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History of the Jewish Studies Library

The University of Cape Town’s holdings of Judaica and Hebraica long pre-date the establishment of the Jewish Studies Library as a special library in the the U.C.T. Library system. In 1895 the Reverend Alfred Philip Bender, an M.A. graduate of St John’s College, Cambridge, was appointed as the first Professor of Hebrew at the South African College, which in 1918 became the University of Cape Town.  

As early as 1921 a donation of 520 pounds was received by the University of Cape Town, raised by the Students’ Jewish Association from local Jewish businessmen, for the purchase of Jewish books (Immelman, 1956, p. 35). Many years later in December 1962 a collection of 900 basic modern Hebrew texts was presented to the University of Cape Town by Bertha and Ellis Silverman. From 1978 a two year undergraduate program in Hebrew Culture was offered at the University of Cape Town.

In 1980 the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research was established at the University of Cape Town through a donation by the Kaplan-Kushlick Foundation. The Centre set out to sponsor post-graduate research on Jewish related topics, to bring out international Jewish scholars, to organise public lecture series, and to provide in-service programs for teachers in Jewish Day Schools. In 1986 a two year undergraduate program in Jewish Civilization replaced the courses in Hebrew Culture. In 1993 this was expanded to three years.

In 1981 the Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies and Research bought a Jewish Studies collection of approximately 11,000 volumes of books and bound periodicals, from Professor Abraham Duker, of New York. An innovation was that by the conditions of the donation this core collection, which would be supplemented by ongoing acquisitions from the funds of the Kaplan Kushlick Foundation, would be maintained separately as a special collection, part of what was then known as the Special Collections Department. In February 1989 the Jewish Studies collection moved out of the Special Collections Department into its own library in the Rachel Bloch House, the new Kaplan Centre building.