Saturday, December 27, 2008

Jewish Family Names.

Jewish Family Names *
by Dr. Chanan Rapaport

I was delighted when the bi-monthly historical journal Et-Mol, published by the Ben Zvi Institute (established by and named after the second President of the state of Israel) invited me to edit a new regular feature dealing with both historic sources and folkloristic aspects of Jewish family names.
I believe that the topics discussed could extend the historical sources of Jewish immigration and contribute not only to the research of the Jewish family, but also to the study of political science, sociology and anthropology of the world’s Jewish communities.

Anyone of our readers who has researched the meaning or history of their family name is already aware of some of what follows. Even so, we intend to collect and concentrate in one place what is known about the history of Jewish family names and explain their etymology.

In contrast to what many assume, family names appear among Jews in various European countries as well as in North Africa at a relatively early period.
The late Dr. Paul Jacobi, the noted genealogist who researched more than four hundred Ashkenazi Jewish families, divided the first thousand years of the appearance of Jewish family names, 700-1620 CE, into four main and eight
In order to simplify the description we have focused on four main groups.

The Founding Families: The first grouping consists of families whose names appear between the years 700 and 1000. The names that follow are some of them: Kalonymides, Schimonides, Saltiel, Alfasi, Berdugo and others.

The Ancient Families: These family names first appear between 1000 and 1450 and following are some of the names in this grouping: Rashi, Luria, Abulafia, Abarbanel, Rapaport, Livai-Loew, Spira, Sasson, Sarfati, Treves, Amar, Hakohen and more.

The Old Families: The third grouping consists of names that first come into use between the years 1450 and 1515. A sample of these names follows: Bacharach, Weil, Eger, Cordoba, Algranati, Oettingen, Guenzburg, Meisels, Catalan, Rothschild, Teomim and others.

The Early Families: These names first appear between 1515 and 1620 and include the following: Chayuth, Isserles, Barutdji, Benaroya, Klausner, Broda, Pardo, Oppenheimer, Schor, Trepero, Rivlin and others.

The family names mentioned above involved only a small portion of the Jewish people. The vast majority used personal names along with the father’s name to refer to a specific person. When an individual was called to the Torah Reading as ‘Ya’akov ben Moshe’, he knew that it meant to a specific person in that community - called upon to receive the honor of fulfilling a religious obligation. This pattern continued until various countries resolved for a variety of reasons such as record keeping, organization, taxation, military service and many others to require family names for all inhabitants and especially for the Jews who dwelled among them.

Emperor Joseph II of Austria passed a law in 1787 requiring all Jews to adopt a German sounding family name. Jews in Silesia were required to do so in 1791. The Russian Empire passed a similar law only on December 9th 1804.
Some thirty years later, on May 31st 1835, an additional law was enacted requiring all the Jews in the Pale of Settlement to adopt family names.
Napoleon on July 20iest 1808 ruled that all Jews were to adopt clear and permanent family names. The law in Poland requiring Jews to adopt family names dates from 1822.

Between 1807 and 1852, the German city-states, which were independent at that time, required the adoption of family names. The first to do so was Frankfurt-am-Main in 1807, followed by Prussia in 1812, Saxony in 1834 and the last was Oldenburg in 1852.

It should be emphasized that the names that were in use prior to the above dates were recognized and legally recorded without any change.

The influence of both environment and culture in the pattern of determining the name is more evident in those names that pre-date the laws requiring their adoption but can also be seen in names adopted after the passage of these laws. Following are examples of each category:

1. Name determined by the name of the place where one was born, where he worked as an adult or the place he came from:
The following indicate plains, districts or cities: Reis or Reiser from the Reis Plain; Grunwald – green forest; Halpern, Heilbronn – from the city of Heilbronn in Wurttemberg; Oettingen from the city of Oettingen located in the Reis Plain; Treves or Dreyfus from the city of Treves. There is no need to analyze obvious names such as Berliner, Warshavsky, San’ani, Hamburger, Alfasi, Frankfurter, Posner, Toledano, etc.

2. Names determined by the name of the family’s founder:
Abramsohn – son of Abraham; Markus – son of Mordecai; Nahmias – son of Nehemiah; Heimann or Bibas in Ladino – son of Hayim.

3. Name determined by the mother, the central figure in the early family:
We find a mother whose name is Sarah and the family name becomes ‘the son of Sarah’ or in Yiddish - Surkis; the son of Rivke, becomes Rivkes or Rivkin; the son of Channah becomes Chinitz and the son of Batt-Sheva (Bas-Sheva) becomes Bashevis.

4. Name determined by the profession or occupation of the family’s ancestor:
The Hebrew name Katzav is in German Metzger (meaning Butcher), Doktorovitz – doctor; Hakim – doctor in Arabic; Rabbiner – rabbi in German; Haham – the term used for rabbi in Sefardic communities; Amar – builder in Arabic; Bauman – builder in German; Alfandari – tax-collector in Arabic; Kaufmann – merchant in German; Barutdji – manufacturer of explosives in Turkish; Trepero – collector of old-unused items in Arabic; Cohen and the variant Kaplan – clergyman in German, Attar – spice and flavorings merchant in Arabic and the list does not end here.

5. The family name is determined by the first letters of the father’s name (acronym) or by a position occupied by the founding father of the family:
Rashi – Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki; Rambam – Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon; Hagra – the Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna; the names Schatz – designated a person who leads the congregation in prayer; Katz – righteous Kohen; Babad – son of the head of the rabbinic court; Shub – one who slaughters and inspects the meat, and Schor – one who slaughters meat and is a rabbi, etc.

6. A name chosen because of the beauty of the area in which the family lived, a nice sounding name or the name of an animal or object:
Apfelbaum – apple tree; Himmelfarb – the color of the sky; Rosenberg – rose covered mountain; Berdugo – bud; Livai/Loew/Lowe – lion; Morgenthau – morning dew; Hammer – hammer; Gold – gold. Most of these names have a Germanic source.

7. A name derived from an anagram – reversal of the letters of the original name: Weil consists of the letters spelling the name of Levi. However, we know of some Weil families whose name originates from a town located in Southern Germany near Stuttgart.

8. Names determined by the shield on the facade of the house of the founder of the family:
Rothschild – because of the red shield that was over the door of the family house in Frankfurt-am-Main and Gans – because of the goose [in German Gans] on the shield of the family house. The shield served as a means of identifying a particular house parallel to today’s use of numbers.

9. A name decided by a nickname of the family’s founder:
Altmann – old man in German; Kurz – a short person in German or its variant, Kutchuk – a short man in Turkish; Grossmann – a large man; Abulafia – a healthy man in Arabic; Klein – small in German; Zairi – small in Arabic and Gutmann – a good person in German.

10. Names set by the day of the week, month or season that had special significance for the family:
Sonntag – Sunday; Montag – Monday; Mai – the month of May; Sommer – German for summer; Winter etc.

11. The name chosen because of a book written by an ancestor:
Halevush – Levushim, ten volumes written by Rabbi Mordecai Jaffe and published between 1590 and 1620;
Taz – Turei Zahav written by Rabbi David Halevi and published in Lublin in 1646;
Shach – Siftei Kohen, written by Rabbi Shabtai Hakohen published in Krakow 1646/7;
Hashelah – Shnei Luchot Habrit by Rabbi Isaiah Halevi Horowitz, published in Amsterdam in 1757;
Bach – Bayit Chadash written by Rabbi Joel Sirkis and published in Krakow between 1831 and 1840.
The actual names of the above rabbis are unfamiliar to many and they are mostly known by the names of the books they authored.

12. Name chosen by adopting the name of a different family:
this generally occurred when people adopted the name of a prominent family with which they wanted to be identified. Many incidents of this type are known where the name Rapaport was chosen since a number of people wished to be connected with this famous family of Kohanim. This usually took place when a man married a woman who bore the name Rapaport and it was adopted at the urging of the father-in-law. However, there are other instances where a name was chosen without the existence of any marital connection between the two families. This is only one example of many.

13. The name was chosen for the cultural or nationalistic significance that the family wanted to emphasize:
The Zionist movement that unfurled the banner of the return to the ancestral homeland and the revival of the ancient Hebrew language had a negative attitude to family names that had any connection with the years in exile.
We find, even before the state was established in 1948, a large-scale movement to change to Hebrew sounding family names. The most common change was to choose the Hebrew name of the father. Another approach was to match the sound of the two names. Thus the family name became Reuveni if the father's name was Reuven; Pinhasi for Pinhas; Shimoni for Shimon, etc.
It is important to point out that the leaders of the pre-state Jewish community and subsequently its’ government set the example for those who came after them and initiated this trend.
All of the ‘Who’s Who’ followed. David Green became David Ben Gurion, Moshe Shertok became Moshe Sharett, Golda Mayerson became Golda Meir, Ben Zion Dinaburg – Ben Zion Dinur, Ziama Aaronowitz – Zalman Aran, Zalman Rubashov – Zalman Shazar, Yitzhak Shimshelevitz – Yitzhak ben Zvi, Rachel Lishansky – Rachel Yana’it, Levi Shkolnik – Levi Eshkol and many more.

This is a brief summary of a much wider field covering the sociology, history and folklore of Jewish family names of the various communities. In future issues, we will go into more detail learning about the origin of each family name on its own.

* 1) My deepest thanks to Mrs. Mathilde Tagger for her help on the subject of Sefardic and Oriental family names and to Mrs. Harriet Kasow for her help in locating the sources for this article.

* 2) This article first appeared in the bi-monthly Et-Mol, Volume 31:1 (183), September 2005, and is reprinted with the expressed permission of the publisher to whom we are grateful.

Monday, November 10, 2008

To all members of the Rappaport Clan, wherever you are.

21 Shmuel Hanagid St. Jerusalem 945 92, Israel. Tel: 02 - 6234 138.

Dears,                                                                                  March of 2011
Since the establishment of the "Rappaport Center" * in 1990, we have communicated ** with many among you.
We would like now to enlarge the circle of participants in our Institute and therefore wish to tell you a little about the plan of work at our Research Center.

The work would culminate in three parts (a few volumes each) of the Rapaport Book. This, at the end of collection, analysis and research, the time of which is difficult to estimate now. We already have, in draft form, Seven volumes.

The first would be the part of Biographies and the Genealogical relationships between the Rapaports and their past ancestors since the years 1380- 1400. {The period for which we have scientific proof }
The second part would contain all the information about the learned books and articles, as well as the artistic creations of the members of the Rapaport Family - in the form of plays, paintings, sculptures, artistic designs, films, music, dance and any other form of creativity.
The third and culminating part would contain the findings of the study, which we are conducting:
"On the Development of the Jewish Intellectual Class – in the last Millennium".

The study is based, partially, on the books and the scientific and learned articles which have been written by Rapaport family members.
The preliminary work shows that we can count 6815 books in different scientific fields. The number of scientific and learned articles, published only in the last few years, amounts to 7954 publications. This is only part of the data, being collected about and around the Rapaports and related Families.

The study directed our interest, to the genealogy and biographies of all the Jewish Families.
If our goals find roads into your hearts, we would hope and highly appreciate receiving from you an updated version of your illustrious family tree with short biographies attached to each person***.
The data which you might provide, together with short biographical stories about everybody included, by marriage in the family, would not only facilitate the finding of links between your family and the wide trunk and branches of the Jewish People, but could tell future generations - everything about the people who are included in our research project - mentioned above.

With best wishes for health and peace on all mankind,
Yours, Dr. Chanan Rapaport ==========================================
* Founders:
President, Dr. Paul Jacobi, Jerusalem, Israel. (Deceased).
Director – General, Dr. Chanan Rapaport, Jerusalem, Israel.
Treasurer, Prof. Zvi Rapoport, Hebrew University.
Head – Auditing Comm. Ret. Judge Avraham Ben Hador, Jerusalem. 
Auditing Committee, Mrs. Miriam Boleh, Jerusalem, Israel.
Prof. Leonard Lerman. Mass. Inst. of Technology - M.I.T
Prof. Amos Rapoport, University. of Wisconsin.
Lawyer Dov Rapaport, Haifa, Israel.
Dr. Judith Rapaport, Jerusalem, Israel.
Prof. Lisa Steiner. Mass. Inst. of Technology -M.I.T

The "Center" is a Non-profit Research Institute registered, according to
law, with the Registrars of the Israeli Ministries of Justice and that of Finance.
All its documents, periodical reports and the balance sheets are submitted, annually, to those Registrars who evaluates them in order to decide whether to approve its activities and grant it with the "Certificate of Proper Management". The "Center" has just received the "Certificate of Proper Management" for the forthcoming year.
Contributions to the Center are also recognized by the U.S. Internal
Revenue Service, as Tax Deductible, through the P.E.F. - Israel Endowment Funds.

** We are in the process of building our Website. In order to facilitate an easy and quick channel for communication, we would highly appreciate
having your email address for that purpose.

*** Information Needed for a Family Tree:
If you have a wider and more complete family tree (which includes:
The full name: in Hebrew and Foreign languageDates: birth, marriage, wandering and death, Places, as well as Education,
Occupations, Business, Public offices, Honorary titles and Publications.
We shall be very happy to receive it, even in a rough draft.

It is very important to receive the above mentioned details, about every body, as well as a every printed reference to him/her in a book, or article – by name and author, publisher , year of publication, page etc.

We wish to impose upon you the importance of every detail, and even a minute one, which identifies the name in a family tree. Without the dates of birth, marriage and death, or at least the places (town and state) of the birth and death, it would be very difficult to identify, e.g., that one Jacob Horowitz is the same as, or different from, another Jacob Horowitz who is mentioned in a book or on the branch of the Horowitz family tree.

The proper identification of the two Jacob Horowitzes, mentioned above, is possible only when we hear that the first one came from Pressburg, (Slovakia of today) and died in 1812, while the second one came from Bialistok in Poland and died in 1755.
Thus, only the information, even if partial, of dates, spouses, places, education, professions and offices, enables us to
identify between two people with the same name.

Please, help yourselves and us – Many thanks

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

On the Rapaport Family Name (1)
By Dr. Chanan Rapaport (2)

As the editor of the new feature Tov Shem Tov – in the historical bimonthly Et-Mol, published by the Ben-Zvi Institute -, I was asked by the general editor to begin this pleasant task by explaining the origins, history and folklore associated with this well-known family name.

This family is very highly regarded in Orthodox circles, as it is a name borne by Kohanim, the Jewish priestly caste that originated with Aaron the High Priest and his famous brother Moses our ancient teacher and leader. Those who carry this name are obviously called upon to bless the congregation by reciting the priestly benediction and are much in demand in order to fulfill the requirements of the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn (3).

The History of the Name

At various times and in keeping with the Zeitgeist – the mood of the times – various explanations were given as to the origin of the family name. From the middle of the sixteenth century, when the memory of the life of the Jews in Spain and Portugal was fading, until the nineteenth century, it was stylish among the Jews of Eastern and Western Europe to consider the Rapaport family among those who were exiled from Spain. With this attribution they had what could be considered the approval to be an ancient family along with the status that attached itself to such families.
During those centuries there were two folkloristic explanations as to the origin of the name Rapaport:
1.The first explanation described the marriage of two distinguished families of Spanish exiles – a son of
the Rapa family married a daughter of the Porto (Portugal) family. The result of the marriage of the two was the creation of a new family name – Rapaport.
2. The second explanation claimed that the name Rapaport was the combination of the important ‘Rav’ [Rabbi] from the city of Oporto, a major city in Portugal. No one ever bothered, so it seems, to try to track down the identity of this important rabbi in the history of the Jews in Portugal but in spite of that this explanation received wide and prominent resonance (4).

With the second expulsion of Jews from Mainz (5) in 1462, we find some of the family in northern Italy in the fertile area of the Po River valley. One son of the Raffa family moved to Venice where he served as a rabbi. Another relocated to Porto, which today is identified with the city of Lenyago = Legnago (45o10’N/11o19’E) east of Mantua.

The second half of the name Rapaport is taken from the name of the city of Porto. When the son who lived in Porto moved to Venice, the Jews of Venice wanted to differentiate between him and the newly arrived rabbi. They called him ‘the Raffa from Porto’ while their rabbi was ‘the Raffa from Venice.’ Over time the name remained Raffa-Porto, hence Rapaport.

Others maintain that the name Rapaport derives from the German word for raven = Rabe or Rape.
A raven appears on the family’s Coat of Arms, found in the Museum of Shields of Nobility in the Prado Museum in Madrid, Spain. It is also found on the printer’s mark on the title page of Minha B’lulah, the book by Rabbi Abraham Menahem, son of Jacob the Kohen, published in Verona in 1594.
The symbol is representative of the period of the Italian Renaissance with partially clothed women and plant leaves surrounding the medallion. Within it are the outstretched hands in the priestly benediction pose representing the Rappa priestly family and the raven symbolizing the Jew wandering around the world from place to place.

We know that in 1520, some seventy-five years before the printing of the above mentioned medallion, one of the members of the family called himself ‘The circumciser Yitzchak, son of Yechiel the Kohen of the Ravens’ (6). That is, ‘Raven’ = Rape – as the first part of the family name was well known for many years by family members.

In the opinion of the later researchers, the second half of the name of the family = Porto comes from the town of Portobuffole located some forty kilometers north of Venice. The Rappa family lived in this town before 1480, almost seventy years before we find them in Porto-Legnago (7).

The Extent of the Dispersion of the Family and its Contributions

As was already pointed out, in 1380 we find the family in Regensburg in southern Germany and afterwards in Mainz. Following the numerous expulsions they wandered about Italy. From there, this family of rabbis, physicians, scientists, holders of titles of nobility and bankers spread northward to Vienna, Bohemia and Moravia (today the Czech Republic), Poland, Galicia, Ukraine, Russia and Lithuania. They also moved eastward to Hungary, Besserabia and Romania.
From East and Central Europe, at the beginning of the 20th century, the family looked to the Anglo-Saxon world – United States, Canada, England, Australia and South Africa. In the wanderings throughout all the generations Eretz Yisrael was never ignored.

An analysis of the contributions of the Rapaport family in the last six hundred years to religious and secular literature, education, science, medicine, art, finance and commerce is beyond the scope of this short summary.
Relevant information can easily be found in every biography of a member of this distinguished family and, no less, in the biographies of those who married into it. In order to better study and appraise the history and contribution of the family, the Center for the Study of the Rapaport Family was established in 1990. An indispensable focus of the Center is our research on the ‘Development of the Jewish Intellectual Class’.
1) It should be pointed out initially that the name would be spelled consistently throughout as Rapaport. Following are some, but not all, of the variations of spellings: Rappaport, Rappoport, Rapoportov, Rapiport, Rapeport, Rapperport, Rapart, Rappa, Rapovich, Rapert, Rapport, Rapir and Praport.

2) This article first appeared in the periodical Et-Mol, Vol. 31:2 (184), 2005 and in Sharsheret Hadorot Vol. 20.N. 2. It is reprinted here with permission through the generous courtesy of their editorial boards.

3) The redemption of the firstborn is commanded in the Torah where it is mentioned several times. There is a widespread story about the famous Gaon of Vilna, known by his acronym ‘HaGRA,’ who was the firstborn in his family. His father fulfilled this mitzvah as required when he was thirty days old but he repeated the mitzvah for himself in adulthood. When he met Rabbi Chayim haKohen Rapaport, the chief rabbi of Lvov, for the first time, he requested to redeem himself for a third time. He did this with the explanation that: “Now that he fulfilled the redemption through a distinguished Kohen, his mind was at ease that it was done exactly as required by Jewish law.”

4) The author of this article personally heard these two explanations from the noted professor of history Dr. Ben-Zion Dinur (Dinaburg) towards the end of the War of Independence, before he was appointed as the Minister of Education of Israel. Professor Dinaburg was convinced of the veracity of these explanations.
In the last century, a discussion developed in scientific journals and in various encyclopedias (see the Bibliography) as to the source of this name. There are those who are convinced that we are dealing with a single priestly family, of Ashkenazic origin whose name at first was RAFFA after the plain in Bavaria north of the city Regensburg (Ratisbone) (49o01’N/12o07’E), from where this family emerged from general anonymity. The Jews were expelled from Regensburg in the years 1420-1422, after malicious incitement by the monk Giovanni Capistrano (1386-1456) and the family arrived in the city of Mainz.

5) As is well known, Johannes Guttenberg of Mainz invented the first moveable type printing press, in Europe, and opened in Mainz, the first publishing house. We know that he kept his professional knowledge a secret and refused to teach Jews the printing profession, lest they spread heresy. Consequently, we do not know how Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi Rappa, (earlier expelled from Regensburg ) and now in Mainz, learned to be a printer. However, after the second expulsion of Jews from Mainz, we find Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi Rappa in northern Italy. He opened a printing house in the Piove di Sacco townlet (45o18’N/12o01’E), eighteen kilometers southeast of the city of Padua. He printed the first Hebrew book ever published in 1472, part one of the Arba’a Turim of Jacob Ben Asher. The publication of the Arba’a Turim was completed in 1475 and Rabbi Meshullam Yekutiel-Kuzi a son of the Raffa-Rapaport family became the world’s first Hebrew printer.

6) Rabbi Eliakim Carmoli, who was the supervisor of the Hebrew Section of the Imperial Library in Paris,
titled his historical research on the Rapaport and Young-Toivim families, ‘The Ravens and the Doves’, (published in 1861)

7) A sad testimony from Portobuffole (Trevizo region) where the family lived before 1480, is the Blood Libel of 1480, which came in the wake of the infamous Trent Blood Libel of 1475. In the transcript of the trial, today located in the Biblioteka Marchana in Venice, the Jews of Portobuffole were on trial for the murder of a Christian boy for the ritual needs of Passover. This insidious Blood Libel led to the burning of three Portobuffole Jews in the San Marco central plaza of Venice.
In September 2005, more than five hundred years later, a delegation from the city along with its mayor and priest came to the Jewish community of Venice to seek forgiveness and pardon for this reprehensible act.
By the way, representing the Jews of Israel and the generations of the Rapaport family at this interesting ceremony was the young Israeli conductor Mr. Dan Rapoport of Rechovot who lives, temporarily, in Venice.

a) Brann, Mordechai. Das Geschlecht der "jungen Raben". Centenarium. 1890. pp. 394-399.
b) Brann, Mordechai. And Rosenthal, F. [Eds]. Gedenkbuch zur Erinnerung an David
Kaufmann. Breslau, Schles. Veriages Anstalt, 1900.
c) Carmoly, Elyakim. Haorvim uvnei Yonna. Redelhaim, 1861. [Hebrew].
d) Encyclopedia Judaica. [English Version]. 1972. vol. XIII, pp. 913-5, 1547-8, 1552-7.
e) Freimann, Aron. Haben Juedische Fluechtling aus Mainz im xv. Jahrhundert den Buchdruk
nach Italien gebracht? Journal of Jewish Bibliography. October 1938. Vol. 1[1], pp. 9-11.
f) Jacobi, Paul. The Genesis of the Rapaport family. Sharsheret Hadorot. 1994. Vol. 8[2], pp. V-IX.
g) Jewish Encyclopaedia. Vol. 10. 1901-1906. pp. 133-4, 317, 319-23.
h) Juedisches Lexikon. Harlitz, G. and Kirschner, B. (Eds). 1927-30. Berlin, Vol. IV, pp. 1232-5.
i) Lewin, Louis. Deutsche Einwanderungen in Polnische Ghetti. Jahrbuch der Juedischen
Literarischen Gesellschaft. 1906. Vol. 4, pp. 293-329. 1907. Vol. 5. pp. 75-154.
j) Nissim, Daniele. Famiglie Rapa e Rapaport nell’Italia Settentrionale (sec. XV-XVI) con
un’Appendice sull’origine della Miscellanea Rothschild. Rassegna Mensile di Israel. 2001.
Vol. 47 p. pp. 177-192.
k) Nissim, Daniele. Rapa and Rapaport Families in Northern Italy in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Avotaynu, International Review of Jewish Genealogy. 2003. Vol. 19 [1], pp. 29 –32.
l) Rapaport, Chanan. The Development of the Jewish Intellectual Class. Avotaynu, International
Review of Jewish Genealogy. 1995. Vol. 11[2], pp. 32.
m) Reifman, Yaakov. Toldot Avraham Menachem ben Yaakov Hacohen. Ha-Shachar. 1872. No.
3, pp. 353-376. [Hebrew]

Monday, October 20, 2008

Jacobi Absolute Generations Scale

Absolute Generations Scale 1)


Chair of IIJG and a close collaborator of Paul Jacobi)

            A major goal of the International Institute for Jewish Genealogy
and Paul Jacobi Center is to develop scientific research tools and technologies
for the use of Jewish genealogists and social scientists generally. 

One such tool for which there has long been a compelling need, is
a standard chronological system to record generations on family trees.
Additionally, there has been a need for a system that permits the
synchronization of generations within kinship groups and their harmonization
with other family trees, whether related or unrelated,
and with wider
frames of reference,
both historical and societal.

 The "Jacobi Absolute Generations Scale", devised by the
late Dr. Paul Jacobi almost half a century ago, which fully answers
these various needs (and) is thus recommended by the Institute for
general use.

This paper begins by addressing areas illustrating some of the
problematics involved, both in enumerating the generations using the “Relative
Generations” system and in identifying individuals bearing identical names
within them.

A. "Relative Generations"

            The simplest way to register generations on a family tree is to
define the length of a generation as 25 or 30 years, and then to tie
on the tree to a recognized dating system, such as the Julian, Gregorian,
Hebrew or Muslim calendars. Unfortunately, this arbitrary approach is
inadequate from a number of perspectives, starting with the fact that it
depends on knowledge of years of birth and death of individuals on the tree,
and these facts often are unknown. As a result, family historians, in grappling
with the problem, often adopt a different approach. They opt to designate
generations by the number of generations known to them, generally
assigning the number 1 to the earliest generation recorded on their particular

            Despite the prima
logic of this system of “relative generations,” it can lead to
confusion, inconsistencies and even errors. One obvious danger may be
demonstrated in the case of a family historian who fixes the third generation
back (the earliest known to him) as number 1, while another researcher of the
same family, who has traced the common lineage further back in time, assigns
the number 1 to the fifth or even the fifteenth generation back. The resultant
confusions are self- evident.

However, the potential pitfalls associated with this system run
deeper. To cite but two problem areas:

1.  Homonymous individuals

             In certain Ashkenazi Jewish traditions, it is customary to
memorialize deceased relatives by calling new-born children after them. While
several considerations may come into play in selecting given names, a first son
is very often named after his grandfather or, if the latter is still alive,
after his great grandfather.
  Other children, both male and
female, are named in accordance with various conventions and, in some
communities, in a well-accepted (though not iron-cast) order. These customs
lead to regular, consistent naming patterns, usually repeating themselves in
every third generation and often throughout parallel branches within the same

Since family historians frequently use naming patterns as a
guiding light to fix generations
in time and to determine
the relationships between individuals, the recurrence of people with the same
given name – known as
“homonymous individuals” - in a single family lends
itself to
misidentification and outright mistakes. The problem may be compounded
when the same
naming pattern is found in another, unrelated family that bears the same
surname, sometimes in the same community.

Among Sephardim, especially Ladino-(Judeo-Spanish) speaking Jews,
it has been, and to an extent it still is, the custom (is) to name a
in honor of maternal and paternal grandparents, even while
they are still alive.
Again, the same names may appear many times within a single
timeframe, and not in clearly defined generations, thereby increasing the risk
of errors in identity

2. Married names

In Jewish usage, women tend to be recorded as
“so-and-so” the daughter of “so-and-so” [her father], wife of “so-and-so.”
  Although in some
cases this form of appellation may help identification, it frequently leads to
confusion, given the multiplicity of the same masculine name in repeated
within a given family. The problem is compounded by the propensity for cousins
to marry cousins
in certain Jewish societies.

            These factors complicate and hinder comparisons
between independently produced family trees,
especially where the
"relative-generations" system is used for recording purposes.
Harmonizing such trees and reconciling inconsistencies between them is far from
easy, while the establishment of complex family relationships becomes all the
more difficult the longer the lineages
. Errors are hard to spot and
"skipped generations" may be overlooked, with all the attendant
blunders likely to arise therefrom.

In brief, the "relative generations" system can become
an obstacle to serious genealogical research. Attempts to synchronize the
arbitrarily numbered generations with a standard time-line may not lead to
accurate correlations.
Hence, the historical background and cultural context surrounding
an individual may be skewed and marred by anachronisms or the opposite
Equally, the influences on his behavior and life choices, his
educational and occupational opportunities, residential possibilities, communal
affiliations and societal networks, and migrational decisions, to mention but a
few aspects of life relevant to the genealogist, may be improperly understood
and even totally misinterpreted.

B. "Absolute Generations"

            Aware of these difficulties, the late Dr. Paul Jacobi (1911-1997)
developed an alternative system for registering generations, now known
as the Jacobi “Absolute Generations Scale (JAGS).
In this
system, genealogists employ an absolute time line  that is stable,
recognized and linked directly to the years as enumerated in the accepted
system in use in the Western world today (“BC” and “AD”, or, for Jews and some
others, “BCE” and “CE”).

            On the basis of his extensive genealogical knowledge
and experience, Jacobi determined the average span of a single generation as 75
years, with each successive generation set to follow the previous one at
intervals of 30 years. Thus, on the basis of the Common Era dating system:

            •“Generation 1” is fixed as 2040–1965 (a period of 75

            •Working backwards, “Generation 2” begins 30 years
earlier and covers the period 2010-–1935.

            •Successive generations are counted retrogressively
every 30 years prior to 2010.

With the designation of the current generation as “Generation 0,”
Jacobi’s absolute generational scale for the last 900 years is as follows:




































































































Jacobi consciously drew his scale back to “Generation 32”
(1035-1110) which corresponds with the life of the great Jewish biblical and
Talmudic commentator, Rashi (1040-1105).

            Theoretically, Jacobi’s scale could be extended back
to the dawn of recorded history, or indeed of history itself, but Jacobi
preferred not to be drawn into unnecessary theoretical discussions over when
history began and, according to whose historical tradition. As a practical
matter, he regarded it as sufficient to use the scale as it is, since
scientific Jewish genealogy scarcely pre-dates Rashi.*

            An individual, who lived the larger part of his life
within the time-frame of a given generation, is designated as belonging to that
generation. Thus, the outstanding Jewish scholars Samuel Eliezer ben Judah
Halevi Edels (1555-1631) [the “Maharsha”] and Maimonides (1135-1204) [the
“Rambam”] belong to generations 15 and 29, respectively.  Within each absolute
generation, the scale allows for flexibility. On occasion, it is necessary—and possible—to
split a generation or to skip one. For example:

Ø  •A man lived
from 1725 to 1755 and had a son who lived from 1744 to 1790. Both belong to
Generation 9. For the sake of clarity, however, the father should be assigned
to Generation 9b and the son to Generation 9a.

Ø  A woman
lived from 1775 to 1830 and had a daughter who lived from 1815 to 1890. The
mother belongs to Generation 8, but the daughter to Generation 6—hence the need
to skip a generation in this case.

When the need eventually arises, the scale can be extended forward
in time by adding Generation–1 (2100–2025), Generation–2 (2130–2055), and so


            Several advantages arise from adopting the Jacobi
Absolute Generations Scale (JAGS). 

First and foremost, the JAGS offers a standard
chronological system to record generations on family trees and to synchronize
them within kinship groups.

Every individual on a specific family tree—and
on parallel trees drawn up independently–can be assigned to an absolute

An individual’s generational position is
identical on all trees, thereby providing positive identification when trees
are compared, merged or interchanged.

The JAGS minimizes the possibility of
misidentification and of coalescing discrete individuals bearing the same given
name and patronym.

The JAGS readily illustrates anomalies,
requiring further investigation, such as a married woman whose father was born
in generation 12, but whose supposed husband was born 100 years earlier, in
generation 15.

It sometimes suggests solutions to these
anomalies because facility in using JAGS leads to an ability to place an
individual in his correct generation, even in the absence of precise dates of
birth and death for the individual concerned.

The JAGS indicates the precise time-frame in
which a person lived the majority of his life and thereby places him in the
correct historical context, even when some vital genealogical information is

Assignment of an absolute generation to all
family members reveals who an individual’s contemporaries were, both within his
own family and beyond.  The JAGS permits the reconstruction of generational
relationships even when full genealogical information is missing. For instance,
if an individual can be located in generation 26, one may reasonably assume
that his father belonged to generation 27, his children to generation 25 and
his grandchildren to generation 24. The subsequent discovery of a critical
piece of vital statistical information almost invariably substantiates these
assumptions, proving the reliability and value of the scale.

Finally, use of Jacobi's Absolute Generations
Scale points the way to the creation of a common terminology and chronology
between genealogists and researchers from other scientific disciplines, as well
as scholars from diverse cultures, speaking different languages.


In the light of these advantages, the Genealogical Institute
highly recommends that Jacobi’s scale be adopted as widely as possible.

Dr. Neville Lamdan, the Director of the Institute, contributed to
this article.


* For those seeking greater historical depth, herewith the Jacobi
Absolute Generations Scale drawn from “Generation 0” to “Generation 101”,
during which time (-1049 – -970), according to tradition and to many Biblical
archaeologists, King David is held to have lived.

0    =   1995 - 2070

 1    =   1965 - 2040

=    1215 - 1290

51  =       465 -   540

76  =    -285 -   -210

 2    =   1935 – 2010

27   =    1185 - 1260

52  =       435 -   510

77  =    -315 -   -240

 3    =   1905 - 1980

28   =    1155 - 1230

53  =       405 -   480

78  =    -345 -   -270

 4    =   1875 - 1950

29   =    1125 - 1200

54  =       375 -   450

79  =    -375 -   -300

 5   =    1845 - 1920

30   =    1095 - 1170

55  =       345 -   420

80  =    -405 -   -330

 6   =    1815 - 1890

31   =    1065 - 1140

56  =       315 -   390

81  =    -435 -   -360

 7   =    1785 - 1860

32   =    1035 - 1110

57  =       285 -   360

82  =    -465 -   -390

  8  =    1755 - 1830

33   =    1005 - 1080

58  =       255 -   330

83  =    -495 -   -420

  9  =    1725 - 1800

34   =      975 - 1050

59  =       225 -   300

84  =    -525 -   -450

10  =    1695 - 1770

35   =      945 - 1020

60  =       195 -   270

85  =    -555 -   -480

11  =    1665 - 1740

36   =      915 -   990

61  =       165 -   240

86  =    -585 -   -510

12  =    1635 - 1710

37   =      885 -   960

62  =       135 -   210

87  =    -615 -   -540

13  =    1605 - 1680

38   =      855 -   930

63  =       105 -   180

88  =    -645 -   -570

14  =    1575 - 1650

39  =       825 -   900   

64  =         75 -   150

89  =    -675 -   -600

15  =    1545 - 1620

40  =       795 -   870

65  =         45 -   120

90  =    -705 -   -630

16  =    1515 - 1590

41  =       765 -   840

66  =         15 -     90

91  =    -735 -   -660

17  =    1485 - 1560

42  =       735 -   810

67  =        -15 - + 60 

92  =    -765 -   -690

18  =    1455 - 1530

43  =       705 -   780

68  =        -45 - + 30

93  =    -795 -   -720

19  =    1425 - 1500

44  =       675 -   750

69  =       -75 -     0

94  =    -825 -   -750

20  =    1395 - 1470 

45  =       645 -   720

70  =     - 105 -   -30

95  =    -855 -   -780

21  =    1365 - 1440

46  =       615 -   690

71  =      -135 -   -60

96  =    -885 -   -810

22 =     1335 - 1410

47  =       585 -   660

72  =      -165 -   -90 

97  =    -915 -   -840

23  =    1305 - 1380

48  =       555 -   630

73  =      -195 - -120 

98  =    -945     -870

24  =    1275 - 1350

49  =       525 -   600

74  =      -225 - -150

99  =    -975 -   -900

25  =    1245 - 1320

50  =       495 -   570

75  =      -255 - -180

100 =  -1005 -  -930

101 = -1035-  -960

1) The above
paper was written for "The International Institute for Jewish Genealogy

   Paul Jacobi
Center" – IIJG. 

    It was published in the International Journal for Jewish
Genealogy "

    Volume XXV, Number 4.
Winter 2009
, Washington,