Category Archives: Western Hebrew Library

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a strategy of the ruthless disposal of all duplicate copies, and even the withdrawal from the shelves of older books superseded by recent scholarship’.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 restored incunabulum – Naḥmanides, Ḥiddushe ha-Torah

Ramban among others
This edition of Nahmanides’ commentary on the Pentateuch from 1489 was the first book printed in Lisbon. It was published by two rabbis, Samuel Zorba and Eliezer Toledano and preceded the first Latin book printed in Lisbon by some six years. Toledano’s printing house was one of the earliest to use borders in his publications. His Nahmanides’ commentary has a beautiful inhabited floral border around first page. The frame was designed by a Christian printer and engraver, Alfonso Fernández de Córdoba originally for a Hebrew Bible published in 1486 and 1487 by Eliezer ben Abraham ibn Alatansi and Solomon ben Maimon Zalmati in Híjar, Spain. For operating a printing shop with Jewish connections, Fernando was sentenced to death in absentia in Valencia.
W B1i opening2
During the long life of this book, it must have been detached from its binding and remained unprotected. As a consequence, it lost several leaves from the beginning and the end. In 1954, the volume was restored: the missing leaves were replaced by photographic facsimile from another copy and it was rebound in a beautiful leather binding preserving it for the future. (Shelfmark W B1i)

First opening with engraved border  (facsimile leaves)

First opening with engraved border (facsimile leaves)


Opening with a facsimile leaf on the right and original on the left side.

Opening with a facsimile leaf on the right and original on the left side.

Jerusalem, Jerusalem

W H1474 Bak device

The first printing house in Palestine was founded in Safed, and published only six books in its short existence (1577-1587). Hebrew printing in Palestine was re-established by Israel ben Abraham Bak, who brought his printing equipment to Safed in 1831 from Ukraine. He repeatedly lost his printing press whilst in Safed due to an earthquake and riots. Thus in the late 1830s he decided to move the printing house to Jerusalem. As part of his endeavour to promote prosperity in the Holy Land, Moses Montefiore supplied him with new, modern printing press.
 W H1474 title page opening
Hayim Horowitz’s book, Sefer Hibat Yerushalayim was printed in this new printing house in Jerusalem. Its title page is dominated by Bak’s impressive printer’s device depicting the major landmarks of Jerusalem: the Western Wall, the Temple Mount and the Mount of Olives.
Our copy is signed by Nahman Nathan Coronel Palestinian scholar.

(shelfmark: W H1474)

Today’s highlight is another seventeenth-century book printed in Amsterdam by Johannes Jodocus Janssonius (shelfmark: W F823; see also, Constantijn L’Empereur’s commentary on the Book of Daniel). The “ExtrW F823aordinary Professor of Semitic Languages” at the University of Koenigsberg, Johannes Stephanus Rittangel (1606-1652) published his Latin translation of Sefer Yetsirah. This was the third latin translation and the first bilingual publication of the famous book of Jewish mysticism. It is not clear whether Rittangel was a converted Jew or a temporary convert to Judaism. He certainly had an excellent command of Hebrew and spent decades among Jews including Karaites of Lithuania. On his way from Lithuania to Konigsberg in 1640 or 1641, he wanted to stop in Amsterdam to publish his translation of Sefer Yetsirah. However, his ship was attacked by pirates and he ended up in England, where he got acquainted with famous Christian Hebraists such as Samuel Hartlib, John Dury and John Selden. He finally published the book in 1642. Although he was undoubtedly knowledgeable, “his abrasive and difficult personality” “made him impossible to deal with” (for more on him, see Daniel J. Lasker, “Karaism and Christian Hebraism: A New Document,” Renaissance Quarterly, 59:4, [Winter, 2006]: 1089-1116).

A commentary on the Book of Daniel and slavery abolitionists – is there a connection?

The title page of our copy of Constantijn L’Empereur’s commentary on the Book of Daniel (Paraphrasis Don Iosephi Iachiadae in Danielem, Amsterdam, 1733, shelfmark: W B797) bears a signature of one Granville Sharp. Could he be the Grandville Sharp who was a pioneer in the abolition of slavery in Britain? The latter Sharp (1735-1813) was born in Durham into a clerical family and was interested in biblical scholarship, antiquariansim and linguistics – he taught himself Greek and Hebrew. He was member of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel and the first chairman of the British and Foreign Bible Society.


Owning a commentary on Daniel written by the seventeenth-century Dutch Hebraist Constantijn L’Empereur seems like a probable match. Also in the Dictionary of National Biography, there is only one Granville Sharp recorded at all.
However, to be sure that “our” Sharp is the abolitionist Sharp we would have to compare the signature in our to book to a verified signature. If any of our FB followers has such a signature at hand…. now is the time to contribute to the further exploration of our collection!