Isidore Singer

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Isidore Singer (10 November 1859 – 1939) was an editor of The Jewish Encyclopedia and founder of the American League for the Rights of Man.



Singer was born in 1859 in Weisskirchen, Moravia, in the Austrian Empire. He studied at the University of Vienna and the Humboldt University of Berlin, receiving his Ph.D. in 1884. [1]


After editing the Allgemeine oesterreichische Literaturzeitung (Austrian literary newspaper) from 1885 to 1886, he became literary secretary to the French ambassador in Vienna. [2] From 1887, he worked in Paris in the press bureau of the French foreign office and was active in the campaign on behalf of Alfred Dreyfus. In 1893 he founded a short-lived biweekly called La Vraie Parole as a foil to the anti-Jewish La Libre Parole . [3]

New York

Singer moved to New York City in 1895 where he learned English and taught French, raising the money for the Jewish Encyclopedia he had envisioned. [4]

Over the course of his career, Singer also proposed many projects which never won backing, including a multi-million-dollar loan to aid the Jews of Eastern Europe, a Jewish university open to students of any background, various encyclopedias about secular topics, and a 25-volume publication series of Hebrew classics. By 1911, the date of this latter proposal, "neither the [Jewish] Publication Society nor any body of respectable scholars would work with him," according to encyclopedist Cyrus Adler. [5]

Religious views

Singer held extremely liberal views which at times proved unpopular. He endorsed Jesus and the Christian New Testament and proposed a Hebrew translation. He founded the Amos Society to promote understanding among followers of monotheistic religions. [5]

His 1897 prospectus for the encyclopedia project called for harmony between religions; called the Sabbath and holidays "heavy burdens, or, at best, mere ceremonies" for most Jews; and made the radical suggestion that Jewish parents, if honest with their children, would tell them:

Our religion ... does not accord with your ideas. We have neither the power nor the desire to impose it on you. Make your peace with your God and your conscience as best you can," and, that said, let us cease to erect new synagogues, let us close our seminaries of theology, and let us disintegrate, little by little, our ancient communal institutions.

Schwartz 1991, p. 29.

Due to the controversy of Singer's outlooks, his publisher, Funk & Wagnalls, agreed to the encyclopedia project only after divesting Singer of editorial control and appointing a board of prestigious Jewish scholars, including rabbis.


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  1. "Biographical Sketch". Finding Aid to the Isidore Singer Papers. American Jewish Archives. Retrieved 2016-11-01.
  2. Temkin, Sefton (2007). "Isidore Singer". Encyclopaedia Judaica. 2nd ed. Macmillan Reference USA. Retrieved via Biography in Context database, 1 November 2016.
  3. Schwartz 1991, p. 20.: "It folded in less than a year, however, partly because of the mood and priorities of the French Jewish community at that time, a majority of whom did not support a direct, vocal response to antisemitism. Yet, part of the failure can be attributed to Singer himself: the historian Michael Marrus has called him a 'latter-day Amos'; he castigated the wealthy Jews of France for their lack of support for Jewish causes in general and his journal in particular. Such personal attacks coupled with Singer's general assaults on the French social system, coming as they did from a foreigner, served to alienate him from the very Jews he wished to represent. It is not surprising that he left for New York the following year."
  4. Schwartz 1991, p. 20.
  5. 1 2 Schwartz 1991, pp. 21–22.


  • Schwartz, S. R. The Emergence of Jewish Scholarship in America: The Publication of the Jewish Encyclopedia. Monographs of the Hebrew Union College, Number 13. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1991. ISBN   0878204121.