In honor of World Press Freedom Day, May 3rd as declared by the United Nations General Assembly, Jewish Treats takes a quick glance at the first* general Jewish periodical in the United States: The Occident and American Jewish Advocate.

Founded in 1843, The Occident was created by Reverend Isaac Leeser. A native of Westphalia (Germany) who had emigrated to the U.S. at the age of 17 (1824), Leeser served as the spiritual leader of Philadelphia’s Congregation Mikveh Israel from 1829 until 1850. Also an accomplished writer, his first book, The Jews and the Mosaic Law, was published in 1829.

According to his own introduction to The Occident, his intention for the publication was “the spread of whatever can advance the cause of our religion and of promoting the true interest of that people…” Leeser was inspired to begin his periodical by the success he saw in other religious periodicals. He also noted that Jewish periodicals were gaining popularity in Europe. The Occident was usually published monthly, although from April 1859 until March 1861, it was published weekly. By the time the paper closed in 1869 (a year after Leeser’s death, during which time it was run by Mayer Sulzberger), there were numerous Jewish periodicals being published in America.

It has been noted that The Occident allowed for diverse opinion within its pages. As Leeser explained: “We shall not object to controversial articles, if written temperately and candidly…Although we profess a strict impartiality, we have opinions of our own which we shall not hesitate to avow with becoming firmness upon every proper occasion.” While The Occident definitely followed Leeser’s traditionalist opinions, it appears that he intended to follow the American ideal of a free press.

*Solomon Henry Jackson’s The Jew (1823-1825) was an anti-missionary publication rather than a periodical.

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