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Alexander Harkavy (אַלכּסנדר האַרקאַווי, Александр Гаркави, Aleksandr Garkavi; May 5, 1863 at Nowogrudok (נאַוואַרעדאָק), Minsk guberniya (governorate), Russian Empire (now Navahrudak, Hrodna, Belarus) - 1939 in New York City) was a Russian-born American writer, lexicographer and linguist.


Alexander was educated privately, and at an early age evinced a predilection for philology. In 1879 he went to Vilna, where he worked in the printing-office of the Romm Brothers.

After the antisemitic pogroms of 1880 in Russia, Harkavy joined the Jewish Am Olam (Eternal People) back-to-the-land movement. Unlike Bilu, which directed its activities towards Palestine, Am Olam saw a Jewish future in the United States. In 1882 Harkavy emigrated to the United States. He however did not succeed in joining or establishing an agricultural Am Olam entity, finding himself in search of a living. He was in Paris in 1885, New York in 1886, Montreal in 1887, Baltimore in 1889 and back in New York in 1890. During these years of wandering Harkavy studied, taught, and published his first journalistic and scholarly compositions. He achieved some acclaim in Montreal In Montreal among local Hebraists and admirers of Khovevei Tsion. In February a local branch of this organization was founded, with Harvaky as its president.

Harkavy published in lithograph form one issue of a Yiddish newspaper, Die Zeit (The Time), the first Jewish newspaper in Canada. He also wrote the first history of the Jews in Canada. Back in the United States he participated in the activities of the anarchist group Pionire der Frayhayt (Pioneers of Liberty). In Baltimore he published Der Idisher Progres (Jewish Progress) in 1890. He was one of the contributors to the Jewish Encyclopedia.

Harkavy also worked on translating Scripture into English, starting with Genesis (published 1915), then Psalms (1915), then The Twenty-Four Books of the Holy Scriptures According to the Masoretic Text (1916), with reprintings following.

Work on Yiddish

It is partly due to Harkavy's work that Yiddish today is regarded as a language. His Yiddish dictionaries show that its vocabulary is as ample as that of the average modern language, and that, if lacking in technical terms, it is richer in idiomatic and characteristic expressions.[1]


Among Alexander Harkavy's most important works are:

  • Alexander Harkavy, The Jews in Canada, Montreal 1887; reprinted in: Canadian Jewish Historical Society - Journal Vol. 7 no 2, S. 59-61 [1]
  • "Complete English-Jewish Dictionary" (1891);
  • "Dictionary of the Yiddish Language: Yiddish-English" (1898);
  • pocket editions of English-Jewish and Jewish-English dictionaries;
  • "Amerikanischer Briefsteller" (English and Judæo-German, 1899);
  • "Ollendorf's Method of English: in Yiddish" (1893);
  • "Uchebnik Angliskavo Yazyka" (1892);
  • "Torat Leshon Anglit", an English grammar in Hebrew (1894);
  • "Ha-Yesh Mishpaṭ Lashon li-Sefat Yehudit?" (1896), in which he shows that Yiddish has the essential elements and forms of a living language;
  • "Don Kichot", a Judæo-German translation (1897–98);
  • Yiddish-English (6th edition), English-Yiddish (11th edition) Dictionary (1910);
  • The Holy Scriptures (1916) reprinted 1936 & 1951;
  • Yiddish-English-Hebrew Dictionary (4th ed 1928) republished 1968.

Bibliography of Jewish Encyclopedia

  • E. Harkavy, Dor Yesharim, New York, 1992;
  • Eisenstadt, Ḥakme Yisrael be-Ameriḳa, p. 33;
  • Ha-Leom (Harkavy's autobiography), vol. ii., New York, 1903.J. D. E
  • Kenyon Zimmer, “THE WHOLE WORLD IS OUR COUNTRY”: IMMIGRATION AND ANARCHISM IN THE UNITED STATES, 1885-1940, Dissertationsschrift University of Pittsburgh 2010, S. 78-81 [2]
  • Jonathan D. Sarna, "Our Distant Brethren" - Alexander Harkavy On Montreal Jews - 1888 (engl.), in: Canadian Jewish Historical Society - Journal Vol. 7 no 2, S. 59-61 [3]