvest. Instead, it was the American Jewish community, which at the turn of the century consisted of a population less than half its present size, a large proportion of whom were new immigrants, that published this basic work, The Jewish Encyclopedia (12 vols., 1901–06). Under the editorship of Isidore *Singer and with the participation of hundreds of scholars in the United States and abroad, the attempt was made to bring all Jewish knowledge within the scope of this work. Naturally it, too, had weaknesses, as in its treatment of modern Hebrew literature and the history of East European Jewry, but many of its entries (e.g., those by Louis Ginzberg) have remained unsurpassed statements. Shortly thereafter, Judah David *Eisenstein prepared a ten-volume encyclopedia in Hebrew, Oẓar Yisrael (New York, 1906–13). Unlike the Jewish Encyclopedia, which took account both of the traditional and the modernist viewpoints, its approach was more traditional, but it was considered inadequate in many respects.

Also influenced by the Jewish Encyclopedia was the Russian Yevreyskaya Entsiklopediya (16 vols., St. Petersburg, 1906–13) under the editorship of such outstanding scholars as Judah Leib *Katzenelson (Buki ben Yogli), Simon *Dubnow, David *Guenzburg, and Albert (Abraham) *Harkavy. Yet, while omitting some of the material about Jewish life in America that figured so prominently in the Jewish Encyclopedia, it concentrated on Eastern Europe and gave full scope to modern Hebrew literature. Its ideology was that of the Galut ("Diaspora") nationalism advocated by Dubnow, but the Zionist point of view was also presented. Thus, it was in a way a complement to the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Under the leadership of George *Herlitz and Bruno Kirschner, the Juedisches Lexikon (Berlin, 1927–30), a five-volume work in German, was published. Because of its size it had to be more limited in scope than the Jewish Encyclopedia and concentrated more on contemporary Jewish life than had the other major Jewish encyclopedias published earlier in the century. A more ambitious project was the Encyclopaedia Judaica (10 vols., Berlin, 1928–34) in German under the editorship of Jacob *Klatzkin, Nahum *Goldmann, and Ismar Elbogen. It was intended to present a new synthesis of Jewish knowledge some 20 years after the appearance of the Jewish Encyclopedia and to include all those areas neglected in the earlier pioneering work. However, because of the establishment of the Hitler regime in Germany, the plan could not be completed; only ten volumes appeared, through the article "Lyra." Of its Hebrew companion, Eshkol, Enẓiklopedyah Yisre'elit (Berlin, 1929–32), only two volumes were printed, not completing even the first letter. An oddity among encyclopedias with Jewish content published in Germany was the Sigilla Veri (4 vols., Erfurt, 1929–31), a work with antisemitic sponsorship in four volumes through the article "Polak."

The need for a more up-to-date and popular encyclopedia in English in the mid-20th century was met by a number of one-volume works, which are noted below in the bibliography, and by the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia in ten volumes (New York, 1939–43). Similar in purpose to the Juedisches Lexikon (whose English translation rights the editors Isaac *Landman and others had secured at the time of its publication), it concentrated on the more recent past and on the history of American Jewry.

The growth of the Latin American Jewish community is reflected in the Enciclopedia Judaica Castellana (10 vols., Mexico, 1948–51), based largely on the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia but containing original material for Latin America.

Encyclopedias in Israel

The first general encyclopedia in Palestine on a large scale was the Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit (6 vols., 1935–37). It was conceived and planned by Joseph Klausner. A work on a larger scale is the Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit Yizre'el (16 vols., 1950–61). Another popular work is the Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit Massadah (6 vols., 1960–61) with a supplementary volume (1966). The most ambitious Jewish encyclopedia ever attempted is Ha-Enḥiklopedyah ha-Ivrit (Encyclopaedia Hebraica; (1949–1981); first supplementary volume, covering volumes 1–16, 1967; second supplementary volume, 1983), a general, Jewish, and Israel reference work.

The special needs of Israel require, in addition to general and Jewish encyclopedias, specialized ones devoted to such fields as the social sciences, agriculture, and education, as well as Bible and Talmud. The young State of Israel has already met the need to a considerable extent.

Jews and Judaism in General Encyclopedias

Until the 19th century the treatment of Jews and Judaism in encyclopedias as well as in all other reference works was determined by the Christian point of view. Primary attention was paid to the biblical period as a background to Christianity, but very little interest was shown in the period that followed.

Among the first general encyclopedias to depart from this pattern was the Ersch-Gruber Allgemeine Enzyklopaedie der Wissenschaften und Kuenste (1818–89), when it included Moritz *Steinschneider among its contributors. His article on Jewish literature in its volume in 1850 and published separately in English translation in 1857 is considered a classic.

Since that time post-biblical Jewish history and Judaism have generally received more comprehensive and fairer treatment. It is now customary to assign such topics to recognized Jewish scholars. Notable among such encyclopedias are Hastings' Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics (1908–26), Religion in Geschichte und Gegenwart (1927–312, 1957–653), Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences (1930–35; repr. 1948–49), and New Catholic Encyclopedia (1967).

Quite striking is the difference between the earlier and more recent editions of the Encyclopaedia Britannica. In its third edition of 1797 the detailed history of the Jews ended with the destruction of the Second Temple in the year 70. The laws of rabbinic Judaism that followed are dismissed as mere "absurdities" deserving no consideration. In a concluding paragraph the history of the following 16 centuries is summarized with persecutions and massacres duly noted, the more tolerant attitude of the present day emphasized, and mentioning the recent emancipation of the Jews in France in 1791.

In the ninth edition of 1881 the history is divided into two articles, "Israel," dealing with antiquity and the medieval period, until the emancipation, written by the German Protestant Bible scholar Julius *Wellhausen, who gave a fair presentation, also referring to Jewish scholars, such as Jost, Graetz, and Herzfeld, in his bibliography, and "Jews," the period beginning with Mendelssohn, written by Israel Davis, a Jewish lay leader in England. More recent editions have had contributions by Isidore *Epstein, Norman *Bentwich, Jacob R. *Marcus, and other well known Jewish scholars.

Jewish Encyclopedias


Major works:

Jewish Encyclopedia, 12 vols. (1901–06; 19252; repr., 1963); Universal Jewish Encyclopedia, 10 vols. (1939–43); Encyclopaedia Judaica (1971, 20062).

Other works:

J. De Haas (ed.), Encyclopedia of Jewish Knowledge (1934); A.M. Hyamson and A.M. Silbermann (eds.), Vallentine's Jewish Encyclopedia (1938); American Jewish Cyclopedia (1943); D.D. Runes, Concise Dictionary of Judaism (1959); P. Birnbaum, A Book of Jewish Concepts (1964); S. Glustrom, Language of Judaism (1966); Z. Werblowsky and G. Wigoder, Encyclopedia of the Jewish Religion (19902); J. Neusner, Encyclopedia of Judaism, 3 vols. with supplements (1999, 2003); G. Wigoder et al., New Encyclopedia of Judaism (20022).

Special encyclopedias:

Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible, 4 vols. (1962); G. Wigoder, S. Paul, et al., Illustrated Dictionary and Concordance of the Bible (20052); A. Negev and S. Gibson, Archeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land (2001); S. Spector and G. Wigoder, Encyclopedia of Jewish Life Before and During the Holocaust, 3 vols. (2001); R. Rozett and S. Spector, Encyclopedia of the Holocaust (2000); Yad Vashem Encyclopedia of the Righteous Among the Nations (vols. 1–6, 2003–5), in progress; P. Hyman and D.D. Moore, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, 2 vols. (1997); M.D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Bibliographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1996); P.S. Nadell, Conservative Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1988); K.M. Olitzky, L.J. Sussman, and M.H. Stern, Reform Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1993); A. Steinberg, Encyclopedia of Jewish Medical Ethics, tr. F. Rosner (2003); R. Slater, Great Jews in Sports (20002); R. Posner, Junior Judaica (19942); G. Wigoder et al., Student's Encyclopedia of Judaism (2004).


J. Meijer, Encyclopaedia Sefardica Neerlandica (deals with the Sephardi community in Holland).


Major works:

Juedisches Lexikon, 5 vols. (1927–30), Encyclopaedia Judaica, 10 vols. (1928–34), incomplete (Aachen to Lyra only).

Other works:

E.B. Cohn, Das juedische ABC (1935); E. Bin Gorion, et al. (eds.), Philo-Lexikon; Handbuch des juedischen Wissens (19374); Philo-Atlas; Handbuch fuer die juedische Auswanderung (1938); J.F. Oppenheimer (ed.), Lexikon des Judentums (1967; a revision and up-dating of the Philo-Lexikon).

Special encyclopedias:

J.L. Hamburger, Real-Encyclopaediefuer Bibel und Talmud, 2 vols. (1896–19013), Supplement 6 vols.


J.D. Eisenstein (ed.), Oẓar Yisrael, 10 vols. (1907–13); Eshkol, Enẓiklopedyah Yisre'elit, 2 vols. (1929–32), incomplete – A-Antipas only (Hebrew edition of Encyclopaedia Judaica); I. Press, Ereẓ Yisrael, Enẓiklopedyah Topografit Historit, 4 vols. (1951–552); S.Z. Ariel, Enẓiklopedyah Me'ir Nativ le-Halakhot, Minhagim, Darkhei Musar u-Ma'asim Tovim (1960); J. Pevsner, Enẓiklopedyah Yehudit (1966); idem, Enẓiklopedyah Yuda'ikah (1961); C. Roth and G. Wigoder (eds.), Enẓiklopedyah shelha-Yahadut, 2 vols. (1969; revised Hebrew edition of Standard Jewish Encyclopedia); Y.T. Lewinsky, Enẓiklopedyah shel Havai u-Masoret ba-Yahadut, 2 vols. (1970).


B. Natanson, Ma'arekhet Sifrei Kodesh (1870); A.H. Rosenberg, Oẓar ha-Shemot Asher be-Khitvei ha-Kodesh, 10 vols. (1898–1922); Enẓiklopedyah Mikra'it, 8 vols. (1950–82); P. Ne'eman, Enẓiklopedyah le-Geografyah Mikra'it, 4 vols. (1962–65); D. Kimhi, Enẓiklopedyah le-Ishim ba-Tanakh, 2 vols. (1964?); M. Solieli and M. Berkooz (eds.), Leksikon Mikra'i, 2 vols. (1964/65); G. Cornfeld and B. Lurie (eds.), Enẓiklopedyah shel ha-Mikra vi-ymei Bayit Sheni (1967); Talmud and Rabbinics: I. Lampronti, Paḥad Yiẓḥak, 13 vols. (1750–1888; repr. 1998); M. Guttman, Mafte'ah ha-Talmud, 4 vols. (1906–30), incomplete; H.Z. Medini, Sedei Ḥemed, 16 vols. (1896–1911); Enẓiklopedyah Talmudit, 28 vols. (1947–2005); M. Wulliger, Koveẓ ha-Tosafot, Oẓar Nehmad, 3 vols. (1952); I.M. Fishleder, Mivẓar Yisrael (1958); A.N. Orenstein, Enẓiklopedyah le-To'orei-Kavod be-Yisrael, 4 vols. (1958–63) (encyclopedia on honorific titles in the Bible and Rabbinic literature); A. Maged, Beit Aharon (encyclopedia of talmudic principles and personalities), 11 vols. (1962–78).


Magyar Zsidó Lexikon (1930), 1929 edition published as Zsidó Lexikon.


F. Levisky, Enciclopédia Judaica Resumida (1961); C. Roth, Enciclopédia Judaica, 3 vols. (1967).


Yevreyskaya entsiklopediya, 16 vols. (1906–13); "Shorter Jewish Encyclopedia," 11 vols. (1976–2005).


P. Link, Manual Enciclopédico Judío (1950); Enciclopedia Judaica Castellana, 10 vols. (1948–51); E. Weinfeld, Judaismo Contemprano (1961).


Algemeyne Entsiklopedye: Yidn, 7 vols. (1939–66); H.B. Bass (ed.), Dertsiungs-Entsiklopedye, 3 vols. (1957–59), in progress; S. Petrushka, Yidishe Folks-Entsiklopedye, 2 vols. (1943, 19492).


O. Mandić, Leksikon judaizma i krscanstva (1969).


General and Jewish Content

J. Klausner (ed.), Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit, 6 vols. (1935–37); Ha-Enẓiklopedyah ha-Ivrit, 21 vols. (1949–81); Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit Yizre'el, 16 vols. (1950–61); D. Pines (ed.), Enẓiklopedyah la-Am, 3 vols. (1956–57); Enẓiklopedyah Kelalit Massadah, 6 vols. and supplement (1958–66).

Junior Encyclopedias

S.Z. Ariel (ed.), Enẓiklopedyah Maʾ yan, 12 vols. (1950–62); Y. Safra (ed.), Margaliyyot, Enẓiklopedyah li-Yladim, 9 vols. (1954–66); I. Avnon (ed.), Mikhlal, Enziklopedyah la-No'ar, 15 vols. (19632).

Special Encyclopedias


Ha-Enẓiklopedyah le-Ḥakla'ut (vol. 1, 1966), in progress; Education: Enẓiklopedyah ẓinnukhit, 5 vols. (1959–69); History: M. Timor, Enziklopedyah-le Historyah; H. Messing, Enẓiklopedyah Historit shel Medinot ha-Olam (1966); Literature: B. Karou (ed.), Enẓiklopedyah le-Safrut Yisraelit u-Khelalit, 4 vols. (19612); J. Twersky, Sifrut ha-Olam, Leksikon, 4 vols. (1962/63–1963/64); Music: I. Shalita, Enẓiklopedyah le-Musikah, 2 vols (1965); Social sciences: Enẓiklopedyah le-Madda'ei ha-Ḥevrah, 6 vols. (1962–70); Sports and physical education: Y. Abiram, Enẓiklopedyah li-Sport u-le-Tarbut ha-Guf, 2 vols. (19662).

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.