It was 199 years ago on March 1 that Solomon Henry Jackson launched America’s first Jewish periodical, “The Jew.”
Jackson had immigrated from England in 1787. At first, he lived in rural Pennsylvania, but he moved to New York City in the 1820s and established a print shop; he is believed to have been New York’s first Hebrew-language printer.
The periodical’s full title was “The Jew; being a Defence of Judaism Against all Adversaries, Particularly Against the Insidious Attacks of Israel’s Advocate.” “Israel’s Advocate” referred to a Christian missionary publication, whose own subtitle was “The Restoration of the Jews Contemplated and Urged.” Jackson’s publication was devoted to rebutting the Christian periodical’s missionary arguments.
““I am . . . a man as yourselves, whom you have unwarrantably attacked — a Jew!” Jackson wrote in an early issue. “A citizen of the United States! and an inhabitant of New-York who, standing on the defence of his religion, on the defence of his people and kindred, which, and whom you have, and do unfairly, wantonly, and unmanly attack, calls on you to guard.”
The Jew came out monthly for two years — which qualifies it as a periodical, though it was neither a newspaper (it reported no news) nor a magazine (it featured no articles other than Jackson’s and no topics other than its central theological debate). Those sorts of publications would have to wait in this country another two decades, until Rabbi Isaac Leeser would establish the “Occident and American Jewish Advocate” in 1843; it would run through 1869.
For his part, Jackson went on to translate and publish a Jewish prayer book in Hebrew and English in 1826, and the first American edition of the Passover Haggadah in 1837.
If the pending bicentennial anniversary of American Jewish periodical publishing fills you with as much excitement as it does us, you might want to contemplate a celebratory gift for your favorite Jewish editor. As it happens, on April 7 Swann Auction Galleries will offer a rare bound collection of all 24 issues of “The Jew,” that once was owned by the Hebrew Theological College of Chicago. The collection’s estimated price is upward of $20,000.
It’s a reminder that the weekly Jewish periodical you are now reading is quite a bargain — even if it doesn’t help you rebut Christian missionaries.