Exploring a plaque at the site of the medieval Oxford Synagogue at Christ Church, University of Oxford

Thursday, 24 August, 2023 - 7:36 am

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In commemoration of 500 years since the beginning of the study, teaching and collecting of Hebrew at Christ Church, under Henry VIII, we would like to explore the idea of a plaque to commemorate the site of the Oxford medieval synagogue on St. Aldate's, Oxford.



The concept of the plaque and method of recording the years (start date and end date) may be modelled on a system employed by Professor Herbert Loewe, who served as Professor of Semitic languages at University of Oxford between 1913 and 1931. Before departing Oxford for Cambridge in 1931, he went around Oxford with colleagues, and placed three Jewish heritage plaques, including the Oxford University Botanic Garden, marking the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery, Town Hall, marking the site of Great Jewry Street and its nearby synagogue, and Osney Abbey, commemorating the site of the Jewish martyr for his faith, Robert of Reading, in 1222.


In light of Loewe's insights and wisdom in the plaques he formed, a similar arrangement may be explored, while paying also respect to Christ Church's role in the study of Hebrew at Oxford. The plaque may consist of English and also Hebrew texts in three parts:


1. An opening biblical passage relating to the site.


2. Brief statement of commemoration of the site as a synagogue.


3. The years it served as a synagogue, between 1228-1290.


Part 1: The opening of the plaque


The plaque opens with the verse in Hebrew from Numbers 24:5:


'How goodly are your tents, O Jacob, Your dwellings, O Israel!'


This is the prayer that is recited in the morning prayers in the Ashkenaz prayer book for entering into a place of prayer.


Part 2: Statement about the site


This is followed by the heading:


‘This stone marks the site of the medieval Oxford Synagogue, founded by Copin of Worcester - 1228-1290.’


Part 3: Dates


As with Loewe’s plaque, and in Jewish textual tradition, the years are recorded through the use of a chronogram, representing the start date – the year of the founding of the synagogue in 1228, by Copin of Worcester, and the end date – 1290, the date of the expulsion of the Jews from England under Edward I.


This starts with the Hebrew word: ‘משנת’ (m’shnat) – ‘from the year.’


This is followed by the chronogram of the start year 1228:


This may be represented by a chronogram (through the system of gematria) of the 9 Hebrew letters from the verse in Isaiah 56:7: ‘And let them rejoice in My house of prayer.’



וְשִׂמַּחְתִּים֙ בְּבֵ֣ית תְּפִלָּתִי֔



This chronogram, demonstrated by the above letters in bold, calculates 988 - the Hebrew start date - the purchase of the site by Copin of Worcester and founding of the synagogue: 988th year of the fifth millennium (4988), i.e. 1228.


The end date may be represented by a chronogram from Amos 4:12: ‘Prepare to meet your G-d, O Israel!’ The single Hebrew letter ‘nun’ in the word: ‘הִכּוֹן’ (prepare) denotes the Hebrew numeral 50, representing the fiftieth year of the sixth millennium (5050), i.e. 1290, the year of the expulsion.


The use of the latter verse is inspired by the statement in the Talmud (Shabbat 10a) regarding prayer: ‘When there is peace in the world, Rav Kahane would dress, and cover himself, and wrap himself, and pray. He said: “Prepare (hikonהִכּוֹן’) to greet your G-d, Israel” (Amos 4:12).


Crowns and diamonds


As with Loewe’s plaque, the start date will be indicated by subtle masoretic crowns above the Hebrew letters representing the start date (1228), and a single diamond above the Hebrew letter representing the end date (1290).




The proposed location of the plaque would be on the façade of the building facing St Aldate’s, on the precise site where the synagogue was located, as per the above image.


According to the above, the proposed plaque (with addition of crowns above nine letters and a diamond above one letter, representing the chronogram) would be as follows:

מה טבו אהליך יעקב משכנתיך ישראל


משנת ושמחתים בבית תפלתי

עד שנת הכון לקראת אלה-יך ישראל

ד’תתקפח - ה’ן 

(4988 – 5050)

Founded by Copin of Worcester


As this is a work in progress, we would be delighted to hear any feedback and indeed if you support this proposal. Support may be shown by simply sending an email to: [email protected] with the word 'CHCH synagogue plaque support' in the subject. For any comments and thoughts on this please also send an email to: [email protected]


Thank you for supporting Jewish heritage in Oxford. 


To read an essay about the history of the Oxford medieval synagogue, please click here.




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