Stiles, Ezra°

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STILES, EZRA ° (1727–1795), U.S. scholar and theologian, and president of Yale. Stiles, born in North Haven, Connecticut, was ordained in 1749, and, after teaching at Yale College (1749–55), served as a minister in Newport, Rhode Island, until the Revolution of 1776. His early missionary urge led him to seek descendants of the *Ten Lost Tribes of Israel in the American Indians and clouded his attitude toward the Jews, but he soon entered into a close and friendly relationship with the Newport Jewish community, attending the dedication of the Touro Synagogue in 1763. From 1769 Stiles kept a Literary Diary (published in 3 vols., 1901) which contained a detailed account of Newport Jewry, its leading members (such as the merchant Aaron *Lopez, whom he greatly admired), and its synagogue, where he often attended services. One of the outstanding American scholars of his age, Stiles made his lifelong aim the pursuit of knowledge, studying Hebrew from 1767 and mastering the Bible commentators, some Talmud, the Zohar, Syriac, and Arabic within the next five years. When the Ereẓ Israel emissary Raphael Ḥayyim Isaac *Carigal visited Newport in 1773 and preached in the synagogue, Stiles, greatly impressed by the former's scholarship and personality, sought his company and maintained a correspondence with him for several years. From 1778 until his death Stiles was president of Yale – a post in which he had been preceded by an earlier American Hebraist, Timothy Cutler (1694–1765) – and was also professor of ecclesiastical history and divinity. He made the study of Hebrew compulsory for all freshmen at Yale, and at the commencement exercises of 1781 delivered an oration in Hebrew. To the end of his life Yale's president was devoted to the Hebrew language and culture, which he thought essential to a liberal education and sound grasp of the Bible.


A. Holmes, Life of Ezra Stiles (1798); G.A. Kohut, Ezra Stiles and the Jews (1902); W. Willner, in: ajhsp, 8 (1900), 119–26; M. Jastrow, ibid., 10 (1902), 5–36; F. Parsons, Six Men of Yale (1939).