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.
More about: Jewish-Christian relations, Rabbis