In 1971, Jerry Seinfeld was still in high school and Shawn Green was not even born. Ehud Olmert was a law student and Israel had not signed a peace treaty with Egypt. No American woman had been ordained as a rabbi and West Hollywood had few Russian Jewish immigrants.
That was also the year that the Encyclopaedia Judaica's first edition was published and hailed as an authoritative reference work on the Jewish experience worldwide throughout history, including Bible scholarship, Israeli politics and the roles Jews played in medicine, literature, sports and entertainment. The "EJ," as it was called, became a fixture in synagogues, in university libraries and on home bookshelves. .
But even with some updating through supplemental volumes, that work came to be seen as stale and out of touch with the role of women and the importance of the American Jewish community, particularly on the West Coast. Now, after a mammoth research and writing effort, much of it led by a Los Angeles- based executive editor, the second edition of Encyclopaedia Judaica is on the market in both a 22-volume print version and an online form.
It has won quick recognition outside the world of Jewish publishing. The American Library Assn.'s reference division last month awarded the new edition the Dartmouth Medal, an annual honor for the best new reference project. "We were very impressed with the scope and the scholarship," said Edward Kownslar, a librarian at Texas A&M University who headed the prize committee.
Published by the Thomson Gale firm in connection with Keter Publishing of Jerusalem, the EJ has six more volumes than its earlier edition and, besides updating, about 4,500 additional entries, for a total of 22,000.
Experts in various fields were asked to nominate people and topics to be added or expanded after 36 years.
"It's a question of whose contribution are we going to want to look at in 35 or 40 years from today. Who is going to stand the test of history? And who is making a monumental contribution to Jewish life, or who is Jewish and is making a contribution to the world?" said Executive Editor Michael Berenbaum, a Holocaust scholar and professor at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles.
Some new names were obvious. Television comic Seinfeld, baseball star Green, Israeli Prime Minister Olmert and architect Frank Gehry had not made their mark before 1971. Ruth Bader Ginsburg was not on the U.S. Supreme Court, Sally Priesand had not been ordained as the first woman rabbi in America and California did not have two Jewish women, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, in the U.S. Senate.
The first edition, Berenbaum noted, had some glaring omissions, often reflecting an Israeli and European emphasis and an arm's-length approach to popular culture. For example, songwriter Bob Dylan (the Jewish-born Robert Zimmerman) was not there. Sandy Koufax, the Dodger, was not listed even though he had become a great sports hero of American Jewry for not pitching a 1965 World Series game scheduled for Yom Kippur. Dylan and Koufax have hefty entries in the new one.
There is at least one controversial omission from the new set. Former chess champion Bobby Fischer, who has a record of anti-Semitic statements even though his mother was Jewish, had protested his inclusion in the first edition. After debate among encyclopedia staff, Fischer was not given another separate entry in the new edition but is mentioned in a chess section.
The presence of California and other parts of the American West is much stronger, reflecting the growth of Jewish communities. Los Angeles had a 2 1/2 -page entry in the first edition and now has 15 pages in an article, updated by journalist Sheldon Teitelbaum, that includes such topics as Russian and Persian immigration and the popularity of New Age rabbis.
Other changes are apparent. Editors said they sought to respond to complaints that the first edition was too male-focused, not only in its relatively small inclusion of women but also in how it described religious rituals and theology. Jewish law sections had to tackle advances in infertility treatments, and Bible sections added references to recent archeology. Entries about Mideast affairs have a markedly darker tone than the ones written soon after Israel's triumph in the 1967 Six-Day War.
"This simply brings the encyclopedia to the 21st century and the perspective of the 21st century and provides a platform for a new generation of scholars," Fred Skolnik, the Jerusalem-based editor in chief, said in a telephone interview from Israel.