THE consideration of the beginnings of Hebrew studies in mediaeval England is a subject that has received desultory attention since it was first treated, within the -* sphere of the knowledge of Hebrew in mediaeval Christian Europe, by Steinschneider and others, notably by S. Berger in an important study published in 1893.2 Of domestic interest is the fact that it formed the subject of Dr. S. A. Hirsch's Presidential Address to the Jewish Historical Society in 1909.3 Since then a certain amount of manuscript material has been noticed; in particular the newly discovered Latin Psalter with Herbert of Bosham's commentary, which dates from the late twelfth century and is thus prior to much of the work of the English Hebraists hitherto known, as well as exceeding it in the extent to which it draws upon rabbinic sources. Herbert of Bosham's Hebrew scholarship forms a subject in itself and is being treated elsewhere,4 but the occasion of the discovery of his commentary may form a convenient point at which to summarise what is known of the work of the non-Jewish Hebraists of mediaeval England, in order to see Herbert in his true perspective.
As so often in investigations where Jewish elements are involved, one is faced at the outset with the difficulty of defining one's terms; and the main title of this article, as it stands, begs several questions. I have made it clear that I am concerned with non-Jewish scholars, and there is no reason to think that any of them were themselves Jewish converts. They were frequently dependent on oral information rather than on written sources. Their informants are anonymous; in some instances it is clear (from the title Rabi) that they were professing members of the Jewish community, and in others reference is made to a convert. The status of most of the informants quoted is not clear, so that in default of evidence to the contrary we may presume that they were Jews who had not left their religious community. But if the individuals concerned cause little difficulty as regards methodology, questions of subject matter, geography, and period call for closer definition. First of all, what is a Hebraist? Some of the names which we shall have to list are brought to our notice by reason only of their appearance as marks of ownership in Hebrew books. Does such possession argue a knowledge of, or even an interest in Hebrew, or may a Hebrew book have been kept by its non-Jewish owner merely as a curio? If we were to assume the latter we might risk excluding Robert Grosseteste, whose stimulus to Hebrew studies was significant, even though he had no knowledge of Hebrew himself. Consequently, it will be safer to include all such names for the time being. At the other extreme, there are a few scholars who possessed a knowledge of Arabic or Hebrew, but who were concerned with
- Based on a paper delivered before the Jewish Historical Society of England on April 11th, 1951 ; and