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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. 19 April 1990

How the Genizah Unit can develop

The Genizah Research Unit, initially set up to conserve and catalogue the fragments in the Collection, has over the years developed wider interests.

Conservation and microfilming have been completed and the cataloguing programme has developed into an important publications project, the Genizah Series, published for the Cambridge University Library by Cambridge University Press.

The success of the Genizah bibliography will be followed by the appearance of two more volumes, by Geoffrey Khan and Michael Klein, during the coming year. Other research projects are nearing completion and newer ones are now being undertaken.

Younger scholars have always been encouraged to become involved in our work and scholarly assistance is regularly provided for librarians, researchers and teachers in many institutions around the world.

The importance of the Genizah material for Hebrew education at all levels and for the study of Jewish history is stressed and exemplified in public lectures at home and abroad.

We shall continue to devote ourselves to the tasks in hand, but the continuation of the Unit's efforts and achievements is equally dependent on the readers of this newsletter - whatever their interests in the Genizah - offering us their co-operation.

Scholars can add comments and corrections to our work and send us copies of their publications. Those preparing publications can ensure that Genizah fragments are correctly cited and their use formally acknowledged.

Teachers can refer students to the centrality of the Collection for Jewish studies. It would also help us if librarians ordered volumes in the Genizah Series, and the editors of periodicals ensured that they were reviewed.

Above all, most of what we do depends on external funding from philanthropists, foundations, cultured laymen and, indeed, scholars. Our drive for increased financial assistance in 1990 will be successful if every reader of this newsletter arranges some form of contribution, large or small, to a major research project or simply to the cost of distributing the newsletter.

If you feel that the work of the Genizah Unit is worthwhile, are you playing an active part in ensuring that its success will continue?

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


Dr Stefan Reif (left) explaining the contents of a Genizah fragment to Mr and Mrs I.S. Klug, of Bournemouth, who recently visited Cambridge University Library to present an eighteen-volume set of primary documents relating to the Holocaust

Welcome gifts

Particularly welcome developments in the area of fundraising have taken place as a result of the generosity of Zehava and Ralph Kohn, the Marc Fitch Fund, and Sidney and Elizabeth Corob.

The Kohns graciously hosted an audio-visual presentation and buffet supper for about seventy friends, at which Dr Stefan Reif was the guest speaker.

The hosts themselves made a generous donation of 1,000.

Details of other support ensuing from that evening will be given in the next issue of this newsletter.

The project to compile descriptions of all the fragments relating to Jewish-Muslim relations, both social and cultural, in the mediaeval period, received 1,260 sponsorship from the Corob Charitable Trust. It is hoped that others will contribute similar sums to ensure its continuation.

Having promised support for Published Material from the Cambridge Genizah Collections at its inception some years ago, the Marc Fitch Fund welcomed the volume's appearance by donating 1,000 towards the cost of its preparation.

As always, Mr Cyril Stein, Mr and Mrs Michael Philips, and Mr Felix Posen responded generously to the needs of the Unit with gifts of 1,000. Mr T.H. Reitman was welcomed as a new supporter with assistance of 500.

The same sum was kindly provided by Mr Arnold Oppenheimer (for the project undertaken by Dr E. Wiesenberg), Heron International plc (for this issue of the newsletter), the Goldberg Charitable Trust, Sir Trevor Chinn, and Dr and Mrs Davide Sala.

Renewals of their contributions were made by Mr Stanley Burton (50), Ellison Marsden Charitable trust (250), and Mrs Helena Sebba (200), and increased contributions were received from Mr Fred Worms (350), Mr Joe Dwek (300) and Mr Harry Landy (275).

Others who kindly responded to an appeal for increased assistance to take account of the more intensive activity included Sir Sigmund Sternberg (250), Mr Conrad Morris (250), Mr William Margulies (200) and Mr Bernard Goldstein (150).

Support was again received from Ilford B'nai B'rith (150); from Mr Clifford Barclay, Mr Cesare Sacerdoti and Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau (100); and from Mrs Judith Samuel, who kindly covenanted a donation of 100 a year.

A further grant from the American Friends of Cambridge University included a gift of $300 from regular supporter Ms Kathryn L. Johnson, of Louisville, Kentucky.

The Research Unit is grateful for all these contribution and for anonymous, miscellaneous and smaller sources of income amounting to over 3,000.

Books boost gets go-ahead

A number of important resolutions were passed at the annual meeting of the Steering Committee for the Genizah Research Unit, chaired by the President of Hughes Hall, Dr T.D. Hawkins.

The Committee, comprising senior officers of the University Library and of the Faculty of Oriental Studies, resolved that a proposed list of additional titles for the Genizah Series, published by Cambridge University Press for the Cambridge University Library, be drawn up and submitted to the Press for its agreement.

The Committee's Secretary, Dr S.C. Reif, was asked to convey to all benefactors the Committee's warm appreciation of their support, and recommendations were made regarding the introduction of suitable means of honouring the most consistently generous of these.

In view of his retirement at the end of the academical year, Dr Michael Loewe was formally thanked by the Committee for his important contribution to its work.

It was also noted with satisfaction that the Genizah material at the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, which complements parts of the Cambridge Collection, was shortly to be conserved and described in accordance with procedures suggested at Cambridge University Library and at the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem.

hand and manuscript

Cambridge Genizah fragment T-S Ar.50.221, shown here being conserved, is one of many included in the edition of Saadya Gaon's Sefer Ha-shetaroth now being prepared by Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson and Dr Robert Brody, of the Hebrew University

Turning-point in history of halakhah

When, in 1987, the Genizah Research Unit produced a set of posters to mark the ninetieth anniversary of Genizah research at Cambridge University, one poster was devoted to conservation activities.

Trained hands were shown sewing a well-preserved document - a bifolium in vellum, the remnant of an attractive Judaeo-Arabic book. Although the classmark was not given on the poster, it was not difficult to identify the piece as T-S Ar.50.221.

During a project to collect all the fragments of Saadya Gaon's Sefer Ha-shetaroth (Book of Deeds), this fragment was deciphered and allocated a place in the edition. It covers three chapters (Arabic, 'abwab) from the first section of the work.

Now that scholars have Saadya's introduction, as well as the book's table of contents and its first section, the task of identifying new discoveries and completing the current lacunae in the text is greatly facilitated.

The project to edit Saadya's Sefer Ha-shetaroth, being conducted by us and sponsored by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, was started a few years ago.

The first published result was a tentative article of 144 pages in Shenathon Ha-mishpat Ha-`ivri XI-XII (1984-86), which appeared in 1987. In that article, the foundations were laid for subsequent research, and several fragments from Saadya's book were published.

The composition of Saadya Gaon's Book of Testimonies and Decrees (Kitab al-shahadat w`alwatha`iq), to give it its full title, marked a turning-point in the history of Jewish law.

It was novel in at least three important respects: it was the first halakhic work written in Judaeo-Arabic in the rabbinic world; the first work of Jewish religious law written not according to the talmudic order and associated method but to rational criteria; and the first attempt to offer comprehensive treatment of one practical topic.

Saadya was aware of the pioneering mission he was undertaking, but stressed that the needs of his generation and of the Jewish people had forced him to eschew traditional halakhic presentation and to break new ground.

He was so successful that the genre he created - the halakhic monograph - thenceforth became the most popular form of halakhic composition among the Babylonian Geonim.

One may recall in this connection R. Judah Ha-Nasi's apologetic justification for adopting a new genre for the composition of the Mishnah, and the famous declarations made by Maimonides in defence of his methodology in compiling his code.

Saadya was concerned that the cultural progress of his people should not be less than that of the Muslims. He expressed this idea in parts of the introduction to his book, as well as elsewhere, citing the achievements of Islamic society as a challenge to Jewish creativity.

The Book of Testimonies and Decrees was one among a dozen examples of his special approach. He wished to compile a set of practical guides to all aspects of Jewish law, named Kitab al-Fiqh, and this book represented the first instalment.

To assist its use, he explains the logic of its framework. There are three sections, and each is divided into sub-sections, making a total of 64 "units".

The three sections are an introduction; a summary of the Jewish rules on testimonies and deeds, divided into eight chapters (bab, plural abwab); and a detailed discussion of 54 deeds, sub-divided into three sections (= qism, plural aqsam). Each section includes 18 deeds.

The division of the deeds into such sections was done according to the frequency of their usage in daily life, the most frequently used deeds being placed in the first section, while the rarer ones were left for the third.

There is, however, also an appendix to the book. Saadya did not wish to alter its widely practical nature, but sought to cover the topic from all possible aspects. He therefore mentions at the end of his book (unfortunately only briefly) the deeds that are useful only for the people's leaders in their administration of communal life.

The volume's reconstruction, including its appendix, enables us to learn about later use of Saadya's book that made no proper acknowledgement of the original source.

That source was not only exploited in the books written on the same subject by Hai Gaon and his father-in-law, Samuel b. Hofni Gaon, but many technical terms and formulae were borrowed from it by them and by other scholars. Most parts of all three books were, in fact, preserved for many years only in the Genizah.

Saadya's book did, however, have a great influence on Jewish law, thanks to R. Judah b. Isaac Al-Bargeloni of the twelfth century. As is demonstrated in various of his works, Al-Bargeloni was among those who translated and adapted the geonic traditions and writings into Hebrew and thus transmitted them to the West.

R. Judah had Saadya's book in front of him while writing his own Book of Deeds. He changed the order of Saadya's book into an alphabetical one and added several formulae, but the solid basis remained Saadya's work. The deeds that Saadya placed in the appendix followed his original order in R. Judah's work.

Since Al-Bargeloni's influence on the Jewish law of decrees was major, one may evaluate the continuing effect and importance of a work that was itself lost for many years.

Modern scholars began to rediscover and publish items from Saadya's book in 1903 (Hartwig Hirschfeld), but by 1956 only six fragments had been recovered and a wrong reconstruction drawn.

Some statistical details may be of help to scholars interested in the field, as well as encouraging others to supply information they may have about new fragments.

Some 50 classmarks of Genizah fragments have been identified as belonging to this book, making a total of about 200 folios, originally the work of some ten different scribes.

Of these 50 classmarks, 40 are in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (about half in the "Arabic" binders). Interestingly enough, one comes from T-S NS 35.24, a binder classified as poetry.

From the original book, divided into 64 units (including the appendix), only six are still missing. A further report of progress will be given in due course and any additional information that comes to light about the book will be welcomed.

Menahem Ben-Sasson
Senior Lecturer in Jewish History,
Robert Brody
Senior Lecturer in Talmud,
Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Professor Joshua Blau lecturing in Jerusalem on the new Cambridge Genizah bibliography, as fellow speakers (left to right) Professors Malachi Beit-Arie, Ezra Fleischer and Shaul Shaked, of the Hebrew University, and Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah Unit, listen attentively

Scholars celebrate new bibliography

The research and publications programme of the Genizah Unit attracted attention and commendation at a rare event held in Jerusalem in December to mark the publication of Published Material from the Cambridge Genizah Collections: A Bibliography 1896-1980, edited by the Unit's Director, Dr Stefan Reif.

Some eighty scholars from various universities and educational institutions and from among the cultured Jerusalem public attended an evening of lectures at the Ben-Zvi Institute. They were able to see copies of the new publication and to hear estimates of its importance by leading professors from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The proceedings were opened and chaired by Professor Shaul Shaked, whose special areas of research are Judaeo-Persian and magical texts and who produced the first tentative bibliography of publications relating to the Genizah material some twenty-five years ago.

Referring briefly to the history and unique nature of Genizah scholarship, Professor Shaked warmly welcomed the new Cambridge bibliography as an essential reference work to which researchers would inevitably make their own additions in future years. He praised the achievements of the Genizah Unit and drew attention to the enormous progress made in recent years.

The distinguished poet and professor of Hebrew poetry, Ezra Fleischer, gave an amusing and lyrical account of the complicated problems involved in Genizah studies and the pitfalls that confronted the researcher at every corner.

From now on, he said, scholars would have the important new bibliography to assist them, and its appearance would further the progress of scientific Jewish studies. Cambridge University Library deserved great credit for investing so much effort in the production of such an important volume and Dr Reif and his team of researchers were to be praised for their excellent work.

Professor Fleischer expressed the hope that other libraries with Genizah collections would follow Cambridge's example and also play their part in the compilation of a complete bibliography of all Genizah work to date.

It was the practical process of research that Professor Joshua Blau, world authority on Judaeo-Arabic, took as the theme of his remarks.

Working with Dr Simon Hopkins on the phonetic spelling to be found in numerous Genizah texts he had sometimes felt the lack of any bibliographical information and at other times been misled by the mistakes of earlier scholars. At a crucial point the information compiled by the Cambridge Genizah Unit had enabled them to continue their work.

The Director of the Jewish National and University Library, Professor Malachi Beit-Arie, spoke about the Genizah's often unique and revolutionary contributions to the history of the Hebrew book and to current studies in Hebrew palaeography and codicology.

He elaborated on the importance of the Cambridge bibliography for scholars working in these fields and stressed the richness of the documentary Genizah as a source for our knowledge of several types of Hebrew script hundreds of years before their appearance in extant dated codices.

Professor Beit-Arie concluded by demonstrating how Genizah documents had solved a scholarly dispute about the beginning of paper-making in Muslim Spain. It was now clear that this had taken place in the middle of the eleventh century and not of the twelfth.

Responding to these presentations, Dr Reif thanked his Jerusalem colleagues not only for the kind reception they had accorded the publication, but also for the scholarly co-operation they and other Israeli specialists had provided over the years. Dr Reif noted that what had been achieved had been the result of team-work and of an optimistic determination at least to set into motion research projects that had long been regarded as too massive to contemplate. He summarized what had been completed in Cambridge to date and outlined the Research Unit's future plans.

Copies of the new bibliography were presented to the lecturers on behalf of Cambridge University Library.

Is the Genizah a soup or a strong-room?

Mr Philip Howard, Literary Editor of The Times, finds information about the Genizah research at Cambridge "fascinating" and "something that The Times ought to keep an eye on."

In his regular word-watching column of 10 January 1990 he challenged his readers to say whether "Genizah" was:

a. Jewish dumpling soup;

b. A religious strong-room;

c. A temple acolyte.

In the list of answers he provided a most accurate definition: "A store-room or repository for damaged, discarded, or heretical books and sacred relics, attached to many synagogues, also the contents of a Genizah, from the Hebrew ganaz, to set aside, hide: 'Pieces of paper which bore the name of God should not be burned but put aside in a Genizah.' "

Two other responses to recent work at the Research Unit also make interesting reading.

Professor Menahem Mansoor, Emeritus Professor of Semitic Studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, USA, wrote to the American Friends of Cambridge University in the following terms:

"I continue to marvel about the developments and the invaluable services of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, under the director of Dr Stefan Reif.

"Although I have not visited the Genizah materials since 1954, I have greatly benefited from its several publications, including the Genizah Fragments newsletter. I also wish to commend Dr Reif, who has been most helpful in his response to my queries.

"I have done research at several libraries in the US, England, Israel, France and Morocco. I have no doubt in my mind that this Genizah Unit is the best organized and most accommodating, judging from its publications and services."

Mr Daniel Schechter, grandson of Dr Solomon Schechter, who brought the Genizah Collection from Cairo and presented it to the University of Cambridge, wrote about his visit to Cambridge:

"I can only tell you that the opportunity to view at close hand the manuscripts of Joseph Karo, Judah Halevi and Maimonides is one of lasting impact.

"What I did not understand prior to my visit was that the Genizah contained such miscellaneous materials as children's exercise books or other items which conceivably contained the name of God and thereby could not be destroyed in ordinary ways.

"I would love to know more of the negotiations between my grandfather and the authorities of the Ben-Ezra Synagogue which enabled him to remove to Cambridge so many documents.

"Finally, I guess that I am struck once more with the importance of the continuity and vitality of Judaism in the life of my family, changing in emphasis from generation to generation and individual to individual, but nevertheless remaining a vibrant force."


Mr Alan Farrant (second from left), head of conservation at Cambridge University Library, discussing techniques with (left to right) Mr John F. Dean, of Cornell University Libraries, Mr Peter Huish, of the John Rylands University Library of Manchester, and Mr John Woodhouse, bindery manager at John Rylands Library

Unique insight into Islam

The language of the majority of the Genizah manuscripts is Hebrew, Arabic or Aramaic, in most cases written in the Hebrew script. A small proportion of the Arabic manuscripts is in Arabic script.

As part of my investigation of the Genizah material in Arabic script over the past few years, I have been editing a corpus of the legal and administrative documents from the Fatimid and Ayyubid period (tenth to thirteenth centuries), which will be published shortly.

These are important historical sources for our knowledge of the contacts between Jews and Muslims in the mediaeval Arab world. They are also unique first-hand records for many aspects of Islamic studies.

The legal documents were all written by Muslim notaries and include contracts for the conveyancing or lease of property, formal acknowledgements concerning debts and records of miscellaneous legal cases.

In most of these documents one of the parties is Jewish and the other is either Muslim or Christian. Occasionally, both parties are Jewish.

The contracts relating to property are especially interesting since they describe in detail the layout of the buildings concerned.

The administrative documents belong to different types. These include documents issued by the government chancery, such as decrees, letters of appointment for dignitaries (judges, Jewish and Christian communal leaders) and documents addressed to government offices.

Many petitions sent by Jews to the Muslim ruler requesting the redress of grievances have been preserved in the Genizah. Another important group of documents are reports of the death of Jews.

These were made necessary by government regulations concerning inheritance. The government took possession of the assets of anyone who died intestate.

The Genizah has also preserved various kinds of accounts relating to governments administration. Among the most important is a collection of receipts issued by a Fatimid government office to a tax farmer in the Fayyum district of Egypt at the beginning of the eleventh century.

Geoffrey Khan
Research Associate, T-S Genizah Research Unit

Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson and Dr E.J. Wiesenberg are involved in the preparation of the Fourth International Symposium on Medicine in Bible and Talmud, to be held in Jerusalem on 29-31 October 1990. Dr H.D. Issacs, who is preparing a catalogue of the medical fragments in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, is also hoping to participate. Details of the Symposium are available from Mr Aryeh Lewis at P.O. Box 574, Jerusalem 91004, Israel

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; revised March 2006