Haham of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation, London; born in Bucharest Sept. 16, 1856. Having taken a degree in his native city (1874), he proceeded to the Jewish seminary at Breslau, where he received the degree of Ph.D. in 1878 and the "Hattarat Hora'ah" in 1881. His history of Rumanian popular literature was published at Bucharest in 1883. Gaster's magnum opus, on which he was engaged for ten years, is a Rumanian chrestomathy and glossary covering the period from the dawn of Rumanian literature down to 1830. He was lecturer on the Rumanian language and literature at the University of Bucharest (1881-85), inspector-general of schools, and a member of the council for examining teachers in Rumania. He also lectured on the Rumanian apocrypha, the whole of which he had discovered in manuscript.
Gaster wrote various text-books for the Jewish community of Rumania, made a Rumanian translation of the prayer-book, and compiled a short Scripture history.
Having been expelled from Rumania by the government in 1885, he went to England, where he was appointed Hchester lecturer in Slavonic literature at the University of Oxford, his lectures being published afterward as "Greco-Slavonic Literature," London, 1886. He had not been in England many years before the Rumanian government canceled the decree of expulsion, presented him with the Rumanian Ordre pour le Mérite of the first class (1891), and invited him to return; but he declined the invitation. In 1895, at the request of the Rumanian government, he wrote a report on the British system of education, which was printed as a "green book" and accepted as a basis of education in Rumania.
In 1887 Gaster was appointed haham of the Spanish and Portuguese congregation in London, in which capacity he presided over the bicentenary of Bevis Marks Synagogue. He was also principal of Judith Montefiore College, Ramsgate, from 1891 to 1896, and wrote valuable essays accompanying the yearly reports of that institution. He is a member of the councils of the Folk-Lore, Biblical, Archeological, and Royal Asiatic societies, and has written many papers in the transactions of these bodies. Among Gaster's works are the following: "Jewish Folk-Lore in the Middle Ages" (London, 1887); "The Sword of Moses," from an ancient manuscript book of magic, with introduction, translation, and index (ib. 1896); "The Chronicles of Jerahmeel" (ib. 1899); "History of the Ancient Synagogue of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews," a memorial volume in celebration of the two-hundredth anniversary of its inauguration (ib. 1901). The following are among his numerous contributions to periodical literature: "Beiträge zur Vergleichenden Sagen und Märchenkunde," in "Monatsschrift," xxix. 35 et seq.; "Ein Targum der Amidah," in ib. xxxix. 79 et seq.; "The Apocalypse of Abraham, from the Roman Text," in the "Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society," ix. 195; "The Unknown Hebrew Versions of the Tobit Legend," in ib. 1897, p. 27; "The Oldest Version of Midrash Meghillah," in "Kohut Memorial Volume"; "Hebrew Text of One of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs," in the "Proceedings of the Society of Biblical Archæology," xvi. 33 et seq.; "Contributions to the History of Aḥiḳar and Nadam," in the "Transactions of the Royal Asiatic Society," 1900, p. 301.
Gaster is among the most active leaders of the Zionist movement in England; and even while in Rumania he assisted in establishing the first Jewish colony in Palestine. He was vice-president of the first Basel Congress, and has been a prominent figure in each succeeding congress.
- Young Israel, 1898;
- Jew. Chron. and Jew. World, 1887;
- Jewish Year Book, 1900-01, pp. 270-271.