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Remember the days of old: Celebrating Jewish connections

UCL's relationship with the Jewish community stretches right back to its beginnings, when a successful financier, Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, brought together the poet Thomas Campbell and the politician Henry Brougham on the project to found a new Frederic Mocattauniversity in London that would embrace all "non-establishment" groups. Goldsmid was also one of the major vendors, until its transference to the University, of the eight-acre site in Bloomsbury which is now home to UCL.

The Jewish Historical Society of England owes its origins to a major Anglo-Jewish exhibition held in 1887, when the story of England's Jews was told for the first time in public, giving rise to a new recognition and appreciation of the history of Anglo-Jewry. From its foundation in 1893 the Society had no settled base, but in 1905 UCL started allowing Society lectures and gatherings to take place on its premises. One of the Society's early pioneers and most prominent members, Frederic Mocatta, has also come to occupy a special place in the story of UCL’s historical collections.

This exhibition is a celebration not only of UCL's long history of connections with the Anglo-Jewish community but also of the centenary of the transfer of Mocatta’s magnificent collection to UCL and the 350th anniversary of the re-admission of Jews into England.

Exhibition Themes:

Frederic Mocatta

Selection of photographs

Frederic Mocatta and the 100th anniversary of his collection

Frederic MocattaThe year 2006 marks the centenary of the reception into UCL of the library of Frederic Mocatta, a leading figure in the world of Anglo-Jewry and philanthropy, whose extensive library forms the nucleus of UCL Library's world famous Jewish Studies collection.

The Mocatta family were among those Jews who left Spain in 1492, following the expulsion edict of Ferdinand and Isabella. It had close ties with most of the prominent Jewish families of Europe, living in France, the Netherlands and Italy, and to a lesser extent Asia. Much of the family finally settled in England in 1658, following Oliver Cromwell’s re-admission policy. Moses Mocatta founded a prominent bullion brokering firm in London in 1671, which exists today as ScotiaMocatta.

Frederic David Mocatta (1828-1905), shown above, joined the family firm when it was known as Mocatta and Goldsmid, and on his retirement in 1874, he devoted himself to public and private philanthropy, building up a considerable collection of Jewish texts and artefacts. He was himself an author of historical works, the chief of which was The Jews of Spain and Portugal and the Inquisition (1877). On his death in 1905, he bequeathed his fine library to the Jewish Historical Society of England, who formalised its transfer to UCL Library in 1906, founding the Mocatta Library in his memory.

The Jewish Studies Library as it is now called has greatly expanded since 1906 and is regarded as the largest and most comprehensive collection of Anglo-Jewish research material in a UK university. Highlights of the collection include two magnificent illuminated manuscripts, shown here, the Castilian Haggadah, and the Italian Mahzor, eight incunabula (books printed before 1500), early editions of Josephus, including a 1486 edition of De Antiquita Judaica, a collection of extremely rare pamphlets, and the archive of Dr Moses Gaster, Chief Rabbi of the Sephardic Communities of British Jews, which contains over 100,000 items of correspondence covering a vast range of Judaica-related subjects.

Treasures from the Mocatta Library:

The Italian Mahzor (MS Mocatta 2)

Ink, gouache, silver and gold leaf on vellum.

A richly illuminated service book of festival prayers according to the Italian rite for the whole year, in beautifully executed Hebrew script, possibly dating from around 1400, but generally recorded as early 16 th century. The title page is particularly exquisite, with gold and a variety of other colours; the coat of arms at the bottom of the page shows the traditional hand gesture of the blessing given by the priest (or Kohen) in Jewish ceremonies. The last two leaves contain signatures of four censors, the earliest of which is Jacob Geraldino, dated 1555.

The Italian Mahzor (MS Mocatta 2)

The Mocatta Haggadah (MS Mocatta 1) The Mocatta Haggadah (MS Mocatta 1)

Ink, gouache, silver and gold leaf on vellum.

A finely illuminated Hebrew manuscript volume for domestic use in Passover services, probably from the Castile region in northern Spain, dating back to the late 13th or early 14th century. The Haggadah is a compilation of biblical passages, prayers, hymns, and rabbinic literature probably assembled sometime during the Second Temple period in Palestine and was meant to be read during the Passover Seder. These illuminations represent Biblical scenes as well as scenes from rabbinic legends. Many illuminated Haggadot, most of which were produced in Europe in the middle ages, depict the preparations for the holiday and the celebration of the Seder itself, giving us a visual image of Jewish life in earlier times.

Opinions vary as to the date of creation of the Mocatta volume, as the decoration encompasses various types of Hebrew manuscript decoration that were prevalent over the turn of the 13th/14th century, probably due to the use of several models, each of different origin. The design lacks uniformity, which suggests that it was executed in various phases over a period of time.

The numerous grotesque figures within the panels or extending from the corners point to a model of French origin, while the micrographic ornaments, filled with colour that run along the script in the outer margins occur in biblical manuscripts of Aragon and southwestern France or Languedoc. On some pages these micrographic bands form a candelabrum, a motif that was mainly used in 14th century Catalan Bibles.

Catalan influence is also discernible in the only illustration of the manuscript, the full-page representation of the matzah or unleavened bread (folio 43, recto). The ornamental disc, with gold fillet interlaces and painted colour fillings, became typical of the fourteenth-century Haggadot of Catalonia.

Fragment of the Holy Qur’an

Illuminated manuscript fragment in Arabic on vellum, Sūra xxv, v.23 to the beginning of v. 63, eight leaves. Mocatta was a highly accomplished scholar and his magnificent collection reflected his broad and deep interest in religious texts. The text begins on folio 1 verso; from a partially erased note on folio 1 recto the words Abu Sa’id can just be recognised. Of unknown date.

Charles Dickens and Mrs Davis (Mocatta Collection)

The correspondence between Charles Dickens and Mrs. Eliza Davis, dated 1863 to 1867, comprising three letters from Dickens and six from Mrs Davis, concerning Dickens’s portrayal of Jews in his works.

The memorable but villainous character Fagin in Oliver Twist, serialised from 1837 to 1839, caused much offence to the Anglo-Jewish community. Mrs. Eliza Davis (wife of a Jewish banker who had bought Dickens’s house) wrote to Dickens, declaring that as a renowned author and defender of the oppressed, Dickens had a duty to portray Jews in a sympathetic manner, but that he had instead “encouraged a vile prejudice against the despised Hebrew”. Dickens defended himself against the charges, and declared “that I have no feeling towards the Jewish people but a friendly one”.

In Our Mutual Friend (serialised 1864-65), Dickens introduced the character of Riah, a virtuous Jew. Mrs Davis wrote again to praise this character, and to present a four- volume Hebrew/English Bible, in a fine binding. There is also a letter of condolence from Mrs. Davis to Mrs. Dickens on the death of her husband.

Works of Flavius Josephus (SR Mocatta folio A22.6)Works of Flavius Josephus (SR Mocatta folio A22.6)

For centuries the works of Flavius Josephus were the most widely read secular texts in the known world. They contain invaluable eyewitness accounts of the history of Judaism and of early Christianity.

Joseph ben Mattathias was born in Jerusalem in 37 CE, during the time of the Roman occupation of Palestine. For a short time he commanded the revolutionary anti-Roman forces in Galilee, until he was captured and imprisoned by Vespasian. He was exonerated by correctly predicting that his captor would become Emperor of Rome.

During the remainder of the war, Josephus assisted the Roman commander Titus, with understanding the Jewish nation and in negotiating with the revolutionaries.

Living at the Flavian court in Rome, Josephus undertook to write a history of the war he had witnessed. It was first written in his native language of Aramaic, and then translated into Greek (the most-used language of the Empire). It was published a few years after the end of the war, in about 78 CE.

Josephus subsequently undertook a massive work in Greek explaining the history of the Jews to the general non-Jewish audience, calling his work De Antiquita Judaica (Jewish Antiquities). This work was published in 93 or 94 CE.

Benjamin, of Tudela, Travels of Rabbi Benjamin, son of Jonah (first published 1633)

This is one of the most celebrated and important accounts of the Mediterranean and the Middle East of its time. Benjamin travelled between 1159 and 1163, through Spain and Provence, Italy, Greece, Constantinople, Cyprus, Israel, Damascus and Baghdad. He also wrote about Persia, China and Tibet, though he never visited those places. He describes the cities and particularly the Jewish communities in them in great detail.

This expanded translated edition was printed in 1783 in London, entitled Travels of Rabbi Benjamin, son of Jonah, of Tudela: through Europe, Asia and Africa: from the ancient kingdom of Navarre, to the frontiers of China. Faithfully translated from the original Hebrew; and enriched with a dissertation and notes, critical, historical, and geographical. By the Rev. B. Gerrans.

The first printed edition, in Hebrew and Latin, was published by Elsevier in Leiden in 1633, with the translation and extensive commentary of Constantine of Oppyck.

From the Lewis Family Trust Collection

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The readmission of the Jews and Jewish Culture

Menasseh ben Israel

Jews were expelled from England by Edward I in 1290. The first Englishmen to propose the readmission of the Jews were radical Puritans who flourished in the political and religious upheaval of the Civil War. They embraced Millenarianism which required the conversion of the Jews and they believed that England had been assigned this task by God.

January 1649 saw the first serious effort to recall the Jews to England when Johanna Cartwright and her son Ebenezer petitioned Thomas Fairfax to repeal the expulsion edict.

The campaign continued until the Jewish philosopher, Menasseh ben Israel travelled to London in September 1655. He brought with him The Humble Addresses To His Highnesse the Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England , Scotland , and Ireland which he presented to the Council of State in November. Cromwell was in favour but decided to seek wider support. The Whitehall Conference of merchants, lawyers and divines, met in five sessions from 4th to 18th December 1655 but the majority were hostile and no formal decision was reached. Neither Cromwell nor any subsequent monarch ever voided the 1290 expulsion nor issued a formal invitation to the Jews to return to England. Cromwell simply allowed the Jews to enter. By the summer of 1656 a Jewish community had grown up in London and begun worshipping.

The Hope of Israel by Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657)The Hope of Israel by Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657)

The man most responsible for the readmission of the Jews to England was Menasseh ben Israel, Portuguese by birth, but raised and educated in Amsterdam. He was fluent in several languages, well informed on social, political and intellectual issues outside the Jewish community and corresponded with statesmen, divines and scholars all over Europe.

Menasseh was also a Messianist – he believed that the coming of the Messiah was imminent and that it was therefore necessary to fulfil the prophecy that the Jews would be scattered “from one end of the earth to the other” [Deut. 28:64].

Menasseh wrote The Hope of Israel in 1650, setting out his beliefs. It was translated into several languages and published in England, with a preface to Parliament. Cromwell was sympathetic to Menasseh’s petitions and invited him to England. When Menasseh arrived in 1655 he brought a pamphlet written in English (The Humble Addresses) in which he set forth the case for Jewish readmission. Having succeeded in his aims Menasseh returned to Europe and died in poverty; a pension promised him by Cromwell was never paid.

Displayed here are three of Menasseh ben Israel’s works: the English translation of The Hope of Israel (1650), To His Highnesse the Lord Protector … the Humble Addresses … (1655), and his Vindiciae Judaeorum: or a letter … touching the reproaches cast on the nations of the Jewes … (1656).

Religious and cultural items on display:

Ritual objectsJewish Ritual Silverware (from the Jewish Collections)

Shabbat is a central part of the Jewish family and Jewish life. It is a time for families and friends to gather for meals, prayer, and relaxation together. The traditions associated with Shabbat range from the lighting of the candles just before sunset on Friday, to the blessings over the wine and bread on Friday evening, to the third meal or Shalosh Seudot, to the observance of Havdalah on Saturday night as the Shabbat departs. One of the most important customs is the setting of the Shabbat table, usually adorned with a white tablecloth, two Challahs, often with a beautiful covering, a Kiddush Cup and Shabbat Candlesticks, symbolising the welcoming of Shabbat.

Silver articulated fish Silver articulated fish

A fish image is common in ritualware for Shabbat, as fish is often included in Shabbat meals, and also because fish were traditionally believed to bring good luck. This articulated fish, made of silver and garnet, is European in origin

Silver spice boxes (18th to 20th century) Silver spice boxes (18th to 20th century)

Spices boxes are used during Havdalah (meaning “separation”), the ceremony which ends the Shabbat on the Saturday evening. They are used to hold sweet-smelling spices, such as cloves, to help retain the memory of the richness of the Shabbat and can be a container of any kind, though they are often very ornate in design, and made in silver.

Since spices were dried in towers during the medieval period, the boxes often take this form. Other design influences will suggest the place of origin of the boxes, such as Eastern Europe, or the Iberian peninsula.

The spice box is one of the three most important symbols for Havdalah. After an introductory blessing, the ceremony consists of blessings over wine, over the aromatic spices, and over the light of flames from a multi-wicked, specially braided candle.

Torah scrolls Torah scrolls

The Torah, also known as Pentateuch, is the name applied to the first five books of Moses of the Hebrew Bible - Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deutoronomy. It is the most sacred scripture in Judaism, because it enacts halakhah, Jewish law, and a portion of it is read every Shabbat. It derives its title from the contents, the name itself denoting “doctrine” . The Torah contains teachings as well as laws, the latter being given in ethical form and contained in historical narratives of an ethical character.

The Torah typically appears in the form of a scroll and is inscribed on parchment from a ritually clean animal. In the synagogue, Torah scrolls are stored in an ark, and several liturgical objects are used in association with it during the synagogue service, such as Torah crowns, mantles, breastplates and binders. Finials, or rimmonim, are often placed on top of the staves of the scroll, or sometimes crowns. Torah binders are used to wrap around the scroll and mark the section which was last read.

selection of silver pointer's or 'Yad' The Yad (17th to 19th century)

A silver pointer or yad (literally 'hand') is used to follow one's place during the reading from the Torah, as it is forbidden under Jewish biblical law to touch the parchment with a human hand.

Kiddush Cup The Kiddush Cup

Shabbat is generally considered to begin with the lighting of the candles followed with the prayer over the candles.

The Kiddush (sanctification) or the prayer over the wine is then recited. The person reciting the Kiddush then takes a sip and distributes wine to everyone at the table. The wine is placed in a Kiddush cup and usually distributed through smaller cups. The person reciting the Kiddush will pour a small amount from the larger cup into smaller cups and pass the small cups around so that all persons at the table may partake.

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Anglo-Jewish connections at UCL

Mocatta Library (circa 1908) As the first university to open its doors to women, Roman Catholics and dissenters, UCL was also the first to admit Jewish students. Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid, one of the leading figures in the struggle for Jewish emancipation in England, was among the principal founders of UCL and the chief promoter of its Hebrew department. At his instigation, Hyman Hurwitz was appointed as the first Professor of Hebrew in 1828.

The Goldsmid Chair, as it became known, was held by many distinguished scholars, including Sir Hermann Gollancz, who was the first Jew to obtain a D.Litt. from the University of London in 1900. Gollancz presented a large part of his library to the College, upon his retirement in 1923. Perhaps the most eminent past holder of the Goldsmid chair was Solomon Schechter, elected in 1899, who later headed the Jewish Theological Seminary of America and established its international reputation.

Many Jewish scholars and philanthropists contributed to UCL, particularly to the Library. Frederic Mocatta’s magnificent library was housed at UCL in 1906, followed in 1924 by Sir Herman Gollancz’s and Israel Abrahams’ gifts of their collections. Other library benefactors have included the De Sola family, Albert Hyamson, Asher Myers, editor of the Jewish Chronicle for many years, Lucien Wolf, journalist, historian and genealogist, and Moses Gaster, leader of the Sephardic community in England. More recently the Library benefitted from the generosity of the late Lord Mishcon, established a Yiddish collection in 1993 with the help of Mr. William Margulies, and acquired the superb collections of Professors Chimen Abramsky and Alexander Altmann.

Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784-1885) Sir Moses Haim Montefiore (1784-1885)

Moses Montefiore was born in Leghorn (Livorno), in Italy, and was related by birth or marriage to many of the most important Jewish families in England. He was a successful financier, and was knighted in 1837.

Montefiore retired from business in 1836 and quickly assumed the effective lay leadership of Anglo-Jewry, in which role he promoted an unbending religious orthodoxy. From 1835 to 1874 he held the Presidency of the London Committee of Deputies of British Jews. He was not involved in the cause of Jewish political emancipation, but rather interested himself in the claims of oppressed Jewries abroad, making epic voyages to the Middle East, Rome, Russia, Constantinople and Morocco, and seven times to the Holy Land.

At his home in Ramsgate, East Cliff Lodge, he established The 'Judith Lady Montefiore College' after the death of his wife in 1862. In the grounds of the house he built a synagogue and a mausoleum, where he and his wife were both buried.

Montefiore enjoyed a popularity bordering on adulation in his lifetime. His 100th birthday was an occasion of national rejoicing, tributes arriving from Jewish communities all over the world. Many of these and other family papers, as well as a large part of the College Library were deposited with UCL in 1961.

Hyman Hurwitz: certificate of appointment Hyman Hurwitz (1770-1844), Certificate of Appointment, 1828.

The first Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at UCL. Hurwitz was born at Posen in Poland and raised in the Jewish community there. He came to England about 1800 and opened a private academy for Jews at Highgate, Middlesex, where he became a close friend of the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.

His early works included A Grammar of the Hebrew Language, and a Hebrew dirge for Princess Charlotte's funeral, afterwards translated into English verse by Coleridge. Further contributions to Hebrew scholarship included Vindiciae Hebraicae, being a Defence of the Hebrew Scriptures as a Vehicle of Revealed Religion (1820) and Hebrew Tales from the Writings of the Hebrew Sages (1826).

In 1828 he was appointed Professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at UCL, then known as the University of London, the first professing Jew to hold a Chair in England. He ensured that the study of Hebrew, in line with the liberal traditions on which the University had been founded, was from the start non-dogmatic, critical and free from the confines of any denominational framework. While at UCL he wrote his most enduring work, Elements of the Hebrew Language (1829), shown in the photograph above.

Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid Sir Isaac Lyon Goldsmid (1778-1859)

Isaac Lyon Goldsmid was born in London and entered the family firm of Mocatta and Goldsmid, bullion brokers to the Bank of England. He became a very successful financier, his estate at death being valued at over £1 million. Throughout his lifetime he used his wealth and status to advance educational, social and religious reform and to pursue Jewish political emancipation, playing a pivotal role in the founding of UCL.

Goldsmid abhorred the division of the London Jews into distinct Ashkenazi (German- and Yiddish-speaking) and Sephardi (Spanish and Portuguese) communities. In an attempt to remedy this he was instrumental in founding a distinct “British” synagogue – the West London Synagogue of British Jews, opened on 27 February 1842.

Goldsmid also played a critical role in the cause of political emancipation. In 1830 he had been responsible for the introduction of the first Jewish Disabilities Bill. Although he was never elected to Parliament himself Goldsmid lived long enough to see the triumph of his cause. In 1841 he became the first professing Jew to receive an English hereditary title.

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Exhibition Location: Main Library Staircase
Wilkins Building
Gower Street,
Wilkins Building

If you have any comments or queries to make about this page, or if you would like to know about any future exhibitions/events please email the Special Collections team.
Alternatively, you can write to us at:
Special Collections, UCL Library Services, University College London, Gower Street, London, WC1E 6BT.

Last modified 4 July 2006

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