Two of Britain’s best known Jewish banking bosses have agreed to fund the curator of Hebraica and Judaica at Oxford University’s Bodleian Libraries for the next 25 years.
Sir Victor Blank, who chaired Lloyds Bank, and Lord Jacob Rothschild, have stumped up to secure a role described as the “guardian of one of the most significant collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world”.
Together with the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, Blank agreed to endow the post, which will now be renamed after him. Dr César Merchán-Hamann is the current role-holder.
Britain’s largest university library system stretching across 28 sites, the Bodleian holds an “extraordinarily rich” collection of early Hebrew and Yiddish printed books, some of which were among the library’s original endowment in 1605.
Highlights include a fragment of Maimonides’ autograph draft of the Mishneh Torah from the Cairo Genizah and exquisitely illuminated manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, such as the 15th century Kennicott Bible, still with its original goatskin box-binding.
There are also several stunning festival prayer books, such as the richly illuminated 14th century Tripartite Maḥzor from the Michael collection.
The manuscripts come from Europe, Africa, the Middle East and China, and represent all fields of traditional Hebrew scholarship. There are also Ethiopic, Samaritan, Mandaic and Syriac collections.
“Its geographic, cultural and chronological range is enormous, representing a large panorama of Jewish life and culture in the last millennium,” said an Oxford spokesman.
The newly-secure curator will now lead a project to digitise the entire Hebrew and Jewish collection, working closely with the National Library of Israel to do so.
“My love and fascination with the Bodleian Library goes back to my undergraduate days,” said Blank. “As a historian, I came to appreciate the uniqueness of it, housing and preserving swathes of our written history in this country and across the world.
“The pre-eminent collection of Hebrew and Yiddish books – as good as almost any in the world – requires love and care from a dedicated curator. We are delighted to be able to secure that.”
Rothschild said his family was “proud to be associated” with the initiative. “Our Foundation looks to the future,” he said. “Supporting this curatorial position will contribute to securing Jewish scholarship and offering access to unique manuscripts for generations to come.”
The Library’s Richard Ovenden said the money “will allow us to extend our work to share the richness of Jewish culture and learning with students, scholars, and the general public across the globe,” adding: “We are enormously grateful.”
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