Tuesday, December 27, 2005

David Patterson z'l

Professor DavidPatterson, the founder of the Oxford Centre for Postgraduate Hebrew Studies (later renamed the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies) passed away in Oxford on December 10, aged 83.

David loved Hebrew and Hebrew literature, and was perhaps the last surviving Hebrew maskil in the UK. He had a distinguished academic output in the field of early Hebrew literature. However, his lifetime achievement was in founding the Oxford centre. Unlike the USA, there was virtually no significant academic presence of Jewish Studies or Hebrew in UK universities. In both Oxford and Cambridge the residual Christian theological influence on academe had restricted Jewish Studies to a Hebraic subset of Biblical studies. The most famous Oxford figure, Cecil Roth, was actually a junior professor ("Reader", in Oxbridge language), and, apparently because of his most prickly personality, a marginalised figure in the intellectual life of the University. In addition, his emphasis on a marginal subject (Anglo-Jewish history) meant that there was no representation of Jewish religious, cultural or political thought in the University. The founding of the Middle Eastern Centre of St. Anthony's College in 1957 created a major centre in the University that exerted a huge influence on the perception of the Middle East in English diplomatic, research and academic circles.

David determined to create a major centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies in the University. His personal charm and self-effacing, but determined manner allowed him to overcome the natural Philistinism of the Anglo-Jewish community (most of whom to this day are blissfully disdainful of Jewish scholarship), and he raised funds to launch his project. The University gave the centre academic recognition, although it would not commit to funding it. In 1972 the Centre opened in a small house in central Oxford. Within a couple of years David persuaded the Wolfson Foundation to purchase Yarnton Manor, a stunningly beautiful C16 English manor house a few miles north of Oxford. Over the years Yarnton and its outbuildings were renovated, and a huge library, (originally based on the collection of the Israeli journalist Getzel Kressel) was assembled. Accomodation for visiting Fellows was provided, and Yarnton became an international centre for research and teaching, especially (but not only) in Hebrew literature, Dead Sea Scrolls research and Yiddish (utilizing the considerable, and hitherto ignored early Yiddish holdings of the Bodleian library).

David was a gentleman. Yehi zichro baruch.

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