Devoted as they were to the unmediated reading of the Bible, and of the Old Testament in particular, many Puritans of 17th- and 18th-century New England were interested in learning Hebrew, which for a time became a standard subject of study at both Harvard and Yale. Rachel Wamsley describes the man who made possible the Hebraist aspirations of many early Americans, and his Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet: A Grammar of the Hebrew Tongue [in modern transliteration, Dikduk l’shon ivrit], the first of its kind produced in the colonies:
North America’s First Hebrew Textbook, and the Italian Jewish Convert to Christianity Who Wrote It
At America’s Best Universities, Biblical Religion Is a Curiosity, if Not a Menace
At the time of Columbia University’s founding in 1784, notes Meir Soloviechik, the leader of the local synagogue, Gershom Mendes Seixas, was made a member of its board of regents. A Jewish student even gave a commencement address, composed by Seixas, in Hebrew. In the 20th century, Columbia attracted numerous Jews with the relaxation of quotas, and was the first secular university to create a chair in Jewish history. Barnard College, Columbia’s all-women’s school, was itself founded by a Jewish woman, and today has a large number of Orthodox Jewish students.