Abstract (source): In 1908, Pauline Wengeroff published the first piece of writing by a woman in the history of Jewish literature to tell the story of a life and a family with historical consciousness and purpose. It is also the first account in this literature to make women, and men, the focus of a gendered inquiry. Shulamit Magnus’s biography of this extraordinary woman lets readers share Wengeroff’s life, her aspirations, and her disappointments, making a significant contribution to women’s history and to our understanding of the emergence and shape of Jewish modernity. (The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2016)
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.
The colophon at the end of the volume says:
BASILEAE IN AEDIBVS IOANNIS FROBENII, MENSE MARTIO. AN. M.D.XXIII.
“Basel, in the house of Johann Froben, March, 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.
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.
Chaim Arlosoroff (1899-1933) was of one of the most important and brilliant figures in Zionist political life in British Mandatory Palestine. His killing remained the Jewish political murder until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995.
Born Chaim Vitaly Viktor Arlosoroff on 23 February 1899 in Romny, Ukraine, Arlosoroff’s position reflected that of many other Jews of his location, and time. The grandson of a rabbi, and son of a wheat and lumber merchant, he grew up in a comfortable semi-assimilated familial environment that straddled Russian, German, and Hebrew cultural influences. In 1905, in the wake of anti-Jewish pogroms, the family fled to East Prussia, eventually settling in Königsberg. And in 1914 – having successfully avoided deportation back to Russia, due to the outbreak of war – the family moved once again, to Berlin. Arlosoroff identified more and more with German national culture, although his Russian citizenship precluded him from joining the German war effort.
It was during this time that he began to embrace socialist ideals, due in no small part to the identity crisis he experienced as a ‘Russian’ who – due to his existential circumstances – now identified with his German national-cultural surroundings, and finally, as a Jew in all of this, a factor that fundamentally set him apart from both of these national cultures. Thus, his socialism looked increasingly to Jewish sources, and he was especially influenced by Martin Buber, A. D. Gordon, and Gustav Landauer. By 1919, Arlosoroff had joined the Zionist party HaPoel HaTzair (‘The Young Worker’), which had been founded – inter alios – by A.D. Gordon, and subscribed to his ideology of the ‘redemption of the land of Israel’ through agricultural endeavours. That same year, he published what became his best-known work, Jewish People’s Socialism, which sought to combine universal socialist ideals with a strong sense of ethnic-national – indeed, ‘völiksch’ – Jewish identity. This contributed to his rapid rise within the party. In 1924, he emigrated to British Mandatory Palestine, where he quickly established himself as a leader in the Zionist Labour movement, and helped effect a merger between HaPoel HaTzair with the more Marxist Poale Zion, into the Mapai Labour Party. Mapai would enjoy political hegemony over the land for years to come, and Arlosoroff represented the party in the Zionist Executive, and as Head of the Political Department of the Jewish Agency for Palestine.
It was in this latter role that Arlosoroff negotiated the HaAvara Agreement with the Nazi Party, in 1933. It permitted the transfer of Jewish capital from Germany to Palestine by immigrants or investors in the form of German goods. Although it protected – to some degree – the capital of German-Jewish emigres to Palestine, the agreement also assisted the Germans through increased production and export of goods which, technically, were bought by Jews at the other end. The agreement was highly controversial, and drew harsh criticism from the right-wing Jewish press in Palestine. Two days after he returned from its negotiations in Germany, Arlosoroff was shot and killed while walking on the beach with his wife. The murder has not been solved to this day, but various theories abound. Many believe that Arlosoroff was killed by members of the extreme, ‘Maximalist’ wing of Ze’ev Jabotinsky’s Revisionist Party, and three of the party’s members – Abba Ahimeir, Zvi Rosenblatt, and Avraham Stavsky – were arrested in connection to the murder. All three were subsequently acquitted; Ahimeir, before the trial began, Rosenblatt and Stavsky, after standing trial (although Stavsky was originally found guilty and acquitted only on appeal). Others believe that Arlosoroff was murdered by two Arab youths, in a foiled robbery attempt. And some believe that he was murdered by Nazi agents: not only had he just negotiated the HaAvara Agreement, but he had been on very friendly terms, perhaps even romantically-so, with Magda Behrend – later, Magda Goebbels – just after the end of the First World War. The irreparable damage that such information would have caused to the Nazi propaganda machine, if leaked to the German public, goes without saying.
No matter who killed Arlosoroff, his murder cut short the life and career of one of the most important and brilliant figures in Zionist political life in British Mandatory Palestine. Indeed, Arlosoroff’s killing remained the Jewish political murder until the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin, in 1995.
We are delighted to announce the gift of the Weisz Western Sephardi Collection. This large collection of rare books, amassed principally by the late Dr Richard D. Barnett as Honorary Archivist of the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ Congregation of London, has been donated to the Leopold Muller Memorial Library through the generosity of the Joir and Kato Weisz Foundation. The availability in Oxford of this new resource, alongside the Sir Moses Montefiore, the Western Hebrew Library and the Coppenhagen collections of rare books and archives, is expected to stimulate much new scholarly work in the fascinating area of English and Dutch Sephardi history.
Another interesting ex libris from our collection:
Hans (Meir Zvi) Kroch, a German-Jewish banker and developer (1887-1970). The Nazis sent him abroad to get his business partners to transfer his part of the business to the Reich. The entire family left for Argentina, except his wife, who was held in Germany as a hostage and died in a concentration camp. Kroch moved to Jerusalem and built the Holy Land Hotel. He commissioned the famous Second Temple Model now located in the Israel Museum. Kroch asked Michael Avi-Yonah, professor of Archaeology at the Hebrew University to create the model. However, the 1:50 ratio model was more of a political, rather than a purely archaeological mission. It was meant to be a memorial to Kroch’s son who died in the 1948 War of Independence, during which much of the Old City came under Arabic rule. As Kroch put it: “If Jews cannot get to the holy places, the holy places will come to them.”