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JASTROW, MARCUS (MORDECAI):

American rabbi and scholar; born June 5, 1829, at Rogasen, Prussian Poland; died Oct. 13, 1903, at Germantown, Pa.; fifth child of Abraham Jastrow and Yetta (Henrietta) Rolle. Until 1840 he was privately educated. In 1844 he entered the third-yearclass of the Friedrich Wilhelm Gymnasium at Posen, graduating in 1852. Thence he went to Berlin University, and continued his Talmudic studies under the rabbis of Berlin. The strongest influence exerted upon him during his Berlin student days was that of Michael Sachs.

In 1855 he took the Ph.D. degree at the University of Halle, his thesis being "De Abraham ben Meïr Aben Esræ Principiis Philosophiæ." In Elul, 5617 (1857), he received the rabbinical authorization from Rabbi Feilchenfeld of Rogasen and from Dr. Wolf Landau of Dresden. He taught in the religious school of the Berlin congregation, at that time conducted by Dr. David Rosin.

Marcus Jastrow.Joins in Polish Revolution.

In 1858 Jastrow removed as rabbi to Warsaw, and threw himself into the study of the Polish language and of Polish conditions. By Feb. 27, 1861, national feeling had risen so high in Poland that the government called out the military; five victims fell in the Krakauer Vorstadt, Warsaw, and their burial and the memorial service were turned into patriotic demonstrations, in which, for the first time, "the Old Testament Brethren" of the Poles participated as a community. Though it was Sabbath, three rabbis, including Jastrow, joined the funeral cortège; at the memorial service in his synagogue, also on a Sabbath, Jastrow preached his first Polish sermon, which aroused such great enthusiasm that on Sunday his auditors reassembled and took it down at his dictation. Circumventing the censor, they distributed ten thousand manuscript copies within a week.

On various pretexts the three rabbis were arrested (Nov. 10, 1861) and incarcerated in the citadel of Warsaw. For twenty-three days Jastrow was kept in solitary confinement; for seventy-two days he shared the cell of Rabbi Meisels. His release came on Feb. 12, 1862, when, being a Prussian subject, he was sent across the frontier. During his imprisonment he had been required to answer in writing three questions concerning the relation of the Jews to the Polish Christians in their opposition to the government (see "Hebrew Leader," July 15, 22, 1870).

Returns to Warsaw.

Broken in health, Jastrow, with his family, spent the spring and summer of 1862 in Breslau, Berlin, and Dresden; in the autumn he accepted a call from Mannheim. A few weeks later, Nov., 1862, the order for his expulsion was revoked, and gave occasion for a controversy between the congregation at Warsaw (which had continued his salary until he went to Mannheim) and that of Mannheim; at Jastrow's request the latter released him. A few months after his return to Warsaw (Jan., 1863) the revolution broke out. During its progress, and while Jastrow was traveling, his Prussian passport was canceled, and he was not permitted to return to Warsaw.

The literary results of his Polish period are: "Die Lage der Juden in Polen" (anonymous; Hamburg, 1859); "Kazania Polskie," a volume of Polish sermons (Posen, 1863); "Die Vorläufer des Polnischen Aufstandes" (anonymous; Hamburg, 1864). He probably had a considerable share in the production of "Beleuchtung eines Ministeriellen Gutachtens" (Hamburg, 1859 [?]). In July, 1864, Jastrow accepted a call to Worms as district rabbi, and while there he produced "Vier Jahrhunderte aus der Gesch. der Juden von der Zerstörung des Ersten Tempels bis zur Makkabäischen Tempelweihe" (Heidelberg, 1865).

Aids Organization of American Jews.

In the autumn of 1866 he went to Philadelphia as rabbi of the German-Hebrew Congregation Rodeph Shalom, with which he was connected until his death, remaining in active service until 1892 and identifying himself with the interests of the Jewish community. The problem under discussion at the time was organization, urged in the Eastern States by Isaac Leeser, and in the Western by Isaac M. Wise. It dealt with higher education, representation, and the regulation of liturgical changes, and Jastrow's personality became a factor in its solution. When, through the exertions of Isaac Leeser, the Maimonides College was opened at Philadelphia, Oct., 1867, Jastrow occupied the chair of religious philosophy and Jewish history, and later also of Biblical exegesis; he was identified with the college until it closed its doors. He supported the plan of organizing the Board of Delegates of Civil and Religious Rights, and, under its auspices, the American Jewish Publication Society (1873). His main activity, however, from 1867 to 1871, was directed toward combating the tendencies expressed in the resolutions of the rabbinical conferences of 1869 and 1871. His opposition to them found expression in a series of polemical articles published in "The Hebrew Leader" and "The Jewish Times."

To the same period belongs his collaboration with Benjamin Szold in the revision of the latter's prayer-book ("'Abodat Yisrael") and home prayer-book ("Hegyon Leb"), and his translation of the same prayer-books into English. In his own congregation his influence effected consolidation and growth; in the Jewish community he participated in the formation and reorganization of societies.

In 1876 Jastrow fell severely ill, and for some years his public activities were limited by his poor health, which necessitated a sojourn in the south of Europe. During this period of withdrawal he fully matured the plans for his great work, "A Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature" (London and New York, 1886-1903). When the dictionary was approaching completion in manuscript (1895), the Jewish Publication Society of America was about to begin work on its projected new translation of the Bible into English, and to Jastrow was entrusted the chief-editorship. At the time of his death the translationof more than half the books of the Bible had been revised by him. In addition to these two great undertakings, he was a member of the Publication Committee of the Jewish Publication Society from the time of its establishment, and was connected with the Jewish Encyclopedia as editor of the department of the Talmud; he took a prominent part in the proceedings of the Jewish Ministers' Association, held a seat in the central board of the Alliance Israélite Universelle at Paris, was on the committee of the Meḳiẓe Nirdamim, was one of the vice-presidents of the American Federation of Zionists, and was active in relieving the needs, material and intellectual, of the Russian immigrants.

In 1900 the University of Pennsylvania conferred upon him the doctorate of literature.

Besides the journals previously mentioned, articles of his appear in the "Revue des Etudes Juives"; Frankel's "Monatsschrift"; Berliner's "Magazin für die Wissenschaft des Judenthums"; "Sippurim"; "Journal of Biblical Literature"; "Hebraica"; "Young Israel"; "Libanon"; "Jewish Record"; "Jewish Messenger"; "American Hebrew"; "Jewish Exponent"; etc.

Bibliography:
  • M. Jastrow, Bär Meisels, Oberrabbiner zu Warschau, Ein Lebensbild auf Historischem Hintergrunde nach Eigner Anschauung Entworfen, in Hebrew Leader, April 1-July 1, 1870;
  • Jewish Exponent, Oct. 16, 1903.
A. H. S.
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