The First English Translation of the Pentateuch in America
LEESER, Isaac. Law of God. In Five Volumes [The Pentateuch]. Philadelphia: C. Sherman , 1845.
First edition of the first English translation of any part of the Hebrew Bible in America, the Pentateuch. The Pentateuch means the first five books of the Bible. These books comprise Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Complete with five octavo volumes (7 1/2 x 4 5/8 inches; 189 x 118 mm). With text in Hebrew and the corresponding English on the facing page. Generally the Hebrew is on the recto, English on the verso.

Modern half calf over marbled boards. Calf ruled in blind. Spines with red and brown calf spine labels, lettered in gilt. Spines stamped in gilt. Some unobtrusive creasing to upper corner of final three leaves of volume I. A tiny dampstain to top of text block of volume I, not affecting leaves. Edges very slightly trimmed, as shown by remnants of gilt, but still with large margins. Some minor foxing and toning, mainly to preliminary leaves, most of text is very clean. Overall a near fine copy.

"Leeser's career as a translator also began in Philadelphia in 1830 with the publication of his rendering from German of J. Johlson's Instruction in the Mosaic Religion. Leeser, as part of his ongoing efforts to contribute to the development of Jewish education and culture in America, translated a number of important works into English from German, Spanish, French and Hebrew. Among his most important translations were Moses Mendelssohn's Jerusalem, Joseph Schwartz' Descriptive Geography and Brief Historical Sketch of Palestine, as well as his renowned Bible translations, first of the Pentateuch and later of the entire Hebrew Bible... Leeser continued to play an unceasing role in creating the cultural foundations of Jewish life in Philadelphia and throughout North America. In 1845, Leeser founded the first American Jewish Publication Society and in the same year published his translation of the Pentateuch entitled The Law of God, a bi-lingual edition which included the unpointed (unvocalized) Hebrew text. " (Penn Libraries; Biographical Sketch of Isaac Leeserby Arthur Kiron, Schottenstein-Jesselson Curator of Judaica Collections).

"The translator [of the first American Jewish Bible], Isaac Leeser (1806-68), was a modern Orthodox German Jew who immigrated to America in 1822. Leeser 'was the most important Jewish religious leader in the United States during the Ante-bellum Period.' In 1830, Leeser published an English translation of Johlson's catechism Instructions in the Mosaic Religion in Philadelphia (another English edition appeared in 1867). However, his major work was a Bible translation for American Jews, the authoritative English translation until the first Jewish Publication Society translation appeared in 1917." (A History of German Jewish Bible Translation, Abigail Gillman, pg 126).

"The translation of the Bible was Leeser's great literary achievement and represented many years of patient labor and devotion to a task which he considered sacred. Leeser was not fully equipped for this work, for he was no specialist in Hebrew philology, nor a master if Jewish learning in general, and he was quite conscious of his shortcomings, but he was inspired. He says in his preface: 'I thought in all due humility that I might safely go to task, confidently relying upon that superior aid which is never withheld from the inquirer after truth.' He made good use of the various German translations by Jews of the collective commentary known as the Biur (vol. III, sec. 81), and of other Jewish exegetic works. As a result his translation though based in style upon the King James version can be considered an independent work for the changes he produced are numerous and great. His prime consern was to supply the traditional interpretation when necessary and the retention of the Jewish spirit, at times even at the expense of beauty of style. The translation went through numerous editions, and until the new Jewish Publication Society version was issued in 1917, it was the only source from which many Jews not conversant with Hebrew derived their knowledge of the Bible in accordance with Jewish tradition" (Waxman, History of Jewish Literature, 1090).

HBS # 68182 $11,500