Books and bookmen: the Cambridge teachers of Rabbinics 1 866-1 971

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In piam memoriam RL

The purpose of this paper is to pay tribute to my predecessors, the first five Lecturers and Readers in Rabbinic and Talmudic Literature (the actual title of the post has varied). These five men, Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, Solomon Schechter, Israel Abrahams, Herbert Loewe and Jacob Leib Teicher, held the post, with interruptions, from 1866 to 197 1, when I suc- ceeded Teicher. They represent a distinctive Cambridge tradition that deserves the epithet "unique". I am not aware of any other university post devoted to the study and teaching of Rabbinic and medieval Hebrew language and texts that has existed through this period. In 1866, when the post was created, Rabbinics was the Cinderella of Hebrew studies, and Jews, with other non- Anglicans, were still barred from taking degrees in the University. Yet in Cambridge there was a real enthusiasm for Rabbinic Hebrew, and a small but steady circle gathered around dedicated teachers to study the rab- binic commentators on the Bible and Jewish classics such as the Talmud and even the Zohar. All this stands to Cambridge's credit; even more so the ini- tiative to pay a regular stipend to a teacher and bestow the University's official recognition on his work.

All five of these men were Jews; all of them were fine scholars: beyond that they have little in common. Two were home-grown (one, Herbert Loewe, was a Cambridge graduate); the other three came here from the Continent. Some, but not all, had studied at a university; some, but not all, had rabbinic diplomas; some, but not all, took an active interest in the life of the Jewish community beyond the purely academic orbit. In personality they were all very different from each other. I only knew one of them personally, my teacher and immediate predecessor Jacob Teicher, but I feel I have come to

1 Based on a paper read to the Society on 14 June 2012. An earlier version was delivered as a vale- dictory lecture before the University of Cambridge, 17 May 201 1 . It is dedicated to the memory of my dear teacher and colleague Raphael Loewe, to whom I owe an inestimable debt. He gave me helpful advice in the preparation of the lecture. I am also grateful for the help of Michael Loewe and Anna Teicher, who gave me valuable information about their respective fathers

know the others too, through their writings and through the many traces they have left behind them in Cambridge and further afield.

My title, "Books and Bookmen", is borrowed from Israel Abrahams, who for many years contributed a column to the Jewish Chronicle under this title. I chose it because I want to focus on one particular aspect of my predecessors' work: their engagement with Hebrew books, and especially Hebrew manu- scripts, in Cambridge. In the past 150 years Cambridge has become one of the most important centres in the world for Hebrew manuscripts, and the Rabbinics teachers have played a key role in this process.


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