October 26, 2006
New ‘Encyclopedia Judaica’ goes from Aachen to Zyrardow
The editors of the new edition of the "Encyclopaedia Judaica" confronted a whole new world.
In the more than 30 years since the first edition was published, Jewish life has been revitalized in the former communist world, Las Vegas and Atlanta
"The original edition did not take into account that 50 percent of Jews are women," said Judith Baskin, director of the Jewish studies program at the University of Oregon and the encyclopedia's assistant editor for women and gender.
The new edition, the encyclopedia's second, attempts to rectify that oversight with more than 300 new entries on Jewish women, including biographical entries on well-known figures such as former U.S. Rep. Bella Abzug (D-N.Y.) and entries on lesser-known women like Beatrice Alexander, founder of the Madame Alexander doll collection, and Asenath Barzani, an Iraqi woman trained by her father in the 1600s as a Torah scholar.
These are among roughly 2,700 new entries in the new edition to be published Dec. 8 by Macmillan Reference USA and Israel's Keter Publishing. The 22 volumes contain more than 21,000 entries on Jewish life.
A licensed, online version also will be available, but the hope is that institutions, and some individuals, will be willing to fork over $1,995 -- the online version will cost a few hundred dollars more -- to have everything they wanted to know about the Jews printed and at their fingertips. The comprehensiveness offered by the collection is not available in any one online source, said Jay Flynn of Thomson Gale, which owns Macmillan Reference USA.
"Certainly, you can go out and find a biography of Billy Crystal and you can read it," Flynn said. "What we're really trying to deliver" is accessibility and authority.
Plus, Jews buy books out of proportion to their numbers, said Michael Berenbaum, the encyclopedia's executive editor. "It's the smell of leather and all that stuff," said Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar known for his work in creating the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
It took a lot of effort to create that "stuff." Several years in the making, the encyclopedia relied on a worldwide team of scholars, including about 1,200 new contributors. Luckily, the field of Jewish studies has experienced exponential growth in recent years.
"You're going to a man or woman who has devoted his or her entire life to a topic and you say, 'Give me 500 words,'" Berenbaum said. Those scholars pored over all the entries -- from Aachen to Zyrardow -- and updated 11,000 of them.
Overall, the new edition has more entries covering Jewish life in the Southern Hemisphere -- Australia and South America, for example -- and the sections on U.S. Jewish life and the Holocaust have been strengthened.
The dilemmas Berenbaum and his team faced on how to cover certain topics are almost talmudic. For example, how do you describe Jewish life in New York City? Their answer: Give a portrait of several neighborhoods, such as the historic German Jewish neighborhood of Washington Heights and the contemporary, heavily Orthodox neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Borough Park.
"We gave it a lot of flavor, something that the first encyclopedia was much less interested in," Berenbaum said, though he's quick to praise the editors of the first encyclopedia for their prodigious efforts in the pre-Internet era.
Also adding contemporary flavor to the new edition are entries discussing baseball player Shawn Green and the recent popularization of kabbalah. Not surprisingly, Israel is the largest single entry, with an entire volume devoted to the Jewish state. Coming in second is the Holocaust.
Entries on Holocaust-related matters created more questions: Should the noted Holocaust scholar Deborah Lipstadt have her own entry or should her biography be part of an entry about the highly publicized trial in 2000 that Lipstadt won after historian David Irving sued her in a British court, claiming she defamed him in a book by calling him a Holocaust denier?
The decision? Berenbaum is cagey.
"Read the encyclopedia,'' he said.
More information about the new "Encyclopaedia Judaica" is available at www.encyclopaediajudaica.com
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