Students and community members in the English collegiate town of Oxford are anticipating the expansion of a local Chabad-Lubavitch run library following a scheduled infusion of funds.

The next installment of a five-figure annual grant from Toronto’s Samson Family, whose daughter studied at Oxford University, will allow the Oxford Chabad Society’s current collection of more than 3,000 volumes to expand into the realm of medieval rabbinic literature.

The goal, says Chabad of Oxford co-director Rabbi Eli Brackman, is to purchase a number of sets of responsa, the back-and-forth communications between sages and communities throughout the world detailing rulings on Jewish law.

“These collections, for instance of the Maharam M’Rotenberg,” explains Brackman, referring to the 13th century German sage, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, “are not accessible in Oxford at all.”

According to Brackman, the current expansion of the Samson Judaica Library should take up to half a year to complete. The library’s other collections span the gamut of Torah and academic literature, from commentaries on the Talmud to scholarly journals on Jewish law and surveys of Jewish history.

Avi Ohayon, a final-year Jewish Studies student at Oxford’s Pembroke College, is among those anxiously awaiting the new acquisition.

“I use the library a lot,” she says. “It is a great help for my studies. There were many books I needed for my dissertation that I just couldn’t find in Oxford’s other libraries.”

“On the one hand, it has a wide selection of Judaica and religious works in Hebrew and English,” says Dr. Gaston Yalonetzky, head of the library’s governing committee. “On the other, there are some great academic books, journals and magazines which appeal to the demanding nature of the student body.”

Chabad of Oxford co-director Freida Brackman sorts through the collections of the Samson Judaica Library.
Chabad of Oxford co-director Freida Brackman sorts through the collections of the Samson Judaica Library.

The advantage to the library, which was founded in 2007 at Chabad’s David Slager Centre and the George and Pamella Rohr House, is that people from all over, especially those not affiliated with the university, can use its collections, says Brackman.

“We’ve had scholars from France who have heard about us and have sought us out upon coming to England,” says the rabbi, who serves as a scholar in residence to offer assistance in working through the intricacies of Aramaic and medieval Hebrew making up many of the texts. “We’re further increasing our accessibility by putting our catalog online.”

Another unique feature of the library, asserts Chabad of Oxford co-director Freida Brackman, is that it is run on a voluntary basis by its users.

“All decisions are made collectively by the Chabad Society Library Committee,” she says. “People also pitch in to help when books need shelving or cataloging.”

Eli Brackman estimates that up to 100 students and community members from all different backgrounds use the library each week.

“Our library bridges the gap between traditional Torah studies and academic scholarship,” he continues. “It shows that you can be in tune with the values of the Torah and the modern age in which we live.”