Orthodox labor organization affiliated with Agudath Israel. Its aim is to help rebuild Israel in the spirit of traditional Judaism. The organization encourages preparation and education of pioneers for Israel and solicits funds for its institutions in Israel. It has been instrumental in the establishment of kibbutzim and villages in various parts of Israel. It maintains ten children’s homes and two children’s villages, housing more than 1,000 Israeli youngsters. It has taken an active part in the political life of the country, and has participate in government coalitions. It maintains educational institutions ranging from kindergartens to teachers’ seminaries. Ezra, its youth movement, is dedicated to Orthodox education and training pioneers to live on collectives in Israel. Outside of Israel, the organization is active in the U.S., Canada, England, and other countries.


See Labor Zionism.


Russian. Literally, riot. In Russian Jewish history, particularly after 1881, the pogrom was a recurring phenomenon. All violent attacks against Jews have since become known as “pogroms.” The Russian pogroms started a wave of mass migrations of Russian Jews to the U.S. and to other countries.


During several centuries, Poland was central to Jewish history. The great-grandparents of the majority of today’s Jews were born in ter­ritories that once formed part of Poland. The traditions of modern Jews, therefore, are deeply grounded in the history, culture, and customs of Polish Jews. The important cultural, social, and national movements of our time­—Hasidism, Haskalah, and Zionism—came into full fruition and development in Poland.

Jews first came to Poland from Asia Minor and settled on the shores of the Black Sea at the beginning of the Common Era. From there they spread northward. In the 8th century they suc­ceeded in converting the ruling classes of the Khazars, who dominated a large territory be­tween the Volga and the Dnieper rivers, north of the Black Sea. When the Mongolians invaded Eastern Europe in 1240, many Jews (and many Khazars) fled to Poland and eventually settled there. Most of the Polish Jews, however, came later from Germany. They brought with them a German dialect mixed with Hebrew words which they had used for hundreds of years. This vernacular developed into Yiddish, the universal language of Polish Jewry.

  Thus, a substantial, permanent settlement of Jews began in Poland at the end of the 12th century. Some of them became the mint-masters of Polish kings. Since apparently at that time Jews were the only merchants in Poland, these mint-masters stamped their coins with Hebrew inscriptions. Jews were useful in the Polish economy; therefore, the kings made a strong effort to attract large numbers to settle in Poland. In 1246, Boleslav the Pious issued a favorable charter offering privileges to Jews based on the Charter of Privileges issued in 1244 by Duke Frederick of Austria. This charter, which became the cor­nerstone of Polish Jewish legislation, allowed Jews to organize themselves into autonomous communities and regulated the business relation­ships of Jews and Gentiles in a manner favorable to the former. The charter protected Jews against hostile Christian clergy, guaranteed the inviolability of their life and property, and assured their protection while transporting their merchandise and carrying on their business.

 At the end of the 13th century, life became difficult for German Jews, and many migrated to Poland. In 1344, Casimir the Great reaffirmed the charter of Boleslav and ex­tended further privileges to Jews in his kingdom. In the following years during the Black Plague, Poland became a refuge for Jews of Germany who were either massacred or driven out of the towns in which they resided. They began to stream into Poland in large numbers. Germany was prac­tically emptied of its Jewish population, and Poland became the great center of Yiddish-speaking Jews.

 In the late 14th century, when Jagello, Duke of Lithuania, married the heiress to the Polish throne, Lithuania became part of Poland. Jews who had settled about the same time in Lithuania and Poland were now united under one ruler. With few exceptions, the Polish kings treated Jews well and protected them against hostile clergy, German merchants, and ar­tisans who had settled in the larger towns. Poland was an agricultural country, its land divided into large estates worked by serfs for the benefit of the nobility. Jews served the nobility as managers of their estates, buyers and distributors of their ex­cess farm produce, financial agents, tax farmers, and suppliers of luxury articles. Although few Jews became rich, they lived comfortably, married young, reared large families, and devoted their time and energy to the study of Torah and Talmud.

Jews were organized into autonomous communities, each community having full jurisdiction over its members. The Polish government levied a single tax on all Jews of Poland. It was up to Jews to apportion this sum among the various communities. It became necessary to establish a council made up of outstanding rabbis and heads of important communities in order to represent them before the government. This council was charged with the task of negotiating the amount of the tax due to the government, collecting the tax from the various communities, and protecting the rights and interests of Polish Jewry. In the 16th century this representative body was known as the Council of the Three Lands, since it represented the Jews of Poland, Lithuania, and Polish Russia. In the 17th century a Council of the Four Lands, representing the Jews of Great Poland, Little Poland, Podolia (includ­ing Galicia), and Volhynia was established. The members of the council met twice yearly at the great fairs of Lublin and Jaroslav. In addition to managing communal affairs, the Council acted as the supreme court of the Jewish communities, set­tling disputes and enacting necessary ordinances. They also supervised elementary education and the yeshivot, or Talmudic academies.

Jewish learning flourished in Poland. There was hardly a home where the Talmud was not studied. Yeshivot were established in many important cities, and the world-famous Talmudic scholars who taught there attracted hundreds of students from far and wide. Among these scholars were Shalom Shakhna (1500-1558), who established the famous yeshiva of Lublin; Moses Isserles (1530-1572), whose notes on the Shulhan Arukh made it the accepted code of Jewish law for Polish Jewry; Solomon Luria (1510-1573), author of an important commentary on parts of the Talmud; Mordecai Jaffe (d. 1612), author of a great code of law; Joshua Falk (d. 1614), great commentator on the codes of Jacob ben Asher and Joseph Karo; Meir of Lublin (d. 1616); Samuel Edels (d. 1631); and Joel Sirkes (d. 1640).

Modern Period. In the second half of the 17th century, the Cossack uprisings led by Chmelnicki, and subsequent wars with Sweden and Russia had catastrophic effects on Polish Jews. Numerous communities were completely destroyed. Tens of thousands of Jews perished; many fled to neighboring countries. When order was restored, the remaining Jews, joined by return­ing refugees, reestablished their communal life. Through legislation, King Jan Casimir helped to improve the economic status of the Jewish population in the devastated regions.

However, the recovery of Polish Jewry was not complete. They were constantly exposed to the ac­cusations of the Church and the anger of the mob. The general anarchy which engulfed Poland in the 18th century further aggravated the Jewish position. Efforts of the Council of the Four Lands to reopen the once famous yeshivot were only par­tially successful. The suffering masses sought consolation in mysticism and in illusions of redemp­tion. The Messianic movement led by Sabbatai Zevi stirred the imagination of considerable numbers of Polish Jews who believed that the day of deliverance was near. Even after they were disillusioned in the false Messiah, many Polish Jews remained in the grip of mysticism. Some followed the adventurer Jacob Frank, who proclaimed himself a successor to Sabbatai Zevi. In the middle of the 18th century the quest of Polish Jewry for spiritual fortitude and a glowing faith was realized in Hasidism. The movement attracted many adherents. It preached contentment and cheerfulness and imparted a sense of importance to simple people who were scorned or ignored by scholars.

Throughout the 18th century, Jews of Poland, which included Ukraine and White Russia, were almost constantly terrorized by their Christian neighbors. Subjected to the hostility of the church and the whims of local rulers and landowners, the life of the Jew was at times intolerable. The frequent blood accusations and riots lasted until the final partition of Poland by Russia, Prussia, and Austria in 1795. In the rebellion against foreign rule led by Kosciusko, Berek Joselovic, heading a Jewish legion in 1794, fought on the side of the Poles. In 1807, Napoleon formed part of the country into the Duchy of Warsaw, a demarcation which lasted for eight years. The Jewish situation was only slightly changed during this period. The majority of Jews in the partitioned provinces of Poland became part of Austria and Russia, sharing the general lot of their brethren in these two countries. Jews of Galicia became, in 1782, subject to the Edict of Tolerance issued by the Austrian Emperor Joseph II. This edict endeavored to foster assimilationist tendencies among Jews. Although the Revolution of 1848 secured equal rights for the Jewish population, economic discrimination lasted until the outbreak of World War I.

A number of Jews living under Russian rule identified closely with the Polish cause. They par­ticipated in the revolt of 1830-31, forming a regi­ment which defended the city of War­saw against Russian attacks. In 1863, led by Rab­bi Dov Berish Meisels, head of the Jewish com­munity in Warsaw, they took active part in an un­successful attempt to overthrow Russian rule.

Due to their devotion to the cause of Polish na­tional liberation, Jews of Russian Poland fared poorly during the 19th century. They suffered at the hands of Russian oppressors and Polish oppressed alike. However, the difficult economic and political plight of Polish Jewry did not hamper its spiritual and cultural growth. In addition to being a stronghold of Talmudic scholarship and Hasidism, it became, in the late 19th century, fertile ground for the Haskalah, or Enlightenment, move­ment. Some of the best-known Hebrew writers and scholars were active in the Jewish centers of Poland, especially in Warsaw. These included Hayim Selig Slonimski, a scientist and inventor who edited Ha-Tzefirah, and Nahum Sokolow. Other scholars and writers were J.L. Peretz, David Frischmann, Sholom Asch, Simon Berenfeld, Samuel Abraham Poznanski, Moses Schorr, Meyer Balban, and Ignaz Schipper.

Attacks and persecution of Jews followed the establishment of Poland as an independent state after World War I. Minority rights for Polish Jews were secured in the peace treaty of Versailles. With the inclusion parts of White Russia and Galicia in the new Poland, the Jewish community became one of the largest in the world, numbering more than 3 million. The na­tional, economic, and political rights of the Jewish population were rigorously pursued by Jewish representatives in the Polish Sejm, or Parliament. Despite vicious antisemitic propaganda, economic restrictions, and the often hostile government policy, Jewish national and cultural life in Poland flourished. All parties—the Zionists, the Jewish Socialist Bund, Agudath Israel, and Mizrachi—had a large following among Polish Jewry. Polish Jewry served as a main source for Palestinian pioneers. Jewish schools in which the language of instruction was either Hebrew, Yiddish, or Polish were opened in every Jewish community by various political and religious factions. The Yiddish press exerted great influence on the Jewish masses. There were Yiddish dailies, outstanding among them being Haint and Moment. There were close to 200 periodicals in Yiddish, Hebrew, and Polish, all devoted to Jewish affairs.

The most prominent Jewish political leaders were Isaac Gruenbaum, Joshua Thon, Leon Reich, Emil Sommerstein, and Ignaz Schwarz­bart, the only Jewish representative in the Polish Government in Exile during World War II in London.

Just before World War II, the antisemitic movement in the country assumed a more threatening character. A new Polish party called O.N.R. openly advocated Nazi-style extermina­tion of Jews. Attacks on Jews became a fre­quent occurrence. The government concurred with the economic boycott instituted against them. Nevertheless, Polish Jewry heroically defended its rights. Even during the first few years of the Nazi occupation of Poland, when Polish Jewry was reduced to complete enslavement, it gave evidence of vitality and spiritual fortitude. The extermina­tion of more than 3 million Polish Jews from 1942 to 1945 is one of the greatest tragedies in Jewish history. Only a few hundred thousand survived the Nazi slaughter. The story of the revolt of the Warsaw Ghetto and the resis­tance of Jewish partisans and ghetto fighters in other parts of the country are heroic chapters in the annals of Jewish martyrdom and courage.

After the war, only about 60,000 Jews remained in Poland; thousands who survived Soviet exile and Nazi camps fled to Israel. Spurred by a renascence of antisemitism in the new Com­munist Poland, another exodus began late in 1956, and more than 35,000 Jews left, almost all of them for Israel. At the same time, about 19,000 Jews of Polish origin were repatriated from the Soviet Union. About two-thirds of them re-emigrated to Israel.

In 1982, there was a resurgence of antisemitism in Poland after the introduction of martial law. Jews were accused of being key leaders in Poland’s anti-Soviet Solidarity movement. In 2007 there were approximate­ly 25,000 Jews in all of Poland, although some sources claim that tens of thousands of Jews in Poland, born after World War II, have yet to come to terms with their Jewish identity.

Of the more than 900 Jewish cemeteries in Poland, the majority were destroyed and expropriated, mostly after the war. An international rabbinical group, under the leadership of Rabbi S. Halberstam of Bobov, has been active since 1978 in restoring and renovating at least some of them. Rabbi Chaskel O. Besser of New York was instrumental in these and other activities.

For the past few years, the Ronald S. Lauder Foun­dation has succeeded in bringing new life into Jewish activities in Poland, including a kindergarten in War­saw, summer and winter camp programs for Jewish youth, religious and cultural activities, and the rees­tablishment of a rabbi in Warsaw.


Information on Jewish population, by continent and country, is hard to obtain. A variety of difficulties in obtaining accurate figures in some countries, as well as the extent of Jewish migrations, and the rise in mixed marriages during recent decades, result in figures which are in many cases an approximation rather than an accurate count.


The history of the Jewish community, founded in the 12th century, follows the same tragic pattern as that in Spain. Jews enjoyed many privileges and high offices in the state, until they were subjected to forced baptism and finally expulsion in 1496. Jews had complete charge of their affairs. They were governed by the chief rabbis, to whom the state delegated much authority. For this privilege they had to pay various taxes, including a degrading poll-tax. Among the notable Jews who served the king were Don Isaac Abravanel and the astronomer Abraham Zacuto, whose astrolabe, the forerunner of the modern sextant, was used by the explorer Vasco da Gama. With their expulsion from Spain in 1492, many Jews found refuge in Portugal. But here, too, tragedy would soon overtake them. King Manoel, though friendly at first, agreed to their expulsion as part of a marriage bargain he entered into with Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain. The Spanish rulers insisted that Manoel’s marriage to their daughter be conditional on the expulsion of Jews from Portugal. The expulsion order, promulgated in 1496, permitted Jews to take all their property, but ordered the baptism of all young people. However, even the adults brought to Lisbon were not allowed to leave; they were offered the choice of being sold as slaves or baptized. Many who were baptized secretly clung to their faith as Marranos. In 2007 there were 500 Jews in Portugal. Engaged mainly in the textile trade, they are concentrated in Lisbon and Oporto.


Polish nobleman and convert to Judaism. In the early 18th century, European Jewry was degraded and oppressed. Nevertheless, Potocki was so deeply impressed by the Jewish faith that he embraced Judaism. Potocki went to Paris to complete his education, and there, the sight of an aged Jewish scholar studying the Bible aroused his interest in Judaism. He persuaded the old man to teach him the Bible and Hebrew. Potocki became a convert to the Jewish faith in Amsterdam, the only country in Europe where conversion was permitted. Later, he returned to his native Poland and lived with Jews in the ghetto of Vilna. When his identity was discovered, the Poles arrested him. Despite entreaties by his mother and his friends, he refused to return to his former faith. Instead, Potocki chose to accept a martyr’s death and was burned at the stake in 1749. The memory of this ger zedek, or righteous convert, was long revered by Eastern European Jews.

POTOK, CHAIM (1929-2002).

American novelist, Conservative rabbi, and former editor at the Jewish Publication Society. His first novel, The Chosen, introduced American readers to the closed world of the Hasidim in Brooklyn, where he grew up. Subsequent novels established him as one of the popular American Jewish writers of his time.


Capital of the Czech Republic and home of one of the oldest and most important Jewish communities in Europe. Jews settled in Prague at the beginning of the 10th century. In 1096, at the time of the first Crusade, Jews suffered grievously. In the following centuries, Kings Sobeslav II and Ottokar issued laws which regulated relations between Christians and Jews. Early in the 13th century, Jews settled in the Altstadt, or Old City, where they built the famous Altneuschul synagogue, one of Prague’s ancient and most celebrated landmarks. According to legend, this synagogue was partially built with stones from the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem. Despite protection from the Bohemian king, they were constantly persecuted. The worst attack on the ghetto took place in 1389, when 3,000 Jews were killed. The ghetto was again plundered in 1421, when Jews sided with the Hussites who were rebelling against the Catholic Church. The situation for Prague Jews improved slightly in the 15th century. In 1527, they were permitted to display the “Jew’s flag” in processions. At the same time, however, restrictions and expulsions from the city continued, but did not deter Jewish economic and intellectual advancement. The community of Prague produced some outstanding rabbis and scholars, the most prominent being Judah Loew, known as the Maharal, and Yom Tov Lipman Heller (1579-1654), author of a commentary on the Mishnah, astronomer, and liturgical poet. David ben Solomon Gans (1541-1613) was a famous historian and astronomer who was a friend of the great astronomers Johannes Kepler and Tycho Brahe. David Oppenheim (1664-1736) was a famous collector of Hebrew books and manuscripts now a part of the Bodleian Library of Oxford, England.

At the end of the 17th century, two misfortunes befell the Jewish community: an epidemic and a raging fire which destroyed eleven synagogues and much property. As late as 1744, Empress Maria Theresa ordered the expulsion of 10,000 Jews from Prague. They were allowed to return a few years later only after paying a heavy tax. The Haskalah, or Enlightenment, movement at the end of the 18th century, made a deep impression on Prague’s Jewry. Many Jews began to play an important role in the intellectual life of the city and the country. The Orthodox element was centered around Rabbi Ezekiel ben Judah Landau (1713-1783).

In 1848-1849, Prague’s Jews were granted equality, and in the next century the community grew rapidly. Conditions improved further after the establishment of the Czechoslovak Republic in 1919. A number of Jewish writers in Prague achieved fame in German literature, among them Max Brod, Franz Werfel, and Franz Kafka.

Nazi occupation of Prague in 1939 spelled the doom of the thriving Jewish community of 35,000. In 1948, the Communist government of Czechoslovakia came to the support of the newly established state of Israel when it was attacked by its Arab neighbors. This cooperation was soon replaced by a violent antisemitic and anti-Zionist campaign, culminating in the infamous Slansky trial in Prague in 1953. The estimated Jewish population in 1998 was about 2,000.


The spiritual communion with God through prayer as an important form of worship has been part of Jewish religious experience from the beginning. In the Jewish religion, prayers may be individual or congregational, since organized religious services consisted in the offering of sacrifices. Some eloquent examples of individual prayers in the Bible are the prayers of praise and thanksgiving offered by Moses after the Israelites’ deliverance from Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea (Exod. 15:1-18); by Deborah after her victory over Sisera and his Canaanite hordes (Judges 5:2-31); by Hannah after the birth of her son Samuel (I Samuel 2:1-10); and by King Solomon after the construction of the Holy Temple (I Kings 8:23-53). Most psalms were also individual prayers.

Congregational services began in the period of the Babylonian exile from 586-536 B.C.E. When Jews returned to Judea, rebuilt the Temple, and organized community life under Ezra, Nehemiah, and the Men of the Great Assembly, an early form of congregational service developed. These services took place alongside sacrifices at the Temple, as well as in numerous synagogues throughout Palestine and Babylonia. However, with the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 C.E., the dispersion of the Jewish people, and the complete elimination of sacrifices, congregational services in the synagogue became the exclusive form of worship. Prayers were standardized by religious authorities and assembled into prayer books. In the course of centuries, new prayers were composed and incorporated into the prayer book.

The traditional Jewish prayer book is known as the siddur, and the special holiday and festival prayer book is called the mahzor. The present prayer book consists of portions of the Bible, including approximately half of the psalms; selections from the Talmud; religious poems by medieval poets; Maimonides‘ Thirteen Principles of Faith and other prayers of benediction, petition, adoration, confession, and thanksgiving, originating in various ages.

Congregational prayers are grouped into the following services: shaharit (morning service), minhah (late afternoon service), and maariv (evening service). On Sabbaths and festivals, the musaf (additional service) follows the reading from the Torah after shaharit, and on Yom Kippur, the neilah (closing service) is added at the end of the minhah. The Kiddush (Sabbath and festival consecration service over wine), the Havdalah (separating the holy day from the weekdays), and the Birkat Ha-mazon (grace after meals) are examples of prayers in the home.

The most important daily synagogue prayers are the Shema (Deut. 6:4), which proclaims the unity and sovereignty of God; the Shmone Esre (or Amidah), consisting of eighteen basic benedictions which comprise the main portion of every service; the Ashre (Psalm 145) and the Alenu, both prayers of adoration repeated three times a day.

The great majority of prayers in the traditional prayer book are in Hebrew, the holy tongue of the Jew. A few are in Aramaic, a Semitic language akin to Hebrew, which the Jews spoke for many generations. (See also Synagogue.)


More than 1,000 Jewish newspapers and periodicals in about 25 languages appear in all parts of the world today. Of these, about 40% are published in Israel. The U.S. ranks second in the number of Jewish newspapers published, about 25% of the total number.

Amsterdam was the birthplace of the first Jewish periodical in 1678. Named Gazeta de Amsterdam, it was printed in Ladino, a Spanish-Jewish dialect. Sporadic attempts were made to publish magazines for more than a century thereafter, but all were short-lived. In 1841, the first issue of a weekly The Jewish Chronicle made its appearance in London. It is today one of the oldest and most important Jewish periodicals. In the U.S., the earliest surviving weekly, The American Israelite, was founded in 1854 by Isaac Mayer Wise. The first Yiddish daily in the world, Yiddishe Tageblatt, began publication in 1885 in New York. It merged with the Jewish Morning Journal in 1928. The first Hebrew magazine, Ha-Tzofeh Be-Eretz Ha-Hadasha (The Observer in the New Land), edited by Zvi Hirsch Bernstein, was published in 1871.

In the latter 19th century, the Hebrew press in Russia made great strides. In 1856, the appearance of the first regular Hebrew weekly, Ha-Maggid, coincided with the growth of the Enlightenment movement. Thirty years later, the first Hebrew daily, Ha-Yom (The Day), began publication in St. Petersburg, Russia’s capital at that time. The two other Hebrew weeklies, Ha-Melitz (The Advocate) and Ha-Tzefirah (Daybreak), turned into dailies. With the advancement of the Zionist and socialist movements and the development of Jewish public opinion in Eastern Europe and in particular in Russia and Poland, the Yiddish press reached widespread circulation and wielded great influence. Before World War II, there were Yiddish dailies in several large Jewish centers in Poland and Lithuania and three dailies in the Soviet Union. With the destruction of East European Jewry, only a few Yiddish periodicals continued publication in Poland, while in Russia only one is published in Birobidjan.

In the last two decades, the number of Jewish dailies has declined, while the number of weeklies, monthlies, and other periodicals is on the increase. In Israel, in addition to the Hebrew daily press, there are daily publications in Arabic, English, Russian, French, Hungarian, Yiddish, and German. This diversity of the Jewish press in Israel reflects the diversity of the country’s languages and culture. Israel is the only country in the world where a vibrant and diverse daily Jewish press exists. Israel’s oldest existing Hebrew daily, Ha-Aretz, founded in 1919, is a respected liberal newspaper. It advocates a policy of moderation in political and social affairs. Davar is the organ of the Histadrut. Al Hamishmar is the party organ of Mapam; Hatzofe and Hamodi’ah express the views of religious parties. The afternoon newspapers Maariv and Yedioth Ahronoth reflect all shades of opinion and are the most widely read in Israel. Israel’s only English daily, The Jerusalem Post, is a prestigious paper widely read among Jews around the world. Almost all daily newspapers in Israel publish literary supplements and popular magazines on weekends.

Only a limited number of Yiddish dailies is published outside of Israel. The two American Hebrew weeklies, Yisrael Shelanu and Hadoar, are published in New York. The best-known Yiddish weeklies in the U.S. are the Algemeiner Journal and the Forward. The latter now appears in English. There are two Hebrew illustrated monthlies for young people, Olam Chadash and Lamishpachah. Other monthly magazines are Bitzaron (Hebrew) and Zukunft (Yiddish).

Of the Anglo-Jewish press in the U.S., among the most widely circulated are the weeklies, The Jewish Week and The Jewish Press in New York, The Jewish Exponent in Philadelphia, The Jewish News in Michigan, The Jewish Advocate in Boston, B’nai B’rith Messenger and Sentinel in Chicago; the monthlies Commentary, Hadassah Magazine, B’nai Brith’s National Jewish Monthly, Midstream, Moment and Tikkun; the quarterlies Judaism, Tradition, and Jewish Spectator. The children’s magazine, Olomeinu, is published by Torah Umesorah.


See Music, Jews in.


See Kohen.


See Bible and the Biblical prophets.


See Antisemitism.

PROUST, MARCEL (1871-1922).

French novelist; considered one of the great novelists of all time. Deeply influenced by his mother—his one Jewish parent—he grew up among the upper class of French society of his time. Confined to his house by illness, he embarked on writing a multi-volume novel called In Search of Lost Time, in which he recalls his childhood in great detail and with deep psychological insight, recreating an entire era.


Written, according to tradition, by King Solomon, Proverbs, together with Job and Ecclesiastes, is part of the Wisdom Literature in the Bible. It is composed of a variety of sayings, teaching wise and moral conduct for everyday life.


From Tehilim, meaning praise or chants of praise. The first book in Ketuvim (Writings), the third division of the Bible. The Book of Psalms is itself divided into five books, like the Pentateuch. It contains 150 hymns, most of them ascribed to David, some to Asaph the Musician, others to the Sons of Korah. Some of the psalms are odes praising God, called Halleluyahs; others are poems of thanksgiving, pilgrim songs, and mournful elegies. They vary in length, structure, and subject matter. The confidence and joy of the 23rd Psalm (beginning with “The Lord is my shepherd”) have comforted men and women since its creation. Psalm 104 is a nature poem that kindles the imagination with the majesty of all creation. Psalm 24, a stirring ode of praise, has been incorporated, like many other psalms, into the synagogue services. During all morning services, except those that fall on the Sabbath, this Psalm is chanted as the Torah scroll is returned to the Ark.

The psalms were knitted closely into the daily life of the Jewish people. In the synagogue, morning services end each day with a different Psalm. In each community, simple pious people who had been unable to acquire learning joined within a Hevra Magide Tehilim, a “band of Psalm chanters.” They met daily at the synagogue and sought inspiration in reciting the Mizmor Shel Yom the day’s reading from the Book of Psalms until they had completed it on the Sabbath. In folklore there were stories about the “Psalm-Chanter,” a folk hero who was the secret student of mystic lore, a modest saint who concealed his knowledge and joined the Psalm-chanters daily in the house of prayer. He also joined those gathered at the bedside of the dangerously ill and those at houses of mourning in their recital of the psalms, a distillation of piety and a plea of mercy to Heaven. The Book of Psalms has also been read by Christians since the time of the Apostles. It has given comfort and inspiration during religious services and in private devotions.


U.S. Commonwealth, occupying the easternmost island of the Greater Antilles. Puerto Rico was ruled by Spain until ceded to the U.S. in 1898. Jewish businesspeople and government officials arrived in the island after its occupation by the U.S. Most of them came in connection with American industrial plants set up in recent years. Until 1955, when an Orthodox congregation was founded under the leadership of a rabbi from the U.S., there was no organized Jewish community life on the island. Today, there are also Reform and Conservative congregations on the island, serving a community of 1,500.

PULITZER, JOSEPH (1847-1911).

Half-Jewish immigrant from Hungary, he became one of the key personalities in the history of American journalism. He owned newspapers in St. Louis and New York and founded the Columbia School of Journalism. In his will he established the Pulitzer Prize for outstanding achievement in journalism, literature, and music, which has been awarded since 1917.


See Babylonia.


The Feast of Lots. This holiday falls on the 14th of Adar, commemorating a day on which the Jews were saved from their oppressors. Read on the evening and morning of the holiday, the Book of Esther relates how Haman drew lots to determine when to put Jews of Persia to the sword. Fortunately, Haman’s scheme was foiled by the faithful Mordecai and by Queen Esther.

Purim is celebrated with great merriment after the fashion of the Persian Jews who made their victory over Haman an occasion “for feasting and gladness.” During the reading of the Book of Esther, children twirl noisemakers in derision at every mention of Haman’s name. Some Asian Jewish communities even hang Haman in effigy. Hamentaschen, or ears of Haman, are eaten, and it is considered a “good deed” to drink wine. Comic plays, called Purimspile, are presented at the seudah, or feast, with which the holiday closes. Among the finest of Purim customs is mishloah manot, the practice of sending gifts of food to friends and gifts of food and money to the poor.

The day after Purim is called Shushan Purim. This is so named because Jews of Shushan, the capital of Persia, fought their enemies for an additional day. Many other local Purims, established for later acts of deliverance, are observed, such as those celebrated in Tiberia, Israel, Egypt, Frankfurt, Germany, Saragossa, Spain, and other places. (See also Esther, Scroll of.)


In addition to the dietary laws, which are partly hygienic in nature, there are ceremonies which have to do with ritual purity. The Jewish religion literally believed that “cleanliness is next to godliness.” The Bible carefully defines types of personal and ritual uncleanliness and provides for exacting rituals of purification. These include the quarantining of persons with such diseases as leprosy and of those considered impure because of some contamination. Persons in a state of impurity had to leave the “camp” or community, and all objects with which they came into contact required cleansing or burning. After their recovery, “unclean” individuals had to bathe in clean, “living” (running) water. Further, the Talmud lists the mikveh, or ritual bath, as one of ten institutions which must be provided for wherever Jews live. Before private baths became common, regular visits to such public baths were the only assurance of personal cleanliness. Besides the visits to the mikveh, the washing of the hands before meals and of the feet before retiring was prescribed by Talmudic sages.

Judaism directly associates purity of body with purity of soul. The prophet Isaiah predicts that the sins of Israel, which have been red as crimson, shall be “washed” white as snow. Similarly, the granting of the Torah at Mount Sinai was preceded by three days of “purification.” The white gowns, or kittels, worn in synagogue on the New Year and the Day of Atonement are associated with this idea. Also associated with it are the white tablecloths and clothing with which the Sabbath is received, and the white shrouds in which the dead are buried.