Tuesday evenings at 8.00 at Sha'are Hayim Synagogue, Withington (8 Queenston Road)


Jan 11, Rosalyn Livshin, "The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews to Manchester 1890-1930", illustrated with taped extracts.

The talk will examine the way in which the children of immigrant Jews to Manchester were introduced to English culture and an English way of life and the effect this had upon the children in terms of their own culture, religion and sense of identity. Why were the children exposed to anglicising influences not only from the wider society in which they lived but through the very institutions of the Jewish community itself? What effect did this have on the use of the Yiddish language, Yiddish culture, religious observance, attitudes and a sense of identity? These issues will be addressed through the use of documentary and oral evidence. In particular the vast oral archive, built up by myself and Bill Williams at the Manchester Studies Unit of Manchester Polytechnic, provides a unique look at the effects of acculturation upon the children. Taped extracts will be played from this archive to illustrate the talk. The information for this talk is drawn from research undertaken for a Master of Education at the University of Manchester.

Rosalyn Livshin, Honorary Research Fellow at the Centre for Jewish Studies, is the North West Co-ordinator for the National Sound Archive's Project on "The Living Memory of the Jewish Community", interviewing refugees and survivors of the Holocaust, and researches also in local history and genealogy. Her publications include: 'The History of the Harrogate Jewish Community' (Leeds, 1995) and 'The Acculturation of the Children of Immigrant Jews in Manchester, 1890-1930', in The Making of Modern Anglo-Jewry, ed. David Cesarani (Oxford University Press, 1990).


Jan 18, Adrian Curtis: "Archaeology and Israelite Origins" (illustrated talk)

There has been much recent scholarly debate about the origins of ancient Israel and, in particular, about the emergence of the Israelites as a distinct people living in the southern Levant. Various models for understanding this process have been proposed and these will be be briefly reviewed. But the lecture will concentrate on the extent to which archaeology can help provide the answer to some of the questions which have been raised.

Dr Adrian Curtis is Senior Lecturer in Old Testament Studies at the University of Manchester; his major publications includeUgarit (1985); Joshua (1994), Ugarit and the Bible (1994); The Book of Jeremiah and its Reception (1997).


Jan 25, Philip Alexander: "What has Athens in common with Jerusalem? Jewish Attitudes towards 'Hellenism' from the Maccabees to Modern Times"

Many would argue that the encounter between Judaism and Hellenism was one of the most significant clashes of culture in history, that, indeed, it defined western civilization as we know it.

The worldview of classical Greece and the worldview of the Hebrew Bible are fundamentally different but, through the influence of Christianity, they are held in uneasy tension within European culture which over the centuries has oscillated between these two poles, sometimes stressing its Hebraic and sometimes its Hellenic side.

Judaism itself is often cited to support the thesis that Judaism and Hellenism are opposites. Certainly the dominant attitude of the major Second Temple and Talmudic period texts is opposition to things Greek. The Hasmonaeans asserted Jewish political independence of the Greeks, events annually recalled in the festival of Hanukkah. And the Rabbis of the Talmud famously imposed a ban on the study of Greek wisdom.

However, when we look a bit closer the sharp opposition between Judaism and Hellenism begins to dissolve. It is, in fact, very difficult to define an essence for Hellenism and for Judaism which can be opposed one to the other. Both Judaism and Hellenism are highly complex and historically diverse cultures. And there have been times when Jews have adapted in a creative way Greek ideas and integrated them successfully with Biblical and Rabbinic thought.

Moreover the 'Hellenism v. Judaism' dichotomy has often been used for political purposes which have little to do with historical reality. Thus Orthodox thinkers in the 19th century branded the Maskilim, the advocates of the Jewish enlightenment, 'Hellenizers' so that they could invoke against them both the spirit of the Hasmonaeans and the Rabbinic ban on Greek wisdom. One Israeli scholar has argued that modern Hebrew literature, with its adoption of Greek literary forms such as plays and novels and belles lettres marks the final triumph of Hellenism within Judaism.

These are some of the ideas which I shall attempt to explore, using concrete historical examples, in my talk on Tuesday evening.


Feb 1, Benny Peiser: "'I desire Loyal Love, and not Sacrifices': The Elimination of Blood Sacrifice in Judaism"

The ritual killing of animals and the offering of sacrifices to a multitude of deities was practised by all cultures in antiquity. In most cases, these sacrificial offerings were made to gods in the form of idols. For pagan cultures, however, Judaism was something quite unique. As a result of the total ban of animal sacrifice outside the Jerusalem temple, Jews were the first people in antiquity to generally abandon blood sacrifices. Those elements of religion and cult which were elsewhere in the centre, had been almost completely omitted: Judaism knew neither temples nor images of the gods, nor sacrifices. The abolition of the sacrificial services (with the exception of the temple in Jerusalem) was valid for the majority of the Jews. As early as the 6th century BCE the prophet Hosea stressed his hostility to the idea of sacrifices. "I desire loyal love, and not sacrifices". This and other prophetic statements underline a strong anti-sacrificial tendency within biblical Judaism. When, in 70 CE, Titus destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, the perception of the Jews as a non-sacrificial nation became even more prevalent. From now on, the central idea of Judaism was that one must not expect salvation from the sacrifice of others, be it in form of an animal, a god or a human being. Having overcome the sacrificial cult altogether and the idea that blood sacrifices were necessary for redemption, rabbinical Judaism emerged. In place of blood sacrifices prayers, the learning of law and history in addition to moral education became the central part of religious service.


Feb 8, Gerald Hammond: "The English People and the Hebrew Bible in the Early Modern Period"

I shall be exploring the period, roughly 1520-1660, when England made the transition from a medieval state with many elements still of feudalism to an embryonic modern state which had even experimented with republicanism. At the heart of this movement was the Bible in English. Forbidden to be owned or read in Catholic England, it became the most widely owned and widely read book in 16th-century England and the key to political debate right through the first half of the 17th. While the centrality of Scripture was essential to all of Protestant Europe, distinctive to this country's experience was an unusual emphasis upon the Hebrew Bible, the 'Old Testament', an apparently perverse emphasis given the almost complete absence of Jews in the country throughout the period. The lecture looks at 4 ways in which the Hebrew Bible acted upon English culture to help influence the emergence of the modern nation state:

  1. The translation of the Bible itself, from the 14th century to 1611.
  2. The rise of Hebrew studies in the 16th century.
  3. The Hebrew Bible in high and low culture.
  4. The movement towards the readmission of the Jews.


Feb 15 Roger Tomes: "Divided by a common Scripture: Jewish and Christian approaches to the Bible"

This talk will:

  • survey the way the scriptures were read in the 1st century C.E., before 'the Parting of the Ways';
  • look at traditional Jewish and Christian interpretation up to the rise of biblical criticism;
  • discuss the response of both communities to biblical criticism;
  • ask why the historical-critical approach has not created common ground for Jews and Christians to read and study the scriptures together.


Feb 22 Bernard Jackson: "Can Jews Make Wills (according to the Halakhah)? And if so, can they discriminate against wives and daughters?"

Dayan Grunfeld published a book in 1987: The Jewish Law of Inheritance, which posed a major challenge to the normal practises of (civil) will-making in the Jewish community. He claimed that the Halakhah gives priority to intestate succession, and that the distribution of the estate must follow the rules laid down in the case of the daughters of Zelophehad (Numbers 27). It is not possible to override this distribution by means of a civil will, or by any explicit means in Jewish law. That means, for example, that daughters are necessarily excluded from inheritance in favour of sons, and that widows must rely upon maintenance from the estate, according to the terms of the Ketubah. Nevertheless, Dayan Grunfeld drafted a Jewish form of will designed to have the effects of a civil will without breaching the Halakhah. This lecture will trace the history of the matter: the tension between testate and intestate succession in the Bible itself; the steps by which the Halakhah itself came to recognise the institution of the will; and the efforts which have been made to equalise the succession rights of daughters with those of sons.


Feb 29, John Healey: "Who Invented the Alphabet?"