Category Archives: Highlights

New Acquisition: Haggadah shel Pesah [happy Passover!]

Tonight is the first night of the Jewish festival of Pesah (Passover), celebrated every year from the 15th to the 22nd day of Nissan. This year, the holiday starts on the 22nd of April and ends next Saturday, April the 30th. Passover commemorates the biblical exodus of the Jews from slavery in Egypt. To learn more, click here.

The text of the Passover seder, a special family meal, is written in a book called the Haggadah. Our Library holds numerous copies of Haggadot according to different local customs. Among our recent acquisitions, is a copy of a sephardi Haggadah printed in London in 1813. This particular version is an augmented edition of Alexander’s London Haggadah of 1806, and is the first Haggadah with Spanish translation printed in London (source). The book was presented to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library on long-term loan by the Lewis Family Interests.

The Haggadah contains several engravings, among them a couple of folded maps, one of those being a ‘Plan explanatory of the Passage of the Red-Sea by the Israelites’, depicted below. All in all, feast for the eyes. Enjoy!

Hagadah shel Pesah ke-minhag sefaradim = Orden de la Agada de Pesah, en Hebraico y Espanol, según uzan los Judios, Espanoles, y Portuguezes, traducido del Hebraico y Caldeo. Por Senior Jacob Meldula, de Amsterdam. London : Printed by L. Alexander, Whitechapel-Road, A.M. 5573 [1813]

Sefer Tehilim = Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523) (shelfmark PB449)

One of the smallest books in our newly acquired Weisz Sephardi Collection is a Book of Psalms in Hebrew. Together with its binding, it is 11cm by 8cm in size. This tiny volume was published by Johann Froben in Basel in 1523.

Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Portrait of Johann Froben by Hans Holbein the Younger, Hampton Court

Portrait of Johann Froben by Hans Holbein the Younger, Hampton Court


The colophon at the end of the volume says:
“Basel, in the house of Johann Froben, March, 1523”

Colophon, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Colophon, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Johann Froben (ca. 1460 Hammelburg – 1527 Basel), one of the most prominent printers of sixteenth-century Basel. He established a printing house in Basel together with the already successful printer, Johannes Auerbach (1443-1513). Froben collaborated with leading scholars of the age, such as Erasmus and Konrad Pellikan. Many of his publications were illustrated by woodcuts designed by two renowned artists, Hans Holbein the Younger and Urs Graf. The woodcut decorating the title page of this Hebrew book of Psalters, contains in its centre Froben’s printer’s device: the staff of Mercury surrounded by two crowned snakes and a dove. The device was designed by Hans Holbein the Younger. Holbein also painted two portraits of Froben, one of which is on display in Hampton Court.


Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basle: Johann Froben, 1523)

Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Johann Froben's printer's device

Title page, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Printer’s waste, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

A closer look reveals that even the binding of the volume can offer something to the curious-minded: it has Latin manuscript waste in its binding — a widespread way of recycling discarded parchment or paper leaves.

Printer's waste, Psalterium Hebraicum (Basel: Johann Froben, 1523)

Donation of Domy Reiter-Soffer prints

The well-known Israeli artist Domy Reiter-Soffer’s Genesis Portfolio, consisting of prints on the landscape of Israel, has been given to the Bodleian Library, thanks to the generosity of Lord and Lady Marks.

 Gillian cesar and domy Close up image

Mr Reiter-Soffer presented the portfolio to the Bodleian in person, and it was received by the Head of the Bodleian Libraries’ Oriental Section, Gillian Evison and by the Curator for Hebrew and Judaica, César Merchán-Hamann. Julia Wagner and Anne Lawrence, Deputy Superintendents of the new Weston Library’s reading rooms, are shown admiring the prints. Each print represents a different landscape, distilling its essence and capturing the richness of its colours and history. The Bodleian Library joins the likes of the Library of Congress and the British Library who also hold copies of the portfolio. We are lucky to have them.

IMG_1835 IMG_1834 IMG_1833 IMG_1832 IMG_1831 IMG_1829 IMG_1830 IMG_1828 IMG_1827 IMG_1826 IMG_1825 IMG_1824 IMG_1823 IMG_1822

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.

Book Launch and Panel Discussion- Tomorrow

The Journal of Jewish Studies Supplement Series includes the latest title “The Image and its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity”, which will be launched tomorrow evening at the Oxford Center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, Yarnton.

The volume contains essays by leading scholars in the field of Jewish Antiquity including the launch’s discussion panel: Sarah Pearce, (University of Southampton), Professor Philip Alexander FBA (Manchester University), Professor Tessa Rajak (Oxford), Professor Sacha Stern (University College London), Professor Hugh Williamson FBA (Oxford), Dr Jane Heath (University of Durham).
The book is about the use of images by Jews and their contemporaries in the Antique period, in light of the biblical prohibitions against making ‘graven images’ in the Second Commandment:
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth’ (Deuteronomy 5:8)
‘You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them.’ (Exodus 20:4-5a)
This law was written to combat the proliferation of idols, which distracted from the essence of Judaism, and shifted the attention towards material goods. The prohibition was intended to draw the Israelites away from the creation of idols, rather than to stop all decoration and the production of images.
‘The Image and its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity’ edited by Sarah Pearce, explores the dynamic between the image-filled classical culture of the Mediterranean world, and the ‘law-inspired’ images within Jewish culture. The book offers examples of Jewish images which borrow from the Classical tradition, but that avoid idolatry, by using art and images for decorative and pedagogical purposes only.
The volume contains beautiful images, produced in exceptionally high-quality, such as the magnificent Macedonian gold wreath from fourth century BCE. The wreath is one of 8 that have been found discovered and thought to have been used for a variety of social and religious ceremonial occasions. A metal band is adorned with leaves and flowers made of very fine gold, which move with the person wearing it, as a wreath made of real foliage would. Jane Heath writes that the wreath is indicative of a Hellenistic interest in realistic art, and the ‘elaboration of the topos of realism’, particularly within the literary tradition. Heath skilfully argues that the Letter of Aristeas is not just combining Greco-Roman ideas with Jewish traditions, but instead uses only non-figurative subjects, and engages with the cultural interest in realism, however draws the line at using allegory to describe the tabernacle gifts instead describing them as realistically as possible; Thereby emphasising the value of the gifts of the tabernacle.
Essays in the book explore contexts including late antique Palestine, urban Galilee, Dura-Europos and Jerusalem. H.G.M. Williamson considers the interesting question of the use of the image of the deity in the First temple in Jerusalem. Williamson looks at archaeological and textual sources from Jewish and contemporary contexts including figurines from Judea, thought to be of the goddess of fertility Ashrah, who was sometimes described as the consort of Yahweh. The scope for this book is wide and the subject matter far-reaching. It is a fantastic exploration into the role of the second commandment within ancient Jewish culture, something which has rarely been given such in-depth attention.
Details of the launch and ways to purchase the book are below. A copy of the supplement is also available in the Library.

Wed 28 May 8pm Yarnton manor

“The Image and its Prohibition in Jewish Antiquity”
Published by the Journal of Jewish Studies
Supplement Series 2



Professor Sarah Pearce (University of Southampton)
Professor Philip Alexander FBA (Manchester University)
Professor Tessa Rajak (Oxford)
Professor Sacha Stern (University College London)
Professor Hugh Williamson FBA (Oxford)
Dr Jane Heath (University of Durham)

The Book will be available for sale with a 30% discount

Light buffet supper from 7pm


Published by the Journal of Jewish Studies:

Distributed by Oxbow: