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Herbert Loewe

© Marcus Roberts

The focal point of Jewish Oxford, from 1920, and indeed its main continuity, was Herbert Loewe (1882-1940), who lived in 29 Beaumont Street. Loewe was a lecturer in Oriental Languages at Exeter College, appointed in 1913 and working in Oxford until 1931 until he went on to Cambridge. Herbert Loewe's grandfather, Louis Loewe (1809-1880), had in fact been Sir Moses Montefiore’s 'oriental secretary' and the first Principal of the Judith, Lady Montefiore College at Ramsgate.

He was one of the very few visible Jews teaching in Oxford and on return from war service in India in 1920, he made his house an open house for undergraduate Jewish students on the Sabbath and festivals. Sir Basil Henriques, QC, the famous Jewish social worker and founder of youth clubs, was instrumental in bringing him from Cambridge to Oxford to encourage young men in Judaism and Hebrew, at a very low point in Jewish life in the University and Town. Cambridge at this point had a much more thriving Jewish life, in part due to the influence of Israel Abrahams a notable Jewish figure of the 19th century. Basil Henriques had in fact started this work of Oxford revival, when he was a student at Exeter College and had encourage a significant number of students in their religion.

Loewe was noted both for his religious observance and tolerance and he conducted services that were inclusive as far as possible of the different Jewish traditions, as he made a point of including ‘English prayer’ to accommodate the Reformed and Liberal traditions. It may be that Loewe influenced Oxford Synagogue’s later celebrated accommodation of multiple traditions under one roof. Loewe also kept open house for schnorrers (Jewish beggars) who came to him for help. Beggars were a feature of Jewish life and they passed from place to place on regular routes (in this case from the Midlands to London) receiving local Jewish charity, the bestowing of which was a religious obligation.

Loewe’s other claim to fame, is to have brought about the installation of three commemorative tablets to Oxford Jewish heritage, just before his departure to Cambridge in 1931. The tablets were to mark the Centenary of Neubauer’s birth, a noted Jewish librarian in the Bodleian. The germ of the ideas to fix the tablets came in a newspaper article on Oxford Passover memories in 1930 and was apparently in cooperation with the Dominicans who had recently returned to Oxford. Interestingly, Loewe recalled that the 19th Century Jewish community of Oxford had a tradition of honouring Haggai the martyr, by retracing the steps to his martyrdom during Passover, starting their pious walk at the Castle. They also used to recite afternoon prayers at the Botanic Gardens every Saturday afternoon because of its former use as a Jewish cemetery.

The setting of the tablets was also his Swan-song in Oxford being also the farewell before his return to Cambridge. It is notable that a Cambridge man did so much to benefit the Jewish life of Oxford, with his encouragement of the study of Hebrew and of Jewish practice. Thus for those who see the commemorative tablets to day they also serve as a memorial to the man who inspired them.

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