For the year 5782
The Jewish holy day of Rosh ha-Shanah (the New Year), marking the creation of the world, is a time of penitence and prayer, but with plenty of sweetness added to the celebration. While the Hebrew Bible begins with creation, a later mystical treatise called Sefer Yetsirah – of ancient or early medieval origin – focuses specifically on this subject.
Heaven or Hell?
Several Jewish rabbinic authorities and scholars consider the central concept of paradise to be either terrestrial or celestial; on the other hand, what came to represent later, in rabbinic literature a destination of punishment of the wicked (hell, of sorts), was originally a mere small valley in Jerusalem, called gehenna in the Hebrew Bible. As a contemporary of Dante in Italy, Immanuel ben Solomon ben Jekuthiel (ca. 1261-ca.1335) was inspired by the Divine Comedy when writing his Tofet ṿe-ʻeden. Christ Church Library has a copy of an important edition of Tofet ṿe-ʻeden, printed in Berlin in 1778. This edition is special because it includes a poem by Solomon ben Joel Dubno (1738-1813) who was one of the pioneers of the Jewish Enlightenment (haskalah) movement.
Ashkenazi’s most important work is his commentary on the historical parts of the Pentateuch, called Ma’ase ha-Shem (The Works of God), which he wrote for his son Elijah. A copy of the first edition of this book is in the Morris collection at Christ Church. The Library also houses two different editions of the Passover Haggadah. An incunable edition of the Hagiographa in Hebrew, accompanied with commentaries by Rashi, Joseph Kara, and Levi ben Gershom (ME.3.21), was bought for the college library from the fund established by its Regius Professor of Hebrew, John Morris (1594/5-1648).
Jewish holiday of Purim symbolises the saving of the Jewish people from their annihilation, as plotted by wicked Haman who was a government official in the Achaemenid Persian Empire. These dramatic events unfold in the biblical book of Esther. Christ Church Library’s Hebrew holdings include three interesting antiquarian books that relate to Purim.
Christ Church Library has important holdings that relate to Jewish prayers. This is unusual for an environment that would traditionally not promote the study of Hebrew liturgy. The least, perhaps, that one would expect to find in an Oxford college library is a set of eighteenth-century Ashkenazi tefillin (phylacteries) that comprise two small black leather boxes containing scrolls of parchment, inscribed with verses from the Torah. Apart from this, there are also numerous Jewish prayer books at Christ Church.
On Wisdom in Hebrew Fables
The numerous annotated copies of Hebrew books from the former libraries of Hartmann, Oluf Gerhard Tychsen (1734-1815) and Jacob Georg Christian Adler (1756-1834) are being catalogued at Christ Church and remind us of the heydays of German theological scholarship.
From Salonica—to Biblioteca Colbertina in Paris, and via Pauls Coffee House—to Oxford
With the growth of Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire, new printing shops of Hebrew books were established in its main centres. Salonica was one such a hub where Hebrew scholarship and book culture flourished after the arrival of expelled Jewish population. This article explores how a book from that far corner of the world arrived at Oxford.
Wakefields at Christ Church
Hebrew studies have been part and parcel of academic life at Christ Church since the college was founded. Over the almost five hundred years, its teaching and research collections have grown substantially and number of notable Hebrew scholars have been associated with the college. Among them is Robert Wakefield (d. 1537/8) who became Regius Praelector of Hebrew at Christ Church in 1529 and three years later was appointed one of the founding canons of the college. Robert’s younger brother Thomas Wakefield (d. 1575) graduated BA at Cambridge. Brothers Wakefield Renaissance library may have been one of the greatest private collections of Hebraica in sixteenth-century England.
Tikkun Leil Shavuot
Christ Church Library has a beautiful copy of an eighteenth century Torah scroll that was probably made for use in a Central European synagogue. The scroll contains the entire Torah and comes with two wooden rollers and embroidered velvet mantle. The size of the scroll is truly impressive, as well as the work that the scribe has invested in writing it but also the decorations of the woodwork and embroidery are telling of the importance of the object.