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Oxford University Botanic Garden: A Jewish perspective

Thursday, 22 November, 2018 - 5:44 pm

OBG.jpgThe leafy entrance to the Oxford University Botanic Garden, framed by the serene classical architecture of the Danby Gate, fronted by ornate rose gardens, marks the gateway to an escape from Oxford’s busy High Street, where buses and cyclists jostle to make their way through the city. This tranquil spot remarkably also hosts one of three Jewish heritage plaques in Oxford, commemorating the existence of a Jewish cemetery in medieval times and can be found on the right hand wall behind the Danby Gate, the main entrance, to the Gardens. The Jews arrived in England with the Norman Conquest in 1066, and the Domesday Book that was completed in 1086 recorded a Jew living in Oxfordshire. We don’t know exactly when the Oxford Jewry was founded but at some point St. Aldate’s become known as Great Jewry Street, and a nearby street was called Little Jewry Lane with many Jewish homes in close proximity, indicating a flourishing Jewish community. The presence of an established Jewish community is reflected in the existence of a synagogue on Great Jewry Street, founded by Copin of Worcester in 1228, currently the site of the Archdeacon’s house in Christ Church College, and a cemetery on the site of what is now Botanic Garden. This essay will focus on the cemetery, its history and its status in Jewish law.

 

History

 

Jews of England were for many years prohibited from burying their dead outside London and would have to transport them to London to be buried in the Jewish cemetery outside Cripplegate, on Jewin Street, known then as ‘Jews’ Garden’. This restriction lasted until 1177 when Henry II allowed Jews to acquire sites for burial outside London. We do not, however, know exactly when Jews in Oxford began burying their dead at the Oxford Jewish cemetery.[1] When Deus-eum-crescat or Gedaliyah ben Moses of Wallingford, died around 1188, his body was taken to London for burial. The records of the Frideswide of Oxford, written around 1188, states: ‘The body was taken to London, as usual, to get buried,’ indicating the cemetery had not yet been established by 1188.[2]

 

 

At some point, between 1188 and 1231, the practice of burying the dead of the Jewish community in Oxford began, on the land between the East Gate and the Cherwell River. This site, representing the part of High Street that runs between Longwall Street and Magdalen Bridge, was acquired with royal approval to establish a Jewish cemetery in Oxford. It is plausible, however, that with a sizable Jewish community at Oxford, with a number of financiers amongst them with considerable means, the Oxford Jewry would have acquired the land for Jewish burial without delay, soon after the king granted permission for Jews to bury outside London in 1177, even though official burials in Oxford, for some reason, may not have taken place for a period after that.[3]

 

 

In 1231, the site of the Jewish cemetery was reduced when Henry III granted the part of the burial site on the north of the High Street to St. John’s the Baptist Hospital. The hospital appears in the records in 1181, but was granted the land of the ‘Garden of the Jews’ to erect a hospital there in 1231,[4] on the condition that a piece of land measuring 300 feet by 90 feet on the south side of High Street be retained (or granted) for Jewish burial.[5] This site remained in use as a Jewish cemetery until the Jews were expelled from England in 1290 under Edward I.

 

After the expulsion, the Jewish burial site was taken over by the hospital, as happened to its former site, for the purpose of the hospital’s own burial, until the hospital was dissolved in 1457, when it was granted with its endowments to William Waynfleet for the founding of Magdalen College. The site was let out as a meadow to tenants of Magdalen College until the founding of the Botanic Garden, known previously as Physic Garden, in 1621, by Henry Danvers, Earl Danby. In A History of the County of Oxford, it states, Lord Danby ‘bought the lease of the occupier of meadowland just outside the boundary of the city, where once the Jews' cemetery had been, and obtained a new lease from Magdalen College.[6] The site was chosen due it 'being aptly watered with the River Charwell by it gliding.’ [7] The original (pre-1231) cemetery is presently the site of the Tower and part of the south side of Magdalen College.[8]

 

 

The presence of a Jewish cemetery on the site is supported by the fact that a mass of bones was dug up when the wall of the ‘Physic Garden’ was built, beginning in 1621 and completed in 1633. In addition, around that time, to be free from inundation from the adjacent Cherwell River, the level of the garden had to be raised, even though it continued to flood on occasion.[9] Cecil Roth writes that the ground between the north wall and the bridge was raised in 1642.[10] The finding of bones during the construction of the wall and the raising of the ground suggest that even today there may be graves beneath the site. Furthermore, in 2017, bones were found on the site of the medieval kitchen of Magdalen College, determined by Magdalen College’s historian Professor Lawrence Brockliss as originating from the Jewish cemetery that stood on the site.

 

The precise site of the Jewish cemetery is subject to dispute. Herbert Loewe and Cecil Roth seem to suggest that the cemetery extended into the walled enclosure of the Botanic Garden, as indicated by the location of the plaque on the wall to the right of the Danby Gate and the finding of bones when the wall was erected and the ground raised in that area. Historian Pam Manix claims, however, the burial site was limited to the current Rose Garden, indicated by the location of a second plaque that was erected facing the Rose Garden, outside the enclosure of the walled Botanic Garden, in 2012. The existence of a Jewish cemetery on the site, however, is a widely known fact and the Jewish community of Oxford would pray there and recite the mourners’ Kaddish on Friday afternoons up until the 1920s.[11]

 

 

1931 plaque

 

IMG_8013.jpgA commemorative plaque stating that the site of the Botanic Garden is the site of the former medieval Jewish cemetery was installed by Herbert Loewe (1882-1940), lecturer in Semitic languages at Exeter College, Oxford, in 1931, along with two other plaques, one on the site of the Town Hall, commemorating Great Jewry Street and the Jewish homes nearby. There is a third plaque on the former site of Osney Abbey where Haggai (Robert) of Reading, a former Deacon from Coventry, was burnt alive in 1221 as punishment for converting to Judaism. Robert studied Hebrew at Oxford, became circumcised and married a Jewish woman, and subsequently refused to recant.[12] 

 

The plaque outside the Botanic Garden, unlike the two other plaques, contains inscriptions in both Hebrew and English withsmall masoretic-looking crowns on some of the Hebrew letters, diamond shaped dots and round pointed dots on others, combined forming a chronogram presenting the year the cemetery was established and the year the Jews were expelled under Edward I.

 

The text of the plaque, translated from the Hebrew, states as follows:

 

For a stone shall cry out from the wall (Hebrew: Even m’kir tiz’ak). This is a tombstone for a Jewish burial site (Hebrew: Matzeivat kevurat yisrael) from the year: He shall come in peace; they shall rest in their resting place (Hebrew: yavo shalomyanuchu al mish’kvotam) until: These for eternal life (Hebrew: V’eleh l’chayei olam - (4937-5050).

 

This stone marks the place of the Jewish cemetery until 1290.

 

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As mentioned, the plaque consists of two parts: a Hebrew part followed by a shorter English part. The Hebrew section contains three parts, all of which are conveyed with a Biblical verse, borrowed and interpreted for the purpose of the commemoration of the cemetery. The first part of the Hebrew inscription is a statement of fact that this plaque serves as a tombstone for a Jewish burial site. The term ‘Matzeivat kevurat yisrael’ - ‘a tombstone for a Jewish burial site’ - implies that the plaque is not intended merely as an information sign about a historic site of the past but as a tombstone for a present Jewish burial site. This would be supported, as mentioned earlier, by the fact that a mass of bones was found when the wall was erected between 1621 and 1633 and the ground was raised in 1642, allowing for the possibility that deep below the raised ground lie remains of the medieval Jewish graves. In addition, in 2017, on the original site, below the medieval kitchen in Magdalen College, bones were found and deemed to have been from the original Jewish cemetery.

 

First verse

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 11.19.34 pm.pngThe declaration of the site stating that it is a Jewish cemetery is preceded by a Biblical verse from Habakkuk:[13] ‘For a stone shall cry from the wall, and a chip shall answer it from a beam.’ This may be explained in two ways:

 

1. The Talmud interprets the verse as suggesting that a person cannot sin even in private, as the beams from the house will testify against him. The Talmud states:[14]

 

 

Lest you say: Since I am acting in private, who will testify against me? The stones of the house and the beams of the house of each person testify against him, as it is stated:[15] ‘For the stone shall cry out of the wall, and the beam out of the timber shall answer it.’

 

2. The verse in Habakkuk refers to the building of the Babylonian empire that was built on the backs of nations they conquered and plundered.

 

This verse then has three interpretations: Firstly, describing the plaque in a literal sense as a tombstone ‘crying out from the wall,’ reflecting the fact that Herbert Loewe installed the stone in a wall, as opposed to a conventional upstanding tombstone on the ground. This was due to the lack of precise knowledge where the remnants of graves may be located on the site beneath the raised grounds of the gardens. Secondly, the verse in Habakkuk as referring to the Divine knowledge of concealed sin, indicating that despite the lack of any official record of the expulsion of the Jews from England in 1290[16]and thus perhaps forgotten by many people, ultimately, the verse is suggesting, G-d does not forget such tragedy that befell the Jewish people at that time in history. Thirdly, similar to the Babylonians who built an empire on plundered nations and wealth, the verse is indicating the commemoration of the Jewish burial site in Oxford, sacred ground for the Jewish community for over a hundred years, after which the graves were destroyed and land repossessed, alongside the rest of the properties in the Oxford Jewry with almost no remnants remaining.

 

Second verse

 

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The second verse is to serve as a classic Jewish chronogram, delivering a relevant biblical text for the Jewish burial site, while simultaneously embedding the start date of the cemetery. The verse is from Isaiah:[17] ‘The righteous man perishes, And no one considers; Pious men are taken away, And no one gives thought That because of evil The righteous was taken away. Yet he shall come to peace, He shall have rest on his couch Who walked straightforward.’ The words from this verse on the plaque is: ‘He shall come in peace; they shall rest in their resting place.’ Similar to the verse from Habakkuk, this verse is also appropriate for the history of the site of the medieval Jewish cemetery.

 

There are two interpretations offered to this verse: Some commentaries explain that the verse: ‘He shall come to peace’ is referring to a greeting of peace by the angels upon the passing of the righteous.[18] A second interpretation is that Isaiah is implying that a reason the righteous may die before their time is so not to see evil and tragedy during their lifetime.[19] Both these interpretations are relevant to the medieval Jewish cemetery: Firstly, that all the Jews buried in the cemetery are considered righteous, due to the difficulty of living in such a challenging and violent time in Jewish history. Secondly, the verse is implying that the Jews who died and were buried in the medieval Jewish cemetery in Oxford were spared witnessing the tragic expulsion of the Jews of England under Edward I in 1290. This in fact reflects Isaiah’s own life where, in contrast with Jeremiah, he died without witnessing the tragedy of the destruction of the first Temple.[20]

 

 

Third verse

 

Screen Shot 2018-11-22 at 11.35.21 pm.pngThe third verse is from Daniel:[21] ‘And many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awaken-these for eternal life, and those for disgrace, for eternal abhorrence.’ The words of this verse that appear on the plaque are: ‘These for eternal life.’ This verse is interpreted by the Talmud as referring to the Jewish belief in the resurrection of the dead in the future Messianic era.[22] The Talmud states:[23]

 

 

Rava says: From where is resurrection of the dead derived from the Torah? Ravina says that resurrection is derived from here: ‘And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some to everlasting life, and some to reproaches and everlasting disgrace.’[24] 

 

This verse on the plaque is, then, an articulation of the Jewish belief that those buried on this site will be part of the resurrection of the dead in the Messianic era, despite the lack of remnants of an actual cemetery on the site.[25]

 

 

Chronogram

 

The choice of the verses from Isaiah and Daniel allows for the formation of a chronogram presenting the year the cemetery was bought and the year the cemetery fell into disuse with the expulsion in 1290. Dates by chronograms in Jewish works can be found in two manners: one is the use of all the letters of a word to add up to a number that suggests the date the work was written or published. This may be found in one of three systems: a stand-alone word;[26] a complete word from within a quoted verse[27] or piyut;[28] or the highlighting of non-consecutive selected letters from a few words of a particular verse, through dots above those selected letters, which are then added up through the numerical value of the letters, known as gematria, forming the desired date.[29] The method that the plaque at the Botanic Garden employs is the latter.

 

First chronogram

 

The chronogram on the plaque indicates the Hebrew year 4937, corresponding to 1177, and the Hebrew year 5050, corresponding to 1290, when the Jews were expelled. The plaque utilizes three types of indicators for selecting the letters to be used for the chronogram: small faint masoretic crowns, diamond shaped and round dots. The verse from Isaiah:[30] ‘He shall come in peace; they shall rest in their resting place (Hebrew: יָב֣וֹא שָׁל֔וֹם יָנ֖וּחוּ עַל מִשְׁכְּבוֹתָ֑ם)’ utilises crowns on the following eleven letters: Alef, Shin, Lamed, Vav, Mem, Yud, Nun, Mem, Chaf, Tof and Mem. The numerical value (gematria) of these Hebrew letters adds up to 837. This number would be the Hebrew calendar year without the millennium. This dating without the millennium is known as ‘l’prat katan’ or ‘small detail’, as opposed to ‘l’prat gadol’ - ‘big detail’ - that includes the millennium count. With the millennium count, the chronogram would indicate the Hebrew calendar year 4837, corresponding to 1077.

 

The problem with this date is two-fold: firstly, factually the Jews were not permitted to have cemeteries outside London for another hundred years, in 1177. Secondly, this year count is contradicted by the interpretation of the chronogram on the same plaque that states the year 4937, corresponding to the year 1177. One would have to add to this chronogram an additional 100 years to arrive at the date 4937, corresponding to 1177 - the year when Henry II allowed Jews to acquire cemeteries outside London, and thought to be the year when Oxford Jewry purchased the land for the cemetery. It’s possible, however, that crowns over two of the letters may have been accidentally omitted: the Hebrew letter ‘ayin’ and ‘lamed’ in the word ‘al’pertaining to the words: ‘They shall rest in their resting place.’ The word ‘in’ is the Hebrew word ‘al’ – literally translated ‘on’. The numerical value of the Hebrew letter ‘ayin’ is 70 and the numerical value of the Hebrew letter ‘lamed’ is 30. Combined this would make up the additional hundred that enables the correct Hebrew year of 4937, corresponding to 1177.

 

Second chronogram

 

The second chronogram is the appearance of diamond shaped dots, as opposed to crowns, over the words: ‘Some to everlasting life’ – V’eleh l’chayei olam (עוֹלָ֔ם לְחַיֵּ֣י וְאֵ֥לֶּה). Over the two end-letters ‘yud’ and ‘mem’ of the last two words ‘l’chayei olam’ – ‘everlasting life’ – there appear diamond shaped engravings. The numerical value of ‘yud’ is ten and ‘mem’is forty, combined, equalling fifty. This alludes to the Hebrew year 50 of the fifth millennium in the Hebrew calendar – 5050 – corresponding to the year 1290, when the expulsion took place. As in the first chronogram, the appearance of dots omits to highlight the millennium years, thus appearing only over two of the letters, as opposed to three letters, which in this case would have simply been the ‘hei’ – the last letter of the first word in this verse: ‘v’eleh’ – ‘And these.’

 

Interpretation of the chronogram

 

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The chronogram on the plaque is then followed by the interpretation in brackets in Hebrew, spelling out clearly the Hebrew calendar years. This is written with the following Hebrew letters: ‘daled’, ‘tov’, ‘tov’, ‘kuf’, ‘lamed’, ‘zayin,’ containing the numerical value of 4937, corresponding to 1177. In the interpretation of the chronogram the detailing of the millennium year is included.

 

The plaque then concludes the Hebrew inscription with the end year of the use of the cemetery by writing the Hebrew letters: ‘hei’ and ‘nun’; the ‘hei’ representing the numerical value of five denoting the millennium year 5,000 and the ‘nun’ representing the numerical value fifty representing the Hebrew year fifty of the fifth Hebrew millennium. Combined, this represents the Hebrew calendar year 5050, corresponding to the year 1290, the date of the expulsion of the Jews from England.[31]

 

Jewish law

 

The location of the Oxford University Botanic Garden on the site of the former Jewish cemetery raises challenges to Jewish people, as do other sites of former Jewish cemeteries round the world. In Jewish tradition a person from the priestly lineage, known as a Kohen, may not come into contact with the dead, as it states in Leviticus:[32] ‘Let none of you defile himself for a dead person among his people,’ unless for the purpose of burial of a close relative or ‘meit mitzvah’, an unattended corpse.[33] We will present the issues surrounding this problem and explore why and under what circumstances it is permitted for a Jewish person from a priestly lineage to enter the site.

 

Defining the site

 

The chronology of the history of the site clearly points to the fact that a Jewish cemetery existed on the two sides of the High Street, adjacent to the Cherwell River. The history may be summarised, based on the research presented above, as follows: In 1177 it was likely acquired for the purpose of a Jewish burial ground. At some point after 1188 Jewish burials took place in the cemetery. In 1231 the site was confiscated by Henry III and given to St John’s the Baptist Hospital to erect a hospital, and a smaller site on the other side of the road was allocated for Jewish burial. This second site lasted until 1290. In 1290 the hospital took over this site for its own burial until 1457 when the hospital was dissolved and the land was acquired by Magdalen College. It is without a doubt, however, that a Jewish cemetery existed on the site.

 

Existence of graves

 

Based on the above chronology, one can suggest that the site would have been cleared from graves and tombstones at one or more times in its history: when it became a meadowland rented out to tenants of the Magdalen College in 1457 or in 1642 when the lease was acquired by the Earl of Danby for the purpose of the Oxford University Botanic Garden. Indeed, bones were found on the site with the erection of the Physic Garden walls in 1640s, although, as Cecil Roth points out, the bones may be from the non-Jewish internments after 1290, as opposed to the earlier period.[34] The finding of bones in 2017, however, on the site of the medieval kitchen at Magdalen College, together with the discovery of bones in the 1640s, suggests the possibility that remnants of the Jewish cemetery may still remain somewhere on the site into the modern period.

 

Lost graves

 

Jewish law, however, would not necessarily recognize this possibility as sufficient to render the site impure for the purpose of entry by a Kohen. In a case where there is certainty about the existence of a grave but doubt about its precise location, Jewish law prohibits rabinically a priest from entering that area. There are two such categories in Jewish law, both generally called a ‘beis hapras’: 1. A field where a grave was ploughed over and its place no longer known.[35] Such a field does not transmit impurity outside Israel.[36] A second category is a grave whose location has become forgotten. Both these case, rabbinicallytransmit impurity.[37] A third category is a field that has a grave whose location has become forgotten and was also ploughed. This would represent a ‘double doubt’ about its location and certainly does not transmit impurity.[38] The case of the Botanic Garden would fit into the third category of a ‘beis hapras’ - a grave whose location has become forgotten and also possibly ploughed in the preparation of the site to be used as a Botanic Garden or the construction of a building, as in the case of Magdalen College. The site would therefore not transmit impurity, according to Jewish law.[39]

 

Removal of bones

 

In the case of the Botanic Garden there is additionally the possibility that there no longer exists any remnant of a cemetery at all on the site. As mentioned, the removal of the bodies could have happened at the time of the expulsion, when the site was transferred to the hospital, in 1457, when the land was turned into a meadow, or in 1642 when the land was acquired for a Botanic Garden. Although a mass of bones was found at that point, firstly, they were most likely removed and secondly, as Cecil Ross suggests it may have been from the non-Jewish internments. There is therefore credible doubt whether the bones from the time of Jewish burials still exist at all on the site. This would represent in Jewish law a further mitigating factor about the transmission of impurity today.[40] This doubt is the same regarding the former site of the Jewish cemetery, which is currently in Magdalen College. Even though bones were found in 2017, this may have been a single remaining artifact from the original burial ground but all other bones have been removed. With lack of knowledge of any bones currently on the site we may revert it to a period of when there was no established burial ground on the site at all and therefore it does not transmit impurity.[41]

 

Conclusion

 

In conclusion, with no certain knowledge of the existence of graves and certainly no knowledge of the precise location of the graves, any transmission of impurity would have a legal status enacted by the rabbis as opposed to Biblical level impurity. Jewish law stipulates that in this case, if there is a purpose that entails a mitzvah requiring a person to be on the site, it is permitted. A mitzvah for this purpose would include marrying a wife, studying Torah,[42] comforting the mourning, and other matters pertaining to human dignity (kavod ha’briyot).[43] According to 19th century Talmudist Rabbi Akiva Eger (1761-1837), this would also include obtaining a livelihood.[44] Based on this brief analysis, it would be permitted for a student or anyone else for the purpose of livelihood or any of the above to walk through the part of High Street in Oxford where the cemetery was located or to study at Magdalen College in the present day. Nevertheless, where such considerations are not material, leading 19th century Rabbi Moses Sofer (1762–1839), known as the Chatam Sofer, writes that a Kohen who chooses to avoid these areas will be blessed accordingly. 

 

 


Footnotes

 

[1] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 18.

[2] Jews in Medieval Christendom: Slay Them Not, edited by Kristine T. Utterback, Merrall L. Price,

p. 81. The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 109.

[3] Cecil Roth in The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 18, writes that contrary to what is so often assumed communities did not take the opportunity to acquire their own burial site at once.

[4] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol2/pp158-159. A similar occurrence happened with the confiscation of a London synagogue in 1232, handed over to St. Anthony. The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 108.

[5] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 109.

[6] https://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol2/pp158-159.

[7] 'The Physic Garden', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford, ed. H E Salter and Mary D Lobel (London, 1954), pp. 49-50. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol3/pp49-50 [accessed 20 November 2018].

[8] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 109.

[9] As for instance in 1663, when the rising waters ‘drowned most part of the Physick Garden and came up within 6 yards of Merton College walls', and in Oct. 1882, when the professor's house could only be reached on planks.’ 'The Physic Garden', in A History of the County of Oxford: Volume 3, the University of Oxford, ed. H E Salter and Mary D Lobel (London, 1954), pp. 49-50. British History Online http://www.british-history.ac.uk/vch/oxon/vol3/pp49-50 [accessed 20 November 2018].

[10] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 109.

[11] Jews of Oxford, David Lewis, p.?.

[12] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 19.

[13] 2:11.

[14] Chagigah 16a.

[15] Habakkuk 2:11.

[16] The Jews of England (Jewish Chronicle Publications 1988), Jonathan Romain.

[17] 57:1-2.

[18] Bamidbar Rabbah 11:7.

[19] Rabbi David Kimchi on Isaiah 57:1.

[20] In conversation with the Oriel and Laing Professor of the Interpretation of Holy Scripture, Oxford, Professor Hindy Najman.

[21] 12:2.

[22] The belief in resurrection of the dead is the thirteenth principle in the thirteen principles of the Jewish faith, as presented by Maimonides (Maimonides’ introduction to Perek Chelek in tractate Sanhedrin).

[23] Sanhedrin 92a.

[24] Daniel 12:2.

[25] Furthermore, the premise of the plaque is that the Jews of the medieval period who were oppressed and lacked civil rights offered to other people in the Magna Carta, for example, are regarded righteous and worthy to a share in the world to come, including the resurrection of the dead, as stipulated in Jewish belief.

[26] This may be found in the printing of Reishit Chachma in 1593 that is indicted with the word Simcha that has numerical value of 353, corresponding to 1593.

[27] This can be seen with the following works: Midrash Chamesh, Megilta Rabta, printed in Cracow in 1588. The chronogram is with the words: ‘S’mach Zevulun b’tze’techa v’Yisachar b’ohalecha.’ The word ‘s’mach’ has numerical value of 348 that corresponds to 1588. Similarly, the workMaggid d’vorov l’Yaakov by Rabbi Dovber of Mezritch was published in 1781. The chronogram is with the words of the name of the book itself:Maggid d’vorov l’Yakov chukav u’mishpatav l’Yisrael. The word ‘Yisrael’ has numerical value of 541 that corresponds to 1781. Interestingly this verse is used as a double chronogram, as the first three words of the verse ‘Maggid d’vorov l’Yakov’ forms the name of the author Dov through the last letters of the three Hebrew words ‘daled’vav’ and ‘vet’.

[28] This can be found in Sefer Rokeach with the words ‘ba rokeach’ taken from within a piyut, indicating the numerical value of 317, corresponding to 1557.

 

[29] This can be found in Kol Bochim, a Kabbalistic commentary to the Book of Lamentations that has the verse ‘B’shuv Elokim sh’vut ami yagel Yaakov yismach Yisrael.’ The dots on the four letters: ‘alef’, ‘shin’, ‘ayin’, ‘yud’ add up to 381, corresponding to 1621.

[30] 57:2.

[31] It’s unclear the reason for the change in the style of engravings above the letters of the chronogram, from crowns to diamond shape and dots. There could be two theories: One is that it was engraved with three different hands and styles in making a chronogram. Alternatively, the use of crowns were deliberately used to be similar to the masoretic style found in Torah scrolls, highlighting its Jewish context, in contradistinction to similar chronograms in Latin that use other styles. In the second chronogram, alluding to the end of the use of the cemetery in 1290, they chose to use diamond shaped dots. This might intend to be similar to a Magen David. If one looks closely one can see that this may have been the intention, as it would never have been, in any event, a complete Magen David, as the middle of the dot is hollow not allowing the complete shape to appear. This would have been deliberate, as non-Jewish tombstone chronogram typical would use a cross for the end date of a person’s life in a chronogram. This does not explain however why the interpretation of the chronogram contains pointed dots.

[32] 21:1.

[33] Talmud Berachot 19b.

[34] The Oxford Jewry, Cecil Roth, p. 109.

[35] Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De'ah 369:1.

[36] Mishneh Torah, Tumat Meit, 11:11.

[37] Rema Yoreh Deah 372:1.

[38] Mishna Ohalot 13:3.

[39] This discussion is based on the principle that both the site of the Botanic Garden and Magdalen College is considered a public domain in regards to the laws of purity (as opposed to the laws of Shabbat). This is due to it allowing public access to minimum three people. Mishna Taharot 6:6-8.Talmud Nazir 57a. Mishneh Torah Avot Hatum’ot 16:2. The site of the Rose Garden in front of the Botanic Garden is certainly open to everyone during daytime hours and so is the Botanic Garden itself, though there is a charge to enter. The site of Magdalen College is also open to visitors on a daily basis and certainly to members of the college, thus not constituting a private domain in a strict sense. See also Midarkai Hakohanim p. 54-55 for a detailed discussion of the various opinions regarding this subject.

[40] Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, 337.

[41] Teshuvot Chatam Sofer, 337. This may be compared to the case in the responsa that a non-Jewish person was declaring a family tradition that there was a Jewish burial site in his land and there is also independent knowledge of a historic Jewish community in that town. The Chatam Soferargues that the absence of graves in the present is sufficient to mitigate even the existence of a doubtful burial site on the land that would prevent aKohen from entering the property due to transmission of impurity.  

[42] Talmud Avodah Zara 13a.

[43] She’iltot Emor 103, mentioned in Tosafot Avoda Zara 13a.

[44] This view is in the context of the rabbinic decree concerning the impurity of land outside Israel (Talmud Shabbat 15a). This a discussion on this in Midarkai Hakohanim, Rabbi Mordechai Millunchick, p. 52, where he also cites the view of Rabbi Akiva Eger in footnote 221.

 

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