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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. 3 April 1982

Sassoon treasures

Two Karaite prayer-books from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries and a Syrian Jewish prayer-book from the thirteenth century are among six Hebrew manuscripts allocated to Cambridge University Library by the Minister for the Arts.

The volumes are part of a collection of 25 Hebrew Manuscripts from the library of David Solomon Sassoon acquired by the British Government in lieu of estate duty from the executors of his widow, Selina Sophia. The collection of David Solomon Sassoon (1880-1942) was inherited by his son, Rabbi Solomon David Sassoon, formerly of Letchworth, Herts, who now lives in Jerusalem.

Cambridge University Library made a strong case for the allocation of items closely connected with its existing Hebraica collections and succeeded in obtaining three manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah, two from the Jews of Cochin in India, and one from Aleppo.

Commenting on the acquisition of the prayer-books, Dr Stefan Reif stated: "These manuscripts will complement the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection and assist research on it. We are delighted to have them, and it is particularly gratifying that the Genizah material has not been further dispersed."

The two Cochin volumes are also liturgical in nature and come from the same source as the manuscripts presented to Cambridge University Library by the Rev Claudius Buchanan, the outcome of a visit to India and its Jews in 1806.

The other volume is a collection of poems from the Aleppo Jewish community, dated in the seventeenth century.

Delight at the acquisition has also been expressed by Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, Cambridge University Librarian, and the University's Hebraists, who with other colleagues from this country and abroad will be examining the manuscripts closely for the light they shed on the development of Hebrew language and literature and Jewish customs.

Other recipients of manuscripts from the Sassoon estate were the British Library; the Brotherton Library, Leeds; the John Rylands University Library of Manchester; and the Bodleian Library, Oxford.

[Mrs Sue Greene placing the last fragment into its 'Melinex' pocket]

Mrs Sue Greene conserving a T-S fragment

End of an era

The last fragment in the collection was conserved and placed in its 'Melinex' pocket on 14 December. A small reception was held to mark the occasion in the rooms of the University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe.

Dr Ratcliffe expressed his satisfaction that about 140,000 fragments were now safely conserved for future generations and Dr Reif thanked the Taylor-Schechter conservation team for their splendid efforts.

The Chairman of the Library Syndicate, Dr D. S. Brewer, Master of Emmanuel College, made presentations to the conservationists, Mrs Sue Greene, Mrs Anne Wooster, Mrs Marian Merritt and Miss Gale Smith.

More gifts to Unit

The financial difficulties facing universities have become more acute in recent months, but the generous assistance of a number of friends has enabled the T-S Unit to continue with its most urgent projects.

Gifts of 1,000-1,500 have again been made by Mr Cyril Stein (who also gives of his valuable time to guide the fund-raising campaign), Mr Stanley Kalms, Trinity College Cambridge, the Harry and Abe Sherman Foundation, and the British Academy.

Assistance kindly provided by the American Friends of Cambridge University amounted to a total of $4,175 and included a donation of $2,000 from Mr Gaylord Donnelley, of Chicago; and one of $125 from Mr Raphael Levy, a relative of Solomon Schechter, who has also contributed an article to this Newsletter.

Among new contributors to be welcomed are Mr and Mrs H. Landy (100) and Mr and Mrs J. Greenwood (100), as well as an anonymous benefactor who sent a cheque for 250 after hearing a lecture by Dr Reif in London last November.

Donations have kindly been renewed by Mr Trevor Chinn and Marks & Spencer plc (500); Messrs Stanley Burton, Sidney Corob, Alan Millett and Conrad Morris (250); Messrs Bernard Garbacz, Henry Knobil and Fred Worms (100); and by Sir Sigmund Sternberg and the David Lewis Charitable Foundation (100).

On to the next task

It is not yet clear what the total effects will ultimately be of the Government's most recent cuts on the grants to universities. Those who are arguing that academic standards and the advanced research of which this country rightly remains proud are bound to be adversely affected may well be proved right.

There may, however, also be a more positive result if research centres are encouraged to involve themselves more actively in raising proportions of their budgets from private sources.

This is the common practice in other countries and is a well-established procedure among British scientists, but their colleagues in the arts faculties have yet to appreciate the need for concentrated effort in this area. Perhaps the latest financial crisis will persuade them to give some attention to the various possibilities for self-help.

The Unit's campaign to raise funds has certainly demonstrated that the need to convince those outside the academic world of the importance and attractiveness of one's project may also have favourable effects on one's scholarly endeavours.

It forces the researcher to stand back from his material and see its wider significance; it encourages him to acquaint himself with the costs involved in running a research team, and hence to establish a system of priorities; and it inspires him to prepare for the non-academic community the kind of digest of his scholarly findings in which they will find interest and to which they are entitled. If he succeeds in whetting the appetite of the public he may be gratified to find that popular presentations of his research are suddenly in considerable demand.

As the first phase of the Unit's activities comes to an end with the completion of the project to conserve the whole T-S Collection, the size of the team required to continue our activities is reduced, but the demands made of that team as a whole should become more academically orientated.

Those who found the idea of rescuing crumbling fragments of mediaeval manuscripts an attractive and romantic project will now have to be persuaded that it is just as important, if not more important, to place these fragments in their correct position in the vast and complex jigsaw of Jewish history.

In order for this to be achieved the description and analysis of all the items in the T-S Collection must now be completed and the research results published in the Library's Genizah Series. The task is a formidable one and, like all new phases of activity, requires extra effort and encouragement. Those of us working on the Cambridge Genizah material look to our friends in both the scholarly and lay worlds to assist us over this next hurdle.

Stefan C. Reif
T-S Genizah Research Unit

[Dr Penelope Johnstone]

Dr Penelope Johnstone examining a medical fragment written eight centuries ago

Medical fragments yield secrets

The past few years have seen an increasing interest in the past achievements of medicine; not only in the history of techniques and discoveries, but in the possibility of once again using medical substances, chiefly herbal, which were widely prescribed centuries ago.

The radio series "Medicine Now" recently discussed the survival of the ancient remedy of "cupping" (= blood-drawing) and has reported the opening of a new museum for the history of medicine.

Here, too, as in so many other fields, the Genizah documents make a unique contribution to the study of the past. Fragments now being examined in one of the Unit's research projects come from ancient reference works and treatises, some better known than others, and include notes and jottings made by physicians, students or traders for their personal use. The language is Arabic, Hebrew, or Judaeo-Arabic - a "mixed" form, Arabic in Hebrew script, used by the Jewish community in Cairo.

For centuries it was those who used the Arabic language and lived within the Islamic empire - though many were Jewish or Christian - who led the world in medical knowledge. By translating the Greek works into Arabic, they preserved this learning for future generations, and they themselves made considerable advances in such medical knowledge, especially in surgery and pharmacology. Some Greek works would be unknown today had they not survived either in their Arabic or the later Latin translations.

Some Genizah fragments are pages from medical text-books used in the Middle Ages. Although only a small proportion have yet been identified, they show the wide range of works which would be consulted. These include the Aphorisms of Hippocrates, the almost legendary father of medicine (c. fifth century BCE), whose works were translated into Arabic by Hunain ibn Ishaq in the ninth century.

Commentaries on many of Hippocrates' works were written by Galen (second century CE), perhaps the most respected of the "Ancients". Author of a large number of original works, he is represented in the Genizah by a fragment from his Book of Crisis (i.e., the point at which an illness either abates or proves fatal) and three pages from his Book on Jaundice.

Arabic works frequently quote his prescriptions for medicines and his pronouncements on a variety of medical questions, and Galen's name appears on many folios of the Genizah fragments.

In mediaeval Egypt, as down to this day, climate and conditions gave rise to eye diseases. The attention given to such diseases and their treatment is reflected in the high proportion of fragments from works dealing with the eyes.

So far, more than fifteen fragments have been identified as coming from almost as many separate manuscripts of the Handbook for Oculists by 'Ali ibn 'Isa (10th century). An earlier work on the eyes, by Hunain ibn Ishaq, is so far represented by one fragment.

Herbals were, perhaps, the mediaeval equivalent of the BPC, but vary somewhat according to author and region. A drug was often described as to its appearance, action, uses, "nature" (hot or cold, moist or dry, according to the contemporary humoral theory) and the substitutes when it was not available.

Many plant drugs come from India or further east, while many grew locally, and these would be called by different names. Thus substantial parts of some pharmacological works are devoted to plant names and their explanation.

Many of the plants and drugs described in mediaeval text-books can still be bought in a druggist's shop in the old suqs and bazaars of Cairo and other cities of the East.

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), a prominent physician as well as a theologian and philosopher, paid particular attention to the study of pharmacology. One Genizah fragment - from the pseudo-Aristotelian Book of Plants - bears his ex libris.

His own Treatise on Poisons is represented by a small fragment of about a quarter-page, in Arabic. Here Maimonides refers to the care needed in obtaining the necessary ingredients for the prominent antidotes and in processing and mixing them. He wrote this treatise, he tells us, at the special request of the Sultan of Egypt.

Rulers and statesmen had a particular interest in the subject of poisons, and would be anxious to have the remedies available in case of assassination attempts. Nearly every medical text-book of the Middle Ages devotes a section to antidotes. One of the most famous mixtures was called the Tiriaq, a name which comes from the Greek and has survived into modern days as Treacle.

In the eighteenth century, Tiriacle indicated the black sticky concoction still then made in Venice and believed to be the sure remedy for snake-bite, poisons, and numerous other ills.

Penelope Johnstone
Research Associate
(sponsored by the Wellcome Trust)

T-S Unit: for the service of the wider community

With great pleasure I accepted Dr Reif's invitation to join the Unit as a Visiting Research Associate, thinking to myself, "It's a scholar's Garden of Eden".

In the course of my research into the Jewish liturgy and my studies of geonic, talmudic and rabbinic literature, I had often consulted and edited Genizah fragments, as well as microfilms and photostats. The Taylor-Schechter Collection always seemed particularly well organised; its documentary and literary fragments were for the most part properly classified, its marks and descriptions accurate, its films and photos clear, and its staff helpful and courteous in communications.

If it were so from afar, I reasoned, then scholars sitting in the Unit must have a virtual paradise, all the organisation and technical work undoubtedly being the labour of others.

Arrival on the scene dispelled this notion. It was immediately obvious that the Taylor-Schechter Collection was deserving of those compliments not as a result of any mystical power generated by Cambridge, nor due to the labours of some esoteric "others".

It was clearly the incessant labour and devotion of Dr Reif and his staff which has made the T-S Collection worthy of the compliments it reaps; its organisation being the result of the foresight and administrative efforts of the Unit's Director.

It soon became apparent that the Unit's undertakings were not geared to enhancing the personal researches of its members, but were devoted instead to the service of the wider community of scholars near and far. That is why I in Jerusalem, and others in Tel Aviv, New York, Los Angeles and Melbourne, were able to benefit from the well-organised T-S Collection.

A case in point is the conservation project. Much resource, human and financial (neither easy to come by), is expended in the meticulous care of each and every fragment, cleaning, pressing and placing it into a special envelope of Melinex which preserves the fragment, and then into loose-leaf binders, sorted according to subject matter.

In this way the fragment is preserved for posterity in proper location within the Collection and in its optimum physical condition. No more of the free-for-all moving of fragments from box to box known in early Genizah history.

Having lost my "paradise", I joined two of the projects carried out by the Unit, both examples of service to the needs of the general scholarly community. The first is the descriptive catalogue project. I began working on a folder containing preserved fragments classified as Talmud, Midrash and Halakha, describing the fragments and attempting to identify the contents as precisely as possible.

Each scholar in the project contributes his own expertise, resulting in a detailed catalogue of all fragments. With great personal excitement I identified fragments from Talmud, Midrash, Targum, Rashi, Maimonides, Qimhi, Rosh.

The second project I joined is the bibliographical project, in which members of the Unit painstakingly go through the major publications containing Genizah material and note where each fragment has been published or discussed. Thousands of pages of books and articles are systematically combed for references to Cambridge fragments. The result of this will be that all scholars will get to know if their predecessors have dealt with a particular fragment and in which way.

Due to the lack of care of many editors of fragments and other authors, fragments are often published with inaccurate clasmarks, abbreviated ones or none at all. This project therefore requires much labour, detective work, intuition and knowledge. Again, one can contribute uniquely in the field of one's expertise when a glance at a fragment brings to mind its place of publication.

Needless to say, in the course of work with the Unit, one thing leads to another and I found ample opportunity to deal with fragments in the areas of my own specialisation and interest. Thus, I have had the pleasure of finding and identifying geonic responsa and commentaries hitherto unidentified and perhaps unnoticed, not only among the newly preserved fragments, but even among the old, which had been in the hands of many scholars before me.

My predecessors had left me room for my own contribution. Similarly I trust that future Visiting Associates will continue to benefit the Unit, themselves and their fellow scholars simultaneously.

Tsvi Groner
Senior lecturer in Talmud at Haifa University, Visiting Research Associate in the Unit

If you would like to receive "Genizah Fragments" regularly, or to know how you may assist with its preservation and study, please write to: Dr Stefan Reif, Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR, England.

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

Two Schechters return 'home'

When his biographers write of how Solomon Schechter left Cambridge in 1902 for New York and the presidency of the Jewish Theological Seminary, a note of regret creeps into their accounts. They suggest that while American Jewry gained a notable religious leader and thinker, the world of Semitics lost an outstanding scholar.

Apparently, they add, the pressures of his new post left him little time for the intensive research and scholarly output that had marked his years in England, especially after he had successfully "emptied" the Cairo Genizah.

I, for one, however, can only rejoice that Dr Schechter decided to leave Cambridge. That decision had an electrifying effect upon his youngest brother, my grandfather.

In the small Rumanian town of Focsani, where both had been born, Shulim Schechter ached to be free of Eastern Europe's oppressive antisemitism. When he learned that Solomon was going to the United States, he decided that he would leave for America also. He arrived in New York in the winter of 1903 with his wife and four children, one of whom was to become my mother.

The better life which my grandfather and his family sought was at the end of a road that was longer and harder to travel then they had imagined. En route there were critical moments when "Uncle Solomon" and his warm-hearted wife "Tante Mathilde" were called on to help; and they did.

Thus, when my wife and I arrived at Cambridge University Library in 1968 and asked to see the Genizah Collection, we came to pay homage to the memory of one remembered for his kindness and family concern as well as his scholarly accomplishments.

But we also came to see something of those accomplishments, especially two famous fragments in the Collection - the Ben Sira leaf and the Zadokite Document. My own work as a writer and publicist of Jewish refugee needs had taken me to Israel many times and through these visits I had become something of a Dead Sea Scroll buff.

From one of Israel's outstanding Scroll scholars I had learned that the Zadokite Document could be thought of as the "first" Dead Sea Scroll and that from it, remarkably, Dr Schechter gave us our first portrait of the Scroll Sect years before the discovery of the actual Scrolls. I was thrilled, then, when the actual document was brought to me in the manuscript reading room, and I could struggle to read it.

My next visit to the Genizah Collection came several years later. An American academic who went to see it at my suggestion wrote me that there was now a young scholar in charge of the collection who was working vigorously to re-establish its usefulness. This same scholar, he also wrote, was interested in hearing anything I could tell him about Dr Schechter's years in America.

In the autumn of 1976, I arrived in Cambridge to meet with the "young scholar". That first meeting with Stefan Reif turned out to be a happy one, and for me a most rewarding experience.

I was able to bring him some photographs and other items bearing on Dr Schechter that he did not already have. But he, in turn, provided me with a vivid picture of his hopes and plans to re-establish the Genizah Collection as the great resource for Hebrew and Semitics studies it had once been.

So much was needed, he pointed out, for today's scholarship: the preservation and listing of thousands of still unconserved fragments - catalogues of the main sections of the Collection - a publications programme - grants for scholars - and other items. Also needed, he stressed, was publicity and the creation of a good-sized body of understanding supporters and contributors.

It is now six years since our meeting. Those years have seen great progress at the Genizah Collection, progress under Reif and his associates that I find continuously exciting and amazing.

Raphael Levy
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.

[Jane Schechter]

Jane Schechter with Dr Reif during her visit to Cambridge

Jane sees for herself

A member of the Schechter family recently returned to the Library which Dr Solomon Schechter endowed with the Genizah Collection and where he made some of the first exciting discoveries.

Twenty-year-old Jane Schechter, a daughter of Solomon Schechter's grandson Daniel, was drawn to the Library by her interest in her great-grandfather's work. At home in Glencoe, Illinois, she had often heard of the family connection with the Cairo Genizah and was keen to see for herself the treasures which lay behind the story.

Jane, who is studying liberal arts at Carleton College, Minnesota, was on a special course in political science at the London School of Economics and took the opportunity of being in England to see the Collection which immortalized her great-grandfather's name.

Two exciting finds of Ben-Sira manuscripts

Charles Taylor and Solomon Schechter were not only responsible for the productive trip to Cairo in 1896-7 and for the presentation of the bulk of the Cairo Genizah to the University of Cambridge. They were also, of course, among the first to examine manuscripts after they had been transferred to Cambridge University Library and to publish the results as the fragments began to yield their secrets.

It is now well known that the fragment which Mrs Agnes Lewis showed Schechter in May 1896, and which inspired his expedition to Egypt, was a tenth-century Hebrew version of the Apocryphal book of Ben Sira (or Ecclesiasticus), first written in the second century BCE.

Schechter surmised that if more such texts reflecting an early Hebrew style could be discovered, it would provide convincing evidence of the widespread use of an authentic Hebrew Ben Sira and refute the theory of some of his contemporaries that the Greek text was nearer the author's original.

So many more fragments came to light that Taylor and Schechter were able to publish a restored Hebrew edition of the book in Cambridge in 1899 and a handsome portfolio of beautifully produced facsimiles two years later.

This and similar groundwork over the years made it possible for Professor M. H. Segal, of the Hebrew University, to publish a scientific edition of the book, with textual and exegetical notes and detailed bibliography, in 1953. But there were still pieces which were missing or incomplete.

When the New Series (= NS) of the Taylor-Schechter Collection began to be sorted in the 1950s, Professor Yefim Schirmann identified more Ben Sira material, and the ultimate vindication of Schechter's theory that the Hebrew Genizah fragments reflected a more original form than the Greek text came in 1964, when Professor Yigael Yadin discovered some pieces at Masada which tallied with one of the Genizah versions.

The remarkable events surrounding the "rehabilitation" of the Hebrew Ecclesiasticus have continued in more recent years. A team of researchers was sent to Cambridge by the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities in 1974 to work with Dr Reif on the sorting of the remaining 67,000 fragments in what came to be known as the Additional Series (= AS).

One summer morning, one of the team, Professor Israel Yeivin, excitedly drew the others' attention to two more fragments, one of them the missing section of a manuscript published by Schechter seventy-five years earlier. The classmarks given to the fragments were T-S AS 213.4 and 213.17.

Yeivin and Reif decided to wait until these fragments were conserved and microfilmed before preparing them for publication, and this task was recently begun.

Independently of Yeivin and Reif, Professor Alexander Scheiber, of Budapest, was examining the Additional Series in Cambridge a few weeks ago when he identified one of the fragments as Ben Sira. Rather than allow their scholarly efforts to be duplicated, Reif and Yeivin gladly passed on to Scheiber the information earlier gathered by them, and the Hungarian scholar is now preparing all the material for publication in the periodical Acta Orientalia of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences.

More Hebrew text of Ben Sira will thus be available to the world of scholarship in the near future and the Cambridge Genizah Collection will have made another important contribution to scientific research.

At home and away

Although there are always so many requests that bookings have to be made many months in advance, parties of visitors have continued to make their way to the Library to view exhibitions of items from the T-S Collection and to hear about its acquisition and historical significance.

Recent visitors have represented a wide spectrum of interests: IBM staff from all over Europe on a special course in Cambridge; an outing by the Friends of the Jewish Museum in London; post-ordination trainees from the Ely Diocese of the Anglican Church; Israeli Embassy staff and friends; the annual conference of the Advisory Committee on Orientalist Materials of the Standing Conference of National and University Libraries; Southgate Aviv section of the Federation of Women Zionists; boys and girls from the Hasmonean Schools.

This year's syllabus of the Young Jewish Leadership Institute in London included three lectures by Dr Reif on the Genizah Collection, all of them illustrated by slides, and he also spoke to the Society for Near Eastern studies and the Society for the Application of Research at the Wolfson Cambridge Industrial Unit.

Two of the Research Unit, Dr Reif and Dr Gutwirth, delivered lectures at the eighth World Congress of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, and Dr Reif was also a visiting scholar at the Hebrew University's Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem.

Library Genizah Series

The following volumes have so far appeared in the Cambridge University Library Genizah Series (Cambridge University Press and Cambridge University Library, 1978-);

a. A Miscellany of Literary Pieces from the Cambridge Genizah Collections, by Simon Hopkins, 1978.

b. Hebrew Bible Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections-
i. Taylor-Schechter Old Series and other Genizah Collections in Cambridge University Library, by M. C. Davis and H. Knopf, 1978.
ii. Taylor-Schechter New Series and Westminster College Cambridge Collection, by M. C. Davis, 1980.

From the reviews:
"The fact that the scales have at last fallen from the university's eyes is due... principally to the enthusiasm, energy and drive of Dr S. C. Reif, who... has the Genizah in his care... The editor's treatment is exemplary". - Professor Raphael Loewe, of University College, London.

"We sincerely hope that funds may be granted to bring this impressive work to a happy end, since it makes accessible a host of material which otherwise would remain almost unknown to the average biblical scholar". - Professor A. S. Van der Woude, of Gronningen, Netherlands.

"Warm thanks are due to the cataloguer and to the general editor for producing order out of what to most people would have looked like chaos". - James Barr, Regius Professor of Hebrew at Oxford University.

"...seemingly flawless production of often complex material...enormous wealth of assorted data". - Leonard J. Greenspoon, of Clemson University, USA.

"An indispensable tool for all concerned with the Cairo Genizah". - Vetus Testamentum.

"Under the curatorship of Dr Stefan C. Reif...the Taylor-Schechter Research Unit of the University Library...has taken significant steps forward in the rationalization and publication of the collection". - Professor Mark R. Cohen, of Princeton University, USA.

"A source of inspiration for scholars engaged on editing the remaining Genizah collections". - Professor Alexander Scheiber, of Budapest.

"It must be fervently hoped that further financial support will be forthcoming for this very important project in all its manifold ramifications, for there can be few scholarly tasks in the humanities that deserve higher priority ...

The speed of publication of these two parts and the expected completion very soon of the entire Bible Series are a shining example to scholars and invite emulation". - Edward Ullendorff, Professor of Semitic Studies at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the University of London.

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

Edited by Stefan C. Reif
If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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University of Cambridge; last updated October 2002