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Cecil Roth Memorial Tributes

<plain_text><page sequence="1">DR. CECIL ROTH Obituary Tributes at Anglo-Amer Dr. Cecil Roth, nine times President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, died on 21 June 1970, aged 71. It has for long been the custom of the Jewish Historical Society for the death of any of its prominent members to be marked by memorial tributes at the next following meeting of the Society. Few members can claim to have been as prominent in the Society's affairs, and over so long a period, as Dr. Roth, especially with his record in its highest office. The occasion to pay the tributes came less than a month after his death, on 12 July 1970, during the first Conference, held in London, of the American Jewish Historical Society and the Jewish Historical Society of ican Jewish Historical Conference England. It was, in the circumstances of Dr. Roth's life and activities, a particularly appro? priate occasion. At the beginning of the first evening meeting, which was presided over by the President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, Sir Alan Mocatta, o.b.e., those present stood in silent tribute, and memorial addresses were delivered by Rabbi Dr. Abram V. Goodman, President of the American Jewish Historical Society, Mr. Raphael Loewe, and Dr. Vivian D. Lipman. These tributes are printed below. Aubrey Newman, Chairman of the Conference Committee, Jewish Historical Society of England. Dr. ABRAM VOSSEN GOODMAN (President, American Jewish Historical Society) It is with a sense of our great loss that we do honour to one of the rare spirits in the realm of Jewish scholarship, Cecil Roth. He was part of a succession of learned Anglo-Jewish figures, and I, as an American, can say what Britons might hesitate to voice?that England has produced far more than her numbers might justify in the field of j?dische Wissenschaft. Forty-five years ago, the late Stephen S. Wise was bringing a group of distinguished scholars from all over the world to serve on the faculty of his newly founded Jewish Institute of Religion. In London his eyes fastened on a tall, gangling youth, fresh from Oxford, who had won his laurels for his work on the last Florentine republic. And so Cecil Roth came to America to lecture to graduate classes in Jewish history. The students whose eyes he opened were almost as old as he was. I was one of those who first heard him, sitting enthralled as he des? cribed the catacombs of Venosa, the community of Portuguese refugees established by the Medici at Livorno, and the denizens of the Venetian ghetto who dwelt in the shadow of the doges. We learned how the only centres of Jewish life in France during the late Middle Ages developed in the neighbourhood of Avignon; and I was not satisfied until I had paid a pilgrimage to the synagogues at Gavaillon and Carpentras, the latter a Louis XV bandbox, which is a national treasure of France. Personally I owe a debt to Dr. Roth for his encouragement to work in the field of American Jewish history. I bought and loved his books. My favourite was his History of the Jews of Italy. I am happy to think of his address last April at the annual meeting of the American Jewish Historical Society. This was possibly his last public appearance in the United States. The scene was a synagogue in Brookline, Massachusetts, where hundreds had gathered to hear him speak shortly before Pesach on the lore of the Haggadah, of which he was the leading authority. He was a sick man, but you forgot this fact as he described and highlighted these illu? minated guides through the Seder?the prime example of mystery experience in Jewish life. This was the high point of our convention. The audience was completely won over by his charm. Two days after the news of Roth's death 102</page><page sequence="2">Roth Tributes 103 reached me in Frankfort, I went down to Darmstadt and in the Ducal Library I re? quested the renowned Haggadah which it possessed. As I held it in my hands, I turned to my wife and said, 'This is my private tribute to Cecil Roth'. I am sure that in the Teshivah shel Mcfalah there is a special chamber set aside for his? torians. There Cecil Roth pursues his researches with the great scholars of the Jewish ages?the Dubnows and Graetzs and the chroniclers of the Tanach. RAPHAEL LOEWE, M.C., MA. That this gathering should invite me to voice its tribute to Cecil Roth as a scholar is a privilege that means much to me, but I cannot hope to discharge the responsibility adequately. Others here could, I am sure, speak with more significance than I on many of his interests, for?as Cecil once put it?'the trouble with being a Jewish scholar is not that you have got to know something about everything, but that you have got to know everything about every? thing'. I can only assume that you have selected me because I am, I suppose, the only person now alive who thinks that he can remember seeing Cecil come out of the Shel donian Theatre after taking his D.Phil, in 1924. A generation, perhaps two, must elapse before his scholarly work can be set in its proper perspective, but we need not fear the verdict of history: it will assuredly place him with the giants who were in the land, although we must hope that the magnetism ofthat Biblical tag will not attach to us, his contemporaries, the spuri? ous reputation of having been giants too. For the moment, we have his long list of publica? tions, recorded in his presentation volume, and we can but take stock. HIS TEACHERS So let us begin, as is proper, with a tribute to his teachers. In things Jewish, first his father, a maskil, and his brother Leon, who was his fellow-student; to the late Moses Vilensky, who taught the two boys and took a justifiable pride in their careers; to Jacob Mann, one of the first to begin to see the possibility of historical categorisation of the genizah documents in which he specialised, who was for a time his tutor in rebus hebraicis. And also?in no sense secondarily?to those who taught him history at the City of London School, and at Oxford, where the faculty included J. H. Round and A. B. Emden, and whither Charles Singer had imported, from London, the study of the history of medicine. It is right, too, to recall the influence of Italy, where he went as a young research student and encountered a Jewish community whose symbiotic integration with its cultural environment was deeper, and of longer standing, than that of any other European community. It was there that he met, and was deeply influenced by, such men as Umberto Cassuto and Neppi Modona; and he was perspicacious enough to realise that the incidental accretions of Italian Jewry's long history?personal muniments, folk-art, and folk-literature no less than the luxurious products of scribe, illuminator, silversmith, and needlewoman executed for rich patrons? offered a source of historical material that had been scarcely tapped. And so he began, within his means and with the help of agents, to lay the foundations of his collection. Meanwhile, at home he had made his mark as a promising young student of Anglo-Jewish matters, and had evinced sufficient ability in handling abstruse liturgical Hebrew to have been invited by my father, Herbert Loewe, to join with him, Israel Brodie, and others in preparing, against time, an English version of the elegies for the Ninth of Ab for use at the first Anglo-Jewish educational summer school, held in Oxford in 1920?exactly a month after Herbert Samuel's entering on his appointment as High Commissioner for Palestine, and con? sequently at a moment when the historical continuity of traditional Judaism with the new chapter needed enunciating to a body of young teachers from synagogue classes. He had made his mark, too, with Israel Abrahams and Elkan Adler; but it has to be said that his elders then?and later?sometimes found the com</page><page sequence="3">104 Raphael Loewe bination of intellectual inquisitiveness and familiarity with the standard reference-books rather overpowering, and they could mistake for an arrogation of superiority what was in fact an eagerness in pursuit of the quarry that would have done credit to Sherlock Holmes. When, after Abrahams's death, my father took over the Starrs and assembled, in the volume of notes, a tremendous amount of detail about mediaeval English Jewry, he was glad to include a number of notes over the initials 'CR.' But the turning-point which set Roth on the road of specifically Jewish history as an academic career?a career for which there were as yet no university posts in England and few permanent niches in America?may well have been his contribution of the chapter on 'The Jews in the Middle Ages' to volume vii of the Cambridge Mediaval History, published in 1932. I should like to think that my father, or perhaps Abrahams, may have recommended him to the editors; the records of the Cambridge Press, which there has not so far been time to consult, might throw some light on this. OXFORD READERSHIP One wonders why, prior to his appointment to Oxford in 1939, Roth did not fill any univer? sity post as a teacher of mediaeval or modern history. His Oxford Readership was due to an external benefaction, and though orientated towards history it filled another gap as well, since with the departure of my father for Cambridge in 1931 and the subsequent resignation of Mr. Chaim Raphael from the Cowley Lectureship, there had been no scholar there fully at home in post-Biblical Hebrew. His arrival complemented, too, the recent appointment of Herbert Danby to the Hebrew Chair. Nevertheless, both then and later there were some who could not take seriously as a scholar in Jewish matters a person who had not been through an honours school in Semitics; and they could not always appreciate that Jewish history, where the source material involves other languages at least as much as Hebrew, can nevertheless fall within the pur? view of Oriental scholarship. We are nowadays not quite so departmentally encapsulated, but the phenomenon just described was not con? fined to the faculty of Oriental Studies in Oxford at the time. In the early twenties, the benefactor to whom Oxford owes the Serena Chair of Italian approached the Vice-Chan cellor with an offer. The then Vice-Chancellor was L. R. Farnell, Rector of Exeter, a distin? guished classical scholar and a Fellow of the British Academy. After entertaining his visitor to lunch, Farnell turned the conversation to business, and began by asking him 'What exactly is Italian?' Roth had to convince the wider world of scholarship of the legitimacy, relevance, and indeed indispensability to their own concerns of an historical approach to Jewish material that transcends neat academic pigeon-holes, requiring as it does mastery of at least one discipline and a moderate com? petence in several others. It is a battle that many of us know has frequently to be refought; and the possibility of its being fought at all is largely due to the splendid record of Roth's own publications?many of them skirmishes, if you like, rarely apologetic, and therefore magnificent precisely because they were not war. And what a record it is! I leave aside on this occasion the popular writing; not that it is unimportant?on the contrary. The general public and the Jewish householder has been made aware, through it, in a far greater degree than ever before in the English speaking world?perhaps anywhere at all?of the integral Jewish factor in the history of Europe; and among Jews in particular, these books must take their due credit for stimu? lating interest and pride in the Jewish past. I suspect that they have played a significant part in predisposing Anglo-Jewry to participate in and promote the Jewish future, too, and not least Jewish self-renewal in Israel. But I must limit myself to a very brief glance at the four broad categories into which we can divide his scholarly work. First, bibliography, which links ?via bibliophily?with the second, namely, art history in a Jewish context; thirdly, research into details of the foregoing and many other historical fields, including the Dead Sea Scrolls; and finally, his occasional attempts at a synthesis.</page><page sequence="4">Roth Tributes 105 IMPORTANCE OF BIBLIOGRAPHY Bibliography, then, of which my colleague Professor Stein recalls that Elbogen used to say n'toirwVn'a h?dh nwi, that it is both queen and handmaid of scholarship. Roth took over the pioneering catalogue of Lucien Wolf and Joseph Jacobs published in 1887, enlarged it into his own Magna Biblio theca Anglo-Judaica, and had the joy of seeing the work ably supplemented by Miss Ruth Lehmann in her Nova Bibliotheca. And there is the catalogue of his own manuscripts?a choice collection that will now go to Leeds University. But there were also the titbits, such as Menasseh b. Israel's trade list of publica? tions, from which Roth could distil the last drop of information, and the gatherings to? gether, for example, his article on 'Marrano Typography in England'. Some of these will remain as standard reference-tools; others will become digested into the footnotes of his successors, with (we must hope) due acknow? ledgments, and into the main text of their successors, doubtless without acknowledg? ment, for that is the way of the world. But the achievement will remain his own. And biblio? graphy connects to his interest in art history via his own collection, not only of manuscripts ?some of which are spectacular specimens of calligraphy and illustration?but also of silver, textiles, and so on?a collection, largely Italian or Sephardic, discriminatingly assem? bled over the years with the help of his wife, Irene Roth. These stimulated his curiosity regarding their artistic ancestry, an interest reinforced by long experience as editor in selecting appropriate illustrations for his letterpress. I suppose his d?but on this scene at a professional level transcending the Jewish context was his article of 1953 on 'Jewish Antecedents of Christian Art', but this interest had itself been aroused by the Dura Europos frescoes and also by the Kennicott Bible, one of the glories of the Bodleian Library; and it points forward towards the facsimile edition, with his introduction, of the Sarajevo Hagga dah. Incidentally, I suppose that Cecil had more discrete editions of the Haggadah to his credit than any other printer or editor before him. It is in some measure due to him that the various categories of Jewish art history are beginning to take shape and that the subject is becoming professionalised. We now begin to know what sort of cycles of illustrations to anticipate in a Haggadah, and can instantly recognise a kethubbah with an enlarged heth and yodh as emanating from Gibraltar. When I turn to the third division, research items, no summary can be attempted. I must refer you to the bibliography at the end of Remember the Days, and merely remark on both the range and the eye for detail. We range from the activities of Dr. Solomon Ashkenazi as a go-between in the election to the Polish throne in 1574-5, to 'Medieval Illustrations of Mouse Traps'. His eye for detail was astonish? ing; I recall his noting a possible Aragonese factor in mediaeval Jewish medical training, or his instant recognition, from his memory of the Saragossa Purim, of why in a manuscript from Crusader Palestine Jews should figure in public carrying their Scrolls. And so, finally, what I have called synthesis. Cecil Roth was not, and would never have claimed to be, an historian of ideas. But sometimes he felt it right, especially on occasions of some wider publicity, to step back and survey the canvas onto which he was constantly adding a new cartouche. If such an approach is basically biographical, as his was, it carries some dangers of generalisation; but it is none the less valid, and valuable. I think of his Jewish Contri? bution to Civilisation, and his Presidential address of 1938 on 'The Challenge of Jewish History? The Jew as a European', which he delivered just when he was resigning his membership of distinguished academies in Florence and Venice in protest against the antisemitic policy imposed on them by Mussolini. It is an astonishingly vigorous record, the fruits of which will outlive even its achievements; for, as Cecil was big enough to write in the intro? duction to his Rise of Provincial Jewry, 'the measure of the success of my work will not be the degree of agreement but the degree of contradiction that it will stimulate'.</page><page sequence="5">106 V. D. Lipman GRATITUDE AND FAITH A favourite quotation of my father regarding departed scholars and colleagues was the dictum of R. Hiyya bar 'Ashi in the name of Rab that scholars have no rest in this world or the next, but go from strength to strength to appear before God in Zion. Cecil is no longer among us here, but our predominant feelings must be not those of grief, but rather of grati? tude for his life?a life informed throughout by faith, faith both in God and in the mind of man. Few of Oxford's sons can have made more conspicuously their own the words of the Psalmist that are the University's chosen motto, Dominus illuminatio mea: and we, assem? bled here tonight, may echo the acclaim with which the heavenly academy ever greets its latest member, ]XiOb KW '?? ITS ni?^m, happy indeed is one who arrives here, bringing all his scholarship with him. Our Chairman has told you of plans for a lasting memorial of a public nature, but there is one gesture that we can each one of us make. I propose henceforth to make it, and I invite you to join me. Cecil was delighted to find, in Jacob of London's *Es Hayyim recently edited by Sir Israel Brodie, that the mediaeval Anglo Jewish version of the post-prandial Grace included, as the fourth clause in its litany of all-mercifulness, a phrase also found in the Mahzor Vitry, HIT KW pmn CPT?Vm laVllJl 'may the All-Merciful One enlarge our borders by a multitude of pupils'. Can we not, perhaps, reintroduce that petition, not merely as a constant memorial of Cecil in the community that nurtured him, but also as a challenge to ourselves to maintain his work in a manner worthy of his legacy? V. D. LIPMAN, M.A., D.Phil. Half a century ago, the young Cecil Roth read to the Jewish Historical Society of England his first paper?Terkin Warbeck and his Jewish Master'?on Sir Edward Brampton. It fore? shadowed much of his subsequent work: it was both engagingly written and based on original research; it was concerned partly with England, partly with the Jews of Southern Europe and the Mediterranean; and the subject was an adventurer (Cecil Roth always had a soft spot for them). In this paper, the 21-year-old undergraduate was provocative; he was derided by the pundits; and he was right. So began Cecil Roth's association with the Jewish Historical Society of England, with Anglo-Jewish history, with the history of the Jewish people. When he was called upon to pay tribute to his friend Wilfred Samuel he said he had never had laid upon him a more heavy or more grievous task {Trans. XIX, p. 290). These are my own feelings this evening, but my task has been lightened by the two appreciations to which we have listened; and I shall therefore devote my own brief tribute to Cecil Roth as Anglo-Jewish historian, as President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, and as a person. 'DOMINATED ANGLO-JEWISH HISTORY' To say that he dominated Anglo-Jewish history is no exaggeration. If Lucien Wolf and Joseph Jacobs divided up Anglo-Jewish history between them, he bestrode the whole subject like a Colossus. His History of the Jews in England, which went into three editions, is the definitive work. With his meticulous care for detail?surprising to those who think of him only as a dashing writer of romantic vignettes? he kept it lovingly up to date. We can add to it, for it ended in effect in 1858; we can en? large, even correct a detail here and there; but we cannot replace it. And so too in his work for the Jewish His? torical Society. That we are here tonight at a joint meeting of two societies we owe to Cecil Roth, because he kept the English society alive as President in the years of war and dis? persion. When the Society's home at University College London was destroyed by bombing, he dragooned me, a shrinking undergraduate, into obtaining the great hall of my college, Magdalen, for his Presidential address, with the first Viscount Samuel in the chair, who</page><page sequence="6">Roth Tributes 107 explained that we had come to the home of lost causes for the cause of lost homes. Those who worked with him in the Society, like many others, will remember his amazing memory for facts and personalities, his wit and zest, his hospitality to student and scholar, in that wonderful milieu which combined Jewish tradition and Oxford elegance and to which the care and brilliance of his wife, Irene, contributed so much. He was a devoted son of Anglo-Jewry. While he criticised its shortcomings, he sought to serve it: no audience was too small or in? accessible for him to answer an unremunerated invitation to speak on the Jewish past or the Jewish future, even when it involved difficult trips across country. Yet the Anglo-Jewish community failed to appreciate him, as is its practice with scholars while they are in its midst. Although his last years?after he left England in 1964?were overcast by ill-health, they did, I think, bring him satisfaction. He was proud of the Festschrift presented by his friends in the Jewish Historical Society; heartened by the appreciative, indeed en? thusiastic, reception given him by student audiences in New York; and greatly pleased by the title of Commendatore of the Italian Order of Merit conferred upon him for services to Italian culture. PRESIDENT NINE TIMES We in the Jewish Historical Society remem? ber the delight with which he presided, as President for the ninth time, over the splendid 75th anniversary celebration last year in the Banqueting House, with its memories of Menasseh ben Israel and Oliver Cromwell, at Whitehall, not an inappropriate climax and farewell to his association with our Society. When he left Oxford he had made his home in Jerusalem and he loved his study looking over the Old City. But while Jerusalem was divided it was in the front line. Yet there, with the courage he had shown as a young soldier under fire in 1918, he insisted on return? ing, though far from strong, on the eve of the Six-Day War. 'I feel happier than I have for weeks, whatever happens', he wrote to me four days before the war; 'come here if you need a tonic'. And Israel did not neglect him. When he was laid to rest in Jerusalem, it was Israel's President who supported his widow at the graveside. Bezalel was his Hebrew name, itself an almost miraculous presage of his flair for Jewish art?and like Bezalel of old we can say of him that he was 'filled with the spirit of God', for he was an observant, traditional Jew; 'with wisdom' (Hochma), which the rabbis tell us means learning from others and making knowledge one's own; 'with understanding' (tevunah), which means deduction, and we know how Cecil revelled in historical detection; and 'with knowledge' (da'ath), which is the divine inspiration. For Cecil Roth, while he sought to question, and urged others to question, insisted (as I heard him tell Jewish school? children) that this must be done with reverence: with reverence for the Jewish past and for its Creator, that Creator who gave Bezalel of old, like our Bezalel, the gift of teaching? lehoroth natan belibo?itself a fitting epitaph for a great Jewish teacher (Exodus xxxv, 30-34). The Jewish Historical Society has lost its outstanding President; we who knew him have lost a dear and unforgettable friend; Jewish history has lost a master.</page></plain_text>