Academy's aid for rabbinics
The British Academy's latest award of
£1,976 brings to a total of over £12,500 its support of the
Genizah Unit over the past eight years.
The Academy's admirable assistance has
enabled Dr Ephraim Wiesenberg to continue his description
of the Rabbinic fragments in the New Series and has also
demonstrated the enthusiasm with which leading orientalists
in the United Kingdom have greeted the academic projects
undertaken by the Unit.
It is hoped that the Academy will be able
to offer further help for this or other parts of the Unit's
research in the future.
Other major funding obtained in the past
few months has included generous contributions by Mr Cyril
Stein (£1,000), who continues to guide the fundraising
effort; Sir Michael Sobell (£1,000); and Mr John Rubens
Renewals of their annual grants have kindly
been made by Mr and Mrs Michael Phillips (£500); the
Ellison Marsden Charitable Trust (£500 through its Trustee,
Mr Cecil Ellison); and Mr and Mrs David Lauffer (£300). A
warm welcome is extended to a new supporter, Mr Cesare
The Unit is grateful to Mr and Mrs Conrad
Abrahams-Curiel (£250), Bank Hapoalim (£250), and St John's
College, Cambridge (£200), for renewing their awards; and
thanks are also due to Messrs Clifford Barclay, Joe Dwek,
Gerard Hankinson and Conrad Morris, and to Withington
Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, for each
Other smaller or anonymous donations
amounting to over £300 have been made and are much
Playing a major role
Wherever one finds Hebrew and Jewish
scholarship these days, one finds references to the
Genizah. Last year in Oxford and Chicago, earlier this year
in Jerusalem, and at about this time in Cordova and
Montreal, international meetings are heavily dependent on
that exciting source for many of their topics.
The world-wide celebrations to mark the
850th anniversary of the birth of Maimonides have all used
facsimiles of the draft copies of his own handwritten works
found in the Genizah, and a major exhibition at the Israel
Museum in Jerusalem was devoted to these famous fragments
There are few recent issues of academic
journals in the field that do not include one or more
articles based on researches in the various Genizah
At the more popular level, too, there has
been a growth of interest in the Genizah and, as a result,
in the history of Jews and Judaism a thousand years ago. It
is no longer rare to find radio, television, magazines and
newspapers enquiring about the significance of this
collection and giving coverage to its remarkable story.
Demands for lectures on the subject in
adult education courses demonstrate the search for a better
understanding of the origins of a people's history and
It is gratifying to know that the Cambridge
Genizah Unit has played a major role in all these
developments. The conservation and microfilming of all the
fragments in a Collection that contains almost
three-quarters of all known Genizah manuscripts have
provided a source for scholarship that is widely and easily
The training of a number of young scholars
over the past ten years and the presence of a team in
Cambridge have influenced the direction of research.
Attempts to bring an awareness of the importance of the
Genizah to a wider public have begun to yield cultural and
As the tenth issue of Genizah
Fragments goes to press, it is an appropriate time to
thank all those who have worked with us in many different
respects in recent years and to express the hope that we
shall enjoy their continuing co-operation and enthusiasm as
we plan new initiatives for the future.
Stefan C. Reif,
Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research
Ambassador and Mrs C. W. Squire with Dr
S. C. Reif
UK envoy calls in on Library
Having seen the work of the Unit and the
importance of the Genizah Collection featured in the
Israeli press, the British Ambassador to Israel, Mr C. W.
Squire, took advantage of a visit to Cambridge to call at
the University Library and view some of the Collection.
Accompanied by his wife, Sara, a former
Second Secretary (political) at the Embassy in Tel Aviv, Mr
Squire heard about the origins and history of the
Collection and discussed the Unit's achievements and its
future plans with its Director.
The daughter of Eliezer Ben-Yehuda
(1858-1922), compiler of the famous Hebrew dictionary that
bears his name, took a particular delight in reading the
Hebrew personal letters from the Middle Ages preserved in
the Genizah Collection.
Mrs Dola Ben-Yehuda Wittmann and her
husband, Max, were the guests of the Regius Professor of
Hebrew, John Emerton, who is also the Honorary Keeper of
the Collection, and Mrs Wittmann lectured at the Faculty of
Oriental Studies on her father's work.
While spending a day at Cambridge
University Library, the Chief Executive of the British
Library, Mr Kenneth R. Cooper, acquainted himself with the
Taylor-Schechter fragments and was able to relate them to
the smaller collection of Genizah material housed at the
Distinguished visitors from the United
States have included Dr Michael Neiditch, Director of
Education for B'nai B'rith International in Washington
D.C., who was particularly interested in the educational
potential of the Genizah treasures; and Ms Hanna F. Desser,
Executive Editor of Present Tense magazine in New
York, who was considering writing a feature on the Unit and
Among visitors from Israel were the writer,
Yitzhak Ben-Ner; the Deputy International Secretary of the
Labour Party, Richard Bell; and the Professor of
Experimental Physics at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem,
William (Ze'ev) Low.
Special exhibitions and introductory talks
were arranged for a visiting American group organized by
the Biblical Archaeology Review; for those
participating in the summer conference of the Society for
Old Testament Study; and for the Leeds branch of the Jewish
Historical Society of England.
While in Jerusalem in August, the Director
of the Unit, Dr Stefan Reif, had meetings with President
Chaim Herzog at his official residence; with one of the
Knesset's most senior parliamentarians and diplomats, Mr
Abba Eban, at the Knesset; and with the Director-General of
the Ministry of Education, Mr Eliezer Shmueli, at the
Discussions centred on the work done on the
Cambridge Genizah Collection in recent years and on plans
for future developments.
Arrangements are under way for such leading
personalities to visit the Genizah Collection in Cambridge
in the coming months.
Contact was also made with Israeli press
and television about future features on the Cambridge
Dr Paul Fenton studying a microfilm of
Although the distinguished collection of
the Genizah manuscripts housed in Cambridge University
Library is undoubtedly the most important, other
collections, scattered across the globe but originating
from the same Old Cairo synagogue, have their role to play
in unravelling the long-hidden mysteries of Jewish history
Among these, that of the Saltykov-Shchedrin
State Public Library in Leningrad ranks very high in
significance. Indeed, Paul Kahle, author of The Cairo
Geniza (Oxford, 1959), wrote of the Leningrad
collection that "no doubt some of the most valuable
fragments from the Geniza are in the Second Firkowitch
Collection in Leningrad."
The story of how these manuscripts came to
Leningrad is almost as exciting as that of Schechter's
thrilling expedition, mainly because the man who brought
the Russian collection together, Abraham Firkovitch, was
such a colourful figure.
Born in 1786, Firkovitch was a Lithuanian
Karaite who, in his determination to prove the antiquity of
the Karaite community in Russia, resorted even to
Notwithstanding his academic notoriety,
Firkovitch rendered an inestimable service to scholarship
by collecting rare and precious manuscripts, an activity he
began at an early age. His various communal positions as
Karaite hakham and his wide travels enabled him to
bring together one of the most incredible private
collections of Hebrew, Arabic and Samaritan
His passion for travel and manuscripts
inevitably brought him, in 1863, to the Cairo Genizah, the
importance of which he realized some thirty-four years
before Schechter's famous visit. The manuscripts acquired
on this visit, and forming his Second Collection, were
bought in 1876 after Firkovitch's demise by the St.
Petersburg Imperial Library, later to become the Leningrad
State Public Library.
Though numerically less impressive than
Cambridge's holdings, containing 13,700 items in comparison
to Taylor-Schechter's 140,000, the Second Firkovitch
Collection may nonetheless claim to be of equal scholarly
The uniqueness of its contents is owed not
only to the fact that Firkovitch was a seasoned and
discerning predator who knew what he was hunting, but also
to his having enjoyed, as an early visitor, the first
choice of the spoils.
The result is that a larger proportion of
important and almost complete manuscripts is to be found in
Leningrad than in other libraries, where Genizah
collections are mainly fragmentary.
Unfortunately, for the past fifty years
this advantage has proved of little value to scholars in
the West because of the difficulty in obtaining copies of
Jewish manuscripts to be found in the Soviet Union.
Among the treasures in Leningrad is to be
found a manuscript of the Garden of Metaphors, an
aesthetic appreciation of Biblical literature written in
Judeao-Arabic by one of the greatest of the Spanish Hebrew
poets, Moses Ibn Ezra.
Having devoted my doctoral dissertation to
a study of this work based on the only available
manuscript, in Jerusalem, I was interested in obtaining a
microfilm from Leningrad of the other known copy, in order
to start on a critical edition, but at first had no
As a former Research Assistant at the
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, I submitted to the
British Academy a project to travel to Leningrad for the
purpose of comparing the two collections of Genizah
material in the context of its cultural exchange programme
with the Soviet Academy of Sciences.
After two years, my proposal was accepted
by the Russian authorities and, in April 1984, during a
month's visit to the Leningrad State Public Library, I was
at last able to look at the coveted Garden of
Metaphors and to examine some of the other
Judaeo-Arabic treasures in the Second Firkovitch
Collection, of which I drew up a tentative hand-list.
Because of Firkovitch's habit of concealing
his sources, no one actually knew where the Second
Collection had come from, and some had even denied that it
derived from the Cairo Genizah.
I can, however, now state categorically not
only that the material I examined comes from the Cairo
Genizah, and that the paper, scripts and palaeographical
characteristics are identical with those of other Genizah
collections, but that I recognized pages and parts of
manuscripts the remainder of which are to be found in
All this emphasizes that, for the sake of
progress in the important field of Genizah research,
scholars will need improved facilities of exchange and
scientific co-operation and co-ordination between Cambridge
University Library, in particular, and the Leningrad State
It is hoped that in the wake of the cordial
relations I was able to initiate in the Soviet Union, a
more comprehensive exchange of information between
Cambridge and Leningrad might be implemented to mark the
forthcoming bicentenary of Firkovitch's birth.
Paul B. Fenton,
Senior Lecturer in Hebrew, University of Lyons,
Arabic manuscripts in the
The vast majority of Genizah fragments are
written in Hebrew characters. This is not surprising, since
reverence for the Hebrew script was the chief motivation
for placing manuscripts in the Genizah.
The language of well over half of
them, however, is Arabic rather than Hebrew. The proportion
of fragments penned in Arabic script is very
small, but, given the vast size of the collection, there
are a fair number of them.
I have calculated that there must be some
7,000 fragments in Arabic script in the Cambridge Genizah
collections, which would be 5 percent of the estimated
total of 140,000.
Predictably, the language of most of these
is Arabic, though a few are Hebrew in Arabic transcription.
The latter, mainly biblical and liturgical texts, are
generally thought to have been written by members of the
The presence of manuscripts in Arabic
script in the Genizah is rather unexpected. They were
probably originally kept in a family archive or library
together with Hebrew writings, and when the collection was
discarded, some were accidentally mixed up with the
manuscripts in Hebrew script which were consigned to the
Like the majority of the Genizah papers,
the fragments in Arabic characters are mostly datable to
the High Middle Ages (eleventh to thirteenth centuries).
They are of a very varied content.
Some of them are legal documents which were
written by Muslim notaries for settlements or contracts
(especially of sale and of lease) between a Jew and Muslim
or a Christian, or even between two Jewish parties.
Although the Jewish authorities frowned
upon members of their community who applied to non-Jewish
courts, the Genizah shows us that Jews sometimes brought a
lawsuit before the Muslim authorities in order to seek more
favourable terms after they had lost in their own court. In
other words, they used the Muslim judiciary as a kind of
court of appeal.
On the other hand, the motivation of two
Jewish parties to have contracts of sale and of lease drawn
up by a Muslim notary was that the conveyancing of immobile
property was taxed and had to be certified by a Muslim
A number of fragments are petitions which
were sent by Jews with grievances to the Muslim ruler or a
high government official in order to seek redress. These
were returned to the sender with a decree written on the
back. If the decree was of considerable length, it was put
on a separate sheet of paper.
Several fragments of such independent
decrees are found in the Genizah, as well as other types of
documents which emanated from the Islamic Chancery, such as
official reports to the ruler and letters of
Of particular value are the numerous
Fatimid chancery documents which have been preserved, since
only a very small number of these is known to be extant
A large proportion of the manuscripts in
Arabic script are literary, philosophical and scientific
works. Many of these were probably used by Jews who trained
for government service or for the medical profession.
Several of the philosophical and scientific fragments are
from texts which were previously thought to have been
Professor Moshe Gil at work on an
Reconstructing Jewish history
It is now 88 years since Solomon Schechter
transferred the greater part of the Cairo Genizah to
Cambridge University Library.
One of the leading students of Jewish
history of that time, David Kaufmann, noted in an article
published shortly afterwards in Hashiloah that,
besides having an immense value for research in such fields
as Bible and Talmud, these manuscripts were also
"enormously important since they enrich our knowledge of
our nation's history. It is as if whole pages missing from
the volumes of our history have been restored to their
And then, further: "These wonderful
discoveries shed light not only on the history of our
brethren in Egypt, but also on the history of the Jews in
all lands of the Diaspora."
Most of the attention given by Jewish
historians engaged in the study of the Genizah documents
has been directed towards Palestine. If it were not for the
Genizah, our knowledge of Jewish history in Palestine
between the Arab conquest of the seventh century and that
of the Crusaders over four and a half centuries later would
have been next to nothing.
One can easily verify this by examining
early Jewish historiography, such as Graetz's History
of the Jews; and even the works of later polyhistors
give the same impression.
It is thanks to the well known Genizah
scholars, Schechter, Harkavy, Poznanski and others, and
their most important and productive successors, Mann and
Goitein, that we can now reconstruct several important
chapters of Jewish life in Palestine.
For the past fourteen years, I have myself
devoted much of my time and energy to locating and
deciphering the whole corpus of documents pertaining to the
topic, and to summing up the findings - of others as well
as of myself - in one comprehensive book (Palestine
during the First Muslim Period [634-1099], Tel Aviv,
Much credit for the completion of this
enterprise - whether academically successful or not is for
others to judge - goes to Dr Reif and his staff, in whose
care is to be found the greater part of these
There are in that corpus of documents
pertaining to Palestine a total of 618 manuscripts, mostly
in Judaeo-Arabic; several of these have been pieced
together from fragments found under a variety of classmarks
or even in different libraries. One may safely assume that
through further Genizah study some additional ones - not
many, I believe - will surface.
The following is a very succinct survey of
the main topics covered by this corpus:
(1) Information on Jerusalem, beginning
with the location of its Jewish quarters, both Rabbanite
(2) Data on many other Jewish communities,
such as Tiberias, Ramla, Tyre (then the main port serving
the needs of Palestine), Ashkelon (conquered by the
Crusaders only in 1153), Hebron, Baniyas and various other
localities in Galilee.
(3) Eye-witness accounts, by contemporaries
and survivors, of the Crusader conquest.
(4) A most surprising account of the
Yeshiva of Palestine, of which almost nothing had
previously been known. It turns out to have been not simply
an institution of learning, or academy (as often wrongly
translated), but rather the true leader of a substantial
part of the Jewish Diaspora, including those communities
which had formerly been under Byzantine rule. This means
Palestine itself, Egypt, Syria, Sicily and, to a certain
extent, North Africa; the communities still in Byzantine
lands, such as Constantinople and other parts of Byzantium;
and even Southern Italy.
This Yeshiva was the successor to the
ancient Sanhedrin (= Greek synhedrion,
precisely corresponding to the Hebrew yeshiva). We
now become familiar with its personalities of the eleventh
century, the bulk of manuscripts having their initial date
around 1000. We also read about their internal policies and
frequent conflicts as well as their relations with the
Muslim (then Fatimid) authorities.
(5) New data on circumstances and events of
a general nature, concerning the history of Palestine
during the first period of Muslim occupation. Thus, for
instance, some 60 letters of Jewish merchants engaged in
Mediterranean maritime trade give us an interesting picture
of the economic life of the period. There is also fresh
evidence about political and military developments.
In conclusion, I have to stress that the
information thus obtained from the Genizah material
acquires its full significance only if seen in the general
framework of the history of Palestine in that period. In
other words, it must constantly be compared with the
non-Jewish - that is, Muslim and Christian - sources.
Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv
Various readers have recently expressed
interest in knowing how many copies of Genizah Fragments
are printed and distributed.
The total number of names appearing on our
latest mailing list, updated on computer at the end of
September 1985, is 985.
A breakdown of the figures shows that 562
copies are sent to the United Kingdom, 275 to the USA, 96
to Israel and 52 to other places abroad.
The print run is usually in the region of
1,500 and the remaining copies are distributed to
interested visitors and to those attending lectures given
by members of the Unit.
Participants in the Hebraica Libraries'
Group conference in London under their chairman, Mr P. S.
Salinger (front, centre)
The first afternoon of the annual
conference of the Hebraica Libraries' Group, held at the
School of Oriental and African Studies in London in the
spring, was devoted to important Hebrew collections in
Oxford and Cambridge.
Professor M. Beit-Arie, Director of the
Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, and
currently revising and updating the catalogue of Hebrew
manuscripts at the Bodleian Library in Oxford, spoke about
clues that provide the key to the dating of undated Hebrew
Among the points he covered were the
identification of the palaeographical units of a manuscript
(i.e.,whether one - or more - manuscript was bound
together); the problems of different handwriting within a
particular manuscript; the different types of script (e.g.
Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Yemenite); and the localisation of a
manuscript and its possible date.
Dr S.C. Reif, Director of the Cambridge
Genizah Unit, gave a summary of developments and efforts to
conserve the Collection over the past 100 years. Between
the time of Solomon Schechter and the 1960s, the
arrangements and identification of the fragments had been
carried out by scholars visiting Cambridge as and when this
In 1960, a University committee was set up
to put the conservation and identification of the fragments
on a more systematic basis. Since 1973, thanks to many
generous donations, a major conservation project had been
completed whereby all the fragments are now protected and
can be examined without risk of their being damaged.
The microfilming project had made the
material available to scholars all over the world, and the
policy of engaging Research Assistants had given a rare
opportunity for young scholars to work with manuscript
material. Many items had now been identified, computer
technology was being employed, and a number of noteworthy
publications, such as the Genizah Series, had
Dr Reif pointed out, however, that many
items remain to be identified and published. He also noted
that, although the Genizah Collection is one of the world's
major manuscript treasures, there was a yet very little
teaching done on the material as a source for the study of
Jewish origins and their historical links with Christian
and Muslim religious traditions.
He expressed the hope that an international
campaign could soon be launched to extend the current
project into a major educational resource.
The remainder of the conference, attended
by delegates from London, Oxford, Cambridge, Leeds and
Glasgow, included business meetings and a seminar on Hebrew
library resources in London.
Meeting in Jerusalem
The Cambridge Genizah Collection was in
various ways well represented at a number of conferences
held in Jerusalem this past summer.
Professor John Emerton, Honorary Keeper of
the Collection, Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah
Research Unit, Dr E.J. Wiesenberg, Research Associate, and
Dr Geoffrey Khan, Research Assistant, participated in the
World Congress of Jewish Studies, the second international
meeting of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies, and the
Workshops on University Teaching of Jewish
They lectured, chaired sessions and
contributed to discussions and were approached about
organizing the next international meeting of the Society
for Judaeo-Arabic Studies at Cambridge in 1987.
Professor Emerton and Dr Reif were elected
to the Council of the World Union of Jewish Studies,
presided over by Professor Ephraim E. Urbach. They will
hold these posts until the next Congress in 1989.
At the World Congress, held on the Mount
Scopus Campus of the Hebrew University, the Cambridge
Genizah featured in a large number of lectures,
particularly those relating to mediaeval Jewish history,
the history of Jewish law, Hebrew poetry and liturgy, and
the languages spoken and used by the Jews in the Middle
Dr Reif's paper, delivered in Hebrew, dealt
with "Festive Titles in Liturgical Terminology".
Among participants in the Congress who had
previously been researchers at the Cambridge Unit were Dr
Paul Fenton, Dr Eliezer Gutwirth, Dr Simon Hopkins and Dr
The shorter conference held by the Society
for Judaeo-Arabic Studies at the Ben-Zvi Institute and at
the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities was, in fact,
even more concerned with the Genizah.
Subjects covered at this important
three-day meeting, under the presidency of Professor Joshua
Blau, ranged from Maimonides and Saadya to language, law,
history and philosophy, and included sessions devoted in
the methodology of research and the contribution made by
the late Professor S. D. Goitein to the field.
The common element in most of the subjects
was the extensive use of the Cairo Genizah material as a
major source for most of the research undertaken by Society