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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. 16 October 1988

8,000 pledge aids work on rabbinics

The continuation of Dr Robert Brody's work on the description of the rabbinic fragments in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection has been assured by a further grant from the British Academy.

The Academy has promised the sum of 8,000 to match that already pledged by the Wolfson Foundation (see Genizah Fragments 15) and another foundation that prefers to remain anonymous.

A search is now under way to find a scholar willing to spend a year in Cambridge continuing Dr Brody's work now that he has returned to Jerusalem following his period of sabbatical leave.

Mr Cyril Stein has again been exceptionally helpful in recent months, providing funding of 1,000 and helping the Unit to locate new contributors. Dr and Mrs Davide Sala have generously arranged for a further donation of 2,810 from the Care Charitable Fund, and the Sobell Foundation has provided 1,000.

Among those supporting the Unit for the first time are Mr and Mrs Stanley Green, Mr Felix Posen and Mr Henry Schuldenfrei (1,000); Mr David Alliance and Mr and Mrs Tibor Schwarcz (500); Mr R.S. Rubin and Mr and Mrs B. Taub (200-250); Mrs Annette Halfin, Mrs Judith Samuel and Mr Geoffrey Ognall (100-150).

Welcome renewals have also been made by regular supporters Mr and Mrs Michael Phillips (750); Heron International plc (500, to sponsor part of this issue of Genizah Fragments); Mr Jack Walker and United Mizrahi Bank (500); Mr and Mrs Stanley Lauffer (400); Ilford B'nai B'rith (300); Mr and Mrs Conrad Abrahams-Curiel (250) and Mr Arnold Oppenheimer (250 in honour of Dr Wiesenberg's forthcoming eightieth birthday in March 1989); Mr and Mrs Bernard Garbacz (150); and Sir Sigmund Sternberg (100).

A greatly appreciated initiative was launched by a group of friends in North West London, who arranged a raffle which raised over 1,000 for the Unit; and the sale of cold-cast bronzes of Maimonides, sculpted by Mrs Hazel Alexander, continued to benefit Genizah research through her generosity (200). A meeting addressed by Dr Stefan Reif in Hampstead also raised substantial funding for Care for Children and for the Genizah Unit (500).

It was good to have further support from across the Atlantic, thanks to the generosity of Mr and Mrs Sash Erlik ($500), Mrs Diane Claerbout ($200), Mrs Clara B. Laks and Mr and Mrs Raphael Levy ($150) and Mr Israel Sendrovic ($100), all kindly channelled - together with a number of smaller donations - by the American Friends of Cambridge University.

Other income in recent months, including gifts anonymously received, amounted to a total of 4,465. All our friends and supporters are warmly thanked for their assistance, without which it would be difficult to plan for the future.

[four people talking]

King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia enjoying a joke with Dr Ratcliffe (right) and Dr Reif

Spanish royalty at Library

During their visit to various parts of the University Library, Their Majesties, King Juan Carlos and Queen Sofia of Spain, saw an exhibition that included items from the Genizah Collection and discussed these with the University Librarian, Dr F.W. Ratcliffe, and the Director of the Unit, Dr Stefan Reif.

The King and Queen, who were at the University to receive honorary degrees, showed special interest in an autograph letter of Moses Maimonides, who was born in Cordova in 1138, and in the manuscripts composed in the Jewish dialect of Spanish written in Hebrew characters (Judaeo-Spanish).

Other distinguished visitors in recent months included the Israeli writers, Moshe Shamir, Aharon Megged and his wife Eda Zoritte; the noted Jerusalem cardiologist, Professor Mervyn Gotsman; and Professor Ruth Kartun-Blum, of the Hebrew literature department at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Professor Richard Popkin, who was lecturing in the University on the seventeenth-century English Hebraist, Ralph Cudworth, viewed some of the Genizah Collection, as did Mr Israel Sendrovic, Senior Vice-President of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, and Mr Stuart Chandler, of the Bank of England.

Among groups visiting the Library and Research Unit were participants in the Arnold Zweig Symposium; British ORT; Friends of the Museum of the Jewish Diaspora; Norwich Jewish Cultural Society; Pinner United Synagogue; Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue Ladies' Guild; Israel War Widows; the Society for New Testament Studies; and the West London Synagogue, making a total of 318 visitors during the past academical year.

Research projects entering new phase

Now that three of last year's researchers have returned to their home institutions, the task before us in the current year is to complete the next stage of each of the projects on which they worked.

A replacement will have to be found for Dr Robert Brody to continue the description of the rabbinic fragments in the Collection. The catalogue of targumic material prepared by Professor Michael Klein will be transformed from raw data to camera-ready copy that can be printed by Cambridge University Press.

The preliminary descriptions compiled by Jonathan Seidel of some of the magical texts in the Collection will be merged with the tentative catalogue of the remainder of such material drawn up by Professor Shaul Shaked, of the Hebrew University, and the result will be a major research project jointly sponsored with this Unit.

The first part of the academical year will also see the completion of the next stage of editing of the papers delivered at the 1987 Judaeo-Arabic conference in Cambridge for eventual publication by Cambridge University Press in the series sponsored by the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

As for the second half of the year, the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust has honoured me with a visiting professorship at the Hebrew University next semester (February-June, 1989), for which the Cambridge authorities have kindly granted me leave of absence.

Apart from pursuing my own academic research, I shall teach a graduate course in methodological problems in the study of Jewish liturgy. Both commitments will involve extensive use of Genizah material, with the hopeful by-product of intensifying academic and public support for the important work being done on these fragments.

Virtually no field of Jewish studies can operate successfully without the Genizah material, and this is particularly true of Jewish liturgy, still an underdeveloped area of academic research. I shall endeavour to promote this subject during my stay through my connections with the Institute of Jewish Studies and the Jewish National and University Library.

Stefan C. Reif
Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

[people with manuscripts]

Dr Geoffrey Khan (right) and Dr Robert Brody discuss Genizah fragments with visitors to the Unit

Rabbinic wealth

It has been my privilege to spend the academic year 1987-88 as a Visiting Research Associate at Cambridge University Library, searching the Library's Genizah Collection for fragments of rabbinic literature and identifying as many of these as possible.

The wealth and variety of this material have certainly not fallen short of my expectations, although I was surprised to discover how many rabbinic fragments had, in the early years of sorting, found their way into binders meant to contain material of a completely different nature.

Conversely, there is much material of other sorts in binders with the overall title of "rabbinic".

The rabbinic fragments cover an extremely broad spectrum, from the Mishnah to modern responsa and novellae, but the bulk of the material consists either of early mediaeval literature (chiefly oriental) or of mediaeval copies of the earlier talmudic and midrashic classics.

Efforts have been under way for some time to catalogue all of the Talmud fragments, but holdings of midrashim and mediaeval rabbinic literature have been only very imperfectly exploited.

I have found dozens of midrashic fragments, some very early, which belong to none of the published midrashim and are certain to repay study by experts in the field.

In terms of mediaeval rabbinic literature, one of the most striking phenomena encountered is the abundance of material relating to kashruth, and especially to shehitah.

This concentration on Jewish dietary law takes many forms, including selective copying from more comprehensive works (especially Maimonides' Code), the translation of the relevant sections of Maimonides' Code into Judaeo-Arabic (with or without the original Hebrew), the writing of halakhic manuals specifically devoted to this subject (generally in Judaeo-Arabic), and the preparation of catechisms to facilitate revision of these laws.

My own area of specialization is the literature produced by the Babylonian Geonim of the eighth to the eleventh century, and here I have found vast quantities of unpublished material.

This includes not only important manuscript fragments of such well-known works as the She'iltoth and Halakhoth Gedoloth, but at least one hundred responsa on legal and exegetical questions and hundreds of pages of halakhic monographs in Judaeo-Arabic, the majority of them unique copies.

I confidently expect that this year's work in Cambridge will provide the raw material for at least a decade of research and publication. Such research will, one hopes, shed considerable new light on our understanding of geonic literature, and especially on the revolution in literature and literary consciousness that characterized the last century of the geonic period; the shift from a primarily traditional and largely oral literature to the writing of independent works by individual authors.

Robert Brody
Department of Talmud, Hebrew University, Jerusalem

Wide range

The geographical and scholarly range of research, lectures and publications by researchers in the Genizah Unit has recently made interesting reading.

Professor Michael Klein has written and spoken on Aramaic Bible translations and commentaries, as well as examining manuscripts in the Institute of Oriental Studies and the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad.

The publications and conference papers of Dr Geoffrey Khan have dealt with Semitic grammar, Arabic and Islamic Genizah documents and the role of the book in the civilisation of the Near East. His travels have taken him to Vienna, Paris and Dublin.

Mediaeval Jewish literacy, the history of Jewish Palestine, the early development of the Hebrew prayer-book, and biblical commentaries recorded in the Genizah were among the topics covered by Dr Stefan Reif, and his papers have been delivered in Glasgow, York and Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.

In addition, Dr Robert Brody has covered the oral dimension in rabbinic literature; Dr Haskell Isaacs the medical documents in the Taylor-Schechter Collection: and Mr Jonathan Seidel magical texts in the Genizah.

Early prints on display

Between October 1987 and January 1988 an exhibition of oriental printing was held at Cambridge University Library. On display were samples of printing in all the major oriental scripts represented in the Library's vast and valuable collections.

These included Japanese, Chinese, Tibetan, Syriac, Ethiopic, Armenian, Samaritan, Georgian, Hebrew, Arabic and a wide range of Indian scripts.

Some of the exhibits were examples of the earliest stages of printing in these scripts. Prominent in the Hebraica section of the exhibition were fragments of Hebrew incunables (pre-1500) from Spain and a late mediaeval Hebrew block-print, all from the Cairo Genizah.

Yesterday and Today

From 18 July until 12 August the University of Cambridge mounted an exhibition in the Senate-House of research being done in the University. Entitled Yesterday and Today, the exhibition was visited by more than ten thousand people.

The display, which was open to the public every afternoon, illustrated recent developments in the natural sciences, with particular emphasis on mathematics, physics and engineering.

On the arts side, two sections of exhibits were provided by the University Library and featured the University Archives and the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit.

The three screens devoted to the Genizah told the story of its discovery and acquisition, highlighted the Unit's activities, and summarised the results of various research projects recently concluded and of others currently being undertaken.

Direct links on computer

An international exchange of messages is now possible at the Genizah Unit's computer terminal and contact has been maintained with Israel and America over the past few months.

Scholars with queries about particular fragments have used the electronic mail service run by a consortium of universities in various countries to obtain information. Direct application to those scholars with computer facilities has brought speedy responses.

The mail service at Cambridge is run by the University of Cambridge Computing Service as part of the facilities provided by its Data Network and Phoenix mainframe. Messages concerning the Genizah material may be relayed to the Director of the Unit, Dr Stefan Reif, at SCR3@UK.AC.CAM.PHX.

[people outside synagogue with scaffolding]

Restoration work is now being carried out at the Ben Ezra Synagogue, source of the Cairo Genizah

Maimonides' letters yield their secrets

The importance of the Cambridge Genizah for the study of Maimonides manuscripts is widely acclaimed. Not long ago, Dr David Goldstein (of blessed memory) delivered a lecture at Cambridge on these manuscripts (see Genizah Fragments 11, April, 1986).

The survival of a striking number of autographs is, of course, especially gratifying. Most Maimonides autographs discovered before 1952 were recorded by S. D. Sassoon in the introduction to Maimonidis commentarius in Mischnam, I, with facsimiles in plates XX-LXI.

A number of autographs were discovered after Sassoon's publication and were listed by Simon Hopkins in the Journal of Semitic Studies 28 (August, 1983), 273-6. In recent years, several autographs have been added to the inventory.

We may assume that most extant Maimonides autographs have by now been identified. Uncovering a new one is thus becoming quite a rare experience.

Before visiting the Cambridge Genizah in November, 1987, in connection with my translation of Maimonides' letters and (selected) responsa, I prepared a list of manuscripts to study, including a letter in T-S 12.832, which I had come across in S.D. Goitein's "Laboratory" at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem.

When I first set eyes on the document at Cambridge, I was immediately struck that it was an autograph, an impression supported by comparison with examples of Maimonides' handwriting (using tracings). Later, perusing his "Laboratory", I found that on another card Goitein had indeed noted that the document was in Maimonides' hand.

My colleague, Professor M.A. Friedman, further confirmed that the text is an autograph and kindly discussed it with me.

The letter is evidently a draft copy and thus begins abruptly without greetings and is not signed. The document measures ca. 29 x 10 cms. The writing begins about 9 cms. from the top. There is a 1 cm. margin at the bottom and a 1cm. margin on the right side. The manuscript has 20 lines.

I have edited the letter for publication and offer the gist of it here. The document informs a haver (i.e., member of the academy), presumably a judge, that the letters he had written to Maimonides had arrived per Barakat b. Isma'il al-Bazzaz (the cloth merchant).

A brother of Barakat had been killed, leaving an inheritance to his surviving kin. The deceased had invested with business partners, and the heirs now wished to retrieve their brother's assets.

Maimonides instructs the haver to summon the partners and press them to admit their debt, as no clear evidence exists. The haver is advised to try his utmost to negotiate a settlement between the partners and the heirs.

If the business associates are unco-operative, then the haver should bid those who do admit the existence of a partnership to swear an "oath of partners" (as to the amount the deceased had invested). Whoever obfuscates matters, Maimonides concludes, and refuses to own up to a partnership, should be pronounced under a general ban.

The literary genre of the document is of interest, for, although in the form of a personal letter, its legal import places it in the category of responsa literature.

New autographs are exciting, but even old friends hold surprises for a visitor to the Cambridge Genizah Collection.

T-S 16.290, a Maimonides autograph letter written on the verso of an inquiry by an anonymous correspondent, was published by D.H. Baneth in Studies in Memory of Asher Gulak and Samuel Klein (Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1942), 50-56.

Baneth correctly assessed that Maimonides' letter is an autograph, noting that it is blurred in places and difficult to decipher. (The letter by the inquirer on the recto is, however, clear.)

Baneth worked from a photostat found in material collected by D. Yellin in Cambridge in the summer of 1936 in preparation for the publication of Maimonides' letters by Meqize Nirdamim.

On examining the original document, I discovered that on the verso, containing Maimonides' response, a number of words and letters that showed up as black in the photostat (thus accounting for the odd formations which puzzled Baneth) were not blurred, but eroded, presumably by oxidation.

Maimonides had clearly used ink that caused shadowing on the recto, fading of the writing and damage to the paper. (The document may have become wet at some time.)

The ink used by Maimonides' correspondent was presumably a vegetal-base ink (perhaps mixed with gall-nut extract), which proved quite durable, whereas Maimonides probably used a metallo-gallic ink, which had the noted effect of oxidation.

Maimonides himself contended, on good grounds, that ink having a metallic base - metallo-gall ink, compounded of gall-nut extract plus vitriol (copper or iron sulphate) (Mishnaic qanqantum; Greek chalkanthon) - is more durable than plain vegetal-base inks, and even more permanent than ink made with a vegetal-base mixed with gall-nut extract.

Vegetal-base ink does not penetrate the fibres of papyrus, parchment or paper, and wear may cause the ink to fade. Hence, for writing a Torah scroll, Maimonides prescribes that vegetal-base ink should be soaked in gall-nut extract.

The extract makes the ink durable, though not indelible, and corrections may thus be made. This, Maimonides explains, is the way he himself wrote a scroll, although he permits an ink with the addition of vitriol. (Responsa, ed. Blau, II, no. 136, 257ff; and see Mishneh Torah, Hilkhoth Tefillin, i, 4; Commentary on the Mishnah, Sota, ii, 4.)

If Maimonides did use a metallic base ink, as we surmise, then by an irony of fate the most indelible ink proved in the long run to be the most damaging, to the point of illegibility.

Mr Alan Farrant, Head of Conservation at Cambridge University Library, and Ms Jayne Ringrose, of the Manuscript Department, were most helpful in advising me in this matter.

I may add that another peculiarity of our manuscript is that above line 20 there appears a small ink fingerprint of approximately 5 cms. which is, presumably, that of the great sage.

Perusing Maimonides autographs, I discovered that the verso of letters, containing the address, and usually neglected in scholarly discussions and publications, often contains information of great interest.

The autograph letter of Maimonides to al-Shaykh al-Thiqa ("the trusted elder"; T-S 12.192), published by S. Assaf in Texts and Studies in Jewish History (Hebrew; Jerusalem, 1946), 163-66 (= Sinai 14 [1944], 1-2), contains on the verso the name of the addressee, "al-Shaykh al-Thiqa", in Hebrew characters, along with three words in Arabic characters: fi yaday Ibrahim al-Dar`i ("per Ibrahim al-Dar`i").

Assaf reproduced only the name Ibrahim al-Dar`i and left it without comment. (The Arabic characters are apparently in the hand of Maimonides, and as far as I know are the only example of his Arabic handwriting on documents.)

The letter was sent to "al-Shaykh al-Thiqa" at Minyat Zifta through the agency of a man named Isaac al-Dar`i, a newcomer from Morocco and an acquaintance of Maimonides. Ibrahim al-Dar`i must have been a relative or friend of Isaac.

The scenario may have been as follows: Maimonides gave the letter to a courier to bring to the Fustat address of Ibrahim al-Dar`i, who would then have handed it to Isaac for delivery to "al-Shaykh al-Thiqa" in Minyat Zifta. (Isaac, as a newcomer to Fustat, would not have had a proper address.)

Assuming that the letter was actually delivered to its destination in Minyat Zifta, we may wonder how it got back to Fustat and to the Genizah. Perhaps Isaac returned with it, or else the recipient brought it to Fustat at some point.

Assaf dates the letter shortly after Maimonides' arrival in Egypt. Dr Geoffrey Khan, who was kind enough to discuss the handwriting and the verso scenario with me, also regards the document as an early example of Maimonides' handwriting.

Two unpublished Maimonides letters (noted by Goitein in his "Laboratory" and elsewhere), which I studied at Cambridge and have prepared for publication, are T-S 16.291 and Or. 1080 J33. Several letters which I have likewise prepared for publication are of interest because they refer to Maimonides: T-S 12.428, T-S 20.133, T-S NS 13J34.9, Or. 1080 J88, and Or. 1080 J188v.

I wish to thank Dr Stefan C. Reif and Mrs Shulie Reif for their generous help and hospitality, and Superintendent Godfrey Waller and staff for their kindness and forbearance.

Joel Kraemer
Middle Eastern and African History, Tel Aviv University

Favourable mention

The work of the Genizah Unit and the publication of Genizah Fragments once again merited favourable mention in the annual report of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate to the General Board of the University for the year 1986-87, as evidenced by the following extract:

"The part played by the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit in the Library's affairs was no less significant than in previous years. It brings numerous visiting scholars, conferences, and seminars to the Library; it also attracts very considerable external funding not only from bodies such as the British Academy ... but also from many individuals at home and abroad [as reported in this issue].

"A detailed account of the many initiatives and successes of the Unit can be found in its Newsletter, the Genizah Fragments."

Insights into messianism

Research into Genizah documents dating from the Ottoman period (fifteenth century onwards) is still in its infancy and there are probably many discoveries yet to be made.

My friend Dr Abraham David, of the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, kindly drew my attention to a Cambridge Genizah document from the seventeenth century which, although incomplete, is of importance and interest.

The fragment (T-S 8J21.13), which consists of one page of a longer letter, mentions the messianic pretender Shabbethai Sevi and his movement. It refers to the excommunication of one of the Sabbateans in Egypt, probably in 1668.

As is well known, Egypt played a major role in the development of Sabbateanism and it is not surprising that the Cairo Genizah has preserved some of its history.

Shabbethai himself stayed for a while in Egypt and some of his most enthusiastic followers were from among the rabbis and leaders of that community.

This document is significant both for its uniqueness and for the additional information it provides about this messianic movement. I am now preparing it for publication, with a brief introduction.

Jacob Barnai
Department of Jewish History, Hebrew University, Jerusalem


Detail from T-S F1(2).93, one of the manuscripts with mixed Babylonian and Tiberian pointing discussed in Professor Shelomo Morag's new book

Morag study published

An important new volume has appeared in the Genizah Series, published for Cambridge University Library by Cambridge University Press, and edited by Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah Unit.

Published in August, Professor Shelomo Morag's study of Vocalised Talmudic Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections is a painstaking piece of research describing and analysing 165 fragments of special interest to Hebrew and Aramaic linguists, as well as talmudic specialists.

These pieces some of them well over 1,000 years old, have texts of the Talmud that differ from our own and shed light on its chequered history.

More significantly, however, the Hebrew and Aramaic have systems of pointing that were later lost. These illuminate the way those languages were once written and pronounced in the different Jewish communities and on the meanings then attached to obscure words in the text.

The volume - No. 4 in the Genizah Series - consists of an introduction, detailed descriptions of the manuscripts, indices and eleven plates that illustrate the variety of such vocalised talmudic manuscripts to be found in the Genizah.

Priced at 30, the volume is now available from the usual suppliers of Cambridge University Press publications at home and abroad.

Edited by Stefan C. Reif and printed by the University Printing Services of Cambridge University Press

If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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University of Cambridge; last updated September 2005