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Holy Tongue - Holy Land - Holy Words: Hebrew Language

H. Henry's Imrai Shaipher, A Hebrew Vocabulary (New York, 1838), published by the Jewish printer M. Jackson, bore the recommendations, among others, of M. M. Noah and I. B. Seixas, Reader of K. K. Shearith Israel; as well as those of John Dowling, Pastor of the West Baptist Church; and the Reverend S. Luckey, Editor of the Christian Advocate and Journal. The author, who dedicates the volume to his father, P. Henry, Esquire, thanks Peter Westervelt for "revising the proof sheets," explaining "the English language not being my native tongue, I could not, myself ... have undertaken to correct." Henry also laments his "want of proper assistance from books, which I was almost destitute of, for, a Bible, a Lexicon of but second rate quality, and a small Grammar, published in England in 1653, these were the only Heb. books, my library could boast of." He undertook nonetheless preparation of a handbook facilitating finding the roots of Hebrew words. (It is of interest to note that, in 1838, there was someone in America, as the author notes, who could inform him that the title he chose for his work had already been used in Europe by Naphtali Herz Wessely for a poetical work.)

The author, H. Henry, describes his work as "A Hebrew Vocabulary ... designed to lessen the difficulty which students encounter in searching for the roots of defective words etc." A recent immigrant, Henry acknowledges the help he received, "in revising the proof sheets ... the English language not being my native tongue." The printer and publisher is Morris Jackson, son of New York's first Jewish printer and publisher, Solomon Henry Jackson.

H. Henry, Imrai Shaipher, A Hebrew Vocabulary, New York, 1838. General Collection.

During the nineteenth century, Hebrew grammars by Jews and non-Jews continued to appear. A few articles and letters in Hebrew appeared in the Occident, and in the 1860s two Hebrew volumes were published. in 1871 with the appearance of the Hebrew weekly Ha-Zofeh ba'Arez ha-Hadashah (The Watchman in the New Land), which began publication on June 11 and lasted for five years, the language became a living reality. Its editor, Zvi Hirsch Bernstein (1846-1907), was twenty-four years old when he arrived from Russia in 1870. Already a contributor to a number of Hebrew periodicals there, once in America he turned to publishing, founding Die Post, the first Yiddish periodical in America, which lasted but six months. In his second year, he launched two periodicals, the four-language Hebrew News in Yiddish, Hebrew, German, and English, which soon folded, and Ha-Zofeh.


The migration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the United States, which became a mighty wave at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning the twentieth, was not yet a trickle in June 1871, when Zvi Bernstein began the publication of the first Hebrew periodical in America, Ha-Zofeh ba-Arez ha-Hadashah (The Watchman in the New World). The editor declared its mission to be:

To stand on the watchtower and report what was happening to our brethren in all parts of the world, especially in America, and the history of the times, which is needed to be known by every person.

Subscription: $4.20 annually; advertisements 10 cents a line; ads for the "public good" are free.

Ha-Zofeh ba-Arez ha-Hadashah, New York, June 27, 1871. Hebraic Section.

That paper's second issue contains a report on the annual meeting of the Board of Delegates of American Israelites; news items from Buffalo and Cincinnati as well as from Russia and Jerusalem; scholarly articles on the sources of Jewish surnames, the excommunication of Spinoza, and Jews in the East Indies; a report of new books; a letter from Vilna, and various announcements. Its front page carried praise from America's leading Hebraist, Rabbi H. Vidaver, of New York's Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, who wrote:

All who esteem and love will praise you; and everyone will hail you ... for being the first to have the courage to plant this Hebrew shoot in the "Vineyard of Ben Shemen," when most of our people are interested only in the "fat of the land . . ."

Be strong and of good courage, stretch forth the Hebrew pen and the blessings of those who honor the language will descend upon you — and among them am I.

Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).