Max Leopold Margolis (1866 - 1932)

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Birthdate:
Birthplace: Merkine (Meretz), Lithuania
Death: Died in Philadelphia, PA, USA
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About Max Leopold Margolis

Record from Jewish Gen of his birth (Litvak SIG database):

  • MARGALIUS, Mordekhay Yitschak, - Hinda, - - 10/8/1866 11 Elul Merkine Trakai Vilnius Father was a teacher in a cheder. Brit on 18 Elul by Akiva Tsvi KRINSKI and Shmuel DUBINSKI. Merkine 1866 M20 2205026 / 4 637 LVIA/728/3/459

Max Leopold Margolis was born Mordechai Yom Tov Margolis in the village of Merecz in the Russian province of Vilna (now Lithuania) on October 15, 1866. Mordechai Yom Tov was named after the famous rabbi Yom Tov Lippman Heller, from whom he descended on his father Isaac Margolis' side. His mother's name was Hinde Bernstein. He had one brother named Elias, and four sisters: Anna, Lena, Bertha and Ida. Anna eventually married a man named Ginsberg. After her death, Ginsberg re-married Anna's sister Lena. Bertha married into the Barnett family, Ida Margolis never married.


Margolis received his early Jewish education from his father who was a rabbi. Margolis began studying secular subjects such as mathematics with his self-taught father and also received additional training in Russian and other subjects from a local priest in Merecz. Margolis' thirst for knowledge of all kinds was not easily exhausted. According to information told to Alexander Marx by Margolis' brother Elias, Margolis tried unsuccessfully to run away from his small village in search of wider horizons. Realizing the intellectual limitations the confines of Merecz imposed on his son, Margolis' father sent him to live at the home of his maternal grandfather David Bernstein in Berlin sometime after his thirteenth birthday. In Berlin, Margolis studied at the Leibniz Gymnasium, where he received a thorough grounding in Greek and Latin. Margolis was consistently the top student in Greek and graduated with distinction in 1885. While in Berlin, Margolis' family emigrated to America. Margolis did not re-join them, however, until 1889, two years after the death of Margolis' father, who had found work as the rabbi of the Kalvarier Schul in New York.


Margolis began his graduate studies at Columbia College in New York in 1889, received his M.A degree in 1890, and only one year later in 1891 successfully completed his Ph.D., the first to be awarded in the Oriental Department. Writing in Latin, which apparently was stronger than his English at the time, Margolis submitted a text-critical study of Rashi's commentary on tractate Eruvin of the Talmud, under the supervision of Richard Gottheil.


Following his graduation, Margolis remained at Columbia for one year as a University Fellow in Semitic Languages. Shortly thereafter, Margolis lectured at the Glenmore School for Culture and Sciences, in Keene, New Hampshire and also lectured at the summer school run by Felix Adler, the founder of the Ethical Culture Society, at Plymouth, Massachusetts. From 1893 until 1898, Margolis taught Hebrew and Semitic languages at the Hebrew Union College, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Margolis was hired by Isaac Mayer Wise, the founder and president of the college (the center of reform Judaism in America at that time), and enjoyed a warm relationship with him. Perhaps attracted by the possibilities of a broader university environment, Margolis departed HUC in 1899 for the University of California in Berkeley where he assumed the position of assistant professor of Semitics. One year later, Margolis was awarded an associate professorship.


It was during his stay in California, that Margolis met his future wife, Evelyn Kate Aronson, of San Francisco. They were married on June 20, 1906. Evelyn Aronson was a gifted, cultured woman who came from a prominent family. Among her descendants on her mother's side was Barry Goldwater. They had three children, Catherine, and the twins, Philip, and Max, Jr. Max, Jr. died of a stomach ailment during the family's vist to Palestine in 1924 where Margolis had come as the Annual Professor at the American School of Oriental Research in Jerusalem. Margolis' grief was profound; after returning to the United States he was said to have visited his son's grave every Shabbat for the rest of life, even in intemperate weather.


Margolis had left Berkeley shortly before his marriage to return to Cincinnati where he had been recruited by HUC's new president, Kaufmann Kohler. From September 1905 to March 1907, Margolis held the position of Professor of Hebrew Exegesis at the Hebrew Union College. Unfortunately, the return to Cincinnati did not prove felicitous. Margolis left HUC within two years due to personality conflicts with the new president. They also differed substantively on a number of important issues such as the nature of the curriculum, Margolis' desire for an unfettered teaching hand, and his political outlook. After leaving HUC, Margolis spent one year abroad in Europe from 1907 into 1908, visiting Berlin, Belgium and Holland and several of Europe's famous libraries. During his stay, Margolis attended a Zionist Congress at the Hague. Margolis was an ardent supporter of the Zionist cause, and his outspoken stance appears to have been among the factors that contributed to his turbulent departure from HUC.


Margolis returned to the United States in 1908 to accept the position of secretary of the editorial board for the Jewish Publication Society's proposed new translation of the Hebrew Bible into English. Margolis eventually became editor-in-chief of this complex undertaking, which was finally published in 1917. On March 28, 1909, Margolis was unanimously elected by the Board of Governors of the newly created Dropsie College in Philadelphia to the position of Professor of Biblical Philology. Margolis remained on the faculty of Dropsie College until his death in 1932.


Margolis' years at Dropsie were marked by intense activity. In addition to his regular teaching load, his various administrative responsibilities as Secretary of the Faculty, his outside endeavors such as the Bible translation, and his numerous popularly and scholarly publications, Margolis devoted himself to the task of reconstructing an authentic textual witness to the Greek translation of the Book of Joshua. The work represented Margolis' crowning scholarly achievement and a major contribution to the emerging field of textual criticism of the Septuagint and its relation to the original Hebrew text.


Margolis actively participated in several other spheres of public life. He played a prominent role in the developing field of Semitic studies in America. From 1914 to 1921, Margolis served as the editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature and was elected president of the Society of Biblical Literature for the year 1923. Margolis also was one of the editors of the Journal of the American Oriental Society from 1922 until 1932. Margolis was one of the pioneering figures in the history of critical Jewish Biblical Studies in North America; at the time of his death, he was memorialized as "the foremost authority on the Hebrew biblical literature in America" and called "the dean of Hebrew scholars."


Margolis also sought to promote Jewish education among all segments of the Jewish population. He wrote dozens of popular articles discussing various issues of his day as well as several book-length studies designed for the general public. He collaborated with his friend Alexander Marx to write a concise history of the Jewish people, published by the Jewish Publication Society and authored several works about the Hebrew Bible also intended for a popular audience.


Margolis was a curious figure in the history of religious reform in America. He advocated the introduction of dogmatic principles in to Jewish life in America as a way of invigorating Jewish religious existence not defined by allegiance to rabbinic tradition. He was said to have lived in a kosher home and attended synagogue every Shabbat, though he was also known to have taken the train to get there. Margolis is not easily classified among the miscellany of expressions of Jewish identity in America in the beginning of the twentieth century. If Margolis felt real affiliation with the doctirnes and tendencies of any one movement, nonetheless, it was probably with the possibilities he imagined in political Zionism. Margolis was committed first to the Jewish people, their history and life, guided by the principles of reason. He was outspoken and circumspect, an enlightened, cautious man who held strong views after much reflection.

Margolis died of a cerebral hemorrhage in Philadelphia at 3:00 p.m., Saturday April 2, 1932 at the age of 65. Services were held in the Dropsie College building. A future president of Dropsie College, Rabbi Abraham Neuman of the Mikveh Israel congregation, presided. He was buried in the Mt. Sinai cemetery.

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Max Margolis

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Max Leopold Margolis (born at Meretz (present-day Merkinė), district (guberniya) of Wilna, Russia (now Vilnius, Lithuania), October 15, 1866–1932) was a Lithuanian-born American philologist. Son of Isaac Margolis; educated at the elementary school of his native town, the Leibniz gymnasium, Berlin, and Columbia University, New York city (Ph.D. 1891). In 1891 he was appointed to a fellowship in Semitic languages at Columbia University, and from 1892 to 1897 he was instructor, and later assistant professor, of Hebrew language and Biblical exegesis at the Hebrew Union College of Cincinnati. In 1897 he became assistant professor of Semitic languages in the University of California; in 1898, associate professor; and from 1902 the head of the Semitic department. When Dropsie College was formed in 1909, Margolis was chosen as Professor of Biblical Philology, remaining at Dropsie College until his death in 1932.

Margolis was named editor-in-chief of the Jewish Publication Society's translation of the Bible into English, the finished product being published in 1917. He served as president of the Society of Biblical Literature as editor of the Journal of Biblical Literature (1914–1921). He was also editor of the Journal of the American Oriental Society.

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Max Margolis's Timeline

1866
October 15, 1866
Merkine (Meretz), Lithuania
1910
August 11, 1910
Age 43
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1915
August 17, 1915
Age 48
Philadelphia, PA, USA
October 17, 1915
Age 49
Philadelphia, PA, USA
1932
February 4, 1932
Age 65
Philadelphia, PA, USA
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