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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. 35 April 1998

[IDF officers and Genizah Unit staff] (80k)

Visitors to Cambridge: Israeli Chief of Staff-designate Major-General Mattan Vilnay and his wife, Anat, being shown Genizah fragments by Dr Avi Shivtiel, while (foreground) Brigadier-General Yitzhaqi Chen discusses some of the University L ibrary's treasures with Ellis Weinberger

On other pages

Lecture series to mark centenary

To mark the centenary of the official presentation of the Genizah Collection to the University of Cambridge by Dr Solomon Schechter and Dr Charles Taylor, in October, 1898, a series of lectures, sponsored by the University Library and the Faculty of Oriental Studies, will be given this autumn by an international group of speakers. The overall theme of the series will be "The Contribution of the Genizah Collection to the Study of Mediaeval Jewish Culture".

Five lectures, each to be given by a world authority in his field, will be delivered during Michaelmas term, 1998, at the University Library's new Exhibition Centre, now being constructed and due to be completed shortly.

The Exhibition Centre will be open to members of the public, and the series is expected to attract non-specialists as well as those who are professionally concerned with the field of Hebrew, Jewish and Semitic studies.

Each lecture will commence at 5.00 p.m. and will be preceded by tea. A similar series of lectures was given at the University Library three years ago. The intention is to publish the lectures from both series in a volume to be included in the Oriental Ser ies handled by Cambridge University Press for the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

The following lectures have been promised in the forthcoming series:

  1. 15 October, 1998 - Professor Michael Klein, of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, will lecture on the contribution of the Genizah to studies of Aramaic Bible translations and exegesis.

  2. 20 October, 1998 - Professor Joel Kraemer, of the University of Chicago, will lecture on the contribution of the Genizah to the history of Jewish female literacy in the Middle Ages.

  3. 5 November, 1998 - Professor Mordechai Friedman, of Tel Aviv University, will lecture on the contribution of the Genizah to our understanding of mediaeval Jewish marriage practices.

  4. 19 November, 1998 - Professor Paul Fenton, of the Sorbonne, will lecture on the contribution of the Genizah to the chronicling of Jewish/Muslim relations in the mediaeval Mediterranean area.

  5. 30 November, 1998 - Professor Neil Danzig, of the Jewish Theological Seminary, New York, will lecture on the contribution of the Genizah to the study of Talmudic law and Rabbinic custom in the Middle Ages.

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"Woman's Hour" broadcast

In the Woman's Hour slot broadcast on BBC Radio Four on Friday, 16 January, there was a rather unexpected reference to mediaeval Hebrew manuscripts.

Discussing the history of cuisine, Penny Mayor mentioned that chicken soup was recognized as having therapeutic qualities.

To illustrate her point, she unexpectedly referred to the Cairo Genizah and drew attention to one fragment in particular that described a member of the Jewish community's wish to help a sick visitor by giving him this traditional Jewish elixir.

That fragment is described by the late Shelomo Dov Goitein in his Mediterranean Society (Volume 45, 1983, page 232) and there is another note by him (Volume 3, 1978, page 194) that records the complaint of a Jewish mother about the cost of buying two chic ken a day to make soup for her sick child.

Cambridge Genizah fragment T-S AS 166.208 includes a note by a doctor advising a patient to take chicken soup with onions and chickpeas. It was discovered by the late Haskell Isaacs and is noted in his volume, Medical and Para-Medical Manuscripts (Cambrid ge, 1986) page 86.

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Dwek Trust's £25,000

Support for a number of the Unit's research projects has continued to come from the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) by way of grants made to the University Library as a result of the Follett Report. The latest instalment was recently received and amounted to £69,500.

A major contribution to the cost of preparing information for a general introduction to the Genizah has been made by the Dwek Family Charitable Trust.

Mr Joe Dwek, a long-standing supporter of the Unit, has kindly arranged for the Trust to donate £25,000, and the first half of this award has already been received.

The family of the late David Lauffer has again expressed its support for the work of the Unit with a gift of £3,000 from the R. and D. Lauffer Charitable Foundation.

The American Friends of Cambridge University have transferred funds amounting to a total of £3,500.

The family of the late David Lauffer, of London, has kindly contributed to the expenses involved in producing this issue of Genizah Fragments. This generous gesture is much appreciated by the Unit, which gratefully recalls his support and interest over a lengthy period.

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Unravelling mysteries of the Amidah

[T-S K27.33B] (120k)

T-S K27.33B - one of the liturgical pieces discussed in this article

Was the liturgical text le-dor va-dor a specific version for the cantor to recite during his repetition of the `amidah, as is the case today in the Ashkenazi rite, or was it a third, alternative form of the qedushah blessing? Should one say barekhenu 'avi nu kullanu ke-'ehad or be-yahad or ke-'ahat in the final blessing of the `amidah?

The answers to questions such as these, and many more, can be given only after an investigation of the texts of the prayers in as many manuscripts as possible.

In recent years, I have studied some 200 manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah incorporating all or part of the `amidah prayer. Most of the manuscripts are in the Taylor-Schechter Collection and some are to be found in other collections.

From a comparison of the versions and an examination of the sources, it becomes apparent that one should consider each blessing as an independent entity.

There are different and variegated versions for each blessing. Nevertheless, it appears possible to identify two dominant versions for most of the blessings and, in some cases, even three or four.

Each of these may be viewed as the prototype of a particular version. The qedushah blessing, for example, appears to have had three versions: the well-known 'attah qadosh; the version known from the Palestinian rite, qadosh 'attah; and a third version, le -dor va-dor.

I have expanded on this in my Bar-Ilan doctoral dissertation, "Weekday `Amidah Versions according to the Cairo Genizah", 1992.

As far as minor variations in words and letters (ke-'ehad, be-yahad and ke-'ahat) are concerned, a variety of factors influenced developments at an early stage. These included grammatical considerations; ambiguity of understanding; attempts at "correction "; textual corruption; and theological outlook. It is therefore difficult to arrive at an "original" version.

I am currently engaged in an investigation into the versions of the seven blessings of the morning and evening shema` prayer according to Genizah manuscripts. The findings are proving no less interesting than those made in the case of the `amidah prayer.

As is well known, Sa`adya Gaon opposed the recitation of the messianic invocation 'or hadash at the end of the pre-shema` blessing yoser ha-me'orot; and, indeed, many manuscripts have the Isaianic verse (60:1) qumi 'ori.

Another interesting phenomenon is that, in many manuscripts, a verse (sometimes Psalms 135:4) appears prior to the conclusion of the 'ahavah blessing, while no such verse is found in any current versions throughout the Diaspora.

The inconsistent appearance in the ge'ulah blessing of the verse mipi `olalim (Psalms 8:3), whether in the morning or evening, also requires an explanation. I hope that these and many other problems will be solved in the course of this work.

I am grateful to the staff of the Manuscripts Reading Room and the Genizah Research Unit, under the directorship of Dr Stefan Reif, for their kind assistance during my two visits to Cambridge University Library.


Israeli Open University

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How you can help the T-S Unit

If you would like to receive Genizah Fragments regularly, to enquire about the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, or to know how you may assist with its preservation and study, please write to: Dr S. C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Res earch Unit, at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR, England.

The Library may also be reached by fax (01223) 333160, or telephone (01223) 333000. The Internet access is at http: //www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter.

Readers not already supporting the Unit are asked to help ensure the continuity of this publication by making a small, regular gift. The sum of £5 (UK) or $10 (abroad) is suggested; payment may be made to Cambridge or to the American Friends.

All contributions to the Unit, whether for the research programme or for its other activities, are made to the "University of Cambridge", which enjoys charitable status for tax and similar purposes.

In the USA, all contributions may be directed to the President of the American Friends of Cambridge University, Mr Stephen C. Price, P.O. Box 9123, JAF BLG, New York, NY 10087-9123, USA. Transfers of such funds are regularly made from the USA.

Contributions in Canada should be made payable to the University of Cambridge and may be sent to the Director of Cambridge University Development Office, Mr David Rampersad, at 188 Eglington Avenue E (Suite 703), Toronto, Canada M4P 2X7.

The AFCU is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization, and contributions are legally deductible for United States income tax purposes. They are similarly deductible in Canada even if made directly to Cambridge.

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Cambridge University Library shares its expertise

In December, a conference and exhibition entitled "The value of electronic information in higher education: utilising hybrid resources" was convened in the Wolfson Suite of the University of Edinburgh Library.

Dr Mark Nicholls, Deputy Keeper of Manuscripts at Cambridge University Library, and Ellis Weinberger, Research Assistant in its Genizah Research Unit, were invited to display material on some of the many projects receiving non-formula funding and currently under way in the Library.

Among the projects being conducted by the staff of the Library, which include on-line cataloguing of various manuscript and printed book collections, the digitizing work being carried out by the Genizah Unit attracted great interest.

The visitors, who included representatives of the Scottish Office, of the funding bodies sponsoring the event, and of most of the major Scottish universities, had their interest kindled by the combination of search facilities, catalogue information about the manuscripts, and the ability to examine the images of the manuscripts in great detail.

The material describing the development of the projects was presented both on display boards and on live links to the Cambridge University Library web server, using a standard web browser.

This was another demonstration of the effective design of the web site, which provides easy access to the digitized images and detailed descriptions of the manuscripts from any suitably equipped computer.

The conference and exhibition were jointly sponsored by the Joint Information Systems Committee, the Non-Formula Funding of Specialised Research Collections in Humanities, the Scottish Higher Education Funding Council, and the Scottish Universities Special Collections and Archives Group.

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From Cairo cobwebs to Internet web

[Professor George Brooke] (85k)

Professor George Brooke, of Manchester University, with the Damascus Document from Cambridge University Library on display at the Manchester Museum during the Copper Scroll Exhibition he organised there last winter

The excitement continues unabated. Lectures, exhibitions and conferences are still being arranged on the themes of the Genizah centenary and the Dead Sea Scrolls jubilee. Indeed, interest is growing.

I have just returned from a visit to Jerusalem, during which I participated in two important scholarly events sponsored by the Orion Center at the Hebrew University. The first was held at the Israel Museum, conducted in Hebrew, and aimed at a wider audience; its theme was the relationship between the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Genizah.

Professor Larry Schiffman, of New York University, and I lectured on different aspects of the subject. We were then challenged to respond to various historical and theological problems raised by Dr Esther Chazon, deputy director of the Orion Center, in connection with the similarities and differences between these two outstanding manuscript collections.

Speaking to an enthusiastic audience of about 150, we were in agreement that one of the topics that would fascinate scholars and inspire broader interest in coming years would be the survival in the Genizah of some works found at Qumran. Various possible explanations for the phenomenon were possible, but none was as yet definitive.

At a subsequent conference held on Mount Scopus mainly for specialists, the focus was on one of the most famous of such works - the Damascus Document, or Zadokite Fragments.

I was honoured with the opening lecture and dealt with Schechter's discovery and publication of the Genizah version. I suggested motivations for its early study by various distinguished scholars and stressed the degree to which current research agreed with Schechter.

A few months earlier, the World Congress of Jewish Studies had devoted many sessions at its major international conference in Jerusalem to the Genizah theme. Some scholars had summarized the achievements of 100 years, while others had examined particular fragments or groups of fragments. The biennial meeting of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies, held concurrently in Jerusalem, was dedicated to the centenary.

Genizah Unit researchers played their part by lecturing at these meetings. Dr Avi Shivtiel spoke about the stylistic characteristics of Judaeo-Arabic letters, while Ellis Weinberger explained how computer access to the Cambridge Genizah material was being developed. Aramaic incantation texts were discussed by Dr Erica Hunter, and my own offering was a survey of Genizah research in liturgy.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem marked the end of its major Genizah exhibition, viewed by over 70,000 visitors, with a symposium at which the future of Genizah research was discussed and lectures given on the topics of Judaeo-Arabic, Yiddish, cuisine, marriage, tourism and religious polemics.

Cambridge University Library and the Jewish Museum in New York arranged exhibitions of Genizah manuscripts in the latter half of 1997 and early in 1998. The Israel Academy and Cambridge University have both arranged suitable lecture series for the current year. Plans are also under way for exciting developments on the Internet through the joint efforts of Cambridge University Library and Princeton University.

For those unfortunate enough to miss these events, there will undoubtedly be opportunities of reading the lectures in published form. At the growing and widening rate of interest currently being shown, sound but readable books and articles on the Genizah manuscripts will be among the most popular in the field.


Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

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Arabic magazine spotlights Genizah

The Arabic weekly magazine Al-Majalla, which appears in London and has a wide circulation in Britain and abroad, devoted six pages to the Cairo Genizah in its issue of 19-25 October, 1997.

In a beautifully illustrated spread, which included an article in Arabic by myself, followed by an interview with me conducted by the journalist Wahid Mowafi, the story of the Cairo Genizah and the work and achievements of the Genizah Research Unit were reported, probably for the first time by a leading Arabic journal.

The most exciting information for the Arabic reader may well have been a twelfth-century letter sent by the Jewish community to Saladin, as well as communications with other Arab leaders of the time.

That the Judaeo-Arabic dialect was in daily use, in both speech and writing, by Jews who lived in the huge Muslim empire, was of particular interest, since Arabic speakers can easily understand documents written in Judaeo-Arabic, provided they are familia r with the Hebrew alphabet.

The illustrations for the articles, chosen by the editor, and the photograph on the front cover of a Genizah document, demonstrate beyond doubt the importance of the Cairo Genizah to Arabs and Muslims, a fact recently acknowledged by some Arab scholars wh o have worked on the fragments.

The Genizah's reputation has gone sky-high with the appearance of an article by Dr Stefan Reif in Israelal (September-October, 1997), the magazine supplied to passengers on board El Al aircraft. It describes briefly where, when, how and by whom the Geniza h was discovered, and what we find in it.

The article highlights historical events mentioned in the collection, such as the Crusader invasion of the Holy Land, and gives an account of the historical personalities whose literary works and correspondence were found in the Genizah, such as Maimonide s and Judah Ha-Levi.

The Cambridge Alumni Magazine (CAM), published by the University of Cambridge and circulated to graduates of the University around the world, devoted its column, A Day in the Life of ... (Michaelmas Term, 1997), to "Mr and Mrs Genizah," Stefan and Shulie Reif.

While much of the article was devoted to the story of the Genizah and the work of the Research Unit that he directs, Dr Reif did allow some personal details to infiltrate, and so we learn something about his and his wife's routine.

The secret of their achievements may be summed up in the relevations: sleep less, take physical exercise - including cycling to work - read and write, have a 10-minute breakfast, and live according to your personal and professional convictions.

Those who know Dr Reif will have to wait patiently for the small talk about childhood memories, hobbies, and juicy anecdotes. The Genizah comes first.


Senior Research Associate

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Booklets on the recent exhibitions

[Nicola Thwaite, Shulie Reif] (57k)

Nicola Thwaite (left) and Shulie Reif set up the Genizah Centenary Exhibition, "History in Fragments", displayed at Cambridge University Library from November 1997 until February 1998

For those who were unable to visit recent Genizah exhibitions, a number of publications provide at least some of the information included in the presentations.

The Israel Museum in Jerusalem has produced a "newspaper" reporting the actual events chronicled in the Genizah fragments as if they were contemporary events.

Entitled The Genizah News, and edited by noted Israeli journalist Ioram Melcer, this 16-page tabloid features news items and articles on a variety of topics.

Politics, finance and crime are treated on some pages, while on others are pieces touching on culture, fashion and cuisine.

Also available from the Museum's shop is a booklet, produced in Hebrew and English, describing the exhibition mounted there last year (No. 392; ISBN 965 278 204). Edited by the curator of the exhibition, Daisy Raccah-Djivre, it contains brief articles int roducing the Genizah and discussing its importance, as well as attractive plates and a list of all the exhibits.

To accompany its own exhibition - prepared by Shulie and Stefan Reif and set up with the assistance of Nicola Thwaite - Cambridge University Library has published a useful guide. Its twenty-two pages give details of recent achievements in Cambridge and de scribe the Genizah in general and the Taylor-Schechter Collection in particular, as well as featuring introductions to each of the areas of life represented and descriptions of the items exhibited.

The Cambridge booklet, edited by Shulie and Stefan Reif, is entitled History in Fragments: A Genizah Centenary Exhibition (ISBN 90220555 2). Copies are available from the Library's General Office (West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR; fax 01223 333160) at £3 .

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Ongoing aid assists T-S Unit's work

Generous support has been received from the Samuel Sebba Charitable Trust (£1,500) and the Goldberg Charitable Trust (£1,000).

The Unit is also grateful for the renewal of their contributions by Sir Trevor Chinn of Lex Services plc (£500); the Kohn Foundation (£500); Harry and Gertie Landy (£500); and Cyril and Betty Stein (£500).

Among other contributions acknowledged with thanks are those of Raymond and Pamela Burton (£250); Dr Arnold Oppenheimer (£250); Ruth and Michael Phillips (£250); Fred and Della Worms (£250).

In addition, helpful financial assistance was received from the Rubin Foundation Charitable Trust (£150); Mr Geoffrey Ognall (£125); Anthony and Diana Rau (£125); Mr E. Kahn and Mrs L. Kahn-Tandler (£100); Mr David Pinto (£100); a nd Mrs Judith Samuel (£100).

The Unit has also benefited from other smaller or anonymous donations amounting to over £6,000, including one in memory of the late Dr Haskell Isaacs, and thanks all who have kindly assisted its efforts in this way.

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Preserving fragments in favourable conditions

During the first half of 1898, discussions were held between Charles Taylor, Master of St John's College, Solomon Schechter, Reader in Talmudic and Rabbinic Literature, and Francis Jenkinson, University Librarian, about the conditions under which the Geni zah Collection would be formally presented to the University of Cambridge. The expenses involved in conservation and description, the special rights of the donors, and the future availability of the fragments to other scholars were among the subjects that occupied their minds. A formal document was placed before the University for its approval in June, 1898. It is reproduced as part of our continuing centenary celebrations.

The conditions upon which the Collection is offered to the University are the following:

1. That the MSS. be kept in the University Library as a separate collection, to be called by some such name as the Taylor-Schechter collection from the Genizah of Old Cairo.

2. That the thanks of the University be given to the heads of the Jewish community in Cairo, with whose consent the MSS. were brought to England.

3. That the collection be not used without the consent of the donors for three years from the date of its acceptance by the University.

4. That Dr Schechter have the right to borrow MSS., of which facsimiles are not accessible, from the collection on giving a receipt to the Librarian for them.

5. That the University undertake to make such provision as is possible by binding, mounting, or otherwise for the preservation of the MSS., and to have them sorted, and a handlist or catalogue of them drawn up, within ten years from the acceptance of the collection.

6. That the fragments of Ecclesiasticus and those with Greek writing remain in the possession of the donors until after they have brought out complete editions of them.

It is explained in a covering letter from Dr Taylor to the Vice-Chancellor, with regard to the sixth condition, that it is intended that the fragments therein referred to would remain in the possession of the donors for two or three years.

The Syndicate are of the opinion that the Collection is of unique value, and they greatly desire that it should be secured for the Library. With a view to the fulfilment of the fifth condition they are prepared to undertake the cost of binding, mounting, and preserving the Collection; but they could not make provision out of the funds at their disposal for sorting and cataloguing the MSS.

They are of opinion that for the latter purpose the sum of £500 would suffice; and they have been informed by the Vice-Chancellor that in the event of the Collection becoming the property of the University, the Council of the Senate will be prepared to recommend to the Senate that this sum be placed at the disposal of the Library Syndicate for the purpose of obtaining expert assistance in classifying and making a catalogue of the Collection.

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Edited by Stefan C. Reif

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©University of Cambridge; last updated January 1999