Oxford University Toward the Jews - Wavering Respect 1264-2007

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(This Original Essay is Copyrighted by Shelomo Alfassa - All Rights Reserved)

Recently, revisionist historian David Irving appeared at the University of Oxford in England and set off a mass protest by Jews and others. Irving has written many books, some which defend Hitler and some which deny the systematic attempt to extermination the world Jewish population by the German government during World War II. His statements include: "There were never any gas chambers in Auschwitz," and "I don't see any reason to be tasteful about Auschwitz. It's baloney, it's a legend." So why would Oxford, the oldest university in the English-speaking world, allow this man to speak on campus?

Irving was invited to speak at Oxford by the president of the Oxford Union debate society which now has been accused of promoting anti-Semitism. Oxford has hosted other anti-Semites and Jew haters on their campus before, including Malcolm X, Richard Nixon and Jerry Falwell. The university has had a long historic history of conducting itself in a manner that, shall we say, has been less than hospitable to the Jews over the centuries. Compounding this insult is the fact that the University of Oxford was built upon land both given by, and taken from, Jews.

The University of Oxford is made up of several constituent colleges. The university's 2007 Website states that Oxford has been an important center for Hebrew and Jewish Studies "since the sixteenth century," yet, Jews were not allowed to attend Oxford until the nineteenth century! They had been banned from day one, never allowed to matriculate from the origin of the institution in 1264 to 1854; for 590 years, the university was a mandatory Jew-free zone.

Nevertheless, Christian scholars consulted with rabbis and Jewish scholars who lived in Oxford, and who, it is thought, studied in a Talmudic academy in the Jewish part of town. Jews have had a important influence on what would become the university, even before its inception. The first Jew had arrived in the city of Oxford in 1073 and others followed "in great number" in 1075. Property deeds extant today, demonstrate that Oxford university is located, at least partially, on land deeded to it by Rabbi Moses who had come from the city of Bristol around 1210, as well as other Jews. In 1190, the Jewish community developed a cemetery at Oxford, in which today stands in its place the University of Oxford Botanic Gardens.

Accounts of anti-Jewish attitudes originating in 1141, included several varied incidents, including the burning of the house of "Aaron, the son of Isaac the Jew." Aaron's home was burnt down by King Stephen in order to exact payment of a fine. About 1228, two houses owned by "David of Oxford" and "Isaac ben Moses" were confiscated. They were used as the new Oxford town hall and court house. A new building was built atop the site in 1292, then replaced in 1752, which was demolished in 1893 to make way for the current building, the landmark Town Hall, an enormous structure, that remains till this day on the site of the former Jewish owned real estate.

In 1244, Christian students rioted and attacked Jewish homes, claiming that their studies at the university were halted because all the books were pawned to Jewish money lenders. Some 24 years later, a riot was started after a Jew allegedly damaged a cross during a religious procession at the university. Resulting from this matter, Jews were imprisoned, then forced to pay for a large marble cross that was placed at Merton College, Oxford's first college that was built around 1264, one of many constituent colleges of the university.

Blood libels and other accounts of the Jews kidnapping, crucifying, and torturing English children to utilize their blood in Jewish religious affairs were rampant before King Edward I expelled the Jews from England in 1290. In History of Oxford University, published by the Oxford University Press, we learn this expulsion led to financial hardship for the scholars of Oxford, and that "The university had few extra resources of its own from which to supply credit and for probably the first time in its history, found itself in need of substantial sums of money."

During the expulsion, the Jews of the city of Oxford had their goods and property confiscated and sold to William Burnell, Archdeacon of Wells. He turned the property into residence halls for students at the University of Oxford. In 1307, after the death of Burnell, the halls were passed to Balliol College, another of the constituent colleges that make up today's University of Oxford. Afterward, the Bishop of London bought the structure and it became known as London College. This college was eventually replaced by the massive Christ's Church, another college on the Oxford campus.

The passing of the Oxford University Act in 1854 allowed Jews to enroll, but anti-Semitism and intolerance endured, causing Jews to conceal their faith. As late as 1938, when Dr. Cecil Roth returned to Oxford as a lecturer, the university continued to require Jews, as well as others, take examinations on Saturday. Roth, an observant Jew, would use his influence to strike a change in Oxford's long held policy.

While today, Oxford beams of a history that includes the teaching of "Hebrew and Jewish Studies," what they don't tell you, is that these studies were conducted by non-Jews--while Jews themselves were ethnically marginalized from the campus.

Could this be a sort of latent hatred of Jews and/or Israel that may have surfaced once again at Oxford? It is lamentable that the university has provided Holocaust denier and Nazi sympathizer David Irving a platform to speak. Providing him with an opportunity to spread his lies and mishistory, especially when he is on the stage of such an acclaimed university, has the effect of conferring a sort of legitimacy to this convicted criminal. The mere fact that they have found him important enough to participate on their campus, even after the Jewish students have vehemently demanded he not be allowed to spread his anti-Semitic and hurtful lies, demonstrates Oxford's lack of sensitivity for its Jewish students and the worldwide Jewish community at large. The fact that the Oxford Union had sent Irving an invitation, and that the University allowed him to come, tarnishes the name of the institution.

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This page contains a single entry by Shelomo Alfassa published on December 3, 2007 12:46 AM.

Thoughts on Hanuka by the incredible Rabbi Henry Pereira Mendes was the previous entry in this blog.

Nahmanides: First to introduce mystical thought into a Torah commentary is the next entry in this blog.

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