Jewish Astrolabes in Museum of History of Science
The Website has just learnt of the presence of this enchanting Jewish astrolabe in the Museum of the History of Science, Broad Street, Oxford


There are about twenty astrolabes with Hebrew script written on them, a clear sign that Jews used them at some point. These instruments are all western astrolabes, i.e. they were made in Europe and northern Africa. Some of them are European (Latin script with additions in Hebrew), some are Islamic astrolabes from Islamic Spain and Sicily (Arabic script with Hebrew additions), and just a few are completely Jewish (Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic scripts). They are multicultural and, often, bilingual, or even trilingual, as medieval Jews frequently were. None of these instruments has a clear history (they are mostly unsigned and undated). It seems that a few of them were made by Jews, but all of them were in the hands of Jews at some moment and their Jewish owners or users wanted to leave in the object a clear indication of its Jewish relation. Frequently, the Jewish input is confined to the names of the months and the signs of the zodiac engraved on the back of the astrolabe and on the rete, or the names of some city and the number of latitude inscribed in Hebrew on some of the plates. The oldest astrolabe in our research is a western Islamic astrolabe from the twelfth century that was made in al-Andalus. However, the Hebrew script was engraved later, we do not know when or where. The same applies to most of the Jewish extant astrolabes.

Extract from the Museum of History of Science Blog 2013  

Astrolabes are multi-functional and multi-purpose astronomical devices. They can be used for observation, calculation and teaching, for amusement, decoration, and representation. To to put it short: The astrolabe is a two-dimensional model of the three-dimensional world that you can hold in your hand and put into your pocket.

Jewish Artists in the Ashmolean Museum

An Exhibition entitled "Visions on the Way:  Jewish Artists in Oxford" was mounted in 1992 as part of the 150th Anniversary Celebrations of the Modern Jewish Community in Oxford in 1992.

Notes on the Museum Exhibition were published and can be downloaded
Inventory of Judaica and Hebraica

An interesting article about the developement of this inventory appears in the further reading section.



Inventory of Judaica and Hebraica in Oxford Colleges & Museums

This inventory has been compiled from the responses received by OJH to a letter written to every affiliated College of the University in 2007. The letter referred to OJH's intention to compile a "web-based inventory of Jewish and Jewish-related artefacts and other relevant objects and materials" held within the University and "relating to any of the three phases of the history of ‘Jewish Oxford', namely:


  • the period of initial settlement from 1075;

  • the period of expulsion from 1290; and

  • the period of return from 1656 to modern times.


The letter enquired "whether your College holds any items that may be relevant to this history. Such items could include - but may not be limited to - artworks, utensils, seals, books, maps, manuscripts, contracts, journals, correspondence and accounts. We are also interested in any Hebrew inscriptions, whether on or inside buildings, plaques and other objects or documents." The letter invited each College to provide a description (and, if possible, also a photograph) of any such items.