WASHINGTON (AP) _ Some Jewish leaders and historians said President Bush overstated the case when he suggested Thursday that Saddam Hussein had surpassed Adolf Hitler in at least one form of brutality.

One Jewish leader called the comparison a possible ''slip of the tongue,'' and a noted historian of Germany said some of Bush's comparisons were ''rather silly'' and ''rather ridiculous.''

Some of the Jewish leaders, however, said Saddam-Hitler comparisons were apt to a certain extent, and one said he thought the president was just using an understandable figure of speech.

Bush, speaking at a Republican rally in Mashpee, Mass., said the Iraqi leader's forces ''have committed outrageous acts of barbarism.''

And he said American hostages were being ''held in direct contravention of international law. Many of them reportedly staked out as human shields near possible military targets, brutality that I don't believe Adolf Hitler ever participated in.''

Later, at a news conference in Orlando, Fla., Bush said, ''I don't think I am overstating it. I know I am not overstating the feelings I have about it.''

Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles, said, ''Saddam Hussein has a list of crimes that I don't think has to be compared with anybody in order for the people of America to understand how serious a threat he represents.''

Cooper said he believed there were comparisons that could be made between the Iraqi president and the World War II German dictator whose regime resulted in the extermination of about 6 million Jews.

''But let's also keep this thing in some sort of perspective,'' he said. ''And to say that he outstrips Adolf Hitler, I just think it's either a slip of the tongue or a speech writer got carried away. No one yet, and I hope no one ever will, match up to the systematized brutalities and racist policies that Adolf Hitler committed.''

Abraham Foxman, national director of the Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, called Bush's remark ''an unfortunate exaggeration that could hurt the president's credibility at a time when it is very important that he remain credible.''

''Saddam Hussein is writing his own chapter of barbarism,'' Foxman said. ''It's the Saddam Hussein chapter and one need not compare or exaggerate.''

Elan Steinberg, executive director of the World Jewish Congress, asked about the president's remark, said, ''I think he is being figurative in using Hitler as the supreme standard or measure of brutality. In a figurative sense, we understand why he is making the comparison to Hitler. I don't think even President Bush means to make the literal comparison as to who is more evil.''

Gordon A. Craig, retired professor of history at Stanford University and author of the acclaimed ''The Germans,'' said Iraq's invasion of Kuwait was ''brutal aggression.''

''The whole German army went in an destroyed the Polish army and bombed the cities and wiped out the greater part of Warsaw,'' Craig said in commenting on Bush's comparison of the German invasion of Poland in 1939 that set off World War II with Saddam Hussein's takeover of Iraq on Aug. 2.

''The dimension of the breach of law is so disparate in these cases that it's a bad comparison. It's simply out of proportion.''

And as for Bush's assertion that Hitler didn't put hostages in danger to deter attacks, Craig said, ''Hitler committed so many great brutalities it's rather silly to say that he never touched hostages.''

Among other brutalities, Hitler ordered the deliberate killing of 6 million Jews.

Another historian of Germany, Barton J. Bernstein, director of Stanford's international relations program, said, ''I would say that Bush is wonderfully skillful in finding evocative comparisons that lack only the merit of historical knowledge.''

''If every expansionist is to be Hitler then Ronald Reagan and George Bush should fall into line somewhere beyond Hussein'' for the invasions of Grenada in 1983 and Panama in 1989,'' Bernstein said. ''But it's really unfair to compare any of these people to Hitler. It distorts more than it illuminates.''