The Centre today
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Vision and Mission Statement
The mission of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies is to restore the legacy of Jewish scholarship in Europe, continue the tradition of Hebrew studies at the University of Oxford, support advanced scholarship in academic Jewish studies, promote understanding of the interaction among Judaism, Christianity and Islam, and provide a scholarly understanding of contemporary Jewish life.
With the destruction of European Jewry, the centres of Jewish scholarship in Europe – both theological and academic – were largely lost. Jewish studies were reconstituted after the Holocaust in yeshivot and universities primarily in North America and Israel. However, at the University of Oxford, one of the world’s leading universities, Hebrew has been taught continuously since the establishment of the Regius Professorship of Hebrew in 1546. Moreover, the Bodleian Library, whose Jewish collections were founded in 1600, is the world’s richest treasury of manuscripts and books related to medieval European Jewish civilization. Within its collections are preserved the remnants of a destroyed culture, making it possible to reconstruct the narrative of Jewish civilization. Its holdings include the entire canon of Hebrew and Aramaic literature, as well as records of Jewish-Christian collaboration and of medieval Jewish and Muslim cooperation. More recently, the Muller Library, an incomparable scholarly resource for understanding modern European Jewish civilization, has made available the Jewish intellectual tradition of the last two centuries. From the records of these great collections it is possible to recount a version of Jewish history that is not only about persecution and suffering, but addresses the indispensable contribution of the Jewish people to western civilization. The records of European and Mediterranean Jewish civilization have been uniquely preserved at Oxford.
These records were first preserved at the University of Oxford by Christian Hebraists who studied Hebrew and Jewish literature for theological and intellectual reasons. They were pioneers who provided a foundation that can support the many disciplines of academic Jewish studies today. Its development is now the responsibility of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies, which is dedicated to continuing the legacy of European Jewish studies in a contemporary vein.
The Centre is committed to advancing Jewish studies at the University of Oxford. It is dedicated to the dissemination of knowledge about the interaction of Judaism with the Graeco-Roman world, Christianity, Islam and early modern Europe, and provides, through the University, the academic vision and human resources that can contribute to the renaissance of Jewish studies in Europe.
The Centre has created the largest and most important academic programme in Jewish studies in Europe, comprising undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral and postdoctoral research and teaching. This has attracted Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other students and scholars. It promises to help prepare the next generation of Jewish studies scholars, thereby rebuilding Jewish studies in universities throughout Europe and,further afield.
The Centre has a significant academic impact on the University of Oxford. Its 11 Fellows and 8 Lectors and Lecturers provide the primary teaching for the BA in Oriental Studies (Hebrew), BA in Oriental Studies (Jewish Studies), BA in European and Middle Eastern Languages, MSt in Oriental Studies (Jewish Studies), MSt in Bible Interpretation (Oriental Studies), MSt in Modern Jewish Studies, MSt in Yiddish Studies, MPhil in Modern Jewish Studies, and MPhil in Oriental Studies (Modern Jewish Studies). They also teach in the following degree courses: BA in Arabic and Islamic Studies, BA in Classics, BA in Theology, MSt in Classical Hebrew Studies, MSt in Jewish Studies in the Graeco-Roman Period, MPhil in Oriental Studies (Jewish Studies in the Graeco-Roman Period), MPhil in Eastern Christian Studies, MPhil in Modern Middle Eastern Studies, MLitt in Oriental Studies (Jewish Studies) and DPhil in Oriental Studies (Jewish Studies).
The Centre’s Fellows currently teach 30 undergraduates, 15 Master of Studies and MPhil students, and 20 DPhil students. Several hundred other students attend lecture courses. Since 1985, Yarnton Manor has been home to 368 students and 450 visiting Fellows. Students taught by the Centre’s Fellows have gone on to academic positions in Hebrew and Jewish studies, or in related fields such as history, religious studies, and cultural studies, at leading universities in the Asia, Europe, North America and the United Kingdom. The Centre has thus influenced Jewish studies in settings as diverse as China, Estonia, Germany, Japan, Korea, Netherlands, Romania and Switzerland. Students come from a variety of backgrounds – Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other – and from more than 40 countries, including Israel, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, and the former Soviet Union.
Yarnton Manor is an academic incubator that promotes scholarship and collegiality by providing a premier residential academic community offering opportunities for Jewish studies scholars to live, work and collaborate on research projects. The unique resources of the Bodleian and the Muller libraries make it possible to create research teams that collaborate for six months or more around subject areas often unique to Oxford. The Centre is therefore now a second home to many leading scholars in Jewish studies, It also hosts the European Association of Jewish Studies and the Journal of Jewish Studies.
The Centre provides the intellectual sustenance to help reconstitute Jewish life in Europe. Jewish life in London and throughout Europe is growing, with more than 200 new Jewish organizations, being created in the last decade. Yet European Jewish communities still lack sufficient access to the academic resources that illuminate contemporary issues, provide new perspectives, or inform policy decisions. The Centre is planning to expand its work beyond the humanities to include the social sciences, including sociology, anthropology and politics. It aims to create leading academic posts in Contemporary Jewish Studies and Israel Studies, academic posts that should contribute to the wider understanding of policy, trends and issues that affect society at large and the Jewish community in particular.
The uniquely tranquil ambience of Yarnton Manor also makes the Centre an ideal destination for groups interested in conducting conferences, think-tanks and summer institutes. Oxford, located equidistant from North America and Israel, is the perfect location for bringing together students, leaders and others from around the world for learning events, who can benefit in addition from the University’s outstanding pool of academic talent.