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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. 5 April 1983

[Image of block print]

Hebrew block-print from the Cambridge Genizah Collection (Or. 1080 J50) believed to date from the late fourteenth century

Hebrew print from 1300s

An exciting discovery recently made in the Unit may well open a new chapter in the history of Hebrew printing. Dr Paul Fenton has dated a Hebrew print in the Genizah Collection (Or.1080 J50) to the late fourteenth century, 100 years earlier than the generally accepted date for the rise of Hebrew printing in Europe.

Although the fragment in question, from the Cairo Genizah, had been acquired by Cambridge University Library at about the same time as the Taylor-Schechter Collection - but on that occasion from a Jewish dealer in antiquities - its possible significance for the history of printing had escaped the attention of specialists.

Dr Fenton believes that it is, in fact, an example of a Hebrew block-print, produced by the process of printing from carved wooden blocks. This technique was imported from China to mediaeval Egypt, where it was employed by the Muslims, mainly for the reproduction of charms and amulets, until the middle of the fourteenth century.

Having earlier found examples of such Arabic block-prints, Dr Fenton surmizes that the Jews of Egypt may also have observed and adopted this method. The nature of the crudely executed Hebrew text - which translates into "Blessed are you in your coming in, and blessed are you in your going out" - offers some support for his theory.

Following lively discussions between Dr Fenton and his colleagues in the Unit, two experts in oriental paper from the University of London were consulted. These specialists, who have at times been called on by the forensic department of Scotland Yard for advice, found no reason to quarrel with the suggested date and provenance.

Professor Shelomo Dov Goitein, doyen of Genizologists, has been honoured by the award of the second MacArthur Foundation Laureate in the USA. This deserved tribute to his outstanding industry and erudition supports his future research on Genizah manuscripts by guaranteeing him a substantial annual income for life.

Americans help unit

Friends across the Atlantic have made the single most generous gift of the academic year to date. The Georges Lurcy Charitable Trust, whose Trustees include Edward M. Bernstein, Seth E. Frank and George L. Bernstein, made two awards totalling $5,500, and the strength of the dollar meant that the Unit benefited in the amount of £3,426.

The funds were channelled to us by the American Friends of Cambridge University and their charming and helpful President, Gordon Williams, who has contributed a short message below. The American Friends also passed on a contribution of $1,000 from their own general funds, as well as other gifts including $225 from Mrs Diane Claerbout and $150 from Mr Raphael Levy.

The Wellcome Trust has continued to support work on the medical fragments (about £3,000), and the British Academy (£1,716) has sponsored Dr Wiesenberg's research on the non-talmudic fragments of rabbinica.

Contributions of £1,000 have again been made by the Harry and Abe Sherman Foundation and by Mr Cyril Stein, who provides important advice for the Unit in its fund-raising campaign.

Those newly assisting our efforts include the Alice Marsden Trust (£500 from its executor, Mr Cecil Ellison, in Manchester); Mr Mark Goldberg, of Glasgow (£250); Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau (£100); and Mrs Helena Sebba (£100).

The unit is also grateful for the renewed contributions made by Messrs Trevor Chinn, Sidney Corob and Stanley Kalms, and by Dr Davide Sala (£500); Messrs Stanley Burton and Conrad Morris, and Bank Hapoalim (£250); Mr and Mrs Harry Landy, and Mr Joe Dwek (£150); Mr and Mrs Henry Knobil, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, and Mr and Mrs Fred Worms (£100).

In addition, £200 was raised by the New Horizons Group in Stanmore who arranged a buffet supper at the home of Mr and Mrs Elkan Levy at which the Director of the Unit spoke about the Genizah.

Other smaller gifts made by visitors and well-wishers contributed a total of £200 to the Unit's funds.

Growing support for Genizah work

Changes in the Unit's full-time research staff have been necessitated by the recent departure of Dr Paul Fenton, who came to us in 1978, and of Dr Penelope Johnstone, who took up her appointment in 1981.

Dr Johnstone completed the first part of the project to describe all the medical fragments before returning to Oxford, while Dr Fenton brought the work on the bibliography of published material from the Cambridge Genizah Collection to within a few months of completion. He has been appointed to a lectureship in Hebrew at the University of Lyon in France.

Dr Johnstone's research associateship, sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, has now been filled by Dr Haskell Isaacs, of Manchester, and the task of finding a successor to Dr Fenton should be successfully completed within a matter of weeks.

In addition to the bibliography, there are two other catalogues virtually ready for the press. The editorial work on Shelomo Morag's monograph describing the Collection's vocalized Talmud manuscripts and on Malcolm Davis' third catalogue of Bible fragments is now being completed and all three items will appear in the Genizah Series.

It is pleasing to be able to report that the Syndics of Cambridge University Press have agreed to take over the publication of this series from the University Library, thus making available the resources and facilities of a great academic publishing house to the Unit's researchers. This is an exciting and important development and should ensure the continued publication of the series.

It should be pointed out, however, that the venture is a joint one and will involve the Unit in contributing to publication costs or finding benefactors willing to do so. The Tyrwhitt Hebrew Fund managed by the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies is already providing such assistance.

The search for funding should in general be made easier by the fact that so many people are now acquainted with the scholarly importance and the everyday needs of the Collection.

There is a regular spate of requests for the Unit to entertain groups of visitors, and booking is now having to be done a few months in advance. Most groups are delighted with what they are shown and with what they hear about the Genizah and feel moved, both collectively and individually, to contribute to the Unit's budget.

The Unit's success in attracting such popular support is perhaps one of its most significant achievements.

Stefan C. Reif
Director, T-S Genizah Research Unit

Epochal journey to the Holy Land

My personal discovery of the Genizah was not the result of erudite detective work, nor did it bring any adventuring (other than in the mind), but I am sure that I must have been nearly as excited with the Collection as Solomon Schechter.

In October, 1981, I embarked on an MA in Library and Information Studies. Part of the course requires extensive bibliographic studies in two chosen subjects, and one of my subjects was Judaism. I discovered that the Hebraica Libraries' Group had recently been formed, with Stefan Reif as its convenor, and wrote to him for information.

A few days later a large envelope arrived from Cambridge University Library in response to my queries. Its contents revealed a little about the Hebraica Libraries' Group and a wealth of material on the Genizah, about which I thought I needed no information. The next day I read everything Dr Reif had sent me on the Genizah - and I became hooked!

It is perhaps a little difficult to explain my interest in the Collection. I could not claim to be a scholar and have only a passing interest in history; I am Jewish, but my Hebrew studies are far from extensive.

Roots, however, go deep and are of great personal interest for someone whose cultural history extends back to the Holy Land 2,000 years ago. This could be part of the fascination. A little of that epochal journey can be minutely traced over a period of several hundred years in the Genizah material.

Equally curious is that the fragments reveal so well what we instinctively know - people do not change. A thousand years ago wives were complaining about husbands, fathers were writing excuse notes to their children's teachers, and, almost unbelievably, synagogal boards of management were dealing with congregants complaining about the allocation of honours.

There is also something entirely gratifying in having proof that sacred texts in use today are no modern invention and have been unchanged over hundreds of years.

The Genizah has yielded up long-forgotten secrets and has answered many riddles. Bearing in mind the current bitter situation in the Middle East, the Collection also provides comforting evidence that for centuries Jews and Arabs were able to live side by side without strife and, indeed, cross-fertilized each other's culture.

My course was time-consuming and allowed no time for diversions. But diverted I have become, and frustrated, too, because not only did the Taylor-Schechter Collection catch my imagination, so that I wanted to know more of it, but I also wanted to tell everybody about my personal discovery.

Fortunately, within weeks, the opportunity presented itself for me when my tutor required me to write on any historical aspect of a library or information service. I seized the opportunity, although I did not think my tutor would be interested in the arcane mysteries of the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

In the event, he clearly was interested and my essay on the Collection appeared good enough for him to reward me with a most generous mark.

Naomi Greenwood
Librarian, South Hampstead High School

T-S Unit spreads its message

The Cambridge Genizah Collection occupied a prominent place in the October issue of a lively and colourful American magazine that keeps the interested layman informed about all manner of antiquities with Near Eastern, Hebrew and Jewish connections.

The Biblical Archaeology Review, edited by Hershel Shanks, and published in Washington, carried two articles by an old friend of the Collection, the freelance writer and communications consultant, Raphael Levy, covering sixteen pages and containing fourteen photographs, five of them in colour.

The longer piece, entitled "First 'Dead Sea Scroll' Found in Egypt Fifty Years Before Qumran Discoveries", described accurately and enthusiastically how Schechter brought the Genizah Collection from Cairo to Cambridge in 1897 and how much he anticipated the findings of later scholarship in his work on the Damascus Document (or Zadokite Fragment), which he found in the Collection. Only after the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 did it become apparent how wise his scholarly intuitions had been.

In a second contribution, Levy reported on more recent activities and successes in the Cambridge Genizah Unit, bringing his readers up to date with the latest developments.

The Features and Arts Editor of the London Jewish Chronicle, Meir Persoff, has also given close attention to the Taylor-Schechter fragments in recent weeks. Three articles in a series called "Genizah Treasures" have appeared on the newspaper's "Judaism" page under the name of Stefan Reif, and a further three are due to be published in forthcoming issues.

Topics covered to date are the definition of a genizah, Schechter's famous trip to Cairo, and the history of the Collection since 1898. Future articles will discuss the importance of the Collection for the study of a variety of Hebrew literature and the history of the Jews in the Middle Ages.

[Image of Dr Isaacs]

Dr Haskell Isaacs

Doctor takes up research post

A Jewish medical practitioner who has for years combined his professional work with an active interest in Hebrew and Arabic medical tracts from the Middle Ages has just been appointed to a Research Associateship in the Unit.

Dr Haskell Isaacs acquired his knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic in his native Iraq and practised medicine there before coming to England in 1945.

While running a busy and successful practice in Manchester for many years, he continued his scholarly interests and published articles on the history of medicine among Jews and Arabs and, with Professor J. D. Latham, an edition of Isaac Judaeus' "Book on Fevers", written in North Africa about 1,000 years ago.

In recognition of his specialization in the field, he was appointed Honorary Lecturer in Arabic Studies at Manchester University and in the History of Arabic Science and Medicine at UMIST.

Dr Isaacs will take up his appointment at Cambridge in the spring and will work on the medical fragments in the Genizah Collection in a project sponsored by the Wellcome Trust, the first part of which has been completed by Dr Penelope Johnstone. Now that he has retired from his medical practice, he and his wife, Ruth, hope to settle in Cambridge.

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.

[Image of papyrus codex]

Liturgical poems on a papyrus codex

Unique codex provides vital clues

The Cairo Genizah fragments classmarked T-S 6H9-21, and housed at Cambridge University Library, are the remains of a papyrus codex which has several claims to uniqueness:

  1. It is the only surviving example of a papyrus text among all the manuscripts of the Cairo Genizah.
  2. It is the only papyrus codex written in Hebrew characters.
  3. Dating as it does from the eighth century, or the ninth at the latest, it is probably one of the earliest of the mediaeval Hebrew books known to us.

The contents of the codex have been identified by Professor Ezra Fleischer as a collection of liturgical poems by Joseph Berebi Nissan of Nave Qiryatayim in the Holy Land, and the date attached to it is based primarily on the material on which it is written.

Papyrus was used in the Arab world until the tenth or eleventh century, when it was replaced by paper. The use of papyrus among the Jews was probably discontinued a little earlier than this, in about the ninth or tenth century. It was certainly then the established practice that all writings of a religious nature were copied on parchment.

It is true, as I have shown in a book soon to be published (Les papyrus en caractères hébraïques trouvés en Egypte, éditions du CNRS, Paris), that among the papyrus Hebrew texts discovered in Egypt are to be found not only letters and documents, but also prayers and liturgical poetry. The latter, however, obviously did not have the sacred character of the Bible and were not subject to the same halakhic rules of copying.

With the exception of two small fragments which could be fragments of codices, all these prayers and liturgical poems have been copied on to separate leaves or folios and do not seem to be fragments of books in either scroll or codex form.

The use of papyrus proves that the codex cannot be later than the ninth century; nor can it be earlier than the eighth century since traces can be detected of the influence of Arabic script and book-making which did not begin to assert themselves until the second century of the Hegira (i.e., the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina in 622, from which the Muslim calendar is counted).

Another interesting feature of our codex is that it is made up of a single gathering, that is to say, its twenty (or twenty-four) bi-folios were all folded into each other and not, as was believed to be the practice from the fifth century on in the Graeco-Roman world and then among the Arabs, composed of gatherings of four or five bi-folios subsequently stitched together in a binding.

The existence of this codex thus demonstrates that the tradition of single gatherings, far from dying out in the fifth century, was maintained until at least the eighth. By pure chance, the only codex of this kind that has actually been preserved is in Hebrew.

Finally, for the study of the Genizah itself, this codex provides us with important evidence. Although the Genizah has preserved for us a number of tenth-century manuscripts, none is written on papyrus.

Obviously, personal and commercial documents were no longer of any use after a relatively short lapse of time; 100 years at the most. Books, on the other hand, were used for several centuries.

The very fact that an eighth- or ninth-century codex is found in the Genizah proves that there must certainly be other codices or parchment scrolls which probably date from the same period or even earlier. The problem is only that we are unable to recognize them since palaeographical criteria are not yet well enough established to serve as a basis for dating.

Colette Sirat
Directeur d'études à l'Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Sorbonne, Paris

Saadya's prolific output

The Gaon Saadya, spiritual leader of Babylonian Jewry (882-942), was already known in the Middle Ages as a philosopher, Bible commentator and legal authority.

Then in the nineteenth century it gradually emerged that he had also been a distinguished linguist and had written a substantial number of liturgical poems. Steinschneider's discovery of the Gaon's version of the Jewish prayer-book at the Bodleian Library in Oxford brought his poetic achievements to the fore but scholars still hesitated to draw conclusions.

It was only with the appearance of the Genizah material that the position slowly became clearer and less controversial. The early efforts of such scholars as Adolf Neubauer, Solomon Schechter and Arthur Marmorstein, who lived in England and researched its Genizah collections, established that Saadya had been a most prolific poet.

What is more, he had been the first writer, in the long history of Hebrew literature, to use the poetic form in the composition of polemical essays. It was this style that he used when he attacked the views of Hiwi Al-Balkhi, freethinker and radical bible critic of the previous generation, and when he wrote against the Jewish opponents of Talmudic Judaism, the Karaites.

Professor Ezra Fleischer has indeed demonstrated only recently that it was Hiwi who pioneered the use of this style in polemical essays. The evidence is once again to be found in the Cambridge Genizah Collection.

Menahem Zulay completed the picture of Saadya as one of Jewish literature's most important personalities who occupied an intermediate position between the classical piyyut of the orient and the new Hebrew poetry that took shape in tenth-century Spain under the influence of Arabic models.

By a close study of various Saadyanic poems preserved in the Genizah manuscripts, Zulay was also able to define the Gaon's basic methodology with regard to both structure and language.

I myself prepared a critical edition of some of Saadya's liturgical poems, and a general introduction to his poetry as a doctoral dissertation supervised by Professor Ezra Fleischer.

Continuing with this line of research, I spent last summer at Cambridge University Library searching for additional poems by Saadya. My quest was successful and among the various compositions I discovered was a long piece on the misvoth (precepts) which will soon be published.

What made it possible for me to identify this piece as the work of Saadya was the fact that substantial quotations were included in the extant commentary on it by the Gaon Samuel b. Hofni in the second half of the tenth century. Parts of this commentary were published by Neubauer in the Jewish Quarterly Review in 1902 and by Schechter in Saadyana in 1903 and there the poem is specifically ascribed to Saadya.

Even more exciting was the discovery that this piece on the misvoth is only one part of a whole composition devoted to Shavu`oth (Pentecost)) and that we are now in a position to reconstruct all of it.

I should like to express my gratitude to the authorities of Cambridge University Library, to the staff of its Manuscripts Reading Room and, in particular, to the Director of the Genizah Research Unit, Dr Stefan Reif, and his team for all the kind assistance provided during my stay.

Yosef Tobi
Lecturer in Mediaeval Hebrew Literature at the University of Haifa, and in the History of Jews in Muslim Lands at the Hebrew University.

Secrets await discovery

Ever since I was first shown the thousands of Genizah fragments, then still unrestored, in Cambridge University Library, I have been fascinated by the Taylor-Schechter Collection. The technical and scientific problems involved in preservation and restoration alone then seemed to me insurmountable.

But they have now been surmounted, and the Collection is finally available in its entirety for scholarly study. The American Friends of Cambridge University are proud to have had a small part in making this possible.

But the aspect of the Collection that is even more fascinating to me is the history that is locked in these fragments, awaiting discovery. I am not a scholar in this field, yet I cannot help but let my imagination roam over what may be there - new Bible texts, children's worksheets and school texts, receipts(!) from the pirates and kidnappers that operated, even then, in the Middle East and the Mediterranean, music, poetry and similar outpourings of the human spirit. They are all there, in this amazing Collection, waiting to be brought to us.

I do hope that we, in the United States and Canada, can continue to hep in the work that is being done to preserve this body of knowledge and culture for succeeding generations.

Gordon Williams
President, American Friends of Cambridge University

[Image of Gardosh, Biran, and Reif]

Mr K. Gardosh, Mr Y. Biran and Dr S. C. Reif examining a Genizah fragment

Many guests from home and abroad

A party of eleven visitors from the Israeli Embassy in London, organized by the Counsellor for Cultural Affairs, Mr K. Gardosh, and led by the Acting Ambassador, Mr Y Biran, spent a morning with the Director of the Unit, Dr Stefan Reif.

An exhibition of Genizah and other Hebrew manuscripts was mounted in the Munby Room, and Dr Reif lectured on the Taylor-Schechter Collection and its particular significance for the history of Jewish settlement in the Holy Land.

The guests' special responsibilities at the Embassy range from public relations and politics, on the one hand, to agriculture on the other, but all showed a keen interest in the scholarly importance of the Hebrew manuscript material being discussed.

In the absence of the Librarian, the group was welcomed by the Deputy Librarian, Mr R. P. Carr, and another distinguished name was duly entered in the Library's Visitors' Book, the first one to appear there in Hebrew.

In his entry, Mr Biran wrote of how much the visit had moved him and how greatly he appreciated the work being done at the Library on a collection that was so important to the history of the Jewish people.

Souvenir portfolios of facsimiles and publications about the Collection were presented to the visitors.

A somewhat briefer, but no less security-conscious, visit was paid by the U.S. Ambassador, Mr J.J. Louis. After a "whistle-stop" tour of the whole Library, Mr Louis, accompanied by his Cultural Attaché, Mr Christopher Snow, the University's Vice-Chancellor and the Master of Churchill College, spent five minutes glancing at some of the Genizah treasures and was presented with a mounted facsimile of a letter bearing the signature of Moses Maimonides.

Visits by interested organizations have continued to be a regular feature of the Unit's activities and in the past few months the Director has welcomed parties from the Hasmonean, Menorah and Carmel College schools, the Theological College of the Dutch Reformed Church, the British Friends of the Diaspora Museum and Southgate B'nai B'rith as well as a group of Israeli war widows.

Individual visitors included the editor of the Jewish Chronicle, Mr Geoffrey Paul; Rabbi Aaron Bina, of the Yeshivat Hakotel; and some descendants of the Schechter family, including Mrs Miriam Aronow, Solomon's brother's granddaughter, and Mrs Nancy Hertzberg, another granddaughter of the same brother, with her husband, Ira.

Photographing the fragments for future research

For many scholars and sometimes for representatives of the media, their main contact with the Taylor-Schechter Collection is through the Photographic Service, which produces copies of the fragments for their use. They may therefore be interested to know a little more about our work.

My department is self-financing and is not, to any significant extent, subsidized by the University. Consequently, reasonable charges are made for all work which the department produces, to enable us to pay for staff, materials and equipment.

It must be emphasized, however, that the service does not make a profit, but just enough surplus to pay for the normal running costs of a fairly sizable unit, and to ensure that our equipment remains up to date with the ever-changing photographic technology and that our clients are provided with the most suitable photography for their requirements.

The department handles various types of photography during the course of a year, by no means all of them related to reproduction from books or manuscripts, but all intended to be of the highest quality and at the lowest price we can achieve.

The largest single project undertaken during the existence of the department must, I am sure, have been the photographic work connected with the Taylor-Schechter Collection. We have so far microfilmed all of the 140,000 fragments conserved and now retain a master copy of all the films for future duplication to satisfy research requests.

In former years many thousands of copies of fragments had been supplied to our clients as photostats. This system was discontinued some three years ago after consultations between the University Librarian, Dr Reif and myself, on the grounds that no retrievable negative was available and that many fragile pieces were consequently being photographed time and again, thus risking further damage to already mutilated fragments.

Our current system of photographing all fragments on to silver halide negative, and supplying bromide prints, means that all negatives are now retained for future use, resulting in less risk to fragments, giving a higher quality product and providing an archival quality negative, which may well survive as long as the original fragments themselves.

Many photographs are made by using the more specialist techniques of ultra-violet and infra-red photography. In some cases these techniques prove invaluable for uncovering obscure words; in others results are not so illuminating.

Consequently, it is strongly suggested that the staff photographers be consulted before the expense of this type of photography is undertaken, since in many cases normal filtration may prove the better choice.

In all cases, those ordering photographs should complete all the necessary forms and ensure that they adhere to the stated conditions under which photographs are made available. The Library's policy is to be liberal about providing such copies, but it does expect clients to be responsible about using them only for the purposes for which they are provided.

G. D. Bye
Head of Photography Department

Edited by Stefan C. Reif and printed by the University Printing Services of Cambridge University Press

Edited by Stefan C. Reif
If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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