Marcus, Jacob Rader

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MARCUS, JACOB RADER (1896–1995), U.S. rabbi and historian. Marcus was the first trained historian of the Jewish people born in America and the first to devote himself to the scholarly study of America's Jews. Through the American Jewish Archives, which he founded in 1947, and through the many books that he published during his long life, he defined, propagated, and professionalized the field of American Jewish history, achieving renown as its founding father and dean. At the time of his death, he was also the oldest and most beloved member of the Reform rabbinate and the senior faculty member at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion (Cincinnati), where he had taught for some three-quarters of a century.

Born in New Haven, Penn., at the age of 15 Marcus came to Cincinnati's Hebrew Union College where he pursued rabbinical studies and simultaneously attended high school and then the University of Cincinnati where he specialized in Jewish history. Following service in World War i, he was ordained in 1920. He went on to obtain his Ph.D. in 1925 at the University of Berlin in general history. In Berlin, he was profoundly influenced by the historian Simon Dubnow and by the techniques of Fritz Baer.

During his time abroad, Marcus also visited Palestine. He then returned to Hebrew Union College, where he taught successfully for the next 70 years. Legions of students credited him for helping to sustain them through rabbinical school, and many of these same students turned to him again later, as rabbis, for help with their congregations or their personal problems. His students reciprocated, electing him president of the Central Conference of American Rabbis in 1949 and lifetime honorary president of the Conference in 1978.

Marcus's most important early publications consisted of a monograph on Israel *Jacobson (1928), and a popular, derivative history of German Jewry (1934). In 1938, he published a volume of carefully edited documents titled The Jew in the Medieval World. In 1947, he published his last significant scholarly study of German Jewry, Communal Sick-Care in the German Ghetto.

In the 1940s, Marcus shifted his attention to American Jewish history. During the next half-century, he worked systematically to establish American Jewish history as a scholarly discipline. He founded both the American Jewish Archives (1947) and the American Jewish Periodical Center (1956) on the campus of Hebrew Union College (Cincinnati). He served as president and later honorary president of the American Jewish Historical Society. He collected and published thousands of pages of edited primary sources. He created reference tools and a semi-annual scholarly journal, American Jewish Archives (1948– ). He also authored Early American Jewry (2 vols, 1951–53), Memoirs of American Jews (3 vols., 1955), The Colonial American Jew 14921776 (3 vols, 1970), United States Jewry 17761985 (4 vols., 1989–1993), and The Jew in the American World: A Source Book (1996). To ensure that his work continued, he left his entire fortune in trust for the American Jewish Archives, renamed the Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives in his memory.


S.F. Chyet, "Jacob Rader Marcus--A Biographical Sketch," in: Essays in American Jewish History to Commemorate the Tenth Anniversary of the Founding of the American Jewish Archives under the Direction of Jacob Rader Marcus (1958), 1–22; R.M. Falk, Bright Eminence: The Life and Thought of Jacob Rader Marcus (1994); G.P. Zola (ed.), The Dynamics of American Jewish History: Jacob Rader Marcus's Essays on American Jewry (2004), which includes a full bibliography of his writings.

[Jonathan D. Sarna (2nd ed.)]