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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. 36 October 1998

[Anne Campbell, MP, with Cambridge University Librarian Peter Fox] (81k)
Anne Campbell, MP, with Cambridge University Librarian Peter Fox at the opening of the exhibition centre, at which Genizah items are currently featured on-line

On other pages

Exhibition centre opens

Throughout its long history, Cambridge University Library has been accessible only to members of the University, to visiting scholars and to their guests. Now, with the opening of its new exhibition centre, members of the public may, without charge, see some of its treasures between 9am and 6pm each weekday, and between 9am and 12.30pm on Saturdays.

The formal opening was carried out by the MP for Cambridge, Anne Campbell, on 24 July, 1998, and a special exhibition on view until 24 October was mounted of a selection of the Library's treasures.

One of these is a Hebrew manuscript (Dd.10.68) from 15th-century Italy, containing essays on various medical topics, with colourful miniatures representing doctors and patients engaged on various activities.

In addition, a computer display of 122 Genizah images was mounted on a PC and is permitting visitors to access both the fragments themselves and information about their origins and content.

The exhibits will change a few times each year, and other treasures at the Library will have their turn to be displayed. Items from the Librarys rich collection of Orientalia will undoubtedly be represented in some of these forthcoming exhibitions.

To mark the opening of the new exhibition centre, a volume about the Librarys collections, edited by the University Librarian, Peter Fox, was published by Cambridge University Press, under the title, Cambridge University Library: The Great Collections (ISBN 0521 626366 hb; 0521 626471 pb).

This handsomely illustrated volume contains essays by scholars who have specialized in such subjects as the Library's history, Codex Bezae, Darwin papers, Royal Commonwealth Society archive, Stefan Heim papers and the University archives. One of the essays, by Stefan Reif, is entitled "The Genizah Fragments: A Unique Archive?"

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Scholars honoured

Three Cambridge scholars of Hebrew and Jewish studies, each of whom has conducted important research on the Genizah manuscripts, have recently won distinction for their academic work.

The University's General Board has proposed a personal professorship in Jewish and Early Christian Studies in the Faculty of Divinity for the Reverend Dr William Horbury, of Corpus Christi College; and a personal professorship in Medieval Hebrew Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies for Dr Stefan Reif, of St Johns College.

Dr Geoffrey Khan, of Wolfson College, who teaches Hebrew and Aramaic in the Faculty of Oriental Studies and was a researcher in the Genizah Unit for a number of years, has been elected to a fellowship of the British Academy.

Professor-elect Horbury has completed important studies of the Genizah texts of Toledot Yeshu , a Jewish version of the Jesus story that circulated widely in the Middle Ages. Professor-elect Reif's publications include the historical analysis of liturgical fragments from the Genizah.

The Arabic and Judaeo-Arabic material from the Genizah has been the subject of important work by Dr Khan. He has contributed two volumes to the Genizah Series published by Cambridge University Press for Cambridge University Library.

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Balint Trust awards gift of £5,000

Dr Arnold Oppenheimer, a regular supporter of the Unit who has long been interested in the Genizah Collection, kindly explained its historical importance and the value of the work being done in the Unit to the trustees of the George Balint Charitable Trust. Following his recommendation, and a report of the Units activities by its Director, a welcome award of £5,000 was made by the Trust.

Another generous donation has come from Genizah enthusiasts Aryeh and Raquel Rubin of New York, who arranged for a contribution of $2,000 from their charitable trust.

There were also awards, each of £500, from the Harbour Trust (through Barbara and Stanley Green); the Sidney and Elizabeth Corob Charitable Trust; and the Tyrwhitt Fund at the Faculty of Oriental Studies, the latter two in support of the second series of Genizah centenary lectures shortly to be given in the University Library

Other helpful assistance recently received includes that of Mrs Marjorie Glick (£300); Ruth and Conrad Morris (£250); the Helene Sebba Charitable Trust (£250); Sir Sigmund Sternberg (£250); Dr George Remington (£200 ); Ralph and Muriel Emanuel (£200); and the Willesden Discussion Group (£200, through Mrs Ingrid Sellman).

The American Friends of Cambridge University again transferred to Cambridge contributions made in the USA. These included gifts from Rabbi Shimon Paskow ($110); Ms Anne Schechter Hertzberg ($100); and Mr and Mrs Daniel Schechter ($100).

The Unit is also grateful to Elizabeth and Philip Beckman (£100 from the Benjamin Leighton Charitable Trust), Dr Charles Levene (£100), Mr Elliot Philipp (£100), Mrs Judith Samuel (£100), and Mrs Miriam Shenkin (£10 0) for their kind gifts.

Other financial support, some of it anonymous, amounted to £5,316. The Unit expresses its gratitude to all who actively support its work in this and numerous other ways.

A generous grant has been made by the R. and D. Lauffer Charitable Foundation towards the cost of this issue of Genizah Fragments. This was kindly arranged by the Lauffer family, in memory of David Lauffer, to maintain the active interest in Jewish history and culture that he pursued.

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[Professor Robert Gordon] (76k)
Professor Robert Gordon lecturing at a conference in Dublin

T-S Unit looks to past and future

Every so often, the discovery of previously unknown texts opens up important new directions for Jewish studies.

This happened, for example, in 1928-29, when a Syrian peasant accidentally ploughed up a flagstone covering a subterranean passage-way at the site of Ras Shamra (ancient Ugarit) in northern Syria. Thus were Ugaritic studies born.

Less than twenty years later, as the most familiar version of the story has it, a Bedouin shepherd threw a stone into a Qumran cave, heard an unexpected sound, and, returning later, discovered the first of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Both these major finds, more or less equally fortuitous, have affected biblical studies, in particular, in a big way.

In terms of sheer volume and diversity of content, the 140,000 fragments emanating from the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, and brought to the Cambridge University Library in 1897, put both Ugarit and Qumran in the shade.

The Genizah discovery also differs in that chance did not play a significant part. Solomon Schechter was acting on a well-founded hunch when he went to Cairo in the winter of 1896-97 in the hope of being able to examine the contents of the Ben Ezra Genizah.

The happy result is that Cambridge University now has this priceless collection within its own main library.

My acquaintance with the Genizah Collection began during my Ph.D. researches on the Targum to the Prophets in the early 1970s.

One of my secondary sources mentioned that fragments of a Palestinian Targum of Joshua 5 were among the Genizah manuscripts housed in Cambridge. At the University Library, I eventually tracked down MS T-S B13.12, which, as I recall, was then kept with other unconserved fragments between papers in a cardboard box.

The business took a little longer than expected, because my source had wrongly recorded the reference as T-S B13.2. It was easier for such mistakes to occur in pre-Reifian times!

More recently, a monograph devoted to this text has been published by Heinz Fahr and Uwe Glessmer (see Genizah Fragments 27 [1994], 3), and deserves to be added to the long list of published works based on Genizah material as displayed on the World-Wide Web.

Over the years, the Genizah Collection has brought many scholars to Cambridge for research and consultation. Hebrew and Jewish studies locally have also continued to benefit greatly from the presence of the Collection in the University Library.

In the Faculty of Oriental Studies, our specialist language students are encouraged to make the acquaintance of the Collection during their undergraduate days, while one of the examination papers for the postgraduate degree of Master of Philosophy (M.Phil.) is based on Genizah texts.

At present we have postgraduates at both the M.Phil. and the Ph.D. level who are engaging closely with Genizah texts under the supervision of Dr Geoffrey Khan, who himself spent ten years as a full-time researcher in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit before his appointment to a Faculty lectureship.

As we mark the centenary of the arrival of the Genizah fragments in Cambridge, we have an opportunity to salute all those who, from Solomon Schechter on, have worked to make the texts available and to unlock some of their significance in terms of language, history, society and much more besides.

As Dr Reif and his colleagues would remind us, there is very much more to be done, and the best commemoration will be the enabling and the execution of further study of the texts both by scholars within Cambridge and, not least, by members of the wider international scholarly community.


Regius Professor of Hebrew

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Genizah on tape

Those who live far from Cambridge, or have no access to a library with reading material about the Genizah or to a computer with Internet, may now hear about the Collection on audio tape.

The series, "Cambridge Audio Tapes", is produced by Mrs Tamsin Palmer, of the American Friends of Cambridge University, and the latest issue is devoted to a survey of Genizah research. There are contributions from five of the team in the Genizah Research Unit.

Dr Stefan Reif discusses the history and importance of the Genizah Collection, and Dr Avi Shivtiel deals with Arabic material and relations between Jews and Arabs.

The mounting of exhibitions is explained by Mrs Shulie Reif , and the use of computer technology is discussed by Mr Ellis Weinberger.

Miss Rebecca Wilson covers the role of women and introduces the theme of Hebrew poetry found among the fragments.

Copies of the tape, which lasts for 45 minutes, are available at a cost of £6 ($10) from the Librarys General Office, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DR (fax 01223 333160).

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Autumn lectures

Readers of Genizah Fragments are reminded of the series of lectures, sponsored by the University Library, the Faculty of Oriental Studies and the Corob Charitable Trust, to be delivered in the Michaelmas Term.

The overall theme is "The Contribution of the Genizah Collection to the Study of Medieval Jewish Culture", and the series is open to the public.

Each lecture will begin at 5pm in the Morison Room of the University Librarys new exhibition centre, preceded by tea at 4.30pm. Entrance to the centre and the lectures is free.

15 October, 1998 Professor Michael Klein, of the Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, "Studies of Aramaic Bible translations and commentaries".

20 October, 1998 Professor Joel Kraemer, of the University of Chicago, "The history of Jewish female literacy in the Middle Ages".

5 November, 1998 Professor Mordechai Friedman, of Tel Aviv University, "Understanding medieval Jewish marriage and the family".

19 November, 1998 Professor Paul Fenton, of the Sorbonne, Paris, "The chronicling of Jewish/Muslim relations in the medieval Mediterranean area".

30 November, 1998 Professor Neil Danzig, of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, "The study of Talmudic law and Rabbinic custom in the Middle Ages".

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[Dr Hanan Eshel] (66k)
Dr Hanan Eshel, of Bar-Ilan University, Ramat Gan, shows one of the Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls) caves to participants in the Damascus Document conference held in Jerusalem at which Dr Stefan Reif gave the introductory lecture


Development of historic proportions

Within a short time, the subject of medieval Hebrew studies is scheduled to appear among the list of Cambridge professorships and this seems to me a development of historic proportions. For centuries, only biblical Hebrew, as understood and taught by generations of Christian scholars, has been accorded such status.

The broader manifestations of the language as expressed in the rabbinic traditions, in medieval literature, and in the contemporary spoken language have received attention, but never on an equal basis with what has been formally called in the University "the interpretation of the Old Testament".

An unwritten rule appears to have existed according to which those post-biblical subjects in which Jews tended to excel, including the Jewish interpretation of the Hebrew Bible, were never quite worthy of the ultimate academic accolade of a chair.

The argument about a lack of suitable candidates holds little water. Schiller-Szinessy's brilliant and original work with Hebrew manuscripts; Schechter's ground-breaking research in rabbinica and among his Genizah discoveries; and Rosenthal's publication of seminal studies in medieval philosophy all these were surely worthy of greater recognition. And one could also make strong cases on behalf of Israel Abrahams, Herbert Loewe, David Diringer and Jacob Teicher, who spent most of their teaching careers at Cambridge.

At least part of the explanation of the current development lies in the changing attitudes towards Hebrew studies as a whole. The foundations in modern Hebrew laid down by Dr Avi Shivtiel in the 1970s, and successfully built up by Dr Risa Domb into a Centre for Modern Hebrew Studies in the Faculty of Oriental Studies, have made a major impact.

Dr Nicholas de Lange has expanded Jewish studies in the Divinity Faculty; and a Centre for Jewish-Christian Relations, directed by Edward Kessler, Dr Martin Forward and Nicholas de Lange, has been established in association with the Cambridge Theological Federation.

The research projects, publication programmes, lecture series and visiting scholars associated with the Genizah Collection over the past quarter-century have also given a fillip to the whole field of Hebrew and Jewish studies, especially in its medieval aspects.

The proposed personal chair that has resulted is a tribute to all who have laboured to broaden the parameters of that field on the Cambridge campus.


Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

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Links on the Web

Since the transfer of the literary treasures from the Cairo Genizah to Cambridge University Library, many scholars have studied them.

The results of their research are now being included in the information available on the Genizah Research Units World-Wide Web site.

In addition to descriptive and other bibliographic data, the Units site is currently being enriched by the addition of digitized images of the original manuscripts.

For that purpose, Matthew Bernstein has been using the digitized images produced by Les Goodey, of the Librarys photography studio, and expanding the GOLD (Genizah On Line Database) project begun by Dr Douglas de Lacey.

Among his tasks has been the production of a search engine that enables scholars to find fragments by utilizing catalogue information already produced by the Genizah Research Unit.

He has also created a facility enabling scholars to zoom in on any detail of the manuscripts from the catalogues that have already been digitized.

Images alone are valuable, since they assist scholars with their study of the texts; but when combined with descriptive cataloguing and on-line search facilities, their value is further enhanced.

Work is under way with Professor Mark Cohen and his colleagues at Princeton University which will result in transcriptions of the fragments available on the Princeton web site being mounted in a searchable form.

Links will be created to images of fragments on the Cambridge web site, and it will be possible to locate them by combinations of words in the text, or by subject.

The images will be in a form that can be examined in detail, based on the needs of the individual scholar.

Great interest has already been shown in the Units web site, with thousands of visitors from over 75 countries logging on each year.


Research Assistant

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How you can help

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 Research Unit, at Cambridge University Libra ry, 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 F riends.

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 U SA.

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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Thanks to Cairo

[Document of thanks] (201k)

On 15 December, 1898, the official thanks of the University of Cambridge for the gift of the Genizah Collection were conveyed to the Jewish community of Cairo by the University Orator in the Senate House. The original text was in Latin, but a Hebrew version (illustrated here) was prepared and sent to Cairo with the original. An English edition then appeared in the Jewish Chronicle of 30 December, 1898. That English version is reproduced below as part of our celebration of the centenary of the Taylor-Schechter Collections arrival in the University Library.

To the Heads of the Jewish Community in Cairo:

We offer you our thanks, not only on account of the singular goodwill with which you received our Reader in Rabbinic, but also on account of the conspicuous liberality with which you permitted him to return to us laden with so many fragments of books from your Treasury.

In the faithful preservation of books, the saying, "the written word remains", seems to have been as a law to you. On account of this law so long observed by you, your sanctuary, called by the name of the greatest of the scribes, the sanctuary which has been celebrated for more than a thousand years on the shore of the Nile, remains, and will long remain famous.

But your congregation regards with reverence the still older words of the prophet [Isaiah 19:19-20], "In that day shall there be an altar to the Lord in the midst of the land of Egypt, and a pillar of the border thereof to the Lord, and it shall be for a sign and for a witness unto the Lord of Hosts in the land of Egypt."

Therefore for your generosity to us, in the midst of the land of Egypt may your people be blessed for ages. Is it not also written in the Proverbs of the Wise King [Proverbs 11:24]: "There is that scattereth and yet increaseth"?

By the generous gift of your ancient books to our envoy you have not only increased your own ancient renown but have even made a considerable addition to the history of your ancient literature.

Even from our islands so far to the West, some light will doubtless be shed upon your literature, whereof, in memory of its ancient glory, we joyfully confess that day cometh from the East [Psalms 113:2-3]: "Blessed be the name of the Lord from this time forth and for evermore; from the rising of the sun to the going down of the same praised be the name of the Lord."

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Vocalization in poetic texts

I developed great enthusiasm for the Cairo Genizah when I first heard the story of its discovery during my undergraduate studies at University College, London. In the final year of my BA honours degree in Hebrew, I took the opportunity of writing about a Genizah manuscript for my dissertation.

This manuscript a poem of friendship by Abraham Ibn Ezra brought to light curious differences between the various editions of the poem. It illustrated the importance of the Genizah in providing copies of existing works from which more authentic texts might be reconstructed.

The prize awarded for my dissertation was presented to me by the then Israeli Ambassador, Moshe Raviv.

I was keen to continue my studies on some aspect of the Cairo Genizah and was encouraged to apply to Cambridge for my Masters degree. A Harold Hyam Wingate Scholarship enabled me to do this.

For the subject of my thesis, supervised by Dr Geoffrey Khan, I chose to examine poetry manuscripts containing unusual vocalization features.

The scribes' method of pointing the vowels revealed that, although they adhered mostly to the standard Tiberian system, they often inserted the wrong vowel sign.

These patterns of "error", it seems, were due to the overriding dictates of the scribe's own dialect. The manuscripts thus provide a fascinating glimpse into the way Hebrew was pronounced at that time.

I have now received a maintenance grant from Trinity College to pursue further research in this area. I intend to select a corpus of Genizah poetry manuscripts and to analyse aspects of their language and content.

I have been lucky enough to fulfil my ambition of working in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, by assisting the Unit with one of its important projects being carried out by Dr Erica Hunter. The aim is to collect and catalogue all published information on the Collection.

Working for the Unit is providing me with excellent training in bibliographical research. It brings me in close contact with the latest work of other scholars; familiarizes me with the contents and organization of the Genizah; and gives me the opportunity of examining a wide range of extraordinary manuscripts.

This invaluable experience has also been instrumental in helping me to formulate and develop my own ideas.

It is a privilege to work with such stimulating material in the company of enthusiastic and inspiring people. But perhaps the most pleasurable activity of all has been to show special Genizah exhibitions to interested members of the public.

It is immensely satisfying to see the excitement grow on their faces as they, too, catch the highly contagious "Genizah fever"!


Research Assistant

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Edited by Stefan C. Reif

If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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