Epstein, Isidore

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EPSTEIN, ISIDORE (1894–1962), English rabbi and scholar. Epstein was born in Kovno, Lithuania, and immigrated with his parents first to France and then in 1911 to England. He later studied in Hungarian yeshivot, particularly at Pressburg, and at London University until 1926. From 1921 to 1928 he served as rabbi in Middlesborough. In 1928 Epstein began teaching Semitics at Jews' College where he was also librarian; in 1945 he became director of studies; and in 1948, principal. Epstein expanded the activities of Jews' College by introducing a ḥazzanut department, a rabbinical diploma class, and an institute for training teachers.

Epstein's first publications were in history as reflected in responsa: Responsa of Rabbi Solomon b. Adreth of Barcelona (12351310) as a Source of the History of Spain (1925) and TheResponsa of Rabbi Simon b. Zemah Duran as a Source of the History of the Jews in North Africa (1930); they were published together in their second editions as Studies in the Communal Life of the Jews of Spain, as Reflected in the Responsa of Rabbi Solomon ben Adreth and Rabbi Simeon ben Zemach Duran (1968). His Faith of Judaism (1954) is an important theological statement of the Orthodox position in the light of modern philosophy and science. While this work addressed itself chiefly to the believing Jew, Epstein's Judaism (1954), "a historical presentation," spoke to the non-Jewish world. Epstein contributed the article on Judaism to the Encyclopaedia Britannica (from the 1958 edition onward). He was the first Jewish scholar to be given this assignment and the first to present Judaism in its entirety, not merely as a forerunner of Christianity. Articles on Jewish subjects in Chambers' Encyclopedia, too, were either written or edited by him (1950 and subsequent editions). Epstein's major achievement in Jewish scholarship was supervising the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud (Soncino, 35 vols., 1935–52; 18 vols., 1961). This monumental work made the Talmud accessible to the English-speaking world. Epstein also edited Moses Maimonides, 11351204; Anglo-Jewish Papers in Connection with the Eighth Century of His Birth (1935) and coedited Essays in Honor of the Very Rev. Dr. J.H. Hertz (1943); he had assisted *Hertz with many of his publications. Apart from contributions to learned periodicals and Festschriften, Epstein also published a variety of theological and historical studies for educational purposes. As a scholar, writer, and educator, Epstein played a significant role in modern Anglo-Jewish scholarship.


H. Zeidman, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Eiropah (1965), 18–26; C. Roth and R.P. Lehman, in: jhset, 21 (1968), 327–36.

[Hirsch Jacob Zimmels]

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