Oxford’s Jewish Treasures and the Story of the Jews of Medieval England

Discovered in the city of Norfolk in what had once been a moat, and donated to Oxford in 1755, the so-called Bodleian Bowl bears a Hebrew inscription that puzzled British Hebraists for centuries. Rebecca Abrams explains what is now known about this remarkable artifact, and offers a brief history of the Jews of England in the Middle Ages:

Standing almost 25 centimeters high and weighing in at a hefty five kilograms, the bowl has a long Hebrew inscription encircling the rim and is impressively decorated with hoof-shaped feet, birds, flowers, stags, and fleurs-de-lys. . . . The marquis of Northampton, writing in 1696, thought the bowl “a great mystery” and described it as a “rabbinical porridge pot,” intended by its users to symbolize the biblical pot of manna. . . . It is now generally agreed that it was in all likelihood used to collect charitable donations. The Hebrew inscription also puzzled scholars with its tantalizing mixture of abbreviations, missing letters, and words without clear meaning. A credible translation for the inscription reads:

This is the gift of Joseph, son of the holy Rabbi Yeḥiel, may the memory of the righteous holy one be for a blessing, who answered and asked the congregation as he desired, in order to behold the face of Ariel as it is written in the law of Jekuthiel, “And righteousness delivers from death.”

Property deeds and other documents, which came to light in the 19th century, reveal that Joseph was a leading member of the Jewish community in Colchester in the 13th century, and the eldest son of Rabbi Yeḥiel of Paris, a leading talmudic scholar in . . . France and the head of the renowned Paris yeshiva. Joseph had spent time in prison (we don’t know for what, exactly) and on his release made a vow to emigrate to the Holy Land, an intention he began to realize in around 1257.

Before his departure, Joseph put his affairs in order, transferred his property on Stockwell Street, Colchester to his brother Samuel and presented the bowl as a gift to the local Jewish community, possibly to thank them for raising money to help fund his journey. Joseph left England in 1260, . . . traveling first to France and Greece, then on to the land of Israel, where he subsequently died. He was buried not far from Haifa in a graveyard at the foot of Mount Carmel, alongside many other eminent rabbis.

Read more at BBC History Extra

More about: Britain, British Jewry, Christian Hebraists, History & Ideas, Jewish history


The IDF’s First Investigation of Its Conduct on October 7 Is Out

For several months, the Israel Defense Forces has been investigating its own actions on and preparedness for October 7, with an eye to understanding its failures. The first of what are expected to be many reports stemming from this investigation was released yesterday, and it showed a series of colossal strategic and tactical errors surrounding the battle at Kibbutz Be’eri, writes Emanuel Fabian. The probe, he reports, was led by Maj. Gen. (res.) Mickey Edelstein.

Edelstein and his team—none of whom had any involvement in the events themselves, according to the IDF—spent hundreds of hours investigating the onslaught and battle at Be’eri, reviewing every possible source of information, from residents’ WhatsApp messages to both Israeli and Hamas radio communications, as well as surveillance videos, aerial footage, interviews of survivors and those who fought, plus visits to the scene.

There will be a series of further reports issued this summer.

IDF chief Halevi in a statement issued alongside the probe said that while this was just the first investigation into the onslaught, which does not reflect the entire picture of October 7, it “clearly illustrates the magnitude of the failure and the dimensions of the disaster that befell the residents of the south who protected their families with their bodies for many hours, and the IDF was not there to protect them.” . . .

The IDF hopes to present all battle investigations by the end of August.

The IDF’s probes are strictly limited to its own conduct. For a broader look at what went wrong, Israel will have to wait for a formal state commission of inquiry to be appointed—which happens to be the subject of this month’s featured essay in Mosaic.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: Gaza War 2023, IDF, Israel & Zionism, October 7