Attacking Cecil Roth
Although known to many for his popular history book, A History of the Jews, the late historian Cecil Roth is known in the scholarly world for many publications, among them numerous articles on Hebrew book publishing, his Jews in the Renaissance, The History of the Jews of Italy, Dona Gracia of the House of Nasi and his editing of the Encyclopaedia Judaica. In 1964 Roth and his wife Irene departed England for Israel where they had planned on settling. Irene, in her book Cecil Roth: Historian Without Tears, relates how,
Some time prior to our leaving England, Rabbi Joseph H. Lookstein, of New York City, invited Cecil to become visiting professor of history at Bar-Ilan University of which he was the chancellor. Cecil accepted Rabbi Lookstein’s invitation, which he understood would entail two trips each week from Jerusalem to the Bar-Ilan campus in Ramat Gan. Little did we know that this aspect of our new beginnings in Israel, too, would not be a happy memory. (Cecil Roth, pp. 207-8)
The unhappy memory that Irene alluded to was a smear campaign conducted against Cecil Roth a Rabbi Bromberg.
One Rabbi Bromberg, disseminated a circular quoting a passage from the first chapter of Cecil’s Short History of the Jewish People to prove that Professor Roth was a heretic and therefore had no right to teach Jewish history at Bar-Ilan University, which had been created as an institution of higher learning guided by the spirit of traditional religious Judaism. (ibid.)
In his book A Short History of the Jewish People, Roth wrote
It is said by some critics that not a shred of evidence for the historicity of Moses exists. That may be so, if we are to regard potsherds as more significant and more reliable than the memory of a people, or written records of immemorial antiquity. But the influence which the great law-giver had on the Hebrew mind, traceable from a very early period, is so profound that it can hardly fail to depend ultimately upon a personality which made an indelible impression on contemporaries. Even if no account of Moses were extant, it would be necessary to assume the activity of a person such as he is said to have been, in order to explain the existence of the Hebrew people, with its distinctive literature, its laws, its ethics, and its religious code.
(A Short History of the Jewish People, pp. 6-7 [=The Jewish People, p. 7]
Apparently Rabbi Bromberg translated into Hebrew just what has been italicized, thus not bringing the rest of the paragraph. The “Roth Affair” received much press coverage and Bar-Ilan University was flooded with letters, both pro and con. Many offered strong support for Roth, including Rabbi Lookstein and the university. In late November of that year, Roth suffered a heart attack and was hospitalized for a number of weeks. His wife Irene describes how he was so depressed about how things were going that he even suggested to redirect their belongs to Italy where he thought it might be better to settle down. Upon his recovery, Roth decided that his ill health would not allow him to teach at Bar-Ilan. Irene describes how possibly the only ill-feelings that he held were against those within the Mizrahi movement who failed to defend both himself and Bar-Ilan University. He eventually taught for some time at Stern College, dying in Jerusalem in 1970, one week before the first volumes of the Encyclopaedia Judaica were published.
Source: For a description of the whole affair see Irene Roth, Cecil Roth: Historian Without Tears, pp. 207-210.