By: Joseph Jacobs
County town of Oxfordshire, England. According to Anthony à Wood, Jews settled there almost immediately after the Conquest. They located along Fish street (now St. Aldate) from Carfax to the great gate of Christ Church, forming a Jewry with St. Edward's Church in the center. Several of the halls which were the foundation of the university were owned by Jews—as Moysey's, Lombard's, and Jacobs' Halls. In 1141, during the conflicts between the empress Matilda and King Stephen, the Jews were mulcted by both sides, giving to Maud an "exchange" and to Stephen "three exchanges and a half," after the latter had burned the dwelling of Aaron son of Isaac. The earliest record is of a payment by the sheriff of Oxfordshire, on behalf of the Jews, of 100 shillings, in 1156. Shortly afterward a miracle was said to have occurred: St. Frideswide caused a Jew named Dieulecres fil Moyse of Wallingford to lose his senses because he had mocked at her miracles ("Acta Sanctorum," viii. 576). Only five Jews of Oxford are mentioned as having contributed to the Northampton donum of 1194 on Richard I.'s return to England, but these contributed the comparatively large sum of £44 1s. 6d. Among their names is that of Benedictus le Puncteur, whom Jacobs has identified with Berechiah ben Natronai Krespia ha-Naḳdan.
About this time the Jews obtained possession of a cemetery outside the East Gate, where the Tower of Magdalen now stands. It was afterward transferred to the opposite side of the road, now the Botanic Gardens. About 1221 the Dominicans, or Black Friars, settled in the heart of the Jewry at Canon Hall, and a little later Henry II. established a house of converts next to the Guild Hall, on the site of the present town hall (M. Lyte, "University of Oxford," p. 26). On the other hand, a synagogue had been built in Fish street on land granted to Copin of Worcester by the prior of St. Frideswide.
In 1222 a deacon of the Church fell in love with a Jewess and was converted to Judaism, whereupon he was handed over to the secular power and burned ("Annales Monastici," iv. 62). For attempting to rescue a young Jewish convert a number of Jews of Oxford were in 1235 imprisoned in the castle, but were afterward released as innocent. The Jews here as elsewhere earned their livelihood by lending money, which naturally led to disputes. In 1244 the Jewry was attacked and the houses sacked; forty-five of the rioters were imprisoned. It may have been in consequence of this that four years later the king limited to 43 per cent the amount of interest Jews could collect from scholars. Questions in dispute between Jews and scholars were decided by the chancellor, though in 1260 the constableof Oxford Castle vainly claimed jurisdiction over the Jews. The jurisdiction of the chancellor over them was confirmed in 1286; he was allowed to issue his writ to the constable for that purpose. In 1268 a Jew of Oxford attacked a procession of clergy going to hear a sermon on Ascension day, and, seizing the processional cross, trod it under foot. The Jews, consequently, were compelled to make a cross for Church processions, and to erect a marble one on the spot where the act was committed, in front of their synagogue. It was afterward moved to a spot in front of Merton College, which was built on ground purchased by Walter de Merton from Jacob, son of Master Moses of London.
At the expulsion the king came into possession of bonds and other property, belonging to twenty-three Jews of Oxford, amounting to £30 1s. 4d., and of corn and wool equivalent to £285 1s. 8d. and £150 13s. 4d. The community had a synagogue on which it paid yearly to the prior and monastery of St. Frideswide the sum of 18s. 9d. A large number of deeds exist relating to the loan transactions of the Jews of Oxford, which have been collected by Neubauer ("Collectanea of the Oxford Historical Society," xvi. 289-314).
At the beginning of the seventeenth century a certain number of converted Jews are mentioned as teaching Hebrew at Oxford, among them James Wolfgang and James Levita (possibly identical). Casaubon had a Jewish secretary named Jacob Barnet at Oxford in 1609; he expressed a willingness to become converted, but fled at the last moment; he was banished from England in 1613. Another Jew, Antonio Maria de Verona, was treated favorably at Oxford in 1626, at the request of the queen Henrietta Maria. An Italian Jew named Alexander Arniedi taught Hebrew at Oxford a little later. A Jew named Jacob was the first person to open a coffee-house at Oxford; indeed, he is credited with having introduced coffee into England about 1650. Toward the end of the seventeenth century Isaac Abendana taught Hebrew at Oxford, and edited a Jewish calendar from 1692 to about 1700.
The connection of Jews with Oxford in more recent years has been chiefly with the university, a large number of Jewish students accepting the opportunities opened to them by the University Test Act of 1871. S. Alexander became a fellow of Lincoln. A small congregation has collected in Oxford, whose synagogue, in Richmond road, was founded in 1841.
- Boase, Oxford, pp. 22, 32, 66, 166, London, 1890;
- Publications Jew. Hist. Soc. Eng. ii. 65.
The first Hebrew book printed at Oxford appears to have been an edition of the Mishnah, with a Latin version by Samuel Clarke, in 1667 (see Wolf, "Bibl. Hebr." ii. 704, iv. 323). The next was a part of Maimonides' "Mishneh Torah," with translation and notes by H. Prideaux, in 1679. Hyde's Hebrew treatises on chess were also produced in Oxford, in 1694, and Clavering's "Talmud Torah"—a text and translation of Maimonides' "Yad"—in 1705, all by the Clarendon Press. In more recent years the same press has produced several rabbinical texts edited by Neubauer, Driver, Cheyne, etc., and a new English edition of Gesenius' "Dictionary." The order of prayers of the Sephardic ritual, edited by Dr. M. Gaster, is now (1904) being printed at the Clarendon Press.
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 3101;
- idem, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. section ii., part 28.