Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning Records, 1954-2012


In 1953, Wisconsin Jews joined in observing the three hundredth anniversary of Jewish settlement in America. As part of the observation, Rabbi Joseph L. Baron proposed 1) a state-wide organization to promote research in local Jewish history and 2) establishment of a Hebrew chair at the University of Wisconsin. The Milwaukee Chapter of the American Jewish Committee started organizing these tercentenary activities; from May 1954 the American Jewish Tercentenary Committee of Wisconsin did the planning, and in August 1955 the Wisconsin Society for Jewish Learning (WSJL) became its permanent successor.

One of the first projects of the WSJL was a 75,000 dollar gift to establish the Department of Hebrew Studies at the University of Wisconsin in Madison in September 1955. Professor Menahem Mansoor headed the department with an enrollment of 50 students. In the fall of 1961 a department was also established at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

A simultaneous project was the founding of the Wisconsin Jewish Archives, to be housed at the State Historical Society of Wisconsin. This collection of manuscripts and records includes research material regarding individuals, organizations, and congregations throughout Wisconsin. Staff members organized and described the collections, wrote articles based on their contents, and made contracts with individuals and organizations for the addition of more material. The WSJL has provided continuing financial support for the Archives. For additional information about WJA activities researchers may consult the Project Files of the State Historical Society of Wisconsin.

Other activities of the WSJL include scholarships for Hebrew and Jewish studies, formation of libraries of Judaica around the state, the sponsorship of lectures and publications, and the awarding at the Society's annual meeting of a citation to an individual for philanthropy or Jewish scholarship.