Category Archives: Exhibitions

Launch of The Weisz Western Sephardi Collection

Thanks to the generosity of the Joir and Kato Weisz Foundation, which acquired the collection from the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London and donated it to the Centre, the Leopold Muller Memorial Library has been privileged to receive the Weisz Western Sephardi Collection.

The collection was assembled mainly by the late Dr Richard Barnett, the Honorary Archivist of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation. It comprises over 500 items, including books, manuscripts, sermons, rabbinic responsa and commentaries, as well as letters by Sephardi Jews, some of them rabbis or members of the Congregation or of the mother congregation in Amsterdam; there are also works by Christian Hebraists which witness to the continued exchange of opinions and knowledge between the members of Jewish communities and their host nations. There are many examples of printed ephemera, including notably prayers for special occasions and calendars, and also printed and other material for the internal use of the communities, such as community and philanthropic societies’ byelaws, ordinances and lists of members. Notable is the only known copy of the first edition of the Prayer Book for Sephardi usage printed in England, in 1721.

There is a rich trove of works in Spanish and Portuguese, including both translations from the Hebrew and original works, all aimed at making it possible for newly arrived Crypto-Jews, also known as marranos, to acquire a functioning knowledge of Judaism. The works encompass Bible, prayer books, apologetic treatises and practical manuals of kashrut and purity; in short, manuals for people who had all but forgotten everything about Judaism but who knew that their families had once been Jewish.

Most of the printed material comes from Amsterdam and some is from London. There are also works printed in Alexandria, Algiers, Altona-Hamburg, Barbados, Basel, Bordeaux, Corfu, Curaçao, Florence, Gibraltar, The Hague, Livorno, Madrid, Naples, Oporto, Paris, Nice, Utrecht, Verona and Venice – a true atlas of the Sephardi Diaspora.


The Centre is grateful to the Weisz Foundation for the donation, to Mr Edgar Samuel for initiating the transfer of the collection and to Dr Jeremy Schonfield for facilitating the process.


Tuesday 15th November 2016, 6pm
at the Clarendon Institute

Professor David Abulafia
The first Sephardim in the Atlantic Islands

Refreshments will follow

Call for Paleo-Hebrew transliteration help [now solved]

We have recently been working on our digital Jewish ex libris exhibition, based on a collection of over 1,000 items, and came across an ex libris in Paleo-Hebrew that we can only partially transliterate. In the picture below you can see what we have so far (in Hebrew characters as I do not have Paleo-Hebrew font on this PC). We are not sure about the surname. If you know how to transliterate the surname properly, or know who this ex libris might have belonged to, let us know!




Thanks to the help of our readers, we now know that this ex libris belonged to Wladyslaw Harposta / Chrapusta (born 1890 or 1896, died 1982), a Polish literary translator of Haim Nahman Bialik and Uri Zvi Greenberg, self-taught Hebraist and scholar of stenography. He was a collector of Hebrew books (5000), and of ex libris. His collection of over 600 ex libris is at the National Library in Warsaw.

Similar ex libris features in the Bezalel Narkiss Index of Jewish Art.

A brief biographical entry on Harposta / Chrapusta can be found here, although there are some discrepancies regarding the date and place of birth.

Many thanks to all who helped!

Purim Highlight from our Archives: The Story of a Naked Jew saved by an Arab

Today is Purim, a Jewish holiday commemorating a time when the Jewish people of Persia were saved from extermination thanks to the efforts of a wise and beautiful Queen Esther. Purim, meaning “lots” (lottery used to choose the date for the massacre), is celebrated annually, when observant Jews read from the Book of Esther, give to charity and feast. The latter is accompanied by carnival-like celebrations, performing of plays and parodies – ‘Purim Spiel’, and dressing up in costumes.

The Leopold Muller Memorial Library holds a multitude of sources on Purim: academic studies and archival accounts.

Just but one example of the latter is an excerpt from the Personal Archive of Raphael Loewe (see: online exhibition). Raphael’s great-grandfather, Louis Loewe, a 19th century academic, had a life-threatening experience in the Palestinian desert during a Druse revolt (1839), where he was left bare naked and saved by an Arab:

On his way to Saffed he had a bad experience. The Druze were revolting against their king at the time and pillaged the whole area up to Saffed and surroundings. [Loewe] encountered them in En Zetun (near Safet), had all his clothes and belongings taken and was left to fend for himself, beaten and wounded. An Arab, Mustapha Mahmed, took pity on Loewe and handed him a thick blanket to cover the naked body and a spear to defend himself with. Thus the bloody Loewe wandered nearly naked, hungry and thirsty into Safet.” (Kurrein, p. 7)

Loewe’s deliverance was commemorated for generations as part of the Loewe family’s Purim tradition: “He would celebrate this day, on which he escaped death by a hair’s breadth, together with his family for years to come. On Purim his children would play ‘Bedouins’ in memory of what had happened.” (Kurrein, p. 7)

Louis Loewe pursued freelance scholarship while assisting patrons and long-term supporters. Well before settling in Sir Moses Montefiore’s entourage and starting a family (1844), Loewe embarked on his own version of the Grand Tour that took him to Africa and Asia (1839-1839) to study what he claimed to be the unexplored languages and cultures of Nubia and Circassia. Louis Loewe was widely known for his polyglot skills; in Celebrities of the Day: A monthly Repertoire of Contemporary Biography (April 1881, p. 63), he was described as a “monster of human languages; a Briareus [100-armed, 50-headed mythical creature – ed.] of the parts of speech”. Jessie Kurrein, in her portrayal of the scholar, claims Louis had perfect command of 39 languages.



Nubian vocabulary lists, one column of Nubian parallel to a column with a German translation recorded in Hebrew characters [Credits: Leopold Muller Memorial Library, Raphael Loewe Archive, shelfmark: Alouis 2,15]

His notebooks and travelogues form part of our Personal Archive of Raphael Loewe.

Read more about the “The Loewe Family – A Scholarly Dynasty” in our article online (pp. 29-48).

Explore our online exhibition: Raphael Loewe Archives.

Leopold Muller Memorial Library

The Library is moving during the summer vacation into central Oxford, for more information about how this will affect readers see our previous blog post or contact Library staff:
As we prepare to move we have also been looking back into the history of the Library at Yarnton Manor.

The Library

The Library

Forty Years ago: 1974
The centre was established in 1972 and moved to Yarnton Manor in 1973/1974. The Barn was converted into a Library space and it has been the home of the main Library ever since. Whilst still in Oxford the Library acquired the Kressel Library (25,000 volumes) and the Kressel Archive(over half a million items), which formed the basis of the Library’s collection.

Thirty Years ago: 1984

A further consignment from the Kressel collection was received between 1982 and 1985.For the Library this period was and space became an increasing issue. These problems are strongly expressed in the annual report about the library 1984/1985: ‘There are 30 tea-chests and 14 cardboard boxes full of books as well as innumerable heaps of books on the floor, and yet very little spare shelving to put them on. The situation has dictated a strategy of the ruthless disposal of all duplicate copies, and even the withdrawal from the shelves of older books superseded by recent scholarship’.


Our reading rooms

Change of name…
At a ceremony in October 1992 the Library changed its name to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library after receiving £1 million donation from the Leopold Muller Estate.


Twenty Years ago: 1994
The Library had grown and many of the materials, including the Qumran collection and the Kressel archive were moved to the Exeter Farm site, which was purchased by the centre in 1991/1992.
At the time the library lent only to Manor residents, and proudly reports loaning 2,012 books during the academic year.

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Ten Years ago: 2004
The Library completed a major milestone in the completion of the online western language catalogue, as part of the Oxford University Library Catalogues (OLIS).

In 2004 Louis Jacob’s extensive library of over 14,000 volumes was donated to the library. Particularly noteworthy are the section on Kabbalah, mysticism and Hasidism, areas which the library was previously lacking. The collection made the Leopold Muller Memorial library an outstanding place for the study of rabbinic Judaism. The collection is used extensively and in 2013 an Oxford Seminar in Advanced Jewish Studies (OSAJS) was held at the centre drawing together international scholars to research. The seminar, ‘Orthodoxy, Theological Debate, and Contemporary Judaism: Exploring Questions Raised in the Thought of Louis Jacobs’ ran from January to June and the library curated an s archive to coincide with the project.


This year the Library put together an exhibition to showcase the the Western Hebrew Library rare book collection deposited on long-term loan from the New West End Synagogue. This collection will complement the library’s growing rare book collection. The Library contains an outstanding collection of early modern Hebrew prints.

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The library will be moving this summer and we look forward to welcoming you to our new home.
Watch this space for 2024!

Louis Jacobs Exhibition Closing Soon

Louis Jacobs exhibition, ‘We Have Reason to Inquire’, at the Leopold Muller Memorial Library  will be closing soon. Visit during library opening hours until the end of term to see an insight into the range of material in Louis Jacobs’ personal archive.

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The Exhibition was also launched digitally and can be viewed online:

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Highlights include Family photographs and memorabilia. This a picture of Louis Jacob’s on his wedding day.

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