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HUG 1580.5

Monis, Judah, 1683-1764. Judah Monis collection, 1725-1735: an inventory

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Harvard University

©The President and Fellows of Harvard College 2011

Descriptive Summary

Repository: Harvard University Archives
Call No.: HUG 1580.5
Creator: Monis, Judah, 1683-1764
Title: Judah Monis collection, 1725-1735
Quantity: .26 cubic feet (1 half-legal document box)
Abstract: Judah Monis (1683-1764), a Jewish scholar and educator, was an instructor of Hebrew at Harvard College between 1722 and 1760. Monis was instrumental in importing Hebrew type to the colonies, and in 1735, with the financial support of the Harvard Corporation, he published the first Hebrew textbook in America. This collection contains seventeen documents created by Judah Monis and the Harvard Corporation concerning the financing and publication of Monis's Hebrew Grammar and his position as Instructor of Hebrew. The documents include accounting records, correspondence, petitions from Monis to the Corporation, and copies of votes and a report primarily related to the preparation and printing of the Hebrew Grammar. The collection also includes five documents pertaining to Monis's requests to the Harvard Corporation for salary increases. The documents in the Judah Monis collection offer a resource for studying the history of Hebrew education at Harvard and printing in New England in the early 18th century.
Note: This document last updated 2013 November 8.

Acquisition information :

The documents in this collection are University records and were acquired in the course of University business. An article in the Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society indicates that some of these documents were found in the Harvard Treasurer's office in the 1940s and transferred to the Harvard University Archives. (Lee M. Friedman, "Some Further Notes on Judah Monis" in Publications of the American Jewish Historical Society, Number 37 (1947), p. 121).

Researcher Access:

The Judah Monis collection is open for research.

Copying Restriction:

Copying of fragile materials may be limited.

Related Materials

In the Harvard University Archives
In Houghton Library
In the Massachusetts Historical Society

Preferred Citation:

Monis, Judah, 1683-1764. Judah Monis collection, 1725-1735. HUG 1580.5, Harvard University Archives.

Processing Information :

The material was first classified and described in the Harvard University Archives shelflist prior to 1980. The material was re-processed in 2011. Re-processing involved a collection survey, re-housing in appropriate archival containers, and the creation of this finding aid.
This finding aid was created by Diann Benti in July 2011.
Preservation and description of the Judah Monis collection was supported by the Arcadia-funded project Harvard in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

Arrangement

The records are arranged in two series:

Biographical note of Judah Monis

Judah Monis (1683-1764), a Jewish scholar and educator, was an instructor of Hebrew at Harvard College between 1722 and 1760. Monis was instrumental in importing Hebrew type to the colonies, and in 1735, he published the first Hebrew textbook in America.
Monis was born on February 4, 1683, likely in Italy or the Barbary States. He was educated at Jewish academies in Leghorn, Italy and Amsterdam, Holland. Monis immigrated to New York City in the early 1700s, and later moved to Massachusetts where he petitioned the Harvard Corporation in 1720 to appoint him an instructor of Hebrew. On March 27, 1722, Monis converted to Christianity and was baptized in a public ceremony at Harvard. A month later, on April 30, 1722, the Corporation appointed Monis an "instructor of the Hebrew Language." In 1723, Monis received an AM from Harvard, becoming the first Jewish person to receive an advanced degree in the colonies. Beginning in the mid 1720s, Monis worked to secure funding to print a Hebrew grammar book he had compiled. Finally, in 1735, with the financial support of the Corporation, Monis published the first Hebrew textbook in America: Dickdook leshon gnebreet, A Grammar of the Hebrew tongue.
While administrators considered Hebrew an important part of the Harvard curriculum, the subject was unpopular among students and Monis struggled with his reputation as an ineffective teacher and disciplinarian. Monis taught at Harvard for almost forty years, but his teaching responsibilities waned over time. Monis had married Abigail Marret (d. 1760) in 1724, and in 1760, Monis retired from Harvard and went to live with his brother-in-law John Martyn, minister of the second parish in Westboro, Mass. Monis died on April 25, 1764.

Historical note on the Hebrew Grammar

In the 17th and early 18th centuries, Harvard's undergraduate curriculum included regular Hebrew course work to facilitate close reading and interpretation of the Old Testament and rabbinical writings. On June 29, 1720, Judah Monis presented the Corporation with "an essay to facilitate the Instruction of Youth in the Hebrew Language." Monis was hired in 1722 to provide Hebrew instruction and all students except freshmen attended four days of classes with him each week. Concerns with Monis's teaching abilities surfaced soon after his appointment, and on May 5, 1724, the Corporation voted to investigate Monis's teaching methods to determine if they were indeed "so tedious as to be discouraging to many," and also to "consider what may facilitate and encourage the study of the Hebrew language." Subsequently, on June 8, 1724, the Harvard Board of Overseers recommended that the Corporation committee help Monis in revising his Hebrew grammar book, and then compare it "with others that so a suitable one may be agreed upon." Students initially copied Monis's Hebrew Grammar by hand into personal notebooks, but by 1726, Monis began working to raise money to publish the textbook.
Monis advertised his Hebrew Grammar publicly in the Boston Newsletter (April 21-28, 1726), but after failing to raise sufficient subscriptions, he petitioned the Corporation in 1728 for financial backing. On May 6, 1728, the Corporation requested Monis to correct his grammar and print a sample page for the Corporation to review. In order to print the Hebrew Grammar, the Corporation needed to collect a complete set of Hebrew typeset. Harvard's wealthy English benefactor, Thomas Hollis, donated some type, and on June 24, 1728, the Corporation directed the College Treasurer to purchase "so many Hebrew Types & points, as are necessary to compleet ye sett sent us by ye worthy mr Hollis." The Corporation voted in July 1734 to advance Monis the money to print a thousand copies of the Hebrew Grammar, and on September 9, 1734, with the Grammar "in press," the Corporation determined that, "Every Sophomore should purchase it at a price to be appointed by the Corporation."
On September 30, 1734, the Corporation appointed a committee comprised of President Benjamin Wadsworth, Tutor Henry Flynt, Professor Edward Wigglesworth, and Rev. Nathaniel Appleton to review the volume (as recommended by the Overseers in 1724). The Committee reported on March 10, 1734/5 that the Hebrew Grammar "is a very suitable one to answer ye end of his office and station." Monis presented a bound copy of the Hebrew Grammar printed by Jonas Green to the Corporation on March 31, 1735.
The textbook was used for many years and the price of a copy was added to each student's bill with the College Steward. By 1755, with a diminishing role in Harvard's undergraduate curriculum, Hebrew had become an elective subject. Two years after Monis's retirement from Harvard, during the October 14, 1762 meeting of the Board of Overseers, a committee recommended that the undergraduates' knowledge of Hebrew would be improved "if there was a better Hebrew Grammar to instruct them by than the present." In 1763 the College printed a new Hebrew Grammar, and in 1765, the Corporation appointed Stephen Sewall as Monis's successor as Hebrew Instructor and the first Hancock Professor of Hebrew and Other Oriental Languages.

References

Scope and Content

This collection contains seventeen documents created by Judah Monis and the Harvard Corporation pertaining to the financing and publication of Monis's Hebrew Grammar and his position as instructor of Hebrew at Harvard. The documents include accounting records, correspondence, petitions from Monis to the Corporation, and copies of votes and a report related to the preparation and printing of the Hebrew Grammar. The collection also includes five documents related primarily to Monis's requests to the Harvard Corporation for salary increases. There are documents in both series in the hand of Harvard President Benjamin Wadsworth. The signatures of President Wadsworth, Tutor Henry Flynt, and Professor Edward Wigglesworth, Tutor Nathan Prince, and the Reverend Nathaniel Appleton appear in the collection on the Committee's Report (HUG 1580.5 Box 1, Folder 9) and the document about Mr. Monis being taxed (HUG 1580.5 Box 1, Folder 3). Edward Hutchinson, the College Treasurer from 1721 to 1752, is the recipient of many of the documents.
The documents in the Judah Monis collection offer a resource for studying the history of printing in New England and the history of Hebrew education at Harvard in the early 18th century.
It should be noted that some documents dated between January 1 and March 25 in the years prior to 1752 have been cited with the double date convention, e.g. February 27, 1658/9. This convention has been followed only when the document itself indicates the date in such a manner. This convention was used in England and the North American colonies between 1582 and 1752. The first date refers to the year according to the Julian calendar, which began on March 25, while the second refers to the year according to the Gregorian calendar, which began on January 1.

Series Descriptions and Item list

Superseded call numbers

The call number for all material in the Judah Monis collection is now HUG 1580.5. To assist researchers in identifying materials noted in previous citations, the list below provides references from obsolete call numbers to new box and folder numbers. Please use the current call number, HUG 1580.5, with the appropriate box and folder number in place of the superseded call number when citing material from this collection.

Formerly UAI 10.15 Committee report, March 14, 1734/5.


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