History of the Institute of Jewish Studies
The Founder of the Institute:
The late Professor Alexander Altmann
Rabbi Dr. Alexander Altmann set up a Rambam Lehrhaus in Berlin in 1935, 3 years before he was forced to leave Germany. When he was appointed Communal Rabbi of Manchester in 1938, he lost little time in promoting interest in the possibility of establishing in Britain the high level of academic Jewish Studies that had flourished on the Continent. Despite the war, he succeeded in opening in 1941 an academic institute for higher Jewish education in Manchester.
After 1945 it became clear that nothing remained of the prewar centres of Jewish learning in Europe. The urgency of training a new generation of scholars and teachers was acutely felt by those who had escaped the fate of so many of their colleagues. Alexander Altmann realized that Britain might be obliged to play a central role in postwar Jewish learning. On 8 October 1953 the founding Trust Deed for the Institute of Jewish Studies was signed at the offices of the Lord Mayor of Manchester, Alderman A. Moss. The list of Honorary Officers, Governors and Trustees included distinguished Jewish lay leaders from both Manchester and London; and many of these gathered, with scholars and others, for the official opening ceremony a year later on 24 October 1954.
In a lecture entitled "Jewish Studies: their scope and
meaning today" delivered on 19 November 1957 to the Hillel Foundation,
Alexander Altmann strongly defended research in Jewish Studies against
the charge of irrelevance. Speaking not merely as an academic, but with
the voice of a Jewish leader, he concluded: "Being connected with our
past, at home in our literature, and in sympathy with ourselves as it
were, we shall find it easier to approach the ultimate questions".
Obituary: Manfred Altman
20 October, 1911- 22nd July 1999
Manfred Altman, former Chairman of the Institute of Jewish Studies and Honorary Fellow of University College, was among the last of the generation of Jews educated in pre-War Germany, and an example of those who believed in Torah im Derekh Eretz. Manfred was a true Hapsburger. Although his parents came from a German-speaking part of Hungary (now Slovakia), he was born 20 October, 1911 in Salzburg. In 1920 the Altmanns moved to Germany, where his distinguished father, Adolf Abraham Altmann, served as Chief Rabbi of Trier. As a 15 year old Manfred helped found the Jewish Scouts Movement in Germany.
One of five children, Manfred's older brother Alexander
became a rabbi in Berlin and in 1938 (through Manfred's intercessions)
became communal rabbi of Manchester, until being invited in 1959 to
Brandeis University as Professor of Jewish Philosophy. Manfred used to
say that he basked in his brother's glory.
In 1928, he began his university studies in Frankfurt, studying law and philosophy, continuing his studies in Berlin and Marburg. Manfred was scheduled to take his exams in 1933, when the Nazis came to power. Not only were Jews being prevented from completing their studies, but some examinations were held on Shabbat. Throughout his life Manfred refused to compromise on principle, and he possessed persuasive powers in the face of formidable opposition, since he managed to convince the bureaucrats in Kassel, who were Nazi appointments, that he and his brother Erwin be allowed to complete their examinations without violating Shabbat. His persuasiveness--based upon conviction--surfaced again when he was briefly interned on the Isle of Man at the start of the War, but convinced the British authorities to allow Jewish internees to observe Jewish holidays, including the erecting of a communal sukkah.
After residing in Holland from 1934, Manfred came to England in 1939 as a lawyer for a Dutch-Jewish company, and in 1941, Manfred worked for the Jewish National Fund, and with Lord Herbert Samuel helped found Kfar Kisch in Palestine, since he was a great believer in developing Israel's agriculture and manufacturing economy. In 1947, after becoming a British subject and starting his own import-export business, Manfred began pioneering the imports of textiles from Israel into the UK, working with companies such as Marks and Spencers.
In his later years much of Manfred's efforts were directed towards developing the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London. Originally founded by his brother Alexander in Manchester in 1954, the Institute was transferred to University College in 1959. Manfred became Honorary Secretary of the Institute, and in 1988 took over the chairmanship from Lord Mishcon. His own education and family background made Manfred appreciate the importance of research in Jewish Studies, and he was instrumental in helping to create four new professorships and lectureships in Jewish Studies at UCL. He firmly believed that "his" Institute could form a bridge between the academic and general community, and could serve as a unifying force within the Jewish community. Manfred was appointed as Honorary Fellow of UCL in 1992, and the extensive family archives will be deposited at UCL.
Manfred's life was overshadowed by his inability to save his parents or sister (with her family) and younger brother from the Holocaust, all of whom died in Auschwitz. He never married, and he is survived by two nieces and a nephew.
Those who worked with Manfred knew that he paid the greatest attention to detail, and that nearly every letter was marked "urgent", but Manfred never sought honour or recognition. He believed that life, with all its vicissitudes, had a purpose, and he devoted his life to causes associated with the State of Israel and with Jewish intellectual life.
Tribute to Dr. Manfred Altman by Emeritus Chief Rabbi, Lord Emmanuel Jakobovits (dictated by telephone)
"The late Dr. Altman was known to me over most of his years in this country as one of the finest exemplars of the combination of Jewish and general culture, exemplified by pre-war German Jewry. He had already inherited from his distinguished father, the well-known Chief Rabbi of Trier, the appreciation and development of Jewish cultural and these traits were further developed by his illustrious brother, the late Dr. Alexander Altmann, Communal Rabbi of Manchester.
He was an active member of the Friends of the Hebrew
University and the Jewish Memorial Council and always brought his keen
appreciation of Jewish literary values to bear on his work. To those who
were privileged to know him, he will also be remembered as a cherished
friend and a noble example of Jewish dignity. His friendly bearing will
be widely missed and his services to the Jewish people will be recalled
with much affection.