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


JASTROW, family of scholars originating in Prussian Poland, later in the U.S. MARCUS MORDECAI JASTROW (1829–1903) was a Polish-born rabbi and lexicographer and a leader of the historical school in the United States. Jastrow was born in Rogasen, Poznania. He was ordained by Rabbis Feilchenfeld of Rogasen and Wolf Landau of Dresden. He also studied at Berlin University and took his doctorate at Halle with a thesis on the philosophy of Abraham ibn Ezra (1855). With the aid of Heinrich *Graetz he was appointed preacher of the progressive German congregation in Warsaw. There he was caught up (with other Warsaw rabbis) in the Polish insurrectionary movement of 1861–63, preaching and writing for the revolutionary cause; he was imprisoned by the Russians for three months and, being a Prussian subject, expelled from Poland. For two years he was rabbi at Worms. In this period he published Vier Jahrhunderte aus der Geschichte der Juden (1865), covering the period from the Babylonian Exile to the Maccabees.

In 1866 he emigrated to the United States as rabbi to Rodeph Shalom, a congregation in Philadelphia largely composed of German immigrants; he served this congregation until his retirement in 1892. His work with the congregation encountered many difficulties. He strove to hold his synagogue within the confines of tradition but he was not able to stem the tide to Reform. He introduced some reforms, such as the use of an organ and Benjamin *Szold's prayer book Avodat Israel (Ger., 1863), which he helped to revise and which he translated into English as A Prayer Book for the Services of the Year… (1885). However, in polemics in the Hebrew Leader and the Jewish Times he opposed the movement for radical Reform as expressed by I.M. *Wise, D. *Einhorn, and Samuel *Hirsch. He did not favor formation of the *Union of American Hebrew Congregations or of *Hebrew Union College. In these polemics he emerged as one of the leaders of the historical school, which developed into *Conservative Judaism.

Jastrow taught Jewish philosophy, history, and Bible at Maimonides College from 1867 until it closed in 1875. He took a prominent part in the work of the *Jewish Publication Society, served from 1895 to 1903 as editor-in-chief of its projected Bible translation, and did the translation of Job. He also edited the Talmud section of the *Jewish Encyclopedia. Jastrow was a member of the executive of the *Alliance Israélite Universelle and of *Mekiẓei Nirdamim, and served as a vice president of the American Zionist Federation.

A severe illness in 1876 forced Jastrow to restrict his communal activities, and during a prolonged convalescence he began work on his major contribution to modern Jewish scholarship, the monumental Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi and the Midrashic Literature (2 vols., 1886–1903; reprs. 1926, 1943, 1950; and as Hebrew-Aramaic-English Dictionary…, 2 vols., 1969). Using Jacob *Levy's dictionaries and S. Kraus' Griechische und Lateinische Lehnwoerter, Jastrow produced an eminently serviceable dictionary for the student of rabbinics, particularly the English-speaking student. In comprehensiveness and in attention to comparative linguistics, the dictionary was a definite advance on its predecessors. Though talmudic lexicography has progressed considerably since the dictionary first appeared, Jastrow's work has retained its value as a tool for all who study rabbinic literature.

One of Marcus' sons, MORRIS JASTROW (1861–1922), was a distinguished Orientalist. He was born in Poland and was brought to the United States as a child. He took his doctorate at Leipzig in 1884 with a dissertation on Judah *Ḥayyuj (Abu Zakarijja Jahjâ… und seine zwei grammatischen Schriften…, 1885; Weak and Geminative Verbs by Abu Zakariyya… Ḥayyuj, 1897). Returning to Philadelphia, he assisted his father for a short time at Rodeph Shalom. In 1892 he began teaching Semitics at the University of Pennsylvania; he also served as librarian (from 1898) and as research professor of Assyriology there. For a time he acted as editor of the Bible department of the Jewish Encyclopedia, was on the board of the International Encyclopedia, and contributed to Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible, the Encyclopedia Biblica, and many other learned publications. His anti-Zionist attitude is evident in Zionism and the Future of Palestine: Fallacies and Dangers of Political Zionism (1919).

Jastrow's most important work was probably Religion of Babylonia and Assyria (1898; rev. ed. Aspects of Religious Beliefs and Practice in Babylonia and Assyria, 1969). His other works on the religious and cultural history of Assyria and Babylonia include Fragment of the Babylonian Dibbarra Epic (1891; now known as the II Tablet of the Era-epic); Bildermappe… zur Religion Babyloniens und Assyriens… (1912); an atlas of illustrations for the Religion of Babylonia and Assyria; An Old Babylonian Version of the Gilgamesh Epic (with A.T. Clay, 1923).

Of more immediate Jewish interest are his Study of Religion (1901); Hebrew and Babylonian Tradition (1914); Gentle Cynic (1919), on Ecclesiastes; Book of Job (1920); and Song of Songs (1921).

Marcus' younger son, JOSEPH JASTROW (1863–1944), was a noted psychologist. Jastrow was educated at Pennsylvania and Johns Hopkins universities. He taught psychology at Wisconsin (1888–1927), Columbia (1910), and the New School for Social Research (1927–33). In 1900 he served as president of the American Psychological Association. He made a considerable contribution to the psychology of perception and of abnormality and he popularized Freudian thought in such works as Fact and Fable in Psychology (1900); Subconscious (1906, repr. 1970); Keeping Mentally Fit (1928), a title Jastrow also used for a syndicated newspaper column (1928–32) and a radio series (1935–38); The House that Freud Built (1932; Freud, His Dream and Sex Theories, 1941); Error and Eccentricity in Human Belief (1935); Betrayal of Intelligence (1938); and Story of Human Error (ed., 1936).


ON MARCUS: M. Davis, Emergence of Conservative Judaism (1963), 342–4; idem, in: Sefer ha-Shanah li-Yhudei Amerikah, 6 (1942), 427–39; E. Davis, History of Rodeph Shalom Congregation (1926), 81–104; D.W. Amram, Memorial Address on the Tenth Anniversary of the Death of M. Jastrow (1913); N.M. Gelber, Juden und der polnische Aufstand (1923), index. ON MORRIS: A.T. Clay and J.A. Montgomery, in: JAOS, 41 (1921), 337–44; T.B. Jones, The Sumerian Problem (1969), 62–65.

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