Record Group 36: The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion

  • Dates: 1943-1961; n.d.
  • Size: 9.0 linear ft.
  • Number of Boxes: 8
  • Languages:
    • English
    • Hebrew
    • Yiddish
  • Location: Special Collections Reading Room, Jewish Theological Seminary Libary.
  • Restrictions: Jewish Theological Seminary records are available for research, with permission, through 1972; records dating from 1973 and afterward are currently closed. For permission to see records of The Jewish Theological Seminary write to: Archivist, Ratner Center for the Study of Conservative Judaism, Jewish Theological Seminary, 3080 Broadway, New York, NY 10027. Reproduction of fragile items is not permitted; consult the archivist about literary rights.
  • Related Collections: Correspondence with contributors and publishers, and some correspondence related to the questionnaires is in the Records of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Record Group 1, General Files. See files under names of individual correspondents.

JM, 8/5/94

Table of Contents:

A Note on Folder Headings

Individual folders are identified in the following way: record group# -- box# -- folder#, as in R.G.1-10-32. Please use this format in citations and when referring to files for any other reason.

Historical Note

During the early 1940s Louis Finkelstein, president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, conceived the idea of preparing "a work dealing comprehensively with Judaism and the Jews in every aspect." The book was in preparation under the working title Judaism and the Jews during the forties, and in 1949 the first edition, titled The Jews: Their History, Culture, and Religion was published in four volumes by the Jewish Publication Society.

Following the example of the Cambridge histories, Finkelstein, who became the editor, arranged the book as a series of essays written by a variety of - largely - Jewish scholars on a range of topics including archaeology, economics, demography, art, music, literature, sociology, philosophy, religion, and history.

Finkelstein was assisted by Jessica Feingold, who took an important role in the editing and publication of the book. The project was funded by the American Jewish Committee.

A second edition in two volumes was published in 1955 by Harper's; a third edition published in 1960 by the Jewish Publication Society came out in two volumes; and a fourth edition in three paperback volumes was published in 1971 by Schocken books.

In a 1943 statement in which he explained the need for the book, Finkelstein described the degree of ignorance about Jews and Judaism in America at that time. He was to find out just how profound that ignorance was, and how mixed with virulent prejudice it could be, when he sent out a questionnaire to potential readers in 1946 during the preparation of the first edition. The questionnaire was sent to college administrators and professors, government officials, doctors and scientists, authors, and other well-educated, prominent people from around the country. They were asked to list "questions which should be answered in the book on Judaism and the Jews, including queries I have frequently heard." Finkelstein received 209 responses.

Possibly as a result of the distancing effect produced by the wording of Finkelstein's question, the completed questionnaires contain questions and statements which are almost purely prejudice, reflecting an almost total lack of knowledge of Judaism or acquaintance with real Jews. Respondents wanted to know why Jews "controlled" various industries and "crowded" certain professions, why they engaged in "sharp business practices," and why they "insisted" on following Jewish religious and cultural practices rather than giving them up for Christian ones. There were criticisms of Jewish "aggressiveness," "clannishness," and "hyper-sensitivity." One respondent asked: "Why do not the synagogues have steeples?" More benignly, many wanted to know just what Jews were - a religion, a culture, or a race?

In an appendix to the first edition Finkelstein listed twenty-nine questions which he characterized as being those "raised most frequently" by respondents to the 1946-1947 questionnaire, showing where in the book answers to them could be found. In fact, while some of the twenty-nine questions reflect concerns raised by the respondents, the hostile tone was edited out and questions reflecting a greater interest in and knowledge of Judaism were added.

In 1957, as part of the preparation of the third edition, Finkelstein sent out the list of twenty-nine questions to the original group of questionnaire respondents. In a cover letter he asked whether "the questions most frequently raised now about Judaism and the Jews are substantially the same or whether the passage of time has altered public thinking on the subject." With the exception of a new interest in the State of Israel, the tenor of the 1957 responses showed no change from 1946-1947. Interest in and knowledge of Judaism or Jews remained low, and a willingness to believe and repeat negative generalities about Jews remained at the same high level.

Reviews of the book show that it was critically well received. Yet, judging by the respondents to the 1957 questionnaire, it appears not to have changed the views of a stratum of well educated Americans about Judaism and Jews.

Collection Description

Records documenting the conception, preparation, publication, and reception of the first three editions of The Jews consist of administrative files, ca. 1943-1961; drafts and proofs of chapters of the first through third editions; and responses to the 1946-1947 and 1957 questionnaires along with charts analyzing the responses.

The administrative files consist of internal memoranda, correspondence with contributors and publishers, and lists and notes relating to the planning, editing, and publicizing of the book. Of note is Louis Finkelstein's statement "The Need for an Authoritative comprehensive Book on Judaism," March 19, 1943. Also of note is a transcript of an interview with Louis Finkelstein about the book by Nancy Craig of the "Woman of Tomorrow" radio show, 1950. Publicity materials, and clippings and reprints of reviews are also included.

Drafts of chapters are in the form of typescripts and proofs. Editing appears to be in the handwriting of Jessica Feingold. Correspondence with authors and files of corrections (both in Series I) further describe changes made to the chapters. Drafts of front matter, indexes, captions, and jacket copy are also included.

Questionnaire material consists of responses to the 1946-1947 questionnaires, in some cases with accompanying letters. Also included are index cards and slips of paper on which the questions were typed out at the Seminary, probably for purposes of analysis. Worksheets analyzing the responses and the respondents (age, profession, geographical distribution), with some related notes, are also included.

Box List

Box Folder(s) Description
    I. ADMINISTRATIVE FILES, 1943-1961; N.D.
1 1 Abbreviations, n.d.
  2 Address lists, n.d.
  3 Chapter outlines, proposed, n.d.
  4-5 Complementary copies of first edition, Jewish Publication Society and Harper Bros., 1950
  6-7 Contents, lists of contributors, lists of planning committee members, 1959; 1960; n.d.
  8-12 Corrections, 1947-1961; n.d.
  13-15 Correspondence, 1947-1955
  16 Correspondence with authors re 2nd edition, 1952- 1957
  17 Correspondence re expansion, 1954
  18 Correspondence, memoranda, notes, 1959-1960
  19-20 Correspondence received in response to The Jews, 1950-1951
  21 Correspondence with authors, 1944-1946
  22 Correspondence with Harper Bros., 1947-1948
  23-26 Drafts and notes, 1946-1949; n.d.
  27 Financial information, 1948-1960
  28 Finkelstein, Louis, interview with Nancy Craig of "Woman of Tomorrow" radio show, 1950
  29 Finkelstein, Louis, letter concerning Jewish Publication Society edition, Jan. 15, 1950; lists of recipients
  30 Finkelstein, Louis, "The Need for an Authoritative, Comprehensive Book on Judaism," March 19, 1943.
  31 General Information (notes, memoranda, correspondence, circular letters), 1953-1958
  32 Letters received, list of, 1950
  33 "Living Book" lectures, 1953-1954
  34 Memoranda, 1950
  35 Orders, 1953-1957; n.d.
  36 Permissions, 1949
  37-44 Press clippings and reprints, 1949-1954
  45 Press release sent to Anglo-Jewish press, 1950
  46 Progress Reports
  47 Publicity, 1960-61; n.d.


2 1 Record of volumes, first edition, 1952-1956
  2 Report on projected book, n.d.
  3 Reprint orders with related correspondence, 1959- 1961
  4 Reviewer list, suggestions for, 1950
  5 Reviewers, lists of, 1949?; 1950
  6 Worksheets, 1950-1958; n.d.


a. Front and Back Matter, Illustrations, Cover
  7 Bibliographies
  8 Bibliographies, notes
  9 Caption copy for photographs and illustrations, 1949; n.d.
  10 Covers and jacket, third edition
  11 Finkelstein, Louis - preface, prologue, appendix, etc.
  12 Flap copy
  13 Forward, third edition, 1960
  14 Front matter, third edition
  15 Front page, title page, introduction, 1949; 1955
  16 Illustration pages
  17 Illustrations, captions
  18-19 Index
  20 Prologue and introduction
  21 Table of contents
  22 Table of contents; "Questions Frequently Asked"
    b. Chapter Drafts (where there are variant titles, the title as published in the The Jews has been used)
  23 Albright, W.F., "The Biblical Period"


8 (oz) 1 Altman, Alexander, "Judaism and World Philosophy"


2 24 Altman, Alexander, "Judaism and World Philosophy"
  25-28 Bavli, Hillel, "The Modern Renaissance of Hebrew Literature"
  29-37 Ben-Zvi, Itzhak, "Eretz Yisrael Under Ottoman Rule, 1517-1917"
  38-39 Bickerman, Elias J., "The Historical Foundations of Post-Biblical Judaism"
  40-42 Castiglione, Arturo, "The Contribution of the Jews to Medicine"


3 1-2 Chipkin, Israel, "Judaism and Social Welfare"


8(oz) 2 Daiches, David, "The Influence of the Bible on English Literature"


3 3 Daiches, David, "The Influence of the Bible on English Literature"
  4-6 Davis, Moshe, "Jewish Religious Life and Institutions in America"
  7 Dinur, Ben-Zion, "Historical Foundations of the Rebirth of Israel"
  8-9 Engelman, Uriah Z., "Sources of Jewish Statistics"
  10 Finkelstein, Louis, "Basic Concepts of Judaism"
  11-14 Finkelstein, Louis, "The Jewish Religion: Its Beliefs and Practices"
  15-16 Fischel, Walter J., "Israel in Iran"
  17-18 Glazer, Nathan, "Social Characteristics of American Jews"
  19-20 Goldin, Judah, "The Period of the Talmud"
  21 Gordis, Robert, "The Bible as a Cultural Monument"
  22-23 Greenberg, Simon, "Jewish Educational Institutions"
  24-25 Halkin, A.S., "Judeo-Arabic Literature"
  26-30 Halpern, Israel, "A History of the Jews in Eastern Europe"
  31 Herskovits, Melville, "Who Are the Jews?"
  32-33 Heschel, Abraham J., "The Mystical Element in Judaism"
  34-37 Himmelfarb, Milton, "The Jews Outside of Israel, the United States, and the Soviet Union
  38 Janowsky, Oscar, "Israel: The Fashioning of a Democratic Welfare State"
  39-40 Kaplan, Mordecai, "The Contribution of Judaism to World Ethics"
  41 Katz,?, ["The Fourth Aliyah"] (in Hebrew)
  42-44 Kohs, Samuel C., "The Jewish Community"
  45-46 Konvitz, Milton R., "Judaism and the Democratic Ideal"


4 1-4 Kuznets, Simon, "Economic Structure and Life of the Jews"
  5-6 Lebeson, Anita L., "The American Jewish Chronicle"
  7-8 Lehner, Frederick, "The Influence of the Bible on European Literature"
  9-12 Lestschinsky, Jacob, "Jewish Migrations in the Last Century"
  13 Maller, Julius, "The Role of Education in Jewish History"
  14-15 Marcus, Ralph, "Hellenistic Jewish Literature"
  16-23 Mark, Yudel, "Yiddish Literature"
  24-28 Menes, Abraham, "Patterns of Scholarship in Eastern Europe" (also in box 7, folder 3)
  29-32 Rabinowitz, Jacob, "The Influence of Jewish Law on the Development of the Common Law"
  33 Reich, Nathan, "The Economic Structure of Modern Jewry"
  34-35 Roth, Cecil, "The European Age in Jewish History"


5 1-2 Roth, Cecil, "The Jews of Western Europe"
  3-4 Seidman, J.A., "The History of Jewish Resettlement in Palestine"


8(oz) 4-5 Singer, Charles, "Science and Judaism"


5 5 Singer, Charles, "Science and Judaism"
  6-7 Spiegel, Shalom, "Medieval Hebrew Poetry"
  8-12 Tartakower, Arieh, "The Problem of European Jewry"
  13-17 Weinryb, Bernard, "Eastern European Jewry Since the Partition of Poland"
  18-19 Werner, Eric, "The Jewish Contribution to Music"
  20-22 Wischnitzer, Rachel, "Judaism and Art"
  23 Unknown, "Pharisaism and Its Factions"
  24-28 Proofs of various chapters
  29 Galleys of a Catholic book on church and state, author and title unknown
  30-34 Translations, Hebrew


    III. QUESTIONNAIRES, 1946; 1957
6 1-2 Analysis of responses


8(oz) 6 Analysis of responses, worksheets


6 3-5 Forms and form letters including questionnaires and list of questions
  6-9 Letters of acknowledgement to respondents
  10-11 Correspondence concerning delayed responses
  12 Correspondence concerning nonrespondents
  13 Questions used
  14-24 Questionnaire responses, 1946, A-Z and unidentified
  25 Most frequent questions, 1946
  26-41 Questionnaire responses, 1957, A-Z
  42 Questionnaire responses typed on slips of paper
  43 Questionnaire referrals to other people, 1957


Box Cardfile Description
7 1 Names and addresses of "non-Conference" recipients of questionnaire, [1946]
  2 Responses to questionnaires typed on index cards, A-Z, 1946
  3 Responses to questionnaires typed on index cards, A-O, 1946
  4 Responses to questionnaires typed on index cards, P-Z, 1946; address cards for recipients of 1946 questionnaire


8   Oversized files (these are listed above)