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The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

Genizah Fragments

The Newsletter of Cambridge University's
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
at Cambridge University Library

No. 1 April 1981

[Stefan C. Reif]
Stefan C. Reif

Spreading the word

If I may share a confidence with the readers of this first issue of "Genizah Fragments", the task which faced me eight years ago when I was appointed to look after the Taylor-Schechter collection seemed so massive that it almost drove me to an early resignation. Most of those who knew the collection advised me that I could not hope to finish the conservation work in less than 50 years, and that the sorting and cataloguing would take even longer. I could not bring myself to accept such a pessimistic outlook and mounted a campaign to attract support for a comprehensive project which would see the bulk of the urgent work completed in ten years.

Fortunately, the Leverhulme Trust Fund made a major award in the first year and the Unit gradually came to enjoy wide support and enthusiastic interest not only among the academics at home and abroad who knew its scholarly value, but also among those who had no specialized knowledge but who could identify an exciting programme of historical discovery when they saw one. Regular public lectures on the contents of the Genizah collection and the remarkable tale of its transfer to Cambridge and subsequent study caught the imagination of many, and newspapers, radio and television helped to draw attention to what could be done if only financial assistance were forthcoming.

Although the books, pamphlets and prints which have recently been produced by the Unit give some idea of its achievements, I have always felt that it would one day be necessary to produce a more popular account of our activities which would acknowledge the part played by all those who have assisted our efforts, as well as keeping the public informed of new developments and discoveries.

The wide support at present received has now made it both possible and desirable to launch such a bulletin. It will try to maintain a balance between information about the contents, conservation and study of the collection on the one hand, and the campaign to win public support for the project on the other. We shall try to ensure that the regular features give it continuity, that its appearance makes it readable and attractive, that two issues are published each year, and that it is circulated free and freely to all who may be interested. We shall be happy to receive readers' comments at any time and to hear from all those who are interested in our magnificent literary treasures.

Stefan C. Reif

T-S Genizah Research Unit

Tel Aviv museum's debt to Unit

Those who have been to the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora on Tel Aviv University campus may recall that there is one section devoted to the discovery of the Cairo Genizah and the fascinating nature of some of the contents.

What they may not have noticed is the credit to the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit for having supervised the preparation of all the exhibits and guided the art studio in choosing, deciphering and translating suitable manuscripts.

James Gardner and his researchers paid a number of visits to Cambridge to see the material for themselves and to discuss it with members of the Research Unit before making their facsimiles and the diorama representing the filling of the Genizah.

Each stage involved references back to Cambridge and requests for further translations and transparencies until the degree of excellence now clear from the exhibits was finally achieved.

Eight years of progress ...

Eight years ago the piecemeal progress of the past was abandoned in favour of a fully comprehensive programme of manuscript conservation, microfilming, cataloguing, research and publication, and the degree of achievement since then is noteworthy.

Among the most remarkable statistics are to be counted the conservation of 100,000 fragments, the processing of 320 microfilms for worldwide distribution, particularly to the USA, Israel and Eastern Europe, the cataloguing of 24,000 biblical fragments, the compilation of a Genizah bibliography consisting of 30,000 items, the numbering of 22,000 unnumbered fragments in the Old Series, and the arrangement of regular lectures, exhibitions and popular articles on the subject of the Genizah.

Among groups addressed on the subject have been Jewish schools, colleges, cultural societies, and Zionist organisations. In addition, a booklet and pamphlet, and other printed material dealing with the collection, have been published and the Library has launched its Genizah Series in which descriptions and catalogues of the collection will appear.

The total cost of the work since 1973 has been in the region of £300,000, more than half of it raised from external sources, a number of them non-Jewish foundations. In the financial year 1979-80 the Anglo-Jewish community contributed more than a third of the £40,000 raised outside the University.

The conservation of all the fragments is now coming to an end after eight years, two years ahead of the schedule laid down in the original proposal. All the Bible fragments have been catalogued and the bibliography is nearing completion. Three volumes have been published in the "Genizah Series" and all the others are at an advanced stage of preparation.

Visiting research associates from the UK, USA and Israel are regularly engaged to work on specific projects and the Faculty of Oriental Studies oversees the project and ensures that there is full co-operation between the two bodies.

Interest in mediaeval Hebrew and Jewish studies is growing at the University and there is considerable public awareness of and enthusiasm for the work new being done on the collection.

...and those who helped

This year we are delighted to acknowledge a grant of £10,000 from the Wellcome Trust for the study of medical fragments in the Collection and their special significance for the history of medicine.

Little of the progress charted above could have been achieved without the magnificent support of a number of trusts, institutions and individuals who have helped with specific or general aspects of the Unit's work.

Notable among them is the Leverhulme Trust, whose latest grant of £4,000 brings to £50,000 the total amount received from that source alone since 1974.

Other major donors during 1980-81 include St John's College, £10,000, the British Academy, £2,000, the Sherman Foundation, £2,000, and the Tyrwhitt Fund, £2,600: in all, these four sources have contributed some £60,000 to the Unit since its inception in 1973.

Gifts of £1,000-£1,500 have been received during the current year from the American Friends of Cambridge University, Mr Cyril Stein (head of the fund-raising committee), Trinity College, Mr Stanley Kalms, the Pilgrim Trust, Mr David Littman, Mr Jack Lunzer, Mr John Rubens, Mr Barnett Shine and Sir Michael Sobell. Special mention should also be made of the help given by Ray Levy, a grand-nephew of Schechter, in the USA, and Moshe Davis of the Chief Rabbi's Office in the fund-raising effort.

Major contributors in the past year have included Mr Clifford Barclay, Mr Trevor Chinn, Mr Alan Millett, Mr Michael Phillips, Mr Ben Pollard, Mr Alexander Stone, Mr Jack Walker (£500 each).

Bank Hapoalim, Mr Stanley Burton, Mr Sidney Corob, Mr David Lauffer, Mr Arnold Lee, Mr Conrad Morris (£200-£250 each).

Mr Bernard Barbacx, the late Mr Pierre Gildesgame, Mr Henry Knobil, Mr David Lewis, Mr Ronald Stekel, and Mr Fred Worms (£100 each).

A number of anonymous and some smaller donations, equally welcome, have totalled over £3,000.

Other supporters since the beginning of the project have included the Charles Wolfson Charitable Trust, Mrs Henny Gestetner, Congregation Bnai Torah (Highland Park, Illinois), Sir Max Rayne, the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture, Marks & Spencer, Corpus Christi College, Newnham College, Downing College, Sir Sigmund Sternberg and Messrs David Young, Leonard Eppel, Henry Brecher, A. Kaye, David Green, Mervyn Smith, M. B. Phillips and S. Minsky. To them all our grateful thanks.

[FW Ratcliffe]
F.W. Ratcliffe

Dramatic event

The discovery of the Cairo Genizah and the subsequent transfer of the greater part of it to Cambridge University Library is one of the more dramatic events in the history of Semitic scholarship.

Its contents promised to be of great significance in terms of scholarly potential for Hebraic studies, offering a new touchstone, a fresh insight into Jewish life, letters and culture. It is now known that its importance for Judaica is such that it can be compared only to that of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

For many years neither the scholarly expertise nor the necessary finance was available to realize its scholarly potential. Always high among library desiderata, it was regarded, perhaps inevitably, as a prohibitively massive undertaking attainable only in the long term.

Even the basic facts of preserving and listing in the most primitive way the numerous items, now known to exceed 140,000, were seen as an undertaking which would be more than sufficient for any library. The prospect of listing, identifying and exploiting a collection of such dimensions and wide subject diversity appeared quite beyond the resources and hopes of the Library.

With the appointment of Dr Reif as Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Unit, Cambridge University Library found first the necessary scholarly energy and then the necessary funds.

The Unit is now well on the way to completing the conservation and listing of the materials, pioneering in the process many new conservation techniques. Moreover, it has made very considerable progress in identifying numerous items and in making them available to scholars.

What was always suspected to be potentially of great value to scholarship is now emerging as one of the most significant collections of research materials in Cambridge University. At last it can be seen as a primary source of immense importance which will be quarried by generations of scholars yet to come.

F.W. Ratcliffe
Cambridge University Librarian

Prince Phillip

Shlomo Argov and Stefan C. Reif

Left: Prince Philip, Chancellor of the University, studies the conservation of a manuscript.
Right: The Israeli Ambassador, Mr Shlomo Argov, with Dr Reif at an exhibition of Genizah fragments.

Visitors to the Unit

Prince Philip, Chancellor of the University, included the T-S conservation department in his tour of the Library. In reply to his questions, Dr Reif explained how the University had come to possess the collection, its nature and significance, and the continuing work of conservation and research.

His Imperial Highness, Prince Mikasa of Japan, himself a keen "amateur" Hebraist, heard an explanation of the collection's importance from Dr Reif in the course of his visit to the Library.

The Israeli Ambassador, Mr Shlomo Argov, visited Cambridge for the express purpose of viewing a special exhibition of some of the fragments.

The Chief Rabbi, Dr I. Jakobovits, visited the Unit as the leader of a party invited to hear a lecture on the Genizah and to view an exhibition. On another occasion he came privately and spent an hour looking through fragments. He was especially fascinated by the liturgical manuscripts.

The official Chinese delegation of the Ninth International Congress on Archives visited the Library and viewed the special techniques being used to preserve and protect the Genizah material.

Representatives of the media have included journalists from The Times and the Jewish Chronicle, who wrote major articles; news units from BBC-TV and ITV, who prepared short films on our work; an interviewer and technician from the Israeli Broadcasting Authority, who prepared an hour-long programme broadcast in Israel; and a reporter from the BBC World Service, who interviewed Dr Reif. Another interview was recorded at the local radio studio and broadcast on the John Dunn programme on BBC Radio 2.

Regular visits have also been paid by library trainees, academic associations, B'nai B'rith groups, Jewish students and schoolchildren, Anglican vicars and Zionist organisations.

If you would like to know more about the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection or wish to know how you may assist with its preservation and study, please write to: Dr Stefan C. Reif, Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR.

All contributions to the Unit are made to the "University of Cambridge", which enjoys charitable status for tax and similar purposes. In the USA, contributions may be made to "The American Friends of Cambridge University" at 1611 35th Street, NW, Washington DC 20007, USA. The AFCU is recognised by the IRS as a charitable organisation and contributions are legally deductible for United States income tax purposes.

Immanuel Jakobovits and Stefan C. Reif

E. Fleischer, I. Yeivin, and S.C. Reif

Left: Chief Rabbi Dr Immanuel Jakobovits discussing the research project with Dr Reif.
Right: Hebrew University Professors E. Fleischer and I. Yeivin sort through a crate of fragments


The Taylor-Schechter conservation team at work

Conserving history

The conservation unit currently has five women working on the Taylor-Schechter fragments. Sections of the collection have been partly conserved over many years, but most of the fragments have been treated only in the past twelve years.

A member of the British Museum conservation team was brought in to plan the best means of conserving the fragments. The conservation process she carried out on the first fragments is still being used with a few improvements which have been adopted since then.

The fragments are originally in varying stages of disrepair. Some have been so crumpled and stuck together that considerable time and skill are necessary merely to separate them.

The paper fragments, if brittle, dirty or stuck together, are first washed, then floated apart and dried. Much of the paper can be dry cleaned with the aid of brushes and erasers and they are then ironed. Weak or torn sections are repaired using a tissue with acrylic adhesive on one side, which is applied with heat.

Vellum fragments are more difficult to conserve. Over the years they have become brittle, twisted, stretched and curled, so they have to be relaxed, then dried between blotting paper and boards to remove the creases.

Badly damaged fragments are humidified in a sealed container with a tray of water and thymol crystals underneath. When the fragment is pliable it is flattened and dried, using blotting paper and boards. Tears in the vellum are repaired by stitching.

The collection is being housed in Melinex, a tough, stable film made by ICI. It is constant over varied temperatures and humidities, inert to most chemicals and is a sparkling, clear film.

Each fragment is enclosed between two pieces of Melinex, which are sewn round with a zig-zag machine stitch, leaving and airhole in one side. The fragment is then hand-stitched into position and a label inserted. The completed volumes are housed in the Manuscript Room.

Sue Greene
Head of the T-S conservation team

Cyril Stein
Cyril Stein

Exciting project

Those of us who do our best to ensure that worthy causes get the support they deserve from both the Jewish and the general communities are always delighted to point to the exciting aspects of a particular project.

There is certainly no problem about doing this in connection with Dr Stefan Reif's Genizah project at Cambridge University. Anyone who ever imagined that history and the study of documents 1,000 years old must be dull should listen to one of those enthusiastic lectures which Dr Reif gives about his Hebrew manuscripts or read some of the popular publications he and his team have produced.

It is now almost seven years since I first became involved with the Taylor-Schechter fragments and yet I never fail to be amazed by the new light which these fragile pieces shed on the life of the Jewish people and their neighbours in the Middle Ages. What I find fascinating is the information about the ordinary life at the time, especially in the land of Israel during the battles between Crusaders and Saracens.

But the collection, remarkable as it seems, does cater for every possible interest. Everything human finds an echo in it. I think its potential for exciting younger members of our community and interesting them in their roots and the traditional values associated with their people is almost unlimited and I have myself been gratified by the response of my own family to the subject of the Genizah.

Nor is it just the contents of the documents which have persuaded me to lead the informal committee which seeks financial support for the Cambridge Genizah project. It is also the confidence that the physical job of rescuing these pieces of our past is being done in a thoroughly professional manner with the most up-to-date technical advice and skills.

The research programme is being directed by a dynamic scholar who dedicates himself to his work and makes sure that the best possible use is made of every pound raised in the campaign. I hope that readers of this bulletin will respond to the call to assist him with his invaluable work.

Cyril Stein
Chairman, fund-raising committee

Transferring bibliography on to computer

During the past eighty years, many scholars in the field of Oriental studies have mined the treasures of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah collection housed in the Cambridge University Library.

As a result of their industry, thousands of publications have appeared in multifarious books and periodicals throughout the world and in a variety of languages (including Russian, Hungarian and Arabic). There is even a gramophone recording of the musical notations of one fragment.

In order to keep track of the diverse published sources relating to an important and unique collection, the compilation of a bibliography was initiated in 1973. Over the past seven years, twelve researchers have been involved in the project. Notably in the past two years the Bibliography has been brought near completion by a team of three full-time researchers.

At the present time a little over 15 per cent of the entire collection has been examined, described, discussed and published in part or in whole. Since a fragment can be dealt with by several different scholars, the entries contained in the Bibliography now number over 40,000.

The information gathered and collated over the past seven years will ultimately provide an invaluable source of reference for Genizah scholarship, particularly by facilitating the immediate retrieval of publication details of fragments it represents.

For example, if a scholar becomes interested in a certain Genizah fragment and wonders whether it has already been published, and with what degree of detail, the Bibliography will furnish this information at once.

Towards the end of 1980, following a series of discussions with Dr John Dawson of the Literary and Linguistic Computing Centre at the University of Cambridge, the Taylor-Schechter Unit decided to transfer the Bibliography project on to computer.

The computer is a great time-saver and, if instructed correctly, can save many hours of human toil. Laborious tasks such as editing the text and compiling indexes (author, journal, date) can therefore be executed with far greater efficiency by computer, as can chronological and alphabetical sorting.

Useful by-products of fast information retrieval include quantitative analyses of the data (e.g., who contributed what to a particular journal during a given period), matching dates with periodical volume numbers, ascertaining the exact percentage of the Collection utilized, as well as the exact number of entries in the Bibliography (to replace approximations).

One of the greatest assets of computerizing the project is being able to typeset from a correct text, as anyone who has ever had the unpleasant but necessary task of multiple proof-readings will quickly recognize.

Since the "cut-off date" for the entries in the Bibliography is at present 1980, it is hoped that supplements to the Bibliography will eventually be merged with the existing data on computer to produce updated editions.

Deborah Patterson
Full-time research assistant,
T-S Genizah Research Unit

Genizah publications

The following publications have so far appeared in the Cambridge University Library Genizah Series edited by Dr S. C. Reif:

2. Hebrew Bible Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections:

Volume 1

Taylor-Schechter Old Series and other Genizah Collections in Cambridge University Library, by M. C. Davis, incorporating material compiled by H. Knopf (1978).

Volume 2

Taylor-Schechter New Series, and Westminster College Cambridge Collection, by M. C. Davis (1980).

3. Miscellany of Literary Pieces from the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by Simon Hopkins (1978).

Other volumes which are at an advanced stage of preparation are:

1. An Introduction to the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by S. C. Reif.

2. Hebrew Bible Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections:

Volumes 3 & 4

Taylor-Schechter Additional Series 1-31 and 32-225, with addenda to previous volumes by M. C. Davis.

4. Vocalised Talmudic Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections:

Volume 1

Taylor-Schechter Old Series, by Shelomo Morag.

5. Post-Talmudic Rabbinic Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections:

Volume 1

Taylor-Schechter New Series, by E. J. Wiesenberg.

6. Published material from the Cambridge Genizah Collections: a Bibliography.

7. Targum Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by Shirley Lund.

8. Philological Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by David Téné.

9. Palestinian Vocalised Piyyut Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by Joseph Yahalom.

Fragments in the Library

The Genizah fragments at Cambridge University Library comprise the following items:

1. Fragments acquired in the 1890s from Rabbi S. A. Wertheimer and the Rev. Greville J. Chester, about 100 in number, now part of the Library's "Additional Manuscripts."

2. Fragments brought back from Egypt by Solomon Schechter in 1897 and presented by him and Charles Taylor to the University in 1898, now divided into three parts:

T-S OS: 31,000 fragments treated and classified early in the century, including the "Loan Collection" borrowed by Schechter in 1898 and gradually returned from New York over the years.

T-S NS: 42,000 fragments conserved and classified since 1955.

T-S AS: 67,000 fragments conserved and classified since 1974.

3. Fragments purchased from Samuel Raffalovich in 1898-1900, about 1,000 in number, now part of the Library's "Oriental Manuscripts".

4. Fragments from the Henriques Collection, presented early in the century, and now incorporated in the T-S NS section.

5. One fragment bequeathed by Mrs A. S. Lewis and Mrs M. D. Gibson in 1926, because it led Schechter to Cairo in search of the remainder, included in the Library's "Oriental Manuscripts".

6. Fragments in the collection of Israel Abrahams (1858-1924), Reader in Rabbinics in the University of Cambridge, housed in the University Library since 1964, about 25 in number.

Edited by Stefan C. Reif and printed at Cambridge University Library

Edited by Stefan C. Reif
If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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© University of Cambridge; revised February 2008