Bodleian Libraries announces major new benefaction to secure future of Hebrew and Jewish curatorship

The Bodleian Libraries are pleased to announce that the future of the Libraries' Curator of Hebraica & Judaica has been secured thanks to a generous benefaction.

Sir Victor Blank, a leading UK businessman and philanthropist, has generously agreed to endow this post, and is doing so jointly with the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe. Sir Victor was until recently the Chairman of the Trustees of the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe. In recognition, the post will be named 'The Victor Blank Curator of Hebraica and Judaica'. In addition, the lecture theatre in the Weston Library will be named 'The Sir Victor Blank Lecture Theatre' for a period of 25 years.

Currently filled by Dr César Merchán-Hamann, this role is the guardian of one of the most significant collections of Hebrew manuscripts in the world, alongside an extraordinarily rich collection of early Hebrew and Yiddish printed books. Hebrew books were among the original endowment of the Bodleian Library and among the first to be listed in the library's earliest catalogue in 1605. Highlights of the collections include a fragment of Maimonides' autograph draft of the Mishneh Torah from the Cairo Genizah; exquisitely illuminated manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible, such as the 15th century Kennicott Bible, still with its original goatskin box-binding; and stunning festival prayer books, such as the richly illuminated 14th century Tripartite Maḥzor from the Michael collection. The manuscripts come from Western, Central and Eastern Europe, as well as from North Africa, the Middle East and as far as China. All fields of traditional Hebrew scholarship are represented in the collection. Its geographic, cultural and chronological range is enormous, representing a large panorama of Jewish life and culture in the last millennium. The Ethiopic, Samaritan, Mandaic and Syriac collections are more modest, but all include individually significant items.

Recently, the splendour of the collections was brought to the wider public's attention through a stunning book Jewish Treasures from Oxford Libraries. Many of the greatest items are freely available online, and the Bodleian has ambitious plans to digitize its entire Hebrew and Jewish collection, a project which the Curator will be leading. As part of this project, the Curator will be working closely with the National Library of Israel to enable greater access to the Bodleian's collections through the NLI's Ktiv digitisation programme. The Curator will also continue to hold the post of Head Librarian of the major Hebraica and Judaica collections of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies which are housed in the Leopold Muller Memorial Library, since 2014 integrated into the Bodleian.

Sir Victor Blank said:

My love and fascination with the Bodleian Library goes back to my undergraduate days. As a historian, I came to appreciate the uniqueness of the Bodleian, housing and preserving swathes of our written history in this country and across the world. The pre-eminent collection of Hebrew and Yiddish books (a collection as good as almost any in the world) requires love and care from a dedicated curator. I am delighted to be able, with the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, to secure that post for the future.

Lord Jacob Rothschild said:

My family is proud to be associated with this important initiative. Our Foundation looks to the future, and supporting this curatorial position, in partnership with Sir Victor Blank, will contribute to securing Jewish scholarship and offering access to unique manuscripts for generations to come. I am particularly pleased that the Bodleian's relationship with the National Library of Israel, which Yad Hanadiv, our family foundation in Israel is deeply involved with, will be deepened and enhanced through this collaboration.

Richard Ovenden OBE, Bodley's Librarian, said:

I am delighted that this curatorship is now safeguarded for future generations. The Bodleian has treasured Hebrew books since its foundation more than 400 years ago, and we remain committed to preserving and making available these highly important collections. This donation shows confidence in the Bodleian's world-class scholarship in Hebrew and Jewish studies, and will allow us to extend our work to share the richness of Jewish culture and learning with students, scholars and the general public across the globe. We are enormously grateful to Sir Victor Blank & to the Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe for this tremendous gift.

About Sir Victor Blank

Sir Victor is a leading businessman and philanthropist. He has been Chairman of a number of major companies.

Today Sir Victor has a number of advisory and philanthropic roles. He chairs the Development Board of The British Academy, chairs the Strategy & Development Committee and is Vice Chairman of F W de Klerk's Global Leadership Foundation and chairs the European Advisory Board of the Cheung Kong Graduate School of Business. He is a trustee of the Said Business School and was until recently Chairman of the Social Mobility Foundation. He is Honorary President of the Charity Wellbeing of Women, the leading early stage funder of women's health in the UK, Trustee of Rothschild Foundation Hanadiv Europe, Vice President of the Jewish Leadership Council and Honorary President of the Union of Jewish Students. He is an Honorary Fellow of St Catherine's College, Oxford, and an Honorary Fellow of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists.

Sir Victor read history at St Catherine's College, Oxford. His career began as a Solicitor, becoming a Partner in Clifford-Turner (now Clifford Chance). He then chaired an investment banking business, Charterhouse; Trinity Mirror, the UK's largest quoted newspaper publishing group; GUS plc which owned Experian, Burberry, Argos, Homebase and Lewis' Stores of South Africa; and latterly Lloyds Banking Group which under his Chairmanship became the largest UK retail banking group.

Over the years, Sir Victor has been a member of the Financial Reporting Council, Chairman of the Industrial Development Advisory Board, the first external member of the Council of Oxford University and, for four years, a British Business Ambassador. He was knighted for services to the Finance Industry in the New Year's Honours List in 1999.