Oxford Jewish Thought

Lectures, essays, questions & articles

by Rabbi Eli Brackman

Reflections on the Oxford Medieval Synagogue

CHCH.jpgOne of the known sites of medieval Jewry in Oxford is the location of the synagogue, currently the site of Christ Church, established in 1532 by Henry VIII.  I would like to outline the history of the site from the medieval period until today and provide a study in Jewish teaching relating to the sanctity of an historic sacred site in Judaism and how that relates to the site of the medieval Oxford synagogue.


The Jewry in Oxford settled in what is now the area of St Aldate’s Street, then known as Great Jewry Street. There were Jewish houses on both sides of St. Aldate's Street, situated in St. Martin’s and St. Aldate’s parishes and bordering the Parish of St Edward’s. The main street in th… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript: Ekev - Free Will in the Oxford Manuscripts

MS. Canon. Or. 81, fol. 165 (1396) Ekev.pngIn the Torah portion of Ekev, it discusses one of the principles in Jewish teaching of reward for keeping the Mitzvot (commandments). It states:[1]


And it will be, because (ekev) you will heed these ordinances and keep them and perform, that the Lord, your G-d, will keep for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers.[2]


The Hebrew word ‘ekev’ in this verse may be translated simply as ‘because,’ suggesting: because (ekev) you will heed the commandments, there will be the fulfilment of the promise of reward. The question that arises is why does the Torah use the definitive term ‘ekev’ (because), instead of the conditional term, consis… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript - Mass'ei: Why the Torah Details the Journeys from Egypt?

CCCMS165, fol. 126 Masei.pngThe portion of Mass'ei discusses the enumeration in detail of the forty two travels of the Jewish people after the Exodus in the desert until they arrived on the east bank of the Jordan river before entering the land. The Torah states:[1] ‘These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron.’ The question that arises is: why does the Torah repeat all the places of the encampment of the Jewish people in the desert when this has been enumerated in detail previously in the Torah in the book of Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers?


The commentators starting from the ancient period, through medieval times, until the 19th century, have addre… Read More »

Parsha and Manuscript - Va'etchanan: The Power of Prayer

MS. Huntington 425, fol. 83 (1403) Va'eschanan.png

In the beginning of the Torah portion of Va’etchanan it presents Moses praying to G-d to be allowed to enter the land. The Torah states:[1]


I entreated (Va’etchanan) the Lord at that time, saying, "O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for who is [like] God in heaven or on earth who can do as Your deeds and Your might? Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon."


The question that arises from the text is what is the particular meaning of the word Va’etchanan in reference to prayer, since the usual word for prayer is tefillah, as in… Read More »

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