Friar Olivier Catel, OP, a Dominican of the Province de France, is an assistant in Jewish literature and exegesis at the École Biblique et Archéologique Française de Jérusalem. While writing his thesis on Talmud and Jewish law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, he spent a studious year in Oxford to continue composing it. Back in Jerusalem, among his brothers, for a few weeks, he testifies:

“Since my arrival in the Holy Land in 2016, I’ve been a student at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. After a Master’s degree in “Bible and the Ancient East” and intensive Hebrew learning, I enrolled in “Talmud and Halakhah” (Jewish law). In 2020, during the Covid, I began a thesis on fasting in early rabbinic and Christian literature (third century CE). What place is given to private fasting and individual freedom in the face of religious authority? How did the attempts by the rabbis and the young Church to create a common identity and theology succeed or fail? With the agreement of the prior and director brothers, we set off for an Oxonian year at “Blackfriars”. The aim? To finish my thesis and, on my return, to be able to join the School’s teaching team with all the necessary qualifications.

The Oxford convent is a studium, that is a convent that trains young friars for the Province of England. It is also a hall of the University of Oxford, teaching some 40 students each year. The days are punctuated by liturgy, time to work (no lunch at noon!) and a few lectures. Oxford lives up to its reputation as an ancient university town with neo-Gothic buildings and richly endowed libraries. No sooner had I settled into this studious, writing-friendly atmosphere than war broke out. Already the unspeakable horrors of October 7 had deeply shaken Israeli society and my Jewish friends, with whom I shared my sorrow and prayers; then the war in Gaza. I wanted to return to Jerusalem, to be close to my community, to volunteer in the Holy Land… All these movements of the soul and the troubled heart were useless.

Having pulled myself together a little, I rediscovered the profound meaning of my Dominican vocation. Neither a soldier, nor a politician, nor a member of an NGO, I am a monk who studies, what our Jewish brothers call a “talmid hakham”, the “disciple of the Sage”. Study is our form of prayer and our preaching: when barbarity arises, when our moral convictions are shaken, all that remains for the Dominican friar is the power of his thought and his study. To preserve the living memory of a Jewish and Christian tradition, and to believe that this study contributes to a better world founded on the understanding and study of the Word of God in its broadest sense. This year is therefore a time of preparation not only for teaching and research, but also – and above all – for preaching. After the destruction and hatred, the lack of confidence in the forces of the spirit, I dare to think that the friars of the École, of which I am a member, will have their place in the work of moral and intellectual reconstruction.
This year is therefore for me the time of the seeds of a new spring which, unfortunately, is not yet here.”

Fr. Olivier Catel, o.p.