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A Brief Biography of Leon Roth

Leon Roth, 1896-1963, was an eminent Jewish scholar, and a founder of the Department of Philosophy at Hebrew University.

Leon Roth was born in London, 1896 to Joseph and Etty Roth, both of whom were descended from rabbinic families in Poland.  Joseph engaged a tutor, Rabbi Moshe Vilenski, to teach his four children: David, Daniel, Leon, and Cecil.  Rabbi Vilenski was well-versed in philosophy, and Leon’s first exposure to both Jewish and European classics came from his lessons.  Roth won scholarships first to the City of London School, and then to Exeter College at Oxford, where he read Classics.  At the outbreak of World War I, Roth suspended his studies and joined the army, where he saw action in France.  Commissioned in 1917, he joined the newly-formed Jewish Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.  Upon his return to Oxford, he won the John Locke Scholarship in Mental Philosophy and the James Mew Scholarship in Hebrew.


Leon Roth’s first academic position was as lecturer in philosophy at Manchester University, 1923.  Following the publication of his Correspondence of Descartes and Constantyn Huygens 1635-1647, he was elected as an Officier d’Académie in 1926.  Two years later, he was appointed first Ahad Ha’Am Professor of Philosophy at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem (1928).  During his tenure at Hebrew University, he served as Rector (1940-43) and as Dean of the Faculty of Humanities (1949-51).  Leon Roth published the inaugural volumes of what would become the Magnes Press Series of Philosophical Classics.  The early volumes include his translations of Aristotle’s Metaphysics and Ethics (1933).  His originality of thought is demonstrated in his major work Government of the People by the People: Fundamentals of Democracy (1949).  His accomplishments were recognized in Britain when he was elected a Fellow of the British Academy in 1948.  In 1951, Roth retired from Hebrew University, but continued to work.  In 1960, he published one of his most notable works, Judaism: A Portrait.  Leon Roth died in 1963, and is buried in Wellington, New Zealand.

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