Category Archives: Highlights

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:

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.

B  010

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.

W F823

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

A.Rosenthal Ltd. Antiquarian Bookseller: Collection

The Oxford based firm A. Rosenthal Ltd., specialises in selling Judaica and Hebraica related books. The antiquarian book seller deposited some of their back catalogues, card catalogues, ledgers and book plates amongst other things to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library.

Rosenthal compiled book catalogues of rare and unusual material and grouped them into specific subject areas. Including these two catalogues pictured.


The catalogue of ‘Sixteenth Century Hebraica’ was a list of books intended to be sold together as a complete collection. The collection included Hebrew books printed between 1505 and 1609. Rosenthal created this collection, in collaboration with Bernard M. Rosenthal in New York. The books were not part of a previous collection; instead the booksellers brought together books that they perceived to be valuable and also rare. The description of the collection highlights the uniqueness of the texts chosen, favouring first editions, as well as only including books that were complete and in good condition despite their age. The books in this catalogue were mostly printed in Italy, although there are also books from rare presses in Greece and Italy. Catalogues such as this provide valuable insights and information into early Hebrew printed books, but also the antiquarian book trade in the twentieth century.


The Rosenthal collection also includes company ledgers and sales books, which include many famous names within the field of Jewish studies. Other related items such as letters and book plates are also part of the collection.

Book plate1 book plate 2

Epstein’s Einstein

Einstein1This term we have welcomed the arrival of a Bust of Albert Einstein by the famous British sculptor Jacob Epstein (1890-1959). The bust was gifted to the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish studies by Patricia Leonie Isaacs, Leonie Patricia Phillips and Phil Phillips.
Epstein and Einstein met in 1933 in Norfolk, where Einstein fled from Berlin. It is said that Einstein smoked during the sitting, so much so that Epstein had to ask him to stop so that Epstein could see Einstein’s face clearly. In 1933 Einstein moved to Princeton, before the bust was completed.
The Bust is a bronze cast and there are several copies of the bust in existence, including the Tate Modern:
The Fitzwilliam museum, Cambridge:
There are also copies of the Bust in the science Museum, galleries in Birmingham and Liverpool and Australia and USA.Einstein4
It is a great privilege to have this wonderful piece of art at the Centre and it will be greatly treasured.