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|Professor Joshua Joffe with his students, 1897. Mordecai Kaplan (class of 1902) is in the middle row, second from the left.|
Joshua A. Joffe was The Jewish Theological Seminary's second Talmud instructor. He joined the Seminary as Preceptor of Mishna and Gemara in 1893, and retired in 1917. As one of only two full time paid instructors at the Seminary when he arrived (the other was Bible instructor Bernard Drachman) Joffe taught all of the Seminary's early graduates. He was also in charge of the library, and he took part in the students' Literary Society, lecturing in Hebrew to the group that met every other Saturday evening.
In addition to his work at the Seminary, Joffe taught students in his home (one of these private students was Stephen Wise), and from 1893 to around 1908 he taught Hebrew and Jewish ethics at the Hebrew Orphan Asylum on Amsterdam Avenue between West 136th and 138th Streets.
Joffe was born in Nesvizh, Minsk, Russia on February 2, 1862. He studied at the Volozhin Yeshiva, and received smicha (Orthodox rabbinic ordination) from Rabbi Isaac J. Reines in 1881. He then went to Berlin and attended the liberal Hochschule fuer die Wissenschaft des Judentums from which he received a second rabbinic ordination in 1888. Joffe's education also included a period, 1886-1890, at the University of Berlin where he studied philosophy, history, and Semitics. He served as rabbi to congregations in Vishnove, Russia, in 1880, and Moabit, a suburb of Berlin, 1889-1892.
In 1892 Joffe left Germany and came to the United States. After twenty-four years at the Seminary, Joshua Joffe retired in 1917 after a period of ill health. He then returned to Europe with his wife and daughter and died in Freiburg, Germany on December 23, 1935. His family returned to the United States after his death.
Joffe's papers consist of his correspondence, 1880s-1935; a copy of a eulogy for Joffe by his former student Charles Eliezer Hillel Kauvar, 1936; an annotated typescript of an Alumni Day talk by Joffe, 1908; a portrait photograph of Joffe, 1908; a group of letters from Joffe's daughter, Beatrice Joffe Maier to Seminary officials and others about her father, 1960-1987; and a typescript of an essay by Beatrice Maier titled "A Child's Memory of the Seminary, 1913-1924," 1991.
Joffe's correspondence, in English, Hebrew, Yiddish, and German, is with students and colleagues, including: Sabato Morais, George Alexander Kohut, Norman Salit, Stephen S. Wise, and others. Photocopies of a group of postcards in Hebrew and Yiddish addressed to Joffe in Berlin, 1880s, are also included.
Several portraits of Joffe, alone and with his students, are in the photograph collections of the Ratner Center and the library's graphics department. Some additional Joffe papers are in Records of The Jewish Theological Seminary, Record Group 1, General Files, box 13, folders 29 and 30.
Material from this collection was used in "Joshua Joffe and His Pupil Friends," a Ratner Center exhibit, March, 1991.