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In Memoriam Professor Raphael Loewe, 1919-2011

Stefan C. Reif

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies , volume 44, 2012 In Memoriam Raphael James Loewe 1919-2011 In many ways, Raphael Loewe was, for much of his life, a microcosm of Anglo-Jewish intellectual history and values, as far as they evolved in the nineteenth century and at least the first half of the twentieth. His younger years were characterized by descent from a renowned family, a classical edu- cation at a well-known public school and a rigid training in prose and poetic composition and translation. Early adulthood saw close connections with the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge, as well as active service in the British army in Africa and Italy. His religious approach constituted an attachment to a moderate form of traditional Judaism that did not rule out an active sym- pathy for other interpretations of the faith. He always had a suspicion of any coldly professional approach to study and education and often displayed an enthusiasm for a more personal commitment to learning, almost as a greatly loved hobby. His distinct preference was for quiet modesty over noisy self- promotion. How appropriate, then, that the infant Raphael James, born to Herbert and Ethel Victoria (née Hyamson) Loewe, first saw the light of day in the British Raj, having entered the world in Calcutta on 16 April 19 19. Equally apt was the illustrious heritage in which he was reared. His great grandfather, Louis Loewe, had been the secretary, adviser and scholar companion to the Anglo- Jewish notable, Sir Moses Montefiore, and his grandfather, James, had been a banker, with Jewish scholarly interests, who had hosted Theodor Herzl during the latter's early efforts to create and firmly establish political Zionism. However, it was Raphael's father, Herbert Martin James Loewe, whose scholarly and religious impact remained with his son throughout his life and who always received from him, after Herbert's death no less than before it, the highest level of filial piety, admiration and recognition. Herbert taught in various capacities at the Universities of Oxford, Cambridge and London before being appointed permanently to teach Rabbinics at Cambridge, which he successfully did from 1931 until his early demise in 1940. It was he who educated Raphael in Hebrew and Jewish matters while he was a pupil at the Dragon School in Oxford and then at the Leys in Cambridge. The mastery and memorization of literary gems, the importance of educational discipline as well as intellectual self-discipline, and the close i</page><page sequence="2">Stefan C. Reif care to be applied to the interpretation of texts were lessons learnt both at home and at school. I recall Raphael telling me about one his teachers from the Leys who was still alive in 2009 and with whom, as loyal pupil, he was still anxious to make contact. Those lessons stood him in good stead when, after winning an open scholarship in classics at St John's College, Cambridge, in 1937, he spent a few months before going up in teaching English at the Yavneh School for Jewish boys and girls in Cologne. Throughout his career he applied, honestly and fearlessly, the well tried methods of Classical schol- arship to Hebrew texts. Among the Johnian dons who taught him, and for whom he retained a fondness in addition to a critical appreciation, was T. R. Glover whose rem- iniscences and diaries tell us much about Cambridge from the Victorian period until the Second World War. Raphael's deep love for his alma mater remained with him all his life and he often made a point of stressing, publicly as well as privately, just how much he owed St John's. He studied there until 1940, gaining a First in Part One of the Classical Tripos and the John Stewart of Rannoch Scholarship in Hebrew. It gave him enormous pleasure when in 2009 the College elected him to an honorary fellowship and he was able to come a few times and dine with the other fellows, and build a warm relation- ship with the Master, Professor Christopher Dobson, before Raphael's ter- minal illness finally ruled out such visits late in 2010. He had some years earlier bequeathed most of his library to the College since he thought it fitting that his collection should find a permanent place in the academic city and institution of learning where he had consistently felt most at home. As well as being a devoted husband to Chloe (nee Klatzkin), a loving and supportive father and grandfather, and a reliable family man, Raphael was always a most loyal British citizen. In addition to his wide contacts in Europe and North America, he had good relations with many Israeli scholars and institutions but, like his father, felt unable to split his patriotism and national identity between the United Kingdom and the Jewish state. He was also a stickler for the accuracy of Hebrew grammar, vocabulary and syntax as they occur in the traditionally transmitted Hebrew Bible and as they are adapted in the medieval Hebrew poems that he loved passionately. He consequently felt unable to tolerate the changes and the influences, some of them derived from European languages, that had re-designed the language as a contempo- rary vernacular and he followed the scholar who had been Regius Professor of Hebrew at Cambridge when Raphael was a junior member - David Winton Thomas - in refusing, somewhat doggedly, to countenance the valid- ity of modern spoken Hebrew as an authentic form of the language. When, however, the Faculty of Oriental Studies (then chaired by Raphael's brother Michael) finally approved the teaching of Modern Hebrew language, litera- ture and history some forty years ago, Raphael's pupil Risa Domb followed 2</page><page sequence="3">In Memoriam Professor Raphael Loe we, 19 19-201 1 Avihai Shivtiel in teaching the subject and succeeded in convincing her former mentor that modern Hebrew did indeed have a place in the academic world. In another matter Raphael crossed swords with Thomas. Having been invalided out of the army in 1944, he returned to Cambridge with what was undoubtedly a fairly specialized knowledge of Biblical, Rabbinic and Medieval Hebrew. Thomas advised him to make further progress by study- ing for the Oriental Languages Tripos but Raphael apparently felt that he had moved beyond that level. Not for the first or last time in his life, he made what he much later acknowledged to have been a rash decision by opting not to do so and, instead, sitting an examination for the Tyrwhitt Hebrew scholarship. This had traditionally demanded exceptionally high standards of Classical Hebrew and been only rarely awarded. He was not successful and this obvi- ously rankled him for no little amount of time afterwards, in spite of his success in winning the Jeremie Septuagint Prize in 1946. Perhaps somewhat unsettled, he moved on to Oxford as a research student at Balliol College in 1948-49 and shared rooms for a short time with John Crook, who had studied with him in 1939-40 and who soon returned to Cambridge as a fellow of St John's and later as Professor of Ancient History. Both men had been on active service during the Second World War but it appears to have taken Raphael a good deal longer than John to accommodate to peacetime conditions. During his military service Raphael distinguished himself to an outstand- ing degree. He enlisted in 1940 and, after spells in the Pioneer Corps and the Suffolk Regiment, became an officer in the Royal Armoured Corps. While serving in North Africa in April 1943, he "repeatedly acted with the utmost courage in battle and stopped at nothing to serve his Regiment and the British Army". On one occasion he ran to a tank that had been hit by enemy fire and was still under attack, evacuated the wounded in a scout car that he had called up and returned to the battle. In another instance, he drove through shell and mortar fire in order to bring news of an imminent enemy counter-attack and was thrown to the ground. With a similar disregard for his own safety at the notorious battle of Monte Cassino in 1944, he rescued some wounded com- rades and he was later seriously injured near Florence. For his bravery, he was awarded a Military Cross but also had to contend with a badly damaged leg for the remainder of his life. Generations of scholars and students have a memory of him sitting during his own lectures and those of others with his left leg stretched out straight before him, as he inspired listeners with his comments, knowledge and analysis, making disparaging, even angry com- ments about how levels of education and behaviour had slipped, and indulging in his rather risqué sense of humour. Raphael's first academic post was at the University of Leeds which was one of what were then numerous British academic institutions that still 3</page><page sequence="4">Stefan C. Reif taught Hebrew and other Semitic languages and related topics to under- graduates. He lectured there from 1949 until 1953 (during which time his first academic publications appeared) and then, anxious as he was to return to the more rarified academic atmosphere of Cambridge, gave up what was a secure post to take up the S. A. Cook bye-fellowship at Gonville and Caius College in the University of Cambridge in 1954. Perhaps he thought that he would find a more permanent post in his home university but nothing was at that time available and there followed a period in which he had no academic appointment. This situation was somewhat relieved for him by brief and temporary periods of teaching at Brown and Brandeis Universities in the USA. By the 1960s he had established a reputation not only as an erudite Biblical and Medieval Hebraist, with expertise in the history of biblical exegesis, among both Jews and Christians, but also as a historian of Anglo-Jewry and a leading expert in the development of Christian Hebraism. He had also evinced a special interest, before it became widely fashionable, in the role of women in Jewish religious tradition. Raphael had already served on the Council of the Jewish Historical Society of England for a number of years and had delivered lectures to its members. Given Cecil Roth's interests, there were those who thought that he might be appointed to succeed Roth, who had retired in 1964 as Reader in Jewish Studies at Oxford but the electors chose Geza Vermes for that post. It was University College London (UCL) and Leo Baeck College (the London Seminary for training Rabbis for the non-Orthodox movements) that had faith in him as a scholar and a teacher. Academic Hebrew teaching had been in place at University College virtually since the founding of the College in the 1820s but the Hebrew department was in the early 1960s staffed wholly by Central and Eastern European scholars trained in the Wissenschaft des Judentums who, while impressive in their learning and aca- demic attainments, were not wholly au fait with English acadaemia and its broader interests, attitudes and ramifications. Raphael was able to contribute significantly to the expansion and development of the department in the areas of teaching, administration and publication and his contribution undoubt- edly played a part in the success it enjoyed in fund-raising, the creation of an improved public profile, and the attraction of larger numbers of undergrad- uate and graduate students. Raphael was appointed to a temporary lectureship at UCL in 1961 and progressed to a tenured lectureship in 1966 and various promotions until he was appointed Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew in 1981, taking his retirement in 1984. He also served during those years as the Director of the Institute of Jewish Studies. As a teacher of Rabbinics, to women as well as men, he also had a major impact on the students at Leo Baeck and some of the most 4</page><page sequence="5">In Memoriam Professor Raphael Loewe, 19 19-201 1 outstanding of these, now among the leading spiritual leaders of the non- orthodox communities, take great pride in being counted as his pupils and have taken various opportunities of paying tribute to him in recent years. During his years of academic teaching and administration in London, Raphael began to commit his scholarship to print in a much more prolific fashion. As well as maintaining his earlier interests, he published a major study of the first Reader in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature at Cambridge, Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy, prepared lengthy and learned introduc- tions to facsimile editions of Passover Haggadot, and in his later years com- pleted two remarkable volumes that are unique in many ways: a two- volume annotated edition and translation (in rhymed couplets) of Isaac ben Sahula's Meshal Haqadmoni , animal fables written in rhymed prose in thirteenth- century Spain, and Hebrew Poems and Translations , an anthology of the poems and poetic translations that he had composed over a period of many years in English, Hebrew and Latin. Some of these had been sent out annually to friends with his greetings for the Jewish New Year and had displayed remark- able feats of linguistic and exegetical ingenuity. He served as President of the Jewish Historical Society of England, 1 975-77, of the Society for Old Testament Study in 1981, as well as of the British Association for Jewish Studies in 1998, and in 2000 he won the Seatonian Prize at the University of Cambridge for a poem of a religious theme, an achievement in which he took great delight. He also served as the examiner of the University of London's Classical Hebrew "A" Level for many years. Raphael was undoubtedly idiosyncratic - even avowedly so - in many ways. Although from an Ashkenazi family, he followed his father in taking a highly active and senior role in various aspects of the running of the Spanish and Portuguese Synagogue and its services. He composed a poem to mark the tercentenary of the synagogue in 2001 and he subsequently led the singing of it each year on the anniversary of its opening. Raphael preferred to think of himself as a Jewish scholar who rightfully belonged in medieval Spain or in Victorian England rather than in mid-twentieth century. He took a delight in creating unique and brilliant translations that could themselves be clas- sified as original poetry. In the poetry workshop that he ran for many years, he inspired generations of Hebraists to take up the challenge of translating difficult Hebrew texts. He never tired of the traditional education in Classics or acknowledged that it might now have been superseded by other forms of study. He had little patience with shallow learning or with current fads in education and he could, especially in his early years, be swift and direct in his responses to individuals and situations, rather in the traditional manner in which some of his own teachers had treated him. Those who knew him were aware that in his dealings with students he was rarely impatient, giving gen- 5</page><page sequence="6">Stefan C. Reif erously of his time and knowledge and guiding them in a careful and expert fashion. Yet even if he was occasionally a little tetchy, students and colleagues soon appreciated that they had perhaps given him sound reason. He mel- lowed in his latter years, as exemplified by his outstanding patience and devo- tion when dealing with the increasing ill-health of his wife. I recall an incident that proved to me that his sharpness was part of his honesty and integrity. Raphael, who was already struggling with ill-health and losing patience with the pain and the suffering it entailed, and I were due to dine at high table in St John's and he accompanied me beforehand to the evening service in the synagogue of the Cambridge University Jewish Society in Thompson's Lane, which he had known and used with affection since it opened in 1937. Before the service commenced, I introduced him to one of the young men as a scholar who had come up more than seventy years previ- ously and had recently celebrated his ninetieth birthday. In traditional fashion, the young man conveyed to his senior the traditional Jewish bless- ing that Raphael should live to 120. Raphael's swift and categorical response was a desperate but heartfelt plea to heaven that he should be spared such a fate. He felt that he should soon make his way to the "world of truth" where his directness and honesty would never be decried. There is no doubt that he contributed much of great and lasting value to this world and that he did so as a unique personality, a loyal British Jew, an accomplished Cambridge scholar, and an inspiring teacher and guide. Y ehi zikhro barukh (may his memory be blessed). STEFAN C. REIF 6</page></plain_text>