The Jewish Encyclopedia

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


The Encyclopedia Judaica


The Encyclopedia Judaica was first published in 1972 (the Greek words enkyklios or education and paid or child together make up encyclopedia). Since then it has been updated each year by a yearbook and decennial volumes. In 1982 and again in 1992 CD ROM editions of the encyclopedia were published. These computer access editions include the entire 16 volumes of the encyclopedia. Because the Encyclopedia Judaica is now a CD, it can be updated continuously and therefore also includes a great deal of material concerning events in Israel.

The encyclopedia has numerous photographs and maps. The updated CD version also has music, film clips and slide shows. Most important is the search feature, which allows anyone to get at any topic at once.

The encyclopedia is divided into nine categories. These are: Contemporary Jewry; Education and Modern Scholarship; History; Jewish Arts; Jews in World Culture; Judaism Practice; Judaism Thought; Language and Literature; Miscellaneous.

The encyclopedia is comprehensive in that it truly represents the totality of Jewish knowledge today. This does not mean that it is a substitute for reading our literature as found in innumerable volumes in libraries. It does mean, however, that a short summary of any Jewish topic can be found there. The Encylopedia Judaica was partially funded by restitution payments made by the German government to the World Jewish Congress and by the generosity of the U.S. government and by the Encyclopedia Judaica Research Foundation.

The writing of each entry into the Encyclopedia Judaica was left to an array of major Jewish scholars in each area of scholarship. Of course, we Jews do not lack scholars. We lack drunks and wife beaters but not scholars.

The Encyclopedia Judaica is not the first English language Jewish Encyclopedia ever published. In fact, the Jewish Encyclopedia of 1906 took many years to research and write. This encyclopedia is still found in most university libraries and is indeed a great achievement. Consider that the vast majority of Jews who came to this country arrived between 1891 and 1923. Therefore the number of Jews who were well versed in English in 1894 when the first volume was published was indeed small. Yet, there were even then a sufficient number of scholars among the Yiddish speaking immigrants to publish the 12 volumes of this truly great source of knowledge.

Between 1939 and 1943 a Universal Jewish Encylopedia was published in the U.S. It has 10 volumes. That encyclopedia led to the publication of a Spanish language Jewish encyclopedia in Mexico between 1948 and 1951.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the German Jewish community had developed the Wissenschaft des Judentums, or Science of Judaism, which led to immense research into Jewish history, customs, ceremonies and the lives of important Jews. Unfortunately, Jewish life in Muslim lands is hardly covered by the Universal Jewish Encyclopedia. Likewise, that encyclopedia is short on Jewish life in Eastern Europe.

This shortage was well augmented by the Russian language encyclopedia, which also appeared before World War I. It had a wide audience, as most of the 11 million European Jews and the American immigrants were of Russian birth.

In 1924 a 10 volume Hebrew encyclopedia also appeared .This was the work of only one man, David Eisenstein.

Early in the 20th century an effort was made to publish a German Jewish encyclopedia. This was interrupted by the Nazi takeover and was never completed. However, the research already achieved was later incorporated into the English Encyclopedia Judaica.

If you buy the CD ROM of the Encyclopedia Judaica you will find it both entertaining and enlightening and a great substitute for the Videot box. It is a great birthday gift for children of all ages, all three sexes and all who can read. Buy it, youíll like it.

Shalom uívracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Football & American Identity (2005) &  Youth Culture and the Generation Gap (2005) with Dr. Ursula A. Falk.

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