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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. 17 April 1989

Channel Four preparing Genizah film

Third Eye Productions, which makes television films for Channel Four, is preparing a programme on the mediaeval Mediterranean, to include footage on the Cairo Genizah. It is expected to be broadcast this summer, with final filming being done at the Library in the spring.

One of the production team, Christopher Frederick, visited both the Ben-Ezra Synagogue in Cairo and the Genizah Unit in Cambridge. Following discussions with the Unit's Director, he now wishes to deal with Jewish contributions to the development of music and maritime trade at that time.

Other producers of educational material who have shown interest in the Cambridge Genizah Collection are Aumie and Michael Shapiro, of Project Springboard. They are preparing an historical introduction to the Passover Haggadah for wide pedagogical use and, following a visit to the Unit, obtained photographs of several items in the Collections.

Groups from the New London Synagogue and the West Central Liberal Synagogue also visited the Library to see some of the fragments and to hear about their importance.

Dr Stefan Reif lectured at Jews' College, chaired one of the sessions at the Leo Baeck Institute's Cambridge conference on "The History of German-speaking Jews in the United Kingdom", and was active on the editorial committee of the bi-annual magazine, L'eylah published by Jews' College and the Office of the Chief Rabbi.

[people and manuscripts]

Dr Stefan Reif showing a Genizah fragment to visitors from Hampstead Garden Suburb, north-west London

Major aid from USA

In recent weeks, further support for work on the Genizah documents has come from the USA. Particular thanks are due to the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust for a $3,000 award arranged by Mr Seth E. Frank and Dr Edward M. Bernstein. Other donations, amounting to over $1,000, have also been received, the most generous of them from Ms Kathryn L. Johnson ($300).

Contributions from established friends in this country have been kindly renewed, with major assistance coming from the British Academy (£4,000), Mr Stanley Kalms (£1,333), Mr Cyril Stein (£1,000), Mr John Rubens (£1,000), Mr Felix Posen (£1,000), Mr Sidney Corob (£820, towards the preparation of a Targum catalogue), Mr Mark Goldberg (£500), Heron International plc (£500 towards the cost of this issue of Genizah Fragments), and Mr Trevor Chinn (£500).

Mr Stanley Burton (£350) and Mr Fred Worms (£300) have continued their sponsorship of particular aspects of the project, while general support has been received from Mr Joe Dwek (£250), the Ellison Marsden Charitable Trust (£250), Mr Harry Landy (£250) and Mrs Helena Sebba (£200).

Among other supporters are Mr Conrad Morris (£150), Mr William Margulies (£150), Mr Henry Knobil (£125), Mr Clifford Barclay (£100), Mr Geoffrey Ognall (£100), Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau (£100) and Mr Bernard Goldstein (£100).

Dr Stefan Reif addressed a meeting of the Afula group of Emunah at which substantial funds were raised for the group's work in Israel, and a contribution of £500 was made to the Genizah Unit's budget. The New London Synagogue Ladies' Committee also expressed its thanks for a visit to the Library with a gift of £100.

To all who have supported the Unit and furthered its progress go the team's warmest thanks.

Government agencies seek help

As noted in the Genizah Unit's annual report, a total of 325 responses were made during the year to enquiries and requests for assistance.

Many were routine matters concerning the identification and description of manuscripts, photography orders, visits to the Library and the preparation of exhibitions.

More significant, however, were requests from foreign government agencies for assessments by the Director of the Unit of academic projects involving the use of Genizah manuscripts.

Such projects are mushrooming on an international scale and are helping to ensure that future research on mediaeval Jewish history and literature will take proper account of the Genizah as a principal, and sometimes indeed the only, source of information.

Semester in Jerusalem

These few lines are being written shortly before my departure for Jerusalem to spend a semester at the Hebrew University teaching and researching at the kind invitation of the Lady Davis Fellowship Trust. My colleague, Dr Geoffrey Khan, has kindly agreed to take responsibility for running the Unit during my absence and will be happy to deal with enquiries and visiting scholars.

During my visit to Jerusalem I shall be giving guest lectures on the Genizah at the Hebrew Union College and at the Schocken Institute. What is perhaps even more significant for the history of the Cambridge Collection from the Cairo Genizah is that I have been invited to lecture on the Collection in Cairo itself.

While I am in Jerusalem, the next volume in the Genizah Series - the Bibliography, amounting to over 600 pages - is due to appear. If the response to the Morag volume is any guide, there will be a warm welcome for this publication. Professor Morag's Vocalised Talmudic Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, published last autumn, has already been reprinted.

At a recent meeting, Alex Wright, of Cambridge University Press, and I discussed the progress of the Genizah Series and arranged for the appearance of the next few volumes. We are anxious to publish the remaining two volumes of Malcolm Davis on the Biblical manuscripts, but are seeking sponsorship of the cost of preparing camera-ready copy of these catalogues.

Perhaps one of our current friends, or a new supporter, would be willing to assist us with this. That would be a welcome development and ensure our continuing progress with this important series of publications.

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


T-S Ar. 52.242: A Karaite version of the Hebrew Bible (Numbers 14:30-33) transcribed in Arabic characters

Uncovering the Karaites

Among the treasures of the Cairo Genizah collections are a number of Hebrew Bible manuscripts written in the Middle Ages by members of the Karaite Jewish sect. These manuscripts are unusual in that the text is written not in Hebrew, but in Arabic script, sometimes with Hebrew pointing.

The synagogue in which the Genizah was situated belonged to a Rabbanite community in Fustat; the presence of Karaite manuscripts in the Genizah is, therefore, somewhat unexpected.

Karaite literary sources are full of uncompromising hostility towards the Rabbanites. The Genizah documents record many conflicts between Rabbanites and Karaites in Palestine, where a large Karaite community existed.

In Egypt, however, during the tenth to twelfth centuries, there appears to have been less tension between the two communities; intermarriage, for example, was quite common. Occasionally Rabbanites and Karaites even worshipped together. The Karaite manuscripts no doubt found their way into the Rabbanite Genizah due to these social and religious contacts.

The British Library contains a number of similar Karaite Bible manuscripts, acquired by the bookseller, M.W. Shapira, in Cairo towards the end of the last century. A comparison between these and fragments discovered in the Genizah indicates that the two groups come from the same scribal circles.

In a few cases, fragments obtained by Shapira and sold to the British Library (together with manuscript codices) appear to originate from the same manuscript as fragments in the Genizah collections. Shapira must have had access to Genizah fragments and selected from them items which were related to the Karaite manuscripts which he had acquired elsewhere.

The main source of the extant Bible manuscripts in Arabic transcription was the Karaite community in Palestine. A colophon preserved at the end of one of the manuscript states that it was written in Ramlah in 395 A.H. (1004 - 1005 C.E.). Several features of Hebrew pronunciation reflected by the transcriptions correspond to those characteristic of mediaeval Palestine.

The manuscripts were taken to Cairo probably at the time of the invasion of the Crusaders at the end of the eleventh century. A few may even have been written in Cairo by Karaites who had fled from Palestine or had strong connections with the Palestinian Karaite community during its apogée in the eleventh century.

Karaite Bible manuscripts from the later Middle Ages are written in Hebrew script. The destruction of the Karaite centre in Palestine by the Crusaders gave a mortal blow to the tradition of transcribing the Biblical Hebrew text into Arabic script.

The practice of the Karaites to transcribe Hebrew into Arabic letters was restricted almost exclusively to Biblical and liturgical texts. The Karaite liturgy consisted basically of a collection of Biblical verses. Hebrew texts composed by Karaites during this period, such as legal documents, colophons at the end of Bible manuscripts and works in poetic form, were all written in Hebrew script.

The motivation for the transcription of Hebrew lay in the Karaites' attitude to the written tradition of the Biblical text. Certain Karaite circles were anxious to continue the work of the Tiberian Masoretes and accurately to preserve the details of the Masoretic tradition.

There were some Karaites, however, who expressed qualms about the accurate transmission of the written text of the Bible by Rabbanite scholars. They pointed out conflicts between the written text and the way it was read, as well as inconsistencies in orthography.

The view that the Rabbanites had corrupted the transmission of the text of Scripture corresponds to the concept of tahrif (textual corruption), a prominent motif of mediaeval Muslim polemic against the Jews and Christians, which is also found in Muslim Shi'ite writings against their Sunni co-religionists.

The transcription of the Hebrew Bible into Arabic letters was an attempt to represent the reading tradition in a direct and systematic manner and so overcome the discrepancies with the reading tradition which are found in the traditional written form of the Biblical text.

Geoffrey Khan
Research Associate, Genizah Research Unit

Contact by computer

Professor Alan Corré, of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee, has kindly pointed out that computer contact between the Genizah Unit and international networks should be made via the identification SCR3@PHX.CAM.AC.UK.

The identification given in our last issue - SCR3@UK.AC.CAM.PHX - is the preferred order for messages within the United Kingdom.

With some persistence, international contact can be made through this latter identification, as Professor Corré has proved. However, the Unit apologises for any annoyance caused by returned messages and now advises the correct use in each context.

In Dr Reif's absence GK101 may be used instead of SCR3 to make contact with Dr Khan.

Telex messages may be sent to the Unit at the Library's number, 81395 CUL G, and documents may be faxed to 0223 334748.

Unit wins approval

The Genizah Research Unit was judged to be among the best entries in a national competition for the Dawson Award for Innovation in Academic Librarianship.

The award, sponsored by Wm Dawson and Sons Limited, was presented for the first time in 1988 and was open to any individual or group operating in a university, polytechnic or college. The object of the award was to highlight work having qualities of originality and enterprise.

The Unit sent a package including tapes, a video, slides, cards, newspaper articles, prints, posters, photographs, as well as copies of Genizah Fragments and other publications.

The material demonstrated how the Unit had encouraged scholarly study of the Genizah Collection; drawn public attention to its importance for the reconstruction of the past and attracted funding for its programme of conservation, research and publication.

Out of a large number of entries the judges selected a short list of five, including the Genizah Research Unit. The final winner was a computer project by Dennis Nicholson of Strathclyde University, but, in the words of Mr John Cowley, co-ordinator of the award and one of the judges, who made the decision last autumn, "great admiration was expressed for the quality of the work being carried out by the Genizah Research Unit".


A typical Genizah fragment (T-S K1.143) of a magical book as discussed in Jonathan Seidel's article

Of amulets, mystery and magic

Solomon Schechter's cogent summary of the contents of the Cairo Genizah tells us a great deal about traditional, scholarly attitudes towards the study of Jewish magical texts: "All sorts and conditions of men and situations are represented in them, i.e., the Genizah manuscripts: the happy young married couple by their marriage contract ... the meek man by his apologies ... the fool by his amulet ..." Neglect, condescension and suspicion have been, and are, common attitudes when it comes to magical texts, Genizah or otherwise.

Happily, the Hayes-Fulbright committee did not adopt such attitudes, but decided instead to support my research in Genizah magical texts. As a result, I was privileged to spend part of the academical year 1987-1988 with Professor Shaul Shaked and Dr Stefan Reif at Cambridge University Library pursuing the leads originally offered by Richard Gottheil and more recently followed by Mordechai Margaliot, Norman Gold, Shaked himself, and Joseph Naveh (Amulets and Magic Bowls, Leiden, 1985).

Professor Shaked has set out a working typology of genres of magical texts (see Genizah Fragments No.9) which can now be expanded in the light of current discoveries. In that short survey, he identifies two larger categories of magical texts - amulets and magic books - while dividing the latter category into various further genres.

These include theoretical magical books, which speculate about the heavens and the angels; "recipe" books, which provide techniques and incantations for various situations; and divination books, which reveal various systems of mantic praxis including the ancient tradition of dream interpretation. One particularly complex system involves locating Biblical verses according to numbers thrown by dice and interpreting the message accordingly. These genres of Genizah magic can now be described with greater definition.

First, there are new types of texts; books of magic that resemble (though are definitely not) alchemical guides; more extensive fragments of magical pharmacology and herbology; and magical/astrological "farmers' almanacs" which predict the nature of the days to come. Secondly, a more comprehensive survey has allowed Shaked and me to refine our picture of magical "literature" in its pre-Islamic and Islamic stages.

We can now see that there are, in fact (despite the striking anonymity of the material), "authors" who give literary shape to the compilations of magical traditions that have their roots in circles which passed on the mystical traditions in the Judaism of late antiquity and the early Islamic era.

While one would not expect to find the signatures of scribes or authors on amulets, it is puzzling that none of the writers takes credit for transmitting these magical traditions. Was it the humility of the magician-scribe in the face of transmitting such powerful formulae and esoterica that deprived us of their names? Or was it a fear that their names might be associated with forbidden, perhaps subversive, knowledge?

Many of the texts seek to establish their antiquity and legitimacy at the outset: "What follows is from Shem or Noah, who received it from (usually any angel)." The recipes and amulets are considered ancient, primordial knowledge; they would not be effective were that not the case. How could anyone take credit for being the "author" of such material?

There is yet another angle of speculation: were these transmitters of magical books actually innovators posing as traditionalist?

A more comprehensive survey of the magic books and amulets reveals texts that are compiled without the preconception of "book" or oeuvre.

Some of the texts appear to be quite immediate and improvised. One fascinating type of Genizah magical text seems to fit into the genre of responsa.

There are a substantial number of single page texts that resemble folded amulets but are in fact prescriptions for magical procedures and for writing amulets. These texts were (apparently) compiled after a needy individual sought assistance from the "professional".

In his response, this "professional" occasionally evidences good literary style. Often, however, the responsum is written in less than fluent Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic; there are numerous grammatical errors and mistakes in spelling (or folk spellings).

One gets the eerie impression, examining these fragmentary texts once thought to have been buried forever by their users, that one is inadvertently prying into private lives of needy, even desperate, folk who would be horrified to know of such an invasion of their situations and their psyches.

Significantly, some of the names in the magical texts match the traders, merchants and everyday population mentioned in the letters and lists of the Genizah, but no systematic onomasticon or prosography of the names of the clients of the Genizah magicians has yet been compiled; nor have scholars related the names in the Genizah magical texts to those historical persons found in S.D. Goitein's lists.

While one is able to reconstruct a great deal of the social history of the Mediterranean Jewish world by looking at the Genizah's liturgical economic and aggadic fragments, one is able to form a more psychologically revealing portrait of the dynamics of human interaction in these Jewish communities by examining the magical amulets and books.

Professor Shaked and I have begun to compile a catalogue of the magical texts found in various sections of the Taylor-Schechter Collection, to be published in the Genizah Series edited by Dr Reif. We hope to complete a more comprehensive description and taxonomy of the magical texts in the next eighteen months or so as a catalyst for further scholarship. Then we may be able to say more about the role these magical documents play in the recently unfolding drama of Judaic/Islamic magic and their place in the history of Judaism.

My thanks go to Dr Reif and his colleagues for inviting me to Cambridge and for supervising and supporting my work; to Professor William Brinner and Professor Lawrence Schiffman, who initially encouraged my research; and to Professor Shaked, who has been (and continues to be) a supportive teacher and senior colleague.

Jonathan Seidel
Hayes-Fulbright Fellow, 1987-88

Professor's praise

In a recent exchange of correspondence with Dr Stefan Reif about a fragment first discovered over thirty years ago, the distinguished American scholar, Judah Goldin, Professor Emeritus at the University of Pennsylvania's Department of Oriental Studies, commented on the Unit's recent achievements:

"From your newsletters, it is evident that you have done wonders with putting into order the Taylor-Schechter Genizah material, and in so short a time!

"When Spiegel found that Yannai fragment in the late '50s, the present organization was not yet in existence. And I still recall Schirmann's discovery of the Ben Sira fragment in the summer of 1956 ... I was myself present then in the Anderson Room working on midrashic fragments."


Genizah fragment T-S 8H18.12 containing poetry by Yehudah

The poet Yehudah

In his study, Zur Liturgie der Babylonischen Juden (Stuttgart, 1933), Menachem Zulay introduced into the study of piyyut a liturgical poet (payyetan) known (from acrostics revealing his name) as Yehudah. This poet wrote qedushta'oth, that is, compositions intended for the embellishment of the morning prayer (`amidah) on Sabbaths and festivals containing the sanctification of God's name (qedushah). The themes of such works were borrowed from the day's Torah readings.

Yehudah's poems are characterized by the strict use of strophic patterns, alphabetical acrostics and biblical phrases; this helps to identify his works in the vast body of piyyutic material from the Genizah. We have no other echoes of Yehudah's poetic activity in the history of Jewish liturgy, and if the Genizah had not been found, he would have sunk into oblivion.

Research among the Genizah fragments has resulted in the discovery of many greater and lesser poets, enabling us to gain an important overview of the early period of piyyut. Our views on this early period have been drastically changed and at last the dominance of the famous El`azar birabbi Qilir is modified by the revelation of works by hitherto unknown payyetanim.

Zulay's primary interest lay in the scholarly significance of the manuscripts containing the works of Yehudah. The most peculiar of these is Cambridge MS T-S 8H18.12, which includes remnants of a qedushta for the reading of Pinehas (Num. 25:10), Mattoth (Num. 30:2) and Mase`ey (Num. 33:1).

This vellum manuscript consists of five folios. The first two are damaged, but are partly restored from two fragments in the Additional Series (T-S AS 62.70 and 62.77); the remaining folios are in perfect condition.

The sequence of these qedushta'oth led Zulay to conclude that they adhere to the sequence of the Torah pericopes within the annual Babylonian reading cycle; but thanks to the increased number of piyyutim now attributed to Yehudah, it can be shown that, while he originally followed the Palestinian tradition on the reading of Torah and Haftarah, a fundamental change within the reading traditions profoundly affected his work. Many of the newly identified piyyutim are to be found in the New Series of the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

Much of Yehudah's personality is reflected in his work, and all biographical information about him is deduced from the contents of his quedushta'oth. As with Yannai and Shim`on bar Megas, Yehudah's mention of 'Edom or 'Adummah is a possible reference to the Christian, i.e., Byzantine rule. In one instance, he also alludes to the Arabs.

Another passage indicates that Yehudah lived somewhere outside the land of Israel, probably during the eighth century or in the first half of the ninth. His very existence in the Genizah manuscripts testifies once again to the essential contribution the Cambridge Genizah Collection is making to our knowledge of this forgotten world of mediaeval literary highlights - as I have indicated in my study, The Qedushta'ot of Yehudah according to Genizah Manuscripts (Groningen dissertation, 1988).

Wout Jacques Van Bekkum
Department of Semitic Languages, State University of Groningen

World's largest

In a recent issue of the Israeli daily newspaper, Davar, Dr Zvi Ilan reported on the Cambridge Genizah Collection. In translation, he wrote:

A few days ago, we were told that it would be possible for Western scholars to research the collections of Judaica, including documents from the Cairo Genizah, in the Soviet Union.

This is very creditable and important, but it also provides an opportunity to mention the extensive and significant research currently being done on the Cambridge collection of historical documents from the Cairo Genizah synagogue, acknowledged as the world's largest and most important collection of such material.

The Genizah Unit serves as a research centre for Jewish and non-Jewish scholars from Israel and other countries. The direct contact made there between experts in Jewish studies leads to further scholarly productivity and wider knowledge.

The results of these researches on the Jews and their communities in various countries are published in scientific periodicals and are gradually filtering through into the books, the world of information, and the ideas of the wider public.

Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Unit, inspires the Unit with his enthusiasm and energy, and year after year assists the Israeli scholars who visit the "Genizah" to spend their sabbaticals on research. This year he himself will be coming to serve as a visiting professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Independent status

The University Library's Department of Oriental and Other Languages, of which the Genizah Research Unit is a part, was formerly associated with the Special Collections Division, but under new arrangements it has now been given independent status as a new division.

With so many languages and major collections represented, it was felt that an administrative change was due.

In its latest annual report, the Library Syndicate makes reference to this new arrangement:

"The size, structure and influence of this department is now such as to require independent divisional status.

"Headed by a Senior Under-Librarian, Dr S.C. Reif, a corporate entity embracing the Near Eastern, Far Eastern and Indian Sections, together with the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research and Islamic Bibliography Units, is making its mark not only in the Library and the University, but also in the world outside.

"One of the outstanding features during the year was the presence in every section of staff funded from outside the University.

"This additional manpower not only led to increased productivity and well-founded self-confidence among the Division's officers, but also, in its funding from Britain and overseas, underlined the Division's importance to international scholarship.

"When gratitude to benefactors is expressed in this report, it is particularly mindful of this generous assistance."

Catalogue available

In 1876, Cambridge University Library published the first volume of Solomon Marcus Schiller-Szinessy's noted catalogue of its Hebrew manuscripts. Sheets were prepared for the second volume, and although it was never formally published with preliminary pages, copies were made up and distributed.

Those familiar with Dr Schiller-Szinessy's work will recall his idiosyncratic style and the richness of his descriptions as a source for all manner of interesting scholarly information. His handwritten catalogue of the manuscripts still exists at the Library, with a classmark Or. 1116-21.

The Library has a few sheets of the second volume, covering pages 1-64, and is willing to copy the remaining thirty pages and to make up sets for any institution or individual scholar, at a special price of £15.

Those interested in this offer, which will last only until the few sets of sheets are distributed, should place an order with the Director of the Unit.

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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