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Joseph Friedlander, comp. The Standard Book of Jewish Verse. 1917.


Editor’s Introduction

A MELANCHOLY interest attaches to the publication of this work. Its compiler, after devoting many arduous years to its preparation, had read the last proofs, when death summoned him. Like the prophet Moses, who was permitted to get a glimpse of the Promised Land ere he was translated to Eternity, this modest, patient scholar, toiling with touching devotion and sublime unselfishness in the vineyard of the Lord, was destined only to vision the rich vintage he had sown, but not to taste of its fruits.

This Anthology will serve as a fitting memorial of the man, whose profound love for his people was the keynote of his life and whose keen appreciation of Hebrew melody make him a worthy critic and historian of the art of Jewish song.

It is with pleasure, not unmixed with some poignancy, that I recall the early days of our comradeship, when, as incumbents of almost adjacent pastorates, we were privileged, far away from the centres of culture and learning, to discuss matters that deeply interested us both. It was then that I learned how rich was his mind, how mature his judgment, and how ardent his faith in the future of his people, for whom he cherished such deep love and devotion. Isolated though he was in a small hamlet, with no congenial spirits to bear him company, he lived a life full of idealism and noble activity, esteemed by Jew and Gentile alike; cherished and revered no less for his lofty character than for his charity and sweet human nature. Though a staunch and uncompromising Jew, he did not exclude from the fellowship of his heart men of all creeds, and among the host of those who mourn for him today, will be found many men, not of his own faith, who beheld in him an “Israelite without guile.” It may be truly said of him that he was a man of God, possessed of rare simplicity and a spiritual passion which more than once sapped the well-springs of his vitality and hurried him to an untimely grave.

Joseph Friedlander was born in 1859, at Edinburgh, Scotland. He received his early education at New Castle on Tyne and at Middlesborough, graduating from Jews’ College, London, England. His first charge was at Victoria, Australia. Returning to England, he became minister of the North West London Synagogue. For four years he served as Secretary to the Chief Rabbi of the British Empire and likewise as Secretary to the English Zionist Federation. He came to America in 1895, and for ten years occupied the Rabbinate of Congregation Emanu-El, at Beaumont, Texas. He also held pastorates at Waco, Texas; Ontario, Hamilton (Canada); Greensborough, N. C.; Orange and Plainfield, N. J., where he died, after a brief illness, induced by overwork, incident to the preparation of this Anthology. He was a frequent contributor to the religious and secular press of England and America, and, judging from his single venture in Jewish journalism, he was particularly well qualified for literary work. Had he lived, he would undoubtedly have produced several books of lasting merit. From May, 1906, to September, 1907, during his incumbency at Waco, Texas, he issued a periodical which he entitled The Jewish Hope. It was published, at San Antonio, first as a monthly, then as a bi-monthly, and the twelve numbers it comprises give ample evidence of his intellectual fertility, poise, discrimination and scholarship. Only one complete file of this paper has been preserved. It is now a part of the Jewish collection at the New York Public Library.

This journal was his organ and oracle. Into it he poured all the wealth of his rich mind, and those who read its pages with discerning eyes may almost feel the beating of his heart. The earnestness and fervency of his appeals; the integrity of his convictions; the candor with which he met squarely every issue and problem which agitated American Jewry; his unflinching courage and uncompromising loyalty, are all elements which make the newspaper he created a distinctive human document, to which lovers of Zion will yet have to go for counsel and inspiration.

Being himself a man of exceptional poetic gifts, he had a fine appreciation of poetic values. Already in the “old Texas days,” when we discussed books and bookmen, and occasionally scanned together a fine hymn of some mediæval Hebrew bard, he was full of enthusiasm over the plan of bringing together, in a compact and convenient form, poems that were the most typical of the varying moods of Jewish genius. The present collection, therefore, may be said to actually represent the concentrated thought of twenty years. A few weeks before his death, my lamented friend did me the honor of consulting me, at frequent intervals, regarding the plan and scope of the work, and while we did not agree on certain basic principles and some essential details, he was so modest and self-effacing, and deferred so gently and genially to the advice of others, that, in the end, his own view was subordinated, and what he accepted as superior judgment prevailed. In this, as in all his dealings with his fellow men, his sweet docility, amiability and chivalrous courtesy were the attributes which gave strength and power to his character and served to endear him to all with whom he came in contact.

Although the title, “The Standard Book of Jewish Verse,” seems to imply that it is a collection which comprises poems of recognized merit that bear the stamp of general approval, it must be understood that, in no sense, has it been placed before a literary tribunal and that its value is yet to be appraised. The compiler was a man of catholic sympathies. He included in this Anthology almost every phase of the Jewish spirit. If by dint of rare diligence, acute discrimination, and by all the subtle processes of racial sympathy he has succeeded in producing a work which will be acclaimed as a classic, so that this volume may take a notable place among other similar collections, his arduous and devoted labor will yield rich recompense.

The compiler’s untimely death, before the final revision of the book had been completed, necessitated a careful re-reading of the entire text. With the aid of another mutual friend, who prefers to remain nameless, this irksome and difficult task has been adequately accomplished. While it has not been possible, for obvious reasons, to verify, line by line, the accuracy of numerous fugitive pieces, by minor poets—scattered as they are in periodicals not readily accessible—it may safely be assumed that no errors of any consequence remain. The poems of classical authors have been scrupulously collated with the editions generally accepted as definitive and standard.

The Introduction was pieced together from fragments of manuscript left by the author, and particular care has been taken to reproduce as much of the original phrasing as possible and to round out some paragraphs, here and there, in the same spirit in which they were conceived.

The Editor has also added a comprehensive Index, which will facilitate reference, and desires distinctly to state that he holds himself responsible only for this feature of the work, as well as the revision of the compiler’s Introduction, but in no wise for the arrangement of the material, and the general character of the contents.

George Alexander Kohut.
New York, August 1, 1917.