Courtesy of Library of Congress

Isaac Leeser 1806-1868

A pivotal figure in 19th-century American Jewish life, Isaac Leeser was a rabbi, author, translator, editor, and publisher. A native of Prussia, Leeser arrived in Philadelphia in 1829 and, at the age of 23, became hazzan (prayer leader) of Congregation Mikveh Israel. Although he had no formal ordination, Leeser transformed Jewish practice in America by initiating the delivery of sermons in English. In 1843, he founded The Occident and American Jewish Advocate, America's first national Jewish periodical and the primary source of information and discussion for Jews around the nation, which he edited until 1868. In 1845, Leeser published America's first Hebrew-English edition of the Torah, for which he did the translation. It became the standard Bible for 19th-century English-speaking Jews. In 1853, he completed and published his translation of the entire Bible, known as the Leeser Bible.