Ron May 1917-1998

Share on social media:


Born Aaron Mayevsky, London 13.2.1917; died Oxford 25.2.1998.

Ron May was a quiet modest person who was never in the limelight. Yet he was much loved for his kindness, wit and dedication to the Oxford Jewish Congregation. He effortlessly straddled two cultural traditions. According to Jewish folklore, the world is saved in every generation by the existence of 36 righteous and self-effacing individuals, known only by the collective title of lamed-vavnicks. For inclusion in any such elite and venerable society Ron would surely have been a strong candidate.He was born into an orthodox and Zionist family in the East End of London.   His parents were married by the great Rav Abraham Isaac Kook in Jerusalem and his father came to England as a sheliach and a shochet.   Ron was educated at Parmiters Company School and also at the famous Redmonds Road Talmud Torah, a pioneer institution in which the Reverend Goldbloom taught Hebrew Ivrit-be Ivrit.   He studied Talmud in Yeshiva and was awarded the Teaching Certificate of Jews College.   He was a student of English at Queen Mary College, London but his studies were interrupted  by the outbreak of the Second World War. He served in the army in India and was a volunteer in Israel`s War of Independence in 1948.

Ron married Helen Rowe in 1954 and came to Oxford from London in 1956 as a specialist reader at the Oxford University Press.   He and Helen had two children, Jonathan, born in 1957 and Judith, born in 1960.   In 1964 he was appointed Senior Assistant Librarian at the Bodleian Library – a post he occupied with distinction – where he was in charge of the collection of Hebrew printed books and manuscripts.   At the same time Ron resumed his studies at London University as an external student and was awarded a B.A. in Hebrew Studies with first class honours.   He later became the Leonard Stein lecturer in Medieval Hebrew and subsequently a Fellow of St Cross College.

He taught Hebrew in the Faculty of Oriental Studies for many years and introduced courses in 19th century Yiddish literature, which was a pioneering venture at that time.   He was closely involved with the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies from its inception serving on its Academic Advisory Committee, its library committee in the capacity of consultant and its publication committee.   Following his retirement he worked for some ten years as editor on a supplement to  Neubauer`s renowned Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library.   The impressive volume which demonstrates his meticulous and scrupulously exact scholarship was published in 1994.   Ron was also greatly involved with the Oxford Jewish Congregation.   He taught for many years at Hebrew classes and also many generations of Barmitzvah boys.   His services to the Jewish community as unofficial guide and religious advisor were offered with characteristic modesty and charm.   He was a member of the Chevra Chadisha and often took the funeral services.   He was always willing to take part in the synagogue services and able to read from the Torah and the Haftoroth if needed.   As a mark of recognition he was made an honorary life member of the community on his eightieth birthday.

Compiled from the obituary by Michael Pinto- Duchinsky in the Jewish Chronicle and the eulogy by David Patterson.

About OJH

Our aim is to raise the profile of the history of Jews in Oxford from earliest records through to the modern day.

Recent Posts


Please click on each image to see title/description.