The Gentile Scholar Who Became the First Campus Rabbi

In 1759, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Lifshuetz gave a Danish Protestant named Olaf Gerhard Tychsen a document certifying him as a ḥaver, or fellow—a sort of junior version of a rabbinic degree. This is likely the only case in history of traditional rabbinic ordination of any sort being granted to a non-Jew. Previously, Tychsen had studied under Jonathan Eybeschuetz, considered one of the foremost rabbis of his day. Edward Reichman shares some new research into Tychsen’s subsequent activities:

One year after his ordination, toward the end of 1760, Tychsen was appointed professor of Oriental Languages at the newly established University of Bützow in Mecklenburg, [Germany]. It is in this capacity that Tychsen exercised a rabbinic role, becoming a university campus rabbi of sorts for a select group of Jews at the university. Though he may not actually have had a “minyan” of students, nonetheless, his impact on this select group was profound and long lasting.

Reichmann notes that Tychsen, who became the leading scholar of coins from the Islamic world, carried out correspondence in fluid Hebrew with Jewish colleagues, which he peppered with learned puns and allusions in the rabbinic style of the day. He developed a particularly close friendship with a medical student named Markus Moses:

Tychsen had a working academic relationship with Moses, as evidenced by the multiple research papers Moses wrote under his mentorship. It is remarkable that all of the papers were on Jewish topics. I have found a number of cases, though relatively few in number, of Jewish medical students throughout the centuries who wrote their medical school dissertations on a Jewish related topic, but I have never encountered any student who authored so many Jewish related papers as part of their medical training. The topics included the Samaritan Bible, a discussion of kosher and non-kosher animals based on the work of Maimonides, and an essay on the diseases of the old as reflected in Ecclesiastes 12. Moses’ dissertation . . . was also on a Jewish topic and was supervised by Tychsen.

An oath was . . . part of the graduation ceremony, and it typically involved avowing one’s belief in Christianity. Tychsen intervened with the duke of Mecklenberg on Moses’ behalf to allow him to take his graduation oath invoking the name of the God of Israel as opposed to the Christian deity. He even publicly conversed with Moses in Yiddish at the graduation.

Read more at Seforim

More about: Jewish-Christian relations, Rabbis

Spain’s Anti-Israel Agenda

What interest does Madrid have in the creation of a Palestinian state? Elliott Abrams raised this question a few days ago, when discussing ongoing Spanish efforts to block the transfer of arms to Israel. He points to multiple opinion surveys suggesting that Spain is among Europe’s most anti-Semitic countries:

The point of including that information here is to explain the obvious: Spain’s anti-Israel extremism is not based in fancy international political analyses, but instead reflects both the extreme views of hard-left parties in the governing coalition and a very traditional Spanish anti-Semitism. Spain’s government lacks the moral standing to lecture the state of Israel on how to defend itself against terrorist murderers. Its effort to deprive Israel of the means of defense is deeply immoral. Every effort should be made to prevent these views from further infecting the politics and foreign policy of the European Union and its member states.

Read more at Pressure Points

More about: Anti-Semitism, Europe and Israel, Palestinian statehood, Spain