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Obituary: Simeon Lowy - full obituary

Very sadly, Rabbi Dr Simeon Lowy, former Senior Lecturer in the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures, died in May 2008.

Born into a rabbinical family in 1921, Dr Lowy spent the first part of his life in what was then Czechoslovakia. His early environment offered every opportunity for the acquisition of a facility for languages and an interest in comparative cultures: German and Hungarian were spoken at home, Czech and Slovak taught at school, and Hebrew was the language of religious instruction. The family moved to Palestine in 1934 where Dr Lowy attended religious college before graduating from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree involving rabbinics, Jewish philosophy and history, and a teaching diploma. At university, he studied under a number of eminent scholars, including Professors Gershon Scholem and Isaac Baer. He went on to teach in high schools and saw active service in the First Arab-Israeli War in 1948 (known in Israel as the War of Independence), completing his military service as an officer in the newly-created Israeli army. In 1952, he was appointed as Minister of Religion to the Jewish Community of the Philippines. He served in this capacity for five years, during which he also read for an MA of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, his final examinations being completed through the Israeli consulate in Manila. He was awarded the degree with distinction.

Dr Lowy came to England in 1957 to take up a Fellowship at the Institute of Jewish Studies, at that stage still based in Manchester but later relocated to London. Here, he published a number of articles and reviews dealing with aspects of Talmudic literature and characterised by their meticulous analysis and scholarly reliability. In September 1960, Dr Lowy was appointed Lecturer in the Department of Semitic Languages and Literatures (later the Department of Semitic Studies) at Leeds. He was to continue to serve as a member of staff until 1987, although his time at Leeds was punctuated by a visiting appointment at Tel Aviv University in 1969 and a spell of nearly four years as Professor of Hebrew at the University of Witwatersrand in South Africa in the 1970s.

Dr Lowy held a very high reputation among fellow scholars in Hebrew and Jewish Studies. Whilst at Leeds, he prepared a doctoral thesis on Samaritan Bible Exegesis which received fulsome praise from the examiners. Some years later, he developed his thesis into a book The Principles of Samaritan Bible Exegesis, published in 1977 and applauded by the academic community as a pioneering work of considerable scholarly value. Dr Lowy also produced works on Jewish mysticism and on Judaism and modern Western culture. His standing within his field was evident in his long-standing associations as a Fellow of Jews College, London (now the London School of Jewish Studies), and as an Honorary Fellow of the Institute of Jewish Studies at University College London. Often invited to lead research seminars and to contribute papers, he also acted as publications adviser to the Institute. He acted as external examiner for several universities in the UK and Israel. Dr Lowys scholarly apparatus was undoubtedly strengthened by his rabbinical studies; shortly after joining the University, he obtained ordination, in 1961, as a Rabbi from Jews College.

Throughout his time in Leeds, Dr Lowy was a cornerstone of his Department. He was a devoted, tireless and well-liked teacher, who illuminated Biblical, medival and modern Hebrew language, literature and history for successive cohorts of undergraduate students over very many years. He was an equally assiduous and stimulating supervisor of research students, including a number from Arabic speaking countries. That the Departments stock stood high externally was in no small measure due to his achievements. Among his peers, Dr Lowy was a valued and respected friend and colleague, known for his integrity and sense of humour. Active in the local Jewish community, he served for over a decade (1962-74) as a member of the Leeds Board of Jewish Education, and also represented the Board on the Leeds Jewish Representative Council. In 1978, he was invited to become the Rabbi of the Hebrew Congregation of Harrogate on a part-time basis. A spirit of generous tolerance infused his work in this regard.

Retiring from the University in September 1987, Dr Lowy moved to Israel. His wife died some years ago and he is survived by their sons, Michael and Eli, and daughters, Bruria and Galya.

Published: 2 June 2008