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:
Judah Monis, an Italian Jew of Sephardi descent, arrived in Boston around 1720 with a completed draft of his Dickdook already in tow. Within two years, he was baptized and installed as instructor of Hebrew at Harvard College, a position he would hold for the next 38 years. The primer served as a textbook for his introductory classes and, among its grammatical expositions and verb tables, featured a mysterious system of Hebrew transliteration of his own design, and two devotional translations of the Lord’s Prayer and the Apostles’ Creed into Hebrew. . . .
Though never published and now lost, Monis also produced Hebrew translations of the Large and Small Catechisms, as well as the 39 articles of the Church of England. Among Puritan luminaries and Harvard academics, the excitement over Monis’s conversion and literary activity was intense: did it presage the conversion of the Jews, with all its millenarian implications? Would Monis himself go evangelize among his former co-religionists? Might Puritan missionaries, furnished with Monis’s insights into Jewish learning and psychology, finally break down the resistance of that infamously stiff-necked people? . . .
Dickdook Leshon Gnebreet embodies the encounter between Christian Hebraist and traditional Jewish approaches to Hebrew. While its outward appearance—in language, format, and organization—resembles contemporary grammars of other classical languages, Monis prominently announces his intellectual debt to a number of Jewish grammarians, most notably David Kimḥi, on the title page. Elsewhere, Monis was vocal in his defense of the Masoretic vocalization system, which had lately come under attack by Christian Hebraists. His pedagogy, too, was informed by distinctively Jewish practices, such as the use of mnemonic acronyms.