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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. 4 October 1982

Cataloguing the Collection

There is neither "close-season" nor "long vacation" for Genizah research. The summer just ended has seen much activity in both the Unit, where all projects continue to make good progress, and in the Manuscripts Reading Room, where a stream of visitors have consulted the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

There have indeed been times when a casual visitor glancing at the texts being closely examined at the desks in that Reading Room might have been forgiven for assuming, quite wrongly, that the Genizah Collection and the Darwin Papers were the only major collections available in this particular area of the Library.

American and Israeli scholars were, as usual, well represented among the Genizah researchers, but there were also scholarly visitors from France, Germany, Spain and Denmark, reflecting the current enthusiasm for Hebrew and Jewish studies in various academic institutions in Western Europe.

One only hopes that the economic difficulties at present being suffered by British universities will not eventually mean that they will fall behind their European neighbours in the promotion of such studies.

It is pleasing to be able to report that those in this international group of visiting scholars with whom I had the opportunity of chatting about Genizah research were unanimous in welcoming the appearance of this newsletter.

The general impression was that it encouraged scholars to take the Genizah texts into consideration when planning their research, kept the scholarly world informed of developments, and helped to bring some of the results of scholarship to the wider community.

It has not been difficult to persuade some of the visitors to write about their Genizah studies for this newsletter and future issues will include some such contributions.

When launching Genizah Fragments I wondered whether I would have enough material to maintain the momentum required by publication twice a year. Now my problem is what to include in the current issue and what to defer for the next.

There has been one difficulty that has arisen out of giving publicity to the Unit's achievements. So much attention has been paid to the successful completion of the physical conservation of the Collection that the impression has been created in some circles that little remains to be done.

Let me assure all those interested in our work that much urgent and essential work has yet to be completed in describing the fragments and that full use of the Collection as a unique historical source will not be possible until this second phase of our project is successfully seen to its conclusion. I look to all our friends for continued interest and support.

Stefan C. Reif
T-S Genizah Research Unit

Dr and Mrs Reif and other members of the Unit take this opportunity of wishing all its Jewish friends, supporters and correspondents a happy healthy New Year in 5743.

[New Year blessing]

Study Congress

Two members of the Unit participated in the First Congress of the European Association for Jewish Studies held at Hertford College, Oxford, in July.

Dr Paul Fenton, making full use of Genizah material, discussed the newly discovered literary works of David II ben Joshua Maimuni, Nagid, or leader of the Jewish community in fifteenth-century Egypt, and the last of the Maimonidean dynasty to hold this post.

Dr Stefan Reif lectured on the past, present, and future of Jewish liturgical research, a subject much dependent on discoveries made in the Cairo Genizah. He also presented a report to a plenary session on the recent achievements of the Cambridge Genizah Unit.

Donors new and old

The fund-raising efforts of the past six months have again been rewarded by some notable contributions to the cost of the Unit's programme.

The major contributor has on this occasion been the Wellcome Trust (over 5,000) and generous gifts of 1,000 each have been made by Mr Cyril Stein (who kindly guides the campaign with important help from Mr Moshe Davis), Mr Jack Lunzer, Mr John Rubens, Mr Barnett Shine and Sir Michael Sobell.

A warm welcome is offered to those newly associated with our efforts. Mr Gerald Ronson has kindly contributed 500, and donations of 100 have been received from Isaacs Charitable Trust and Mr Joe Dwek. The British branches of Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim have assisted the campaign with grants of 250 each.

Among friends of the Unit who are to be thanked for renewing their contributions are Messrs Michael Phillips and Clifford Barclay (500); Messrs Conrad Abrahams-Curiel, David Lauffer, R. A. Noskwith and Jack Walker, and St John's College Cambridge (200-250); Mr Bernard Garbacz (100); and the Max Richter Foundation of Providence, Rhode Island, USA ($200 through its President Jacob Neusner).

[Image of manuscript]

Detail from `Obadyah Maimuni's "Treatise of the Pool" (T-S Ar.43.208)

Unit's major discovery

The Genizah has proved to be a mine of biographical information about the scholars of mediaeval Egypt, especially of the Maimonides family who were leaders of Egyptian Jewry for over 200 years. Indeed, communal and literary documents have come to light which testify to the sustained intellectual activity of Oriental Jewry's most illustrious family.

Dr Paul Fenton, Research Assistant at the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, at present mainly engaged on the Unit's bibliographical project, recently discovered among the Cambridge Genizah fragments a hitherto unpublished mystical treatise composed in Judaeo-Arabic by Moses Maimonides' grandson, `Obadyah. The work shows the deep influence of the mystical and ascetic movement in Islam known as Sufism and as such is of great interest to the increasingly topical subject of the interdependence of Jewish and Muslim ideologies.

Unlike his rationalist grandfather, `Obadyah consciously uses Sufi concepts and mystical vocabulary in describing the Jew's spiritual journey towards God. The very title of the work "The Treatise of the Pool" refers to the typically Sufi idea that the heart is to be emptied of all but God in order to draw it near to the divine, just as a pool is first cleansed and then filled with clean water.

Dr Fenton's edition and translation of this important work has just been published (Octagon Press, London, 1981). In his introduction the editor traces the influence of Sufism through the Genizah period and its appearance in the later kabbalistic trends that emerged among Eastern Jewry. The text throws much light on the intellectual options exercised by Maimonides' descendants as well as on the manner in which Oriental Judaism absorbed certain ethical elements from the dominant Islamic environment in which it flourished.

[Dr Wiesenberg]

Dr E. J. Wiesenberg examining fragments from the Collection

Vital clue to an unfinished search

It is well known that the largest collection of Genizah fragments was transferred from the famed Ben-Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo on behalf of Cambridge University by its Reader in "Talmudic", Solomon Schechter, aided by Charles Taylor, that notable Christian Hebraist and Schechter's ardent admirer among the Cambridge dons. Hence its name "Taylor-Schechter (Genizah) Collection".

Because of its size and importance its presence at Cambridge has led to that city's designation by Hebrew scholars as the "Capital City of the Genizah".

It is probably less well known that work on Genizah fragments is not commensurable with the dividends it pays. Its success or failure - on a par with the Latin adage et habent sua fata libelli and with its Hebrew counterpart [Hebrew text] - is determined largely by luck.

It may happen that all the time and energy spent on a fragment fail to satisfy the Genizah researcher's ultimate aim of identifying the author of the text and/or the work to which it belongs. It may also happen that through good luck his task is accomplished with relative ease.

A case of the latter kind came my way with the fragment T-S NS 104.6, which kept me busy a short while ago. It consists of four columns on two interconnected leaves, which differ in their state of preservation and thus have unequal amounts of texts. The two columns on both sides of the larger leaf contain twenty-four lines each, eleven of them rather damaged. Those on the smaller leaf contain only twenty lines each, seven of them damaged.

The handwriting on this fragment is so clear that its text was recognized at a glance as Rabbinic Hebrew. On a straightforward, preliminary reading it was seen to concern legal aspects of divorce and levirate marriage dealt with in the third chapter of the talmudic tractate Yevamoth. In its clarity the matter bade fair promise to lead to speedy identification of the fragment.

Yet difficulties soon set in and seemed formidable. The frequent mention of Rashi and other commentators made it clear that the text was post-talmudic and, for various reasons, also precluded the possibility of its belonging to either Maimonides' Code or to the Shulhan 'Arukh of R. Joseph Karo.

I was already bracing myself for the exacting scrutiny of the relevant sections of R. Jacob ben Asher's Tur. I thought with a shudder that I might have to venture on the uncharted seas of some of the lesser-known codes or would, after all my efforts, still be unable to identify the fragment.

One theory was at least clear: the style of its contents indicated that it was part of a code rather than a talmudic commentary.

At this stage my eye caught the reference [Hebrew text] and I knew that with just this clue, the rest of my task was simple. It is known that the Sefer Mesharim on Jewish civil law was compiled in about 1334 by R. Jeroham b. Meshullam, who was born c. 1280 in Provence.

On the banishment of the Jews from there, in 1306, he moved to Spain and settled down in Toledo where, living in utter poverty, he continued to devote himself to the study of the Talmud.

The next step in identification was quite straightforward. T-S NS104.6 deals, as already stated, with aspects of divorce and levirate marriage. This fits R. Jeroham's later work Toledoth Adam ve-Havvah, compiled about 1340, which deals with Jewish ritual law.

The first part details what is incumbent on a Jewish male from the cradle until his marriage, the second deals with obligations in later life, i.e., the laws of betrothal, marriage, divorce, etc.

R. Jeroham's two works were printed together for the first time at Constantinople in 1516, and the later Venice edition of 1553 has recently been reproduced in facsimile in Israel. With these two editions open in front of me, it was fairly simple to find the counterpart of each and every line in all four columns of T-S NS 104.6 and to see how the written word compared with the printed text.

Some of the readings in T-S NS 104.6 are indeed superior to their printed counterparts. I limit myself here to the wording of the crucial reference already mentioned above: [Hebrew text]

This clear and full form is much more likely to be taken by the reader in its true sense of a cross-reference than its printed counterpart. This has the abbreviated and inverted form [Hebrew text] which, if read hastily, might not be recognised at all as an allusion to another work by the author.

It was my good luck that T-S NS 104.6 not only contained this vital clue but that, in addition, it was given in a style clear enough to attract my attention.

E.J. Wiesenberg
Research Associate

[Helen Marmor and crew]

Helen Marmor (left) has produced a film for NBC (New York) about Schechter's discovery of the Genizah and its importance for reconstructing the lives of the Mediterranean communities in the Middle Ages. The Cambridge research was undertaken by Stefan Reif and his colleagues in the Unit, who also presented much of the film. Nick Morris (right) and his camera crew spent five days "shooting" at Cambridge University Library and on location in Cambridge and most of the edited programme will consist of this "footage". The provisional title of the hour-long film is "From Cairo to Cambridge" and it will be broadcast on the network in the USA in the near future

[Davis and Reif]

Malcolm Davis (left) and Stefan Reif discussing a fragment

A Christian's interest in Hebrew Bible

When I arrived in Cambridge University in 1974 to take up my duties as the first Research Assistant in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, I was not sure what the nature of my project would be. All I knew was that I would be expected to identify and catalogue Hebrew manuscripts, and I was somewhat apprehensive about the task which faced me.

Dr Reif, however, soon explained my main project, which was the preparation of a catalogue of all the Hebrew Bible fragments in the Collection. I immediately felt at home, since my studies at Oxford had been concentrated chiefly on the Hebrew Old Testament.

At this point I should, perhaps, explain why I, an Englishman and a committed Christian, am so interested in the Hebrew Bible. The reason is that, in accordance with my acceptance of all Scripture alike as literally true, I believe that the Old Testament is as important as the New, and all that relates to the Jewish people is of great interest to me.

So, although my task has been a massive one - resulting in the four separate volumes required to cover the nearly 25,000 separately classed fragments relevant to it - it has not been at all boring, but enthralling and a labour of love which has enabled me to deepen my acquaintance with what I accept as God's Word to all men in its original language.

My training as a librarian has greatly helped me in the accomplishment of a project which demanded a strictly methodical approach both in the identification of Bible text on fragments of all sizes, shapes and states of preservation and in the detailed presentation of the data relevant to each fragment.

My main task was to provide specialist scholars with material necessary for their more detailed research set out in the clearest possible manner.

The Genizah Bible manuscripts are important for many reasons. First, many of them are pointed with vowel signs which differ from what is today regarded as the standard system, developed by the tenth-century Massorete, Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher of Tiberias. Besides non-standard forms of the Tiberian system, there are other systems, developed in Babylonia and Eretz Yisrael, represented in the Collection.

Secondly, many of the fragments derive from synagogue lectionaries (=orders of readings from Pentateuch and Prophets) and provide material not only for the study of the now standard annual Babylonian reading cycle, with its variants, but also for the further reconstruction of the much rarer Palestinian three-year reading cycle.

Thirdly, although the Bible text represented on the fragments almost always corresponds with the Massoretic Text, there are occasional minor variants in text or spelling which add to our knowledge of the various manuscript traditions of the Middle Ages.

Fourthly, scribal features of the manuscripts are interesting. There are, for instance, Masoretic notes formed into patterns and decorated Psalm numbers.

The many different ways in which the Divine Name is written in the manuscripts could form a study in itself. Very rarely is the Name deleted, since such a deletion would offend against traditional Jewish interpretation of the Third Commandment. Usually, if it is to be omitted, it is ringed by dots.

While various scripts, characteristic of many countries, are represented in the Genizah, one interesting feature is the number of fragments, especially of paper, written in immature hands, with many obvious mistakes. These are probably writing exercises done by children in the Fostat (Old Cairo) community school. Such exercises usually contain parts of the early chapters of either Genesis or Leviticus.

Fifthly, although dates are not often found on the manuscripts, the few which have survived make it clear that there were three different methods according to which time was reckoned: first, from the foundation of the world; second, from the beginning of the Seleucid era in 311 B.C.; third, from the destruction of the Temple in A.D. 68-70. The earliest dated Bible fragment found in the Cambridge Genizah to date was written in A.D. 904-5.

Finally, on many of the Bible fragments there are interesting Arabic, Judaeo-Arabic or Aramaic jottings which form parts of letters or documents with signatures.

The atmosphere of excitement and enthusiasm generated by Dr Reif in the Unit contributed greatly to the happiness of my years there. Also, the work was a good preparation for my present responsibilities in the Brotherton Library.

I am grateful to Dr Reif, to the Leverhulme Trust which funded my post, and to Cambridge University Library for the privilege of being associated with primary research on the most important Genizah collection in the world, and of the opportunity of exercising a valuable ancillary role to scholarship in a field of study relevant to my deepest spiritual convictions.

Malcolm C. Davis
Assistant Librarian (Semitics), Brotherton Library, University of Leeds; formerly Research Assistant in the Unit.

Undreamed-of treasures

Was it the fear that "curiosity killed the cat" which kept me from taking part in exploring the undreamed of treasures of the Genizah? Whatever the reasons, my abstention did not hinder me from sharing the joy and excitement, the lively discussions and often fierce arguments with many of the scholars who discovered and described important fragments.

Not a few of the experts in various fields of Jewish and Arabic/Islamic studies who worked on the Genizah in the 'fifties and early 'sixties either were or became my friends, foremost among them S. D. Goitein and Shalom Spiegel. Later on Shelomo Morag and Norman Golb joined the goodly company of academic friends.

It is no diminution of other scholars' sterling services to research if I say that the palm easily goes to Goitein, whose pioneering work has an important general appeal to all students of the Middle Ages, and its Mediterranean culture.

Goitein related this unique literature to the daily lives of Jews and Muslims, often linked in commercial partnerships, and closely studies all its facets: economic, social, cultural and religious. He is also the one who has trained the most students to follow in his footsteps.

Community of scholarly interests also allowed me interesting glimpses into the personalities of those keen, indefatigable explorers of truth whose impeccable scholarship has greatly added to knowledge not only of Jews and Judaism but of the whole mediaeval world.

Scholarly devotion sometimes revealed a very human side: this became apparent when thousands of fragments, considered less important by Schechter and later stored in the tower of the University Library, were made available for study.

I vividly remember the clouds of dust released when the boxes were opened and pleading with the authorities not to withdraw permission to work on them from one or two enthusiasts. Their inexpert handling of these often minute fragments would have led to the destruction and loss of important material had they not been supervised by Library staff and taught how to handle these brittle, flimsy "bits of paper"!

There were among the searchers quite a few who would not even mark on the folders containing the fragments they were examining what they were about; not a word! Others hurried from fragment to fragment like bees moving from flower to flower collecting pollen.

More often than not we were left in the dark about the results of their excursions. It is not surprising in these circumstances that it was not always clear who could claim to have been the first to discover and to decipher a certain document. Not all scholars like teamwork. For some, priority comes before co-operation.

The treasures of the Genizah suffered many years of leanness before the recent years of plenty and fruitfulness since the arrival of Dr Stefan C. Reif. His enthusiasm, drive and capable leadership of a very competent research unit have resulted in the conservation and sorting of all 140,000 fragments and, moreover, produced a series of useful publications.

Unlike previously, every worker on the Genizah material is now able to dispense with the preliminaries of physical rescue and sorting and can concentrate on the evaluation of the classified material in his own field of interest. The Genizah Research Unit can look back with pride and satisfaction on almost a decade of great achievement.

E. I. J. Rosenthal
Emeritus Reader in Oriental Studies and Emeritus Fellow of Pembroke College

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 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. They are similarly deductible in Canada even if made directly to Cambridge.

Syndicate's tribute

A few months ago the Library Syndicate presented its report for 1978-81 to the General Board of the University. The following is an extract from the report published in the University's official magazine, Cambridge University Reporter, on 7 April 1982:

"The Library is greatly indebted to all its benefactors, individual and institutional. The importance of benefaction in strengthening the Library's research resources cannot be overestimated.

"The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Unit continues to present an outstanding 'success story' and it is difficult to do justice to it in the narrow confines of this report. The Director, Dr Stefan Reif, is now within sight of completing this great conservation programme and the whole of the fragments are now available on microfilm. The bibliographic project is within a few months of completion and is currently being computerised. An extensive research and publication programme surrounds this project and the volumes already published have been well received.

"There is little doubt that this whole undertaking represents one of the most important contributions to scholarship being carried out by any Library at this time. The extent of benefactions, over 112,000 from external sources in the last three years, has been fundamental to this entire undertaking. It pays for most of the staffing and without it the progress over the years would have been a very different story.

"The importance of the considerable personal contribution of the Director cannot be overstated. His fund-raising ability complements in an unusual way the scholarship which he has brought to bear on this exceptionally important and for long neglected collection."

Mailing list

Readers who received this issue of "Genizah Fragments" by post are already included on our mailing list. Others who have seen the publication and would like to have it regularly sent to them are asked to inform Dr Reif at the address given on page 3. The next issue, no. 5, will appear in April, 1983, and will included articles on a Hebrew codex twelve centuries old, the photography of Genizah fragments and a mature student's discovery of the T-S Collection.

[Dr Rosenthal and colleagues]

Dr Rosenthal admiring the volume of essays presented to him by (from left) Professor Emerton, Dr Reif and Dr Gordon Johnson

Essays presented to Erwin Rosenthal

As he himself has mentioned in this issue, Dr Erwin Rosenthal has been associated with Genizah researchers for many years. It is therefore fitting that the Cambridge Genizah Collection and its Research Unit should have figured prominently in the volume of essays presented to him in August by his friends and colleagues and entitled Interpreting the Hebrew Bible.

Professor John Emerton, Honorary Keeper of the Taylor-Schechter (Genizah) Collection, and Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Research Unit, have edited the fifteen contributions and prepared a bibliography of Dr Rosenthal's many books and articles. Professor Emerton's own study is of the translation and interpretation of Isaiah 6:13.

Two of the essays deal directly with Cambridge Genizah fragments. Dr N. R. M. de Lange makes available for the first time two interesting mediaeval manuscripts containing Greek translations and interpretations of the Biblical books Ecclesiastes and Kings, written in Hebrew characters.

In addition to writing the biographical appreciation of Dr Rosenthal that prefaces the essays, Dr Reif has dealt in detail with an anthology of rabbinic comment on part of Genesis that he found in the Taylor-Schechter Collection, dating to about the fourteenth century.

Dr Avihai Shivtiel, who worked part-time in the Unit in 1977-78 and is now at the University of Leeds, is also among the contributors, with a novel suggestion for solving a problem in Psalms 114:1. Dr Paul Fenton assisted in preparing for publication the essay written by the late Professor Georges Vajda on a Karaite commentary on the Ten Commandments, and Mrs Shulamit Reif compiled the twenty pages of indexes.

Library celebration

Some sixty guests, many of them distinguished personalities from the political, commercial, academic and ecclesiastical spheres, attended a reception given by Cambridge University Library at the Ladbroke Westmoreland hotel in London in March.

The celebration was arranged to mark the completion of the project to conserve all the fragments in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, and to thank those who had been involved in various ways in supporting the work.

Dr Derek Brewer, Master of Emmanuel College and Chairman of the Library Syndicate, welcomed the guests and spoke of the importance of the Genizah project. Professor J. A. Emerton, representing the Vice-Chancellor, expressed the University's appreciation of all the assistance received, particularly the generous donations which had helped to finance the successful completion of the work of conservation almost two years ahead of schedule.

Dr Reif gave a brief history of the way in which the Genizah Collection had been physically restored over the years and showed slides to illustrate developments, especially over the past decade.

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 November 2002