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Judah Monis

MONIS, JUDAH (1683–1764), Colonial American Hebraist. Monis, who was born in Algiers or Italy, was educated in Leghorn and Amsterdam. Very little is known about his career before he went to America. On Feb. 28, 1715/16, he was admitted as a freeman of New York, his occupation being that of merchant, although at a later period he was described as having been a rabbi in Jamaica and in New York. Much of his erudition may have been secondhand. He appears in the Boston area in 1720, and on March 27, 1722 was publicly baptized in the College Hall at Cambridge, at which time the Reverend Benjamin Colman delivered A Discourse… Before the Baptism of R. Judah Monis, to which were added Three Discourses, Written by Mr. Monis himself, The Truth, The Whole Truth, Nothing but the Truth. One of which was deliver'd by him at his Baptism (Boston, 1722). Monis' essays are an apology and defense of his new faith, and in support of the doctrine of the Trinity drawn from "the Old Testament, and with the Authority of the Cabalistical Rabbies, Ancient and Modern." Shortly after his conversion, on April 30, 1722, he was appointed instructor of Hebrew at Harvard College, a position he held until his resignation in 1760. Monis received the degree of Master of Arts from Harvard in 1723. His instructorship, marriage, and academic degree came after his conversion to Protestant Christianity.

The study of Hebrew was a required subject at Harvard College, and Monis' Hebrew grammar, Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue was published in Cambridge in 1735, sponsored by the Harvard Corporation. It was published in English: "to Facilitate the Instruction of all those that are desirous of acquiring a clear Idea of this Primitive Tongue by their own Studies; In order to their more distinct Acquaintance with the Sacred Oracles of the Old Testament, according to the Original, And Published more especially for the Use of the Students of Harvard College."

Monis insisted on the use of the Hebrew vowel points in this grammar as being essential for the correct pronunciation of the Hebrew. Monis also owned a manuscript volume of Kabbalistic tracts and excerpts (372 pages), some transcribed by him, and some in the handwriting of others. His brother-in-law, the Rev. John Martyn, presented his books and manuscripts to Harvard College Library in 1767. Monis also left a small fund for the needy widows of Christian ministers.


L.M. Friedman, in: AJHSP, 22 (1914), 1–24; I.S. Meyer, Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 52 (1919), I.S. Meyer, ibid., 35 (1939), 145–70; G.F. Moore, in: Proceedings of the Massachusetts Historical Society, 52 (1919), 285–312; C.K. Shipton (ed.), Sibley's Harvard Graduates, 7 (1945), 380–1, 626, 639–46.

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