[UL Logo]

The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

Genizah Fragments

The Newsletter of Cambridge University's
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
at Cambridge University Library

No. 7 April 1984

Angel Award for T-S film

The NBC television film about the Cairo Genizah Collection, "From Cambridge to Cairo", was a winner of one of the major awards in this year's "Religion in Media" competition in the USA.

At the Seventh Annual Dinner and Telecast at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Los Angeles, NBC News received one of the three "Angel Awards" for the documentary about the Genizah broadcast on the American network on 27 March 1983.

The film was produced for NBC News in association with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America by Helen Marmor and Stanley Losak and filming was done in Cambridge, Cairo and New York. Most of the narration is by Dr Stefan Reif and there are interviews at the Seminary and in the Unit.

"Religion in Media" makes its awards to the media on the basis of excellence in production and religious content.

[Dr Burg, Dr Reif, Dr Ratcliffe]

Dr Burg signs the University Library's Visitors' Book as Dr Reif (on his left) and Dr Ratcliffe look on

Dr Burg in Cambridge

Currently the longest-serving Government Minister in the Western democracies, Dr Yosef Burg, Israel's Minister of the Interior and of Religious Affairs, visited the Library to see its Genizah Collection.

With a doctorate from the University of Berlin, rabbinical ordination from the Hildesheimer Seminary in that city and teaching experience behind him, Dr Burg is well acquainted with the importance of the Taylor-Schechter Collection and was able to discuss it in detail with members of the Unit.

Following a meeting with Dr Reif, Dr Burg was entertained to tea by the University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, and signed the Library's Visitors' Book, the first Israeli Government Minister to do so.

Trust gives 6,000 more

The funding generously made available by the Wellcome Trust for the research on the medical fragments was again a major element of the external support received by the Unit and amounted to over 6,000.

Since it began to fund one of the Unit's posts in 1981 the Wellcome trust has made awards amounting to over 19,000.

Other major contributors to whom the Genizah researchers are deeply indebted are the British Academy (1,750), Mr Cyril Stein (1,000), Mr H. W. Karet (1,000), the American Friends of Cambridge University ($1,000), Mr Stanley Kalms (500), and Dr Davide Sala (500).

Another generous award that is gladly acknowledged is that of the Tyrwhitt Fund managed by the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies at the University of Cambridge. The sum of 1,500 has been received from the Fund towards the cost of publishing the volume on vocalized Talmudic texts in the Cambridge Genizah recently compiled by Professor Shelomo Morag and due to be issued by Cambridge University Press in the Genizah Series of Cambridge University Library.

The Unit is also grateful for the renewals of their annual contributions made by the Alice Marsden Trust (through its executor, Mr Cecil Ellison, in Manchester), Mr and Mrs Conrad Abrahams-Curiel, Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim, Mr Stanley Burton, and Mr Mark Goldberg (250); by Mr Sidney Corob and Mr and Mrs Harry Landy (200); by the Withington Congregation of Spanish and Portuguese Jews (150); and by Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau, Mrs Helena Sebba, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, and Mr and Mrs Fred Worms (100).

Thanks are due to American friends Mr Sherman Lawrence (who arranged a gift of $250 in memory of Bernard J. and Helen Sheftman), Mrs Diane Claerbout ($200), Mr Raphael Levy ($150), and Mrs Miriam Schechter Aronow ($100).

The newly given assistance of the Leo Baeck (London) Women's Lodge (250) and the North Western Reform Synagogue (250) is welcomed, and other smaller or anonymous donations amounting to 350 have also been gratefully received.

An indispensable tool

From questions I am sometimes asked by visitors and correspondents, it is clear that impressions vary about the nature of the work being done in this Unit. Some imagine that we have the great luxury of doing nothing but primary research most of the time, while others think that the bulk of our activities is administrative rather than academic.

In fact, both scholarship and administration play a major role in our work, and their successful integration is one of the Unit's aims. It would not be possible for the Genizah Project to operate at all if we did not engage in that combination of popularisation, public relations and publicity that constitutes the fund-raising art.

On the other hand, a failure to produce and to encourage others to produce important scholarly research would call into question our whole existence and belittle the significance of the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

The achievements and activities of the last few months nicely illustrate the variety of the Unit's commitments. On the more routine side, scholars have asked for both information about particular fragments and photographic material to accompany their books and articles; readers and visitors to the Library have been seen and guided; lectures have been given; and an occasional fragment has required additional conservation.

The study of the Genizah manuscripts by the research team has been particularly rewarding. The presence of Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson and Mr Oded Irsay has added to the liveliness of the Unit and some of their chance discoveries have been reported in this issue and the last. More details of their systematic research will appear in the next issue.

At the same time Dr Haskell Isaacs has found remarkable descriptions of operations on the eyes carried out in the Middle Ages, Dr Ephraim Wiesenberg has identified unknown talmudic pieces, and Mr Geoffrey Khan has begun the process of examining and describing our Islamic documents and texts.

In addition to being involved in various Library and Faculty matters and directing all the Unit's activities, I myself have been especially busy with the Morag volume on our vocalized Talmudica, which has required knowledge of printing techniques, and the Genizah Bibliography, now being handled by Mrs Shulie Reif, which has introduced the Unit to the wonders of computer science.

Contact with publishers interested in a facsimile edition of Genizah items, producers of greeting cards and calendars anxious to use the Library's Hebrew manuscript material, and museums interested in displaying photographs or facsimiles of Taylor-Schechter fragments completes the picture.

Turning one's attention to such a variety of tasks, most of them running concurrently, has its own special challenges and difficulties, but there is nothing like it for making the Genizah Unit an indispensable part of modern Jewish scholarship.

Stefan C. Reif
Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

[Buildings against a backdrop of hills]

The Brandeis-Bardin Institute in its beautiful Californian setting

Cambridge goes to California

More than 950 people from in and around the Los Angeles area gathered at the Brandeis-Bardin Institute in California on Saturday evening, 21 January, to hear Dr Stefan Reif's lecture on what had been billed as "one of modern scholarship's most exciting events" - the discovery of the Genizah and the picture it painted of mediaeval Jewish life.

As part of an intensive programme to bring a better understanding of the ideas and practice of Judaism to the Jewish and non-Jewish world, the Brandeis-Bardin Institute invites distinguished personalities to spend weekends at the Institute as Scholars-in-Residence. They then address those spending the whole weekend at the Institute, as well as a larger audience on Saturday evening.

In the course of his weekend as Scholar-in-Residence, Dr Reif also spoke about the methods, delights and rewards of Hebrew manuscript research and about the mediaeval Jewish Bible commentators. He was, in addition, interviewed about his work and his more general activities and attitudes by the newly appointed Director of the Institute, Dr Ronald Brauner.

The Genizah and related subjects continue to be attractive topics for those organizing courses of lectures, and members of the Unit have given various talks to a number of societies.

Among these lectures, Dr Haskell Isaacs has spoken about "Medicine in the Genizah" to the Cambridge University Society for Near Eastern Studies, about "Jews in Arab Lands" to the Cambridge Jewish Residents' Association, and about the "Jewish Contribution to Arabian Medicine" to the Wembley Sephardi Congregation.

Visiting Research Associate Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson addressed the Cambridge Traditional Jewish Congregation on "Mediaeval North African Jewry in the Genizah Documents ", and Mr Geoffrey Khan, most recently appointed Research Assistant, lectured on the Genizah in general to the Cambridge Antique Society.

A film about the Genizah most of which was made at the Unit, was shown by Dr Reif to the Cambridge traditional Jewish Congregation and to the Cambridge University Medieval Society; and the Director of the Unit also gave a series of talks at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue and lectured to the Leeds University Oriental Society.

[image of manuscript]

T-S K9.2, containing Dunash ibn Labrat's comments on the Hebrew word for Manna

Poetry from Spain's golden age

The Cairo Genizah fragments have truly revolutionized many fields of Jewish studies. Thanks to them we now know much more about the life and literature of mediaeval Oriental Jewry; and the same may be said of Western Jews, and more concretely, of the Jews of Spain in that period.

Relations between Jewish communities on both sides of the Mediterranean Sea were intensive during the Middle Ages, and personal contacts were frequent. It is therefore not surprising to find in Genizah material from Egypt many traces of works written by Spanish Jews which have not been otherwise preserved.

The splendid editions of Jewish-Spanish poetry from the Golden Age (eleventh and twelfth centuries) that have recently been published are based mainly on Genizah fragments. Without such editions it would not have been possible for the Jewish poets of Spain to occupy such an important place in T. Carmi's much acclaimed Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse.

Spanish scholars of our own time are feeling more and more the need to rediscover and identify the Jewish and Spanish elements of this mediaeval culture and to highlight it as an important part of the legacy of the Spanish past. At Granada University, the Department of Hebrew Language and Literature is concentrating its efforts on the mediaeval philology (tenth century) and poetry of the Spanish Jews.

In the last few years I have regularly spent weeks at Cambridge University Library looking for new material about these two fields, especially in the recently conserved and sorted volumes of the New Series and the Additional Series.

Newly discovered fragments of Dunash ibn Labrat's Teshuvoth `al Menahem have been included in my critical edition of the work (Granada, 1980). Fragments of Menahem's Mahbereth will also be included in the new edition of this important Hebrew dictionary of the Middle Ages that I am now preparing for publication.

In the field of Jewish-Spanish poetry, many years of research by competent scholars make it difficult to find and identify totally new poems; but in spite of all their good efforts, we have yet to be acquainted with every Jewish poem from mediaeval Spain, and the possibility of discovering new works is always open.

Even if their identifications are not always unequivocal, I have published in the last few years a new wine-poem of Samuel ibn Nagrela ha-Nagid, two religious poems written by Solomon ibn Gabirol, five poems written by Isaac ibn Ghayya, the Lucena poet; and I have identified some fragments of Abraham ibn Ezra, Joseph ibn Abitur and other Spanish-Jewish poets.

Very important work is still to be done, and many years will pass before the large number of poems preserved among Genizah fragments are identified and studied. The completion of the conservation work at Cambridge University Library and the bibliography and catalogues being prepared by the Research Unit provide important assistance for all of us, and we are grateful to the whole team for its efforts.

A. Senz-Badillos
Professor and Head of Hebrew Department, University of Granada, Spain

Mr Oded Irsay, currently working at the Library on his doctoral dissertation for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, has just discovered in the T-S Collection a missing section of a fourteenth century manuscript that describes places for pilgrimage in Eretz Yisrael. Details will appear in the October issue of this newsletter and future issues will also carry articles by Professors Shaul Shaked, Mark Cohen and Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson

[image of manuscript]

T-S NS 143.46, the poems written by Dunash ibn Labrat and his wife with the ascriptions on line 1 and at the end of line 7

Unit helps to solve the puzzle of Mrs Dunash's poem

Professor Ezra Fleischer, of Jerusalem, has just reported a surprising discovery that he has made while examining some of the Cambridge Genizah Collection. Since 1967 the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities has sponsored a project to identify and describe all the poetic fragments from the Genizah and Professor Fleischer now directs this work.

A few months ago, the team reached fragment T-S NS 143.46 and deciphered its contents as two poems of the Spanish school, one complete in four verses and the other fragmentary. The subject matter was most unusual, the complete text consisting of a farewell poem apparently written by a woman whose husband had left her with a first-born son in arms.

The first poem describes how, at the moment of departure, the lovers exchanged items of jewellery and clothing as symbols of their loyalty to each other. The tone of the verses is elegiac, but with a remarkably delicate and dignified self-control. In the last line, the wife asks: "Would the gift of half the realm prevail on him to stay in Spain?"

At the top of the second poem, as is common in mediaeval poetic manuscripts, there is an Arabic heading (in Hebrew letters) that identifies the second poem as "Her Husband's Reply to Her."

Since he is now far away from her, there are those who accuse him of abandoning her. He hotly denies these accusations, swearing that he remains true to his young wife. Two of the lines read:

Could I betray a bright young wife, one joined to me on High?
Perish the thought a thousand times! Would I not rather die?

In view of the strange content, the manuscript was then closely examined and it emerged that the first, complete poem also had an explanatory, if barely legible, heading.

The receipt of a special photograph of the heading, arranged by Dr Stefan Reif, with some assistance from Professor Moshe Gil, of Tel Aviv University, quickly solved the riddle. To everyone's astonishment, the poem was entitled "A Letter from Dunash's Wife."

What was therefore preserved in this manuscript, according to the scribe's tradition, was an exchange of poems between Dunash ibn Labrat, the first poet of the Spanish School (c. 930-980), and his wife. Mrs Dunash was apparently a Hebrew poetess, the first since the days of the prophetess Deborah!

If we can judge by the one poem of hers that is for the moment available to us, she was a first-class poetess, sensitive, talented, and expressive. She wrote a beautiful Hebrew and fully mastered the Spanish techniques of metre and rhyme that were the hallmark of her husband's novel style.

Following the discovery of Mrs Dunash's poetry in the Cambridge fragment, the project team was able to identify another copy of the same poem in the Mosseri Genizah collection. The significance of this copy had escaped attention because it had at some stage been torn across the middle into two pieces and had come to be separately catalogued (VIII.202 and VIII.387).

Although the text is identical with the Cambridge version, the poem's heading is in this case clearer and fuller: "By the Wife of Dunash ibn Labrat, Addressed to Him."

Since both sources attribute the poem to Mrs Dunash and his name is fully quoted in the Mosseri manuscript, there can by no doubt whatever about the identification of the poetess. Clearly what we have here is a splendid and remarkable example of the work of an early Hebrew poetess who must surely have written other poems that have unfortunately not survived.

As well as being something of a sensation, the discovery has its important scholarly aspects. It indicates to us that Dunash ibn Labrat, born in Fez, Morocco, and educated in Baghdad, married in Spain and had a child there, but had, for some unknown reason, to leave his new country, either permanently or temporarily.

As the poem hints, the departure may have been forced upon him possibly because of some friction with Hasdai ibn Shaprut, the high-ranking Jewish official at the court of the Umayyad Caliph, Abdul-Rahman III, who had previously crossed swords with Dunash's adversary, Menahem ibn Saruq.

Even more significant is the lesson to be learnt from the document about the cultural level of Spanish Jewry during the early emergence of its independent creativity. If young women in Spain wrote Hebrew poetry like this in the middle of the tenth century, our understanding of the beginnings of Hebrew creativity in that country require radical revision.

Be that as it may, it is now necessary to add to the list of personalities that form the exclusively male hierarchy of mediaeval Hebrew poets the name of a woman, a poetess in her own right. At the moment she is the only one as well as the first, but surely it is not too much to hope that the Genizah will one day rescue her from her splendid isolation!

Professor Fleischer's full description of the two poems in T-S NS 143.46 is being published in volume 5 of Jerusalem Studies in Hebrew Literature, due to appear this spring.


The General Board of the Faculties at the University of Cambridge have approved the promotion of Dr S. C. Reif from Under-Librarian to Senior Under-Librarian from 1 October 1984.

Dr Reif came to the Library in 1973 as an Assistant Under-Librarian, became Director of the Genizah Unit in 1974 and was appointed as an Under-Librarian in 1976.

His new post as Senior Under-Librarian, in various respects on a par with a University Readership, will continue to carry with it an obligation to lecture on Hebrew in the Faculty of Oriental Studies.

There has also been some re-arrangement of the University Library's administration in which Dr Reif is involved. A new Department of Oriental and Other Languages in the general division of Special Collections has been created by the merging of the various Near Eastern and Far Eastern sections, and will be directed by Dr Reif.


A visiting party from Jews' College, led by Mrs Flora Frank (front row, centre) and the College Librarian, Mr Ezra Kahn (on Dr Reif's right), who spent an afternoon at the Unit

Visitors to the Unit

Requests to bring groups to the Library to see some of the Genizah Collection and to hear about its significance continue to increase. Limitations of time, space and personnel mean that only a certain number of such visits are possible and that there is now a waiting list of some months.

If the Library had a fully equipped exhibition centre and funds for running it, it could give much greater attention to this aspect of its activities and thereby attract a much wider public to its many treasures.

Among those organizations that have arranged visits for their members in recent months are the M'sorati Association, Leo Baeck (London) Women's Lodge of B'nai B'rith, Jews' College, Kenton Synagogue Ladies' Guild, Alpha Omega Fraternity, Ilford women's Zionist Society, IBM, North Western Reform Synagogue Women's Guild, Cambridge University Jewish Society, and the Jewish Association of Cultural Societies.

New guide

A brief and lively account of the Taylor-Schechter fragments and their importance, with eight accompanying photographs, has just been published by the University Library.

Compiled by Raphael Levy, one of Unit's most helpful American friends, and Stefan Reif, it is entitled A Priceless Collection and is in the form of a folded pamphlet of twelve columns.

Expanding and updating an earlier edition of five years ago, the new pamphlet constitutes a popular guide to the discoveries made over the years and the men who made them. It also includes information on the current activities of the Unit and its plans for the future.

The photographs include the signatures or handwriting of such famous personalities as Moses Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi and Joseph Karo, and some of the more outstanding items of the Collection. Complimentary copies of A Priceless Collection are available from the Unit.

The Genizah and Karaite origins

Concluding the article by Yoram Erder, assistant in the department of Jewish history, Tel Aviv University

For the Karaites of the tenth and eleventh centuries there was a clear-cut distinction between Anan and his disciples, on the one hand, and the Karaites, on the other. Furthermore, they stressed that, although Anan had been the first to defy the Rabbanites, he had himself strayed from the true path.

Daniel al-Qumisi, one of the first Karaites, who settled in Eretz Yisrael in the ninth century, made fun of Anan's followers by referring to their master not as the rosh hamaskilim ("toast of wits") as they knew him, but as the rosh ha-kesilim ("worst of twits").

Here again the Genizah has come to our assistance by preserving for us fragments of Anan's Sefer Ha-Misvoth (Book of Precepts). Early this century, A. E. Harkavy, the Russian Jewish orientalist, published some sections of the work that he discovered in the Imperial Library of St Petersburg, and in 1910 Solomon Schechter included others from the Taylor-Schechter Collection at the Cambridge University Library in his Documents of Jewish Sectaries.

These fragments are of paramount importance and, in my view, ought to be edited and published afresh, in the light of more recent research.

The Cambridge material also includes fragments of the bible commentary of Daniel al-Qumisi. This commentary is peppered with concepts and expressions borrowed from the literature of the Dead Sea sect, copies of which were almost certainly in his hands.

It was Schechter's discovery and publication of "Fragments of a Zadokite Work" in 1910 that led to the theory that the Karaites possessed sectarian manuscripts. Once the remainder of the Dead Sea sect's literary remains were discovered in 1947, it became apparent that what Schechter had found and published were fragments of two tenth- or eleventh-century copies of the "Damascus Covenant", one of the Qumran sect's basic textbooks.

While Anan wrote in Aramaic and Daniel al-Qumisi in Hebrew, the majority of Karaite scholars in the tenth and eleventh centuries composed their works in Judaeo-Arabic, thus following the same practice as their Rabbanite rivals.

This Islamic influence on the Karaites was by no means restricted to the linguistic sphere, but was much more extensive. Karaite works are replete with theological terminology borrowed from Islam.

The emergence of Karaism in general cannot be understood without reference to the fact that it developed in the second century of Islamic rule in the Near East.

Indeed, when the Karaites ultimately founded communities in Byzantium, and even further west, far away from the Islamic environment to which they were accustomed, they had to translate the works of their predecessors. The seventeenth century Karaite Elijah ben Barukh, of Jerusalem, notes that "most of the books of our earliest scholars were written in Arabic and later translated. Since the first translator was not fluent in both languages, most of the contents of the works were neither comprehensible, nor elegant to those who heard them. So they ceased to be in demand by the reading public" (Cambridge University library MS Add. 1473).

Since the texts that we often use nowadays are later versions and translations of Karaite tracts of the Geonic period, we often find different versions of the same work. It thus becomes obvious how important Genizah texts are for research: Karaite works as they were originally written or quotations from them as copied by the contemporary Rabbanites.

These manuscripts permit us to deal with the views of early Karaites without being dependent on later copies and translations.

In conclusion, I should like to thank Dr S. C. Reif for kindly agreeing to be my academic adviser during my stay in England, and for all the assistance he has given me. Thanks are also due to the staff of the Manuscripts Reading Room for their courteous service.

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

If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
Return to the Genizah Fragments index
Return to the Taylor-Schechter Home Page
Return to Cambridge University Library's Home Page

University of Cambridge; last updated June 2003