…Umetalmidai yoter mikulan (BT Ta’anit 7a).
Five years of the Levisson Institute

Address inaugurating the 2007-2008 Academic Year Amsterdam
6 september 2007.

It was the custom in Ancient Rome to organise a lustrum every five years, a purification ritual allowing the censor to purge the city of all that was evil. The high point was the lustratio, a procession in which the felix hostia (the ‘fortunate sacrificial beast’: the Romans were not lacking in humour) was led around before the slaughter.

Today our arrangements for celebrating a lustrum are somewhat more subtle. Instead of compensating for our transgressions by shedding blood, we look back with satisfaction, modestly beat our breasts and search for suitable language in which to praise our colleagues. Such is precisely what I intend to do on the occasion of the five years that the Levisson Institute has been existence. And in so doing I hope I shall above all be paying homage to the etymology of the word lustrum, a word that continues to puzzle scholars to this day for it appears to be derived, in some unexpected fashion from the Latin verb lustrare, to enlighten. Let me put this differently: I would like in rapid tempo to shed light on five years of Levisson, and to do so primarily from the perspective of the Academic Committee, which I have chaired since its creation.

The full text of the lecture can be downloaded here as a PDF file