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Philip Birnbaum


BIRNBAUM, PHILIP (1904–1988), U.S. author and translator. Birnbaum was born in Zamowiec, Poland, and immigrated to the United States in 1923. He attended Howard College and completed a Ph.D. degree at Dropsie College. In 1942, he published his dissertation, a critical, scientific edition of the Arabic commentary of the Karaite Yefet Ben Ali, on the Book of Hosea. Birnbaum's edition of Yefet Ben Ali's work was edited from eight manuscripts and included an English language introduction, a translation into Hebrew of the Arabic original, and critical notes on the text.

But Birnbaum's talent and lasting contribution was in popularizing Jewish law and custom, and in translating synagogue liturgy. His popular works included A Treasury of Judaism (1957), A Book of Jewish Concepts (1975), The Concise Jewish Bible (1977), and a selection of the Maimonides Code, the Mishneh Torah (1944, 1967), with Hebrew and English translation. Birnbaum was widely known and respected for his fine translation and annotation of synagogue liturgy. His editions of liturgy for daily prayer, Sabbath, festivals, and the High Holidays became immensely popular, selling an estimated 300,000 copies. The Hebrew Publishing Company described him, at his death, as "the most obscure bestselling author."

Birnbaum was a regular columnist and book reviewer for the Hebrew-language weekly, Hadoar. He also served on the board of directors of the Histadrut Ivrit b'America, an American association for the promotion of Hebrew language and culture. He also served for many years (1943–63) as principal of a Jewish day school in Wilmington, Delaware, and directed Jewish schools in Birmingham, Alabama, and Camden, New Jersey.


New York Times, B5 (March 22, 1988).

[Moshe Sherman (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.