250 rare biblical texts go online, making them available around the globe

David Dangoor discusses his latest project – the online publication of 250 rare religious writings that ‘form the bedrock of our civilization’

David Dangoor (photo credit: Courtesy)
David Dangoor
(photo credit: Courtesy)
British Jewish philanthropist David Dangoor’s eyes sparkle with pride when he talks about “Discovering Sacred Texts,” which involves the online publication by the British Library of more than 250 rare religious writings made available for people across the globe.
“I am delighted to be involved in such an important and innovative project which brings to the public for the first time some of the world’s oldest and most sacred texts,” says Dangoor, the head of the Dangoor Education foundation, which supported the initiative. “These texts form the bedrock of our human civilization and when compared and contrasted by their viewers will demonstrate that our sacred texts all speak a similar language of humanity, compassion and the norms of a fair and equitable society. They all have much to teach us and it is extremely welcome that they are now more accessible.”
“Discovering Sacred Texts” offers the general public, teachers and students access to the richness and diversity of the texts from nine of the world’s great faiths: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Sikhism, Jainism, Baha’i and Zoroastrianism. Coinciding with the launch of the online project, the British Library – the largest national library in the world – put a curated selection on physical display at its Treasures Gallery, to which the entrance is free.
These include Johann Gutenberg’s Bible – probably the most famous Bible in the world and the earliest full-scale work printed in Europe using moveable type – the earliest surviving copy of the complete New Testament, Codex Sinaiticus – which dates from the 4th century – and the Ma’il Koran, one of the very earliest Korans in the world, dating back to the 8th century. They also feature one of the only copies of the Talmud that escaped the public burnings of Jewish law books during the Middle Ages, the first complete printed text of the Mishna, and the Gaster Bible, one of the earliest surviving Hebrew biblical codices, thought to have been created in Egypt around the 10th century CE.
Two pages from the first complete MishnaTwo pages from the first complete Mishna
“My family’s philanthropy, which now has another layer in ‘Discovering Sacred Texts,’ allows me to feel proud that this country, Britain, which has received so many Jewish people and given them an opportunity to thrive, is now reaching out all over the world,” Dangoor says. “What we are doing with this collection is showing how much we have in common as human beings and how many core principles and beliefs many faiths have: helping others, looking after the elderly and the sick, being honest, being upright. It is a subtle way of bringing people together. Also, I don’t mind people seeing how Jewish influence has pervaded all religions, especially Christianity and Islam, though that was never part of the agenda.”
A page from the Babylonian TalmudA page from the Babylonian Talmud
Asked which his favorite text is, he says, “I was asked that once and I said, ‘I almost feel like a father who is being asked who his favorite child is.’ I wouldn’t want to answer a question like that, because I love my children differently, each for their own characteristics. And I would say the same thing about the sacred texts.”
Dangoor, 71, lives in London with his wife, Judy, with whom he has four children, two sons and two daughters.
“My favorite thing about the sacred texts is the totality of richness that the human spirit has produced, in many cases independently,” he says. “Of course, there has been cross-fertilization, but it has been fascinating to see the dedication in some of the texts, which range from as old as 3,000 years to the Baha’i texts which are only 150 years old, you see so much care, so much beauty. Some of the Hebrew Bibles, I think, were so nicely decorated. I feel there is so much diversity there.”
A SON of the late property developer and philanthropist Sir Naim Dangoor, David Dangoor spent his early years in Baghdad, leaving with his parents and brothers in the 1960s for Britain.
“For us, as a Jewish family from the Middle East, to be associated with cultural endeavors such as ‘Discovering Sacred Texts’ is a wonderful privilege,” says Dangoor. “My family comes originally from Iraq. My great-grandfather was the chief rabbi in Baghdad about 90 years ago.”
As happened to all Jewish communities in Arab lands, they found themselves no longer welcome, and in many cases, expelled. We’ve had to rebuild our lives elsewhere.
“To me, this story of Jews leaving Arab lands, and going to Israel mostly, although coming to other countries as well, is a fantastic illustration of the dynamism of the Jewish spirit. We’d been expelled, and what we could have done is spend our time litigating for our properties, moaning and complaining. But, like so many other Jewish people, we got on with our lives, and many Jews from Arab lands are now proudries to which they immigrated.
“You come to another country, you start to build, you rebuild your family life, you rebuild your personal financial security, and then like many Jews, you feel that you must give something back. We felt that we’d like to give something back that resonates with our own presence in this country, the United Kingdom.”
Dangoor believes in giving to both Jewish and non-Jewish charitable causes, while always identifying himself as a Jew. It is a lesson he learned from his father.
“I give to a lot of non-Jewish charities, but I always thought – and my father did too – that we should make our philanthropy as Jews. My father, in 2004, made a thousand scholarships for students from poor families where nobody had ever gone to university. It was called the Dangoor Scholarship and it was a great success, so in 2006 he made a new one for 4,000 students, but he decided to change the name to the Eliyahu Dangoor Scholarship (after his father). And I learned that is an important thing. If you do good for the whole community, do your own community a favor by identifying as a Jew.”
For the past 14 years now, Dangoor notes, he and his wife have supported the Westminster Academy, an outstanding non-selective academy in west London for students aged 11-18.
“Ninety percent of these students are from immigrant families and we feel that we are doing something to say thank you by helping these immigrant communities,” he says.
Dangoor has served as vice-president of the World Organization of Jews from Iraq (WOJI) for over a decade, and has sought to use his heritage “to ensure greater relations between Jews and Arabs.”
He heads The Exilarch’s Foundation, a London-based charity that has generously initiated and supported causes ranging from education to health, including the UK Israel Tech Hub, the Weizmann Institute of Science, the Centre for Personalized Medicine and the Centre for Universal Monotheism at Bar Ilan University.
Bar-Ilan University awarded Dangoor an honorary doctorate in 2017, citing his “tireless efforts to further education, culture and art throughout the UK and Israel,” while in 2019 he was honored with the Sternberg Interfaith Gold Medallion.
Asked what motivates his philanthropy, Dangoor tells an interesting personal story that taught him a life lesson he will never forget.
“When I was 18, I borrowed my parents’ car and on my way home, the car stopped working. It was dark, and I opened the bonnet and then I looked at the petrol gauge, and it was empty. I had no money and I didn’t know what to do. I had my bonnet up, and someone drove up and said, ‘What’s the problem?’ and I told him. He took out a tank of petrol from his car and he poured out half of it into my car, and said, ‘I think this should take you home.’ I didn’t know how to thank him and told him this. And he said, ‘If you want to thank me, get yourself a petrol tank and do the same for someone else.’ That has been a lesson in my life, because the best way to thank someone is to try and do it for someone else. And you know that for most people who are doing good, that’s their feeling. Just repeat what I have done, and I’ll be happy. I don’t even need to know about it.”