HISTORICAL DICTIONARY OF JUDAISMHistorical Dictionary of Judaism. 1st ed. 1998, Lanham MD: Scarecrow Press. 3rd ed. 2015, Lanham MD, Boulder, New York, London. Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 978-1-4422-4141-1 (ebook 978-1-4422-4142-8).
No-one should ever undertake a comprehensive dictionary single-handed. Of course I knew that when I was invited to take on the assignment, but it fascinated me and I yielded. No regrets, but never again!
The first problem was how to compile a list of topics for entry. I was given a total word count, but how long was each entry to be? I decided to go for quality entries rather than quantity, so quite a lot of things that you might expect to find in such a dictionary were left out; several were added in the 2nd and 3rd editions, which were longer.
Then I had to determine the range of the Dictionary. As the publishers had commissioned separate historical dictionaries for Israel and for Holocaust I only needed to include those topics in so far as they were important for the history of Jewish Religion. I also felt that my focus should be rabbinic, or at least post-biblical, Judaism, so I made no attempt to cover the religion of Ancient Israel; Biblical Theology, though it underlies later Judaism as well as Christianity, was an independent discipline that was not within my remit. For the 3rd edition I relented somewhat; several biographies of biblical persons were added, incorporating rabbinic, Christian and Islamic interpretations.
I thought it would be easy enough to collect the basic material from existing works of reference, but I was mistaken. Don’t trust anyone! Time and time again I would come across some ‘well-known fact’, trace it to the first scholar it had been copied from, and discover that there was not the slightest evidence to support it.
The book is well buttressed with a Chronology, numerous Tables, classified Bibliographies, a complete listing of the ‘613 Commandments’ and other useful features. The 3rd edition adds historical maps and an extended historical overview of the development of Jewish religion from Hellenistic times to the present.
In the end what I produced is, I hope, soundly based in contemporary scholarship, but nevertheless a highly personal reading of Jewish religious history – which is why, in the end, it all seemed worthwhile.