Simeon Lowy, 1921-2008

July 3, 2008

Simeon Lowy, a highly regarded scholar and lecturer of Hebrew and Jewish studies, has died of old age at 87.

Rabbi Dr Lowy taught at the University of Leeds for nearly 30 years in what was the Semitic Languages and Literatures department and later the Semitic Studies department.

Born in 1921 to an orthodox Jewish family, he spent his early years in the former Czechoslovakia. German and Hungarian were spoken at home, Czech and Slovak taught at school, and his religious instruction was in Hebrew.

The family moved to Palestine when he was about 13 and he graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with a degree that included rabbinics, Jewish philosophy and history, and a teaching diploma.

He taught in high schools and fought in the first Arab-Israeli War in 1948 before moving to the Philippines, where he served for five years as a minister of religion to the Jewish community. He then completed an MA at his alma mater via distance learning.

He arrived in the UK in 1957 to take up a fellowship at the Institute of Jewish Studies (then based in Manchester) and in September 1960 he was appointed lecturer at Leeds, where he undertook his doctorate.

Dr Lowy was the department's main teacher of Hebrew language, literature and history until his retirement in 1987, although his time at Leeds was briefly interrupted by a visiting appointment at Tel Aviv University in 1969.

He led a strongly orthodox religious life and was highly active in the local Jewish community. In 1961 he was ordained as a rabbi and in 1978 he became the part-time rabbi of the Harrogate Hebrew Congregation.

Avihai Shivtiel, a retired former colleague and a good friend who headed the department from 1982 to 1992, said Dr Lowy would be remembered not only for his "vast knowledge" of Hebrew and Judaism - of which he was a "walking encyclopaedia" - but also for being an excellent and devoted lecturer, a tireless and stimulating supervisor, and a loyal and supportive colleague.

"He supported Israel but not blindly," Dr Shivtiel observed.

"Although he was an orthodox Jew, he was very liberal in the sense that he didn't impose anything on other people. He welcomed everybody and many of his research students were from Arab countries. They really admired him for his knowledge and the time he devoted to them. His faith was not an impediment."

On retirement from the University of Leeds in 1987, Dr Lowy moved to Israel with his family. He is survived by his wife and four children.

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