Cecil Roth, born in London, 1899, was one of the greatest Jewish historians in the twentieth century, recognized expert in Jewish art and educator.
The Roth family was descendant from Reb Y.T. Roth of Poland and there existed a family tradition that they were descendant from Yossef Karo, the Sephardic author of the Shulhan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law
Cecil was an observant Jew his whole life and adopted the Sephardic minhag which he had learned in Florence, Italy. He served in WWI in France.
He was educated at Merton College, Oxford, (Ph.D., 1924) and returned to Oxford as reader in Jewish Studies from 1939 to 1964.
As an observant Jew, Cecil helped convince Oxford University, which was not overly receptive to matters regarding Jews, to allow Jewish students to take exams on Sunday instead of Saturday. These Jews had to be sequestered so that they could not possibly learn what was on the exams, so many of them spent the time at the Roth home, a place popular among the students.
Upon retiring from Oxford, Roth settled in Jerusalem and was visiting professor at Columbia University, Bar-Ilan University, Israel (1964–1965), and at the City University of New York (1966–1969).
As early as 1933, Roth penned a letter of protest to the London Times against Hitler's declaration to boycott Jewish establishments. Roth wrote numerous articles and also developed books such as 'Jewish Contribution to Civilization' that was written specifically because it had the potential to show the Germans and the world how the Jews have contributed greatly to society, and possibly have the side effect of mitigating mal treatment against the Jews.
Many years after WWII, it was told that Roth obtained German documents, including the plans to occupy London and plans that listed names and addresses of prominant people in Britain. He was shocked to have learned that he was on the list in this so called 'Black Book' compiled by SS-General Walter Schellenberg naming those to be picked up immediately for assasination on the invasion of Britain.
The list was of both Jews and Gentiles and was in strict alphabetical order. It included Cecil Roth, three Rothschilds as well as Lord and Lady Reading, former Jewish Viceroy of India along with Harold Macmillan, Vita Sackville-West, Harold Nicholson, Virginia Woolf, Bertrand Russell and Noel Coward among the listed 2,820 names.
A prolific writer, Roth published more than 600 books and articles, which have been translated into many languages, including histories of the Jews in England (1941) and Italy (1946), A History of the Marranos (3d ed. 1966), The Jews in the Renaissance (1959), Jewish Art (1961), and The Dead Sea Scrolls (1965).
His popular works includeThe House of Nasi(two volumes, of whichDona Graciais the first),A Short History of the Jewish People, The Jewish Contribution to CivilizationandThe Standard Jewish Encyclopedia.
He served as editor-in-chief of Encyclopedia Judaica from 1965 until his death. He passed away on 21 June, 1970 and is buried in Sanhedria cemetery in Jerusalem.
The Cecil Roth collection is at Leeds University and contains 350 manuscripts and over 800 printed books, dated between the sixteenth century and 1850. There is a substantial number of modern printed books on the Jews in Europe and North America.