Jewish National Fund - We Only Have ONE ISRAEL

Professor David Patterson

A Guardian Angel of Jewish Identity in Great Britain


On a personal note, I was appointed Cowley Lecturer in Postbiblical Hebrew in the University of Oxford in 1956 in succession to the late Professor Chaim Rabin. As I gradually became acquainted with the extraordinary richness of the collection of the Hebrew printed books and manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, it seemed increasingly regrettable that there was no proper method of bringing suitably qualified scholars to Oxford to utilize such wonderful source material. It was then that the idea of a Centre perhaps in the form of a modest replica of the Princeton Institute for Advanced Studies, but in the fields of Hebrew and Jewish Studies presented itself. A second and more cogent reason for the establishment of a Centre emanated from an entirely different source. By the end of the Second World War in 1945, Jewish studies in Europe had ceased to exist. The great chain of Jewish traditional learning, as well as the flowering of modern Jewish studies in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries had utterly vanished. It is important to remember that in the holocaust, not only six million people were foully done to death, but a whole culture was obliterated.

The great network of schools, together with their staffs, a multiplicity of elementary and advanced academies, with their teachers and scholars, the institutions of higher learning with their professors, the libraries with their librarians, the theatres with their actors, the museums with their curators, the cultural centers with their administrators had vanished into nothingness. From the point of view of Jewish life, Europe was a wasteland and a howling wilderness. In all the countries that had suffered the hegemony of Nazi Germany, Jewish culture, in many cases stretching more than a millennium, had vanished almost without trace. It seemed, therefore, that the creation of a Centre at Oxford might help in some small way, if only symbolically, to provide a modest substitute for the great Institutions that had been destroyed. By combining the best of the Jewish and the best of the English traditions of learning, a new kind of Institution might emerge from the ashes of Jewish life in Europe. At the beginning of the ninth year of my lectureship at Oxford I had the good fortune to become a founder-fellow of a new graduate college called St. Cross, which has itself happily developed from modest beginnings to occupy handsome and geographically excellent buildings at the corner of St. Giles" and Pusey Lane. My first plan was to suggest that the Centre for Postbiblical Hebrew Studies might become an integral part of St. Cross College, following the pattern of the Centre for Middle Eastern Studies at St. Antony"s. The Master and Bursar of St. Cross, although sympathetic to the idea, thought that it was premature for so young and small a College. I received a letter to that effect late in 1967 when on sabbatical leave at Cornell University in the USA.

Upon my return, I discussed the matter with my colleague, Mr. Alan Jones in 1969 who suggested that we might talk to the Registrar of the University, Sir Folliott Sandford, and ask his advice how to proceed. Sir Folliott suggested that we follow the example of the recently established Centre for Management Studies, now Templeton College, and explore the possibility of an independent Institution with links to the University. We were advised to submit a proposal on one side of a sheet of paper, outlining the rationale of the new Centre and proposing a structure for its governing body. Sir Folliott also emphasized the importance of demonstrating that the necessary financial backing would be available at least for the first five years. This document would be presented to the Board of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, and if approved, forwarded to the General Board of the Faculties. The General Board would send the proposal to appropriate sub-committees for examination, and if approved by them and the General Board, the document would then be submitted to Hebdomadal Council for final approval. At the same time, some form of association with a college, preferably St. Cross College, might also he sought.

The ensuing document was duly submitted to the Faculty of Oriental Studies on 3 June 1971. Apart from outlining the reasons for the establishment of such a Centre, the proposal envisaged a governing body of eleven members, of whom the University would nominate six governors, who in turn would invite five governors from outside the University. After running the gauntlet of many University sub-committees, the document advocating the establishment of the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies was finally approved with only one alteration, namely that the governing body of the Centre should comprise eleven members, of whom the University would appoint five governors who in turn would invite six governors from outside the University. This change indicated that although the University was willing to grant the Centre academic recognition it would not he responsible for the Center"s finances! Thus the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies embarked upon its activities officially in October 1972. The Centre was recognized by the University and incorporated on the 18 April 1973 as a company limited by guarantee, with a Memorandum and Articles of Association with approved charitable status.

From the earliest days a number of principles were assumed and adhered to, which have characterized the Centre throughout its history. The first is that any academic project undertaken, no matter what kind, should he undertaken at the highest possible level. This has ensured the wide respect in which the work of the Centre is held. The second is that all fellows, visiting fellows and visiting scholars should receive maximum encouragement and minimum interference. They should he given every opportunity to think, discuss their ideas and commit them to paper at the proper time without any undue pressure. This policy has yielded remarkable positive results, as will be seen. The third principle is that the Centre should remain a strictly academic institution without any political or religious affiliations. It should open its portals to scholars of all shades of opinion both secular and religious, both right and left wing. It has maintained an atmosphere in which people can expound their views and where discussion is conducted with courtesy and respect.

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