||With the English translation on facing page.
R. Isaac Leeser, rabbi, writer, and educator, who was born in Westphalia, Germany (then Prussia), was eight when his mother died. His father took him to Dulmen, near Muenster, where he was reared by his grandmother and began his formal education. He studied with R. Benjamin Cohen, and then with R. Abraham Sutro, who was an ardent opponent of Reform. R. Leeser obtained his secular education at the gymnasium of Muenster. In 1824 he went to America to work for his uncle in Richmond, Virginia. He published his first article, a defense of Judaism against a defamatory article that had appeared in a New York newspaper, in 1825. The essay attracted wide notice and in 1829 the Sephardic congregation, Mikveh Israel of Philadelphia, invited him to be its cantor. He was the first to introduce a regular English sermon into the synagogue service. In 1843 he founded the monthly The Occident, the first successful Jewish newspaper. For 25 years, this was an important forum for articles on Jewish life and thought. R. Leeser was its editor, chief contributor, bookkeeper, and sometimes typesetter.
Leeser founded the first Jewish Publication Society of America and brought many important works to the attention of the American Jewish community. He published the first Hebrew primer for children (1838), the first complete English translation of the Sephardic prayer book (1848), the first complete English translation of the Ashkenazi prayer book (1848), and numerous textbooks for children. He founded the first Hebrew high school (1849), the first Jewish representative and defense organization in 1859 (the Board of Delegates of American Israelites), Maimonides College, and the first American Jewish rabbinical school in 1867. His major literary achievement was the first American translation of the Bible, a work that took him 17 years to complete, and was published in 1845. This became the standard American Jewish translation of the Bible until the new Jewish Publication Society translation of 1917. Poverty and the fact that his congregation did not appreciate his many activities on the national scene clouded R. Leeser’s later years. Toward the end of his life, his friends formed a congregation, Beth El Emeth, for him. R. Leeser was a traditionalist who did much to stem the tide of Reform. Although he was identified with the Sephardic community his influence affected the entire community and he laid the foundations for many of the key institutions of present-day Jewish life. His contributions to every area of Jewish culture and religion made him a major builder of American Judaism.