Crossing Borders: Hebrew Manuscripts as a Meeting Place of Cultures

Haub Executive Center, McShain Hall

The Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library of Oxford University tell a fascinating and multicoloured story of medieval Jews in a world culturally and socially shaped by Christian and Muslim domination. Covering a time span of 300 years between the thirteenth and the fifteenth century, the manuscripts bring to light different ways in which the dominant culture of the region where Jews as a minority lived had an impact on Hebrew manuscript production. These manuscripts, including illuminated ones, demonstrate brilliantly the shared cultural values between minority and majority even when these cultures could be at loggerheads with each other. By importing elements of the host culture, Hebrew manuscripts are proof of coexistence and cultural affinity, as well as practical cooperation between Jews and their non-Jewish neighbours in the Middle Ages.

Piet Van Boxel, Ph.D is Fellow at the Oriental Institute, Oxford University. He lectured on rabbinic Judaism and served as the Hebraica and Judaica Curator of Oxford’s Bodleian Library, where he also organized a well-attended exhibition of the Hebrew manuscripts in the Bodleian Library, presenting to the public their oriental and occidental political, cultural and socio-religious context. Professor Van Boxel’s research interests include Hebrew manuscripts and early Hebrew printing with special interest in ecclesiastical censorship of Hebrew books in sixteenth-century Italy. His doctoral thesis (Tilburg University; Holland, 1983) explores the multifaceted connections between the Counter-Reformation and rabbinic texts. He published several academic studies on Rabbinic Judaism and Jewish-Christian relations, among them “Man’s behavior and God’s Justice in Early Jewish Tradition. Some Observations” (1988); “Robert Bellarmine, Christian Hebraist and Censor” (2006); and “Hebrew Books and Censorship in Sixteenth-Century Italy” (2013). In addition to his academic publications he wrote and presented four television documentaries and many popular radio programs on Jewish and Jewish-Christian issues.

Dr. Van Boxel’s presentation at SJU is the first of a three-part series sponsored by the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania in collaboration with Beth Am Israel, Main Line Reform Temple-Beth Elohim, and the SJU Institute for Jewish-Catholic Relations.