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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. 9 April 1985

Shelomo Dov Goitein

Mediaeval Islamic and Jewish studies suffered a grave loss on 6 February when Professor Shelomo Dov Goitein - who had come to be regarded as a master, if not the master, in the field - took his final leave of his wife Theresa, his son and daughters and grandchildren, and his many admiring colleagues and loyal students. After sixty-five years of devoted scholarship, Goitein's illuminating and inspiring work had come to its end.

Tributes have already been paid to the professional achievements of the man and formal obituaries by myself have appeared in England in The Times (17 February 1985) and the Jewish Chronicle (25 February 1985).

Attention has been duly paid to his pioneering work on Islamic institutions, Yemenite Jewry, and methods of teaching the Hebrew Bible, and to his professional tenures at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and at the University of Pennsylvania. Honours, such as his long-term affiliation to the Institute of Advanced Studies at Princeton and the award of the MacArthur Foundation Laureate, speak for themselves.

If any one special area of research came to be associated with his name more than any other, it was the study of the Genizah fragments, particularly those in Judaeo-Arabic and of a documentary nature, and it is students of these manuscripts who will most miss the guidance and the example of their mentor.

It is perhaps relevant, then, in the present context, to point to the example that he set to all those who work on these tattered remnants of bygone centuries.

As a scholar, he did not offer insight and enthusiasm as an excuse for abandoning system and accuracy. As a teacher and writer, he never lost sight of the need to bring the results of his research to those with an interest but no specialised knowledge.

As a regular reader in many distinguished libraries, he was always willing to involve himself in the basic sorting of material and never insisted that any primary source be exclusively reserved for his research. As an editor of manuscripts, he constantly took care to adhere to the standard conventions and thus smoothed the path for the many who would follow in the direction he had indicated.

Cambridge University Library is particularly grateful to Professor Goitein for his active involvement in the classification and description of various parts of its Genizah Collection from 1954 until 1975. The Genizah Unit hopes that all those associated with its efforts in the future will aspire to the high standards he achieved in his various activities.

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

As this issue of Genizah Fragments was going to press, the sad news reached us in Cambridge of the death on 3 March of Professor Alexander (Sandor) Scheiber, Director of the Rabbinical Seminary in Budapest, at the age of 71. He made particularly important discoveries in the Genizah collections of Budapest, Cambridge and Leningrad, and recently published a volume of reprinted articles on the subject. His last visit to Cambridge was in 1982.

[Ambassador Avner, Dr Rosen, and Dr Reif]

Ambassador Avner (right) and Dr Rosen (centre) with Dr Reif examining the illegible remnants of a crate of Genizah fragments.

Envoy in Cambridge

The Israeli Ambassador, Mr Yehuda Avner, accompanied by Mr Moshe Raviv, Minister Plenipotentiary, and Dr Eli Rosen, Counsellor for Cultural Affairs, toured the University Library and was shown a special exhibition of its Hebrew and Jewish treasures.

Dr Stefan Reif, as Director of the Genizah Research Unit and Head of the Oriental Department, introduced the party to these treasures, paying particular attention to the exciting finds made in the Taylor-Schechter Collection from the Cairo Genizah.

A luncheon given by the University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, in honour of the guests was attended by Professor Derek Brewer, Master of Emmanuel College and Chairman of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate, Professor John Emerton, Regius Professor of Hebrew, Dr Gordon Johnson, Chairman of the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies, Mr Reg Carr, Deputy Librarian, and Dr Reif.

Words of welcome were expressed by Professor Brewer and, in his reply, the Ambassador conveyed the Embassy's thanks for the warm reception given to himself and his colleagues and said how much he had been moved by this close encounter with texts that lay at the roots of his people.

A group of Embassy officials which had come to the Library earlier in the year had very much enjoyed its visit and the Ambassador hoped to send members of his staff to see the Collection on a regular basis in the future.

Other groups that have recently visited the Library to see some of the outstanding Genizah fragments and to hear lectures about their importance have included the League of Jewish Women, Oakington Parish, London Jewish Medical Society, Jewish Association of Cultural Societies, IBM, Edgware Reform Synagogue and the London Jewish Academy.

In addition, the Director and other members of the Unit have given lectures on aspects of their research and shown slides illustrating their discoveries to interested societies in Golders Green (in London) and in Cambridge, Cardiff, Swansea, Lincoln and Bexhill.

USA Friends' $5,000

The Unit's fund-raising efforts have been greatly assisted in recent months by the transfer of $5,245 to its account by the American Friends of Cambridge University under its new President, Mr Stephen Price.

Prominent in the composition of that sum is an award of $3,000 by the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Education Trust sent by one of its Trustees, Mr Seth E. Frank, following an initial suggestion by Dr Edward M. Bernstein.

Mrs Linda Spiewak, who visited the Unit last year with her husband, Nate and with Sandy and Bob Bovshow, also made a generous gift of $1,000.

The Directors kindly allocated $1,000 from unspecified contributions made to the Friends, and Ms Kathryn L. Johnson sent $100.

Another welcome contribution from the USA was the gift of $300 made by Professor Jacob Neusner, President of the Max Richter Foundation.

At home, the Unit continued to benefit from both the generosity (£1,000) and the advice of Mr Cyril Stein and the kind assistance of Mr Stanley Kalms (£750), Mr Jack Walker (£500) and Mr Sidney Corob (£500).

Helpful renewals of their contributions were made by Mr Stanley Burton, Mr Mark Goldberg and Mr and Mrs Harry Landy (£250); Bank Leumi, Dr Davide Sala (£200) and Mrs Helena Sebba (£150); Mr Henry Knobil, Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau, Sir Sigmund Sternberg, Mr and Mrs Fred Worms and the Isaacs Charitable Trust (£100).

A warm welcome is extended to new supporters, Mr Naim Dangoor (£250), who spent a day at the Unit and was particularly interested in the history of the Iraqi Jewish communities in the period of the Geonim; and Mr Bernard Goldstein (£250), who attended a course of lectures on the Genizah given at the Hampstead Garden Suburb Synagogue.

The Unit's grateful thanks are offered both to these benefactors and to all others who have made smaller or anonymous contributions.

[Dr Ben-Sasson, Professor Shaked, Professor Gil, and Mrs Bareket]

A group of Israeli scholars (left to right: Dr M Ben-Sasson, Professor S. Shaked, Professor M. Gil and Mrs Elinoar Bareket) at work in Cambridge

Space-age technology helps Unit

The Cambridge Evening News of 29 October, 1969, carried a story with the headline "A new use for Moon film." This described how "a newly-developed polyester film, of the type used in radiation monitoring devices worn by the Apollo II astronauts during their moon-walk, is now being used to protect ancient documents in Cambridge University Library." A photograph of Genizah fragments mounted in a binder accompanied the story.

The news item marked the culmination of nearly two year of experiment in which the best methods of conservation and storage of the fragments were gradually worked out. Those who see the Collection today for the first time can scarcely imagine its earlier physical state, before conservation work began.

Selected fragments had been mounted in glass, which was inconvenient to store and handle, and was constantly cracking. The rest were stored in boxes, crumpled and dirty, and at risk of further fragmentation whenever they were examined.

Cleaning and flattening of the fragments under the supervision of Miss Priscilla Berridge, appointed as the Library's first document repairer in November, 1967, had already begun when, in 1968, I was asked to advise on methods of storing them.

Discussion with Dr Henry Knopf, then responsible for the Collection, had established the desirability, as a protection against wear and tear, of having every fragment in a separate cover.

To allow the writing to be easily read, the containers must be transparent, but stiff enough to keep them flat. Lamination had been tried but found not acceptable, and glass, for the reasons given above, was already ruled out.

A particular problem was the magnitude of the operation involving what I described at the time as "the provision of tens of thousands of little envelopes in an assortment of sizes."

In 1965, a new method of document storage, relying on the use of "Melinex" polyester film manufactured by ICI, had been introduced in Holland. This involved placing the document on a sheet of the film and securing it in position by supporting strips.

The sheet was then doubled to form a sleeve, whose sides were left open to allow air to circulate, and the sleeve was attached to a hardboard strip for vertical suspension in a metal cabinet.

To quote a brochure issued by ICI at the time, the new method "supersedes the conventional envelope-and-cardboard-box method of storage and virtually eliminates the risk of damage to documents by careless or improper handling."

A demonstration by staff of the Cumberland County Record Office of the uses of Melinex was given to a meeting of British archivists which I attended in the autumn of 1967.

Subsequent enquiries in various directions as to the chemical make-up of this and other transparent films (my brother-in-law, a plastics chemist, proved helpful here) and their respective degrees of transparency, liability to scratching, static electricity etc., established the suitability of Melinex for our purpose.

Experiments by Miss Berridge with her own sewing machine showed that an effective container could be made by placing each fragment between two sheets of Melinex cut to size, then sewing round the edges of the film. This held the fragment in place without the need for supporting strips, as in the Dutch method.

Vertical storage was not considered necessary, nor indeed practicable, for our own operation. Instead, the problem of storing the individual envelopes was solved by devising the binders with which users are now familiar.

Initially, these brought further problems because of their shape and weight, which made them awkward to handle and caused both staff and readers to dislike them. The difficulty was solved by reducing the dimensions and number of leaves in the binders, and by the acquisition of special trolleys (actually marketed for canteen use!) for moving them about.

Once the procedures had been agreed in principle, the British Museum Research Laboratory was asked for an independent opinion on their suitability before the work finally went ahead. Approval was secured, and the results, culminating in the conservation of all 140,000 fragments by the end of 1981, are there for all to see.

Head of Special Collections and Keeper of Manuscripts, Cambridge University Library

O.B.E and Ph.D.

Congratulations are due to Mr Gordon Williams, recently retired president of the American Friends of Cambridge University, and to Dr Geoffrey Khan, Research Assistant in the Unit.

Mr Williams, who initiated the Friends' support for the Genizah project in 1978 and has been closely associated with it since then, was named Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire in the New Year Honours' List. He is a retired lawyer who worked for the International Monetary Fund before taking up the cause of Cambridge University in the U.S.A.

Dr Khan, who joined the unit two years ago, has been awarded the Ph.D. degree of the University of London. His dissertation was supervised at the School of Oriental and African Studies and is entitled "Extraposition and Pronominal Agreement in Semitic Languages".

Dr Khan's highly specialised knowledge of Hebrew and Arabic grammar and syntax is an important asset for his work on the Cambridge Genizah fragments.

Discoveries are put on display

[Dr Khan, manuscripts, and an open display case]

Dr Geoffrey Khan setting up part of the Genizah exhibition

Letters of mediaeval Jewish traders, autographs of Maimonides (1135-1204), documents from the Islamic Chancery in Fatimid Egypt, Hebrew fragments with supra-linear Babylonian vowel-points and liturgical poems for the Sabbath by the seventh century Palestinian poet Yannai were among items exhibited in the Library's display cases in February and March 1985. The theme of the exhibition was major discoveries, old and new, in the Cairo Genizah.

The business letters were from among those sent to Joseph ibn `Awkal, a prosperous Jewish merchant of the late tenth and early eleventh centuries whose main trade was with towns in North Africa.

In the year that marks the 850th anniversary of the birth of Maimonides, it was particularly appropriate to display autographs from draft copies of some of his most important works in the fields of philosophy, medicine and Jewish law.

Petitions written in Arabic and addressed to the caliph or vizier, though they found their way into the Genizah by accident, are by no means insignificant for scholarship. They carry the endorsements of Chancery officials and demonstrate the procedure followed by the authorities in dealing with such approaches.

Although the system of Hebrew vowels now used gradually became standard in the late Middle Ages, there had been other systems, such as the Babylonian and the Palestinian, at an earlier date. The items exhibited were probably brought by émigrés from Babylon to Egypt about 900 years ago and exemplify the different characteristics of that tradition.

Before the discovery of the Genizah, very little was known about the Hebrew poetry of Palestine in the late Byzantine and early Islamic periods. Now, thousands of compositions by scores of poets are the subject of intense research and one of the major figures to emerge in Yannai. The fragments exhibited were all from a prayer-book containing poems for the Sabbath morning service.

Magic moments
Part Two

The numerous fragments in the Cairo Genizah which relate to magic provide clear evidence of the prominent position which this type of activity enjoyed in Jewish and non-Jewish life. A general description of the material will demonstrate how interesting it is.

Magic material in the Genizah can be divided into two large groups: actual amulets and fragments of books. The former group comprises a fairly large number of texts and magic symbols written on sheets of paper, parchment or cloth, prepared for the use of a specific individual, often for a well-defined purpose, for example protection from disease, obtaining someone's love, gaining power, influence or wealth, etc.

Some of the formulae used belong to traditional Hebrew-Aramaic phraseology, similar to that found in early incantation texts from Palestine and Asia Minor and in incantation bowls from Mesopotamia and Iran. Others employ the new language of magic which developed in Judaism under Islam and which blends older elements with Judaeo-Arabic phrases, and sometimes with phrases of Muslim-Arabic origin.

Another group of amulets from the Genizah consists of Muslim texts written in Arabic characters. Many of these amulets were originally folded tightly and it is possible that they were at one stage placed in containers shaped like phylacteries (tefillin), to be worn on the body or hung in the house.

The large group of magic texts which consist of fragments of books again falls into a number of different classes. There are books concerned with the theoretical background of magic practice that give detailed descriptions of the heavenly hosts and their functions.

The most important and best known of these compositions is the ancient Sefer Ha-Razim, published by the late Mordecai Margaliot, but other compositions of a similar nature (though mostly of a later date) also exist, both in Hebrew and in Judaeo-Arabic.

Another category of magic texts offers recipes for various occasions, with the texts to be written on the appropriate amulets sometimes being used in conjunction with other means.

The language of such books may be Hebrew or Judaeo-Arabic, and in one instance it is Judaeo-Persian. In some cases, one has the impression that one is dealing with a composition of some antiquity and with formulae that go back to the pre-Muslim period; other books are clearly products of Islamic times.

A large and interesting group of magic texts comprises books to be employed in divination; they represent different techniques of prediction, but it is not always easy to tell from the surviving fragments what system or praxis was used in connection with the text.

Some of them are clearly based on the objects seen in a dream, and they thus belong to the vast and old fields of pitheron halomoth, `ibarat al-ru`ya, the interpretation of dreams, which has Greek and Mesopotamian antecedents.

Others are apparently based on a number being established (perhaps by throwing dice or by similar means), the number then being traced in the book of divination and interpreted according to the text which goes with it. Some seem to be based on personal names, while others carry more than one set of numbers or letters.

Among the fragments of texts in Muslim Arabic (in Arabic characters), we again find a certain number of fragments representing the main type of magical compositions in Muslim literature, and their study and identification may enrich our knowledge of the transmission of magic lore in Islam.

The study of these texts amplifies our knowledge of pre-Kabala Jewish mysticism and shows both the continuity of the magic tradition from Talmudic times to the Islamic period, as well as the effects of the encounter with Muslim magic (which in its turn was also profoundly affected by Jewish elements).

It is likely to help us gain a better understanding of popular religion, and in some cases it enriches our knowledge of Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic with the type of vocabulary that is not normally represented in other kinds of writings.

Shaul Shaked
Professor of Iranian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem

High degree of expertise

[Professor Brewers]

Professor Derek Brewer

The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit first came to my notice some six years ago when I was standing in for the Chairman of the University Library Syndicate. I was asked to chair the Steering Committee meeting and, wishing to know more about it, asked the Director, Dr Stefan Reif, if he would take me round the Unit.

My only previous acquaintance with it was that wonderfully antique late nineteenth century postcard, still then sold in the University Library, showing an old man in a dark room, labouring over a table crammed with bits of parchment.

Instead, I found a set of well-lit rooms with young men and women busy treating ancient parchment scraps, placing them carefully in plastic envelopes, thus making it possible to study and catalogue them. There was a very high degree of practical expertise and technological ingenuity.

I was also shown the great progress in sorting, storing and cataloguing the fragments. The whole Unit was impelled by the enthusiasm of the Director and it was impressive to realise that once the University had provided the accommodation, the greater proportion of the considerable sums of money involved had been supplied by gracious benefactors invited by Dr Reif.

Since that time, the Unit has developed under Dr Reif's leadership and has virtually completed the work of conservation it began. There is still, however, much identification and description to do while the expertise acquired in conservation can be used for other collections under suitable circumstances.

The whole enterprise is a model of what can be done by energetic direction and also by the support of interested members of the public outside the University.

In these days of severe financial constraint within universities, it is vital, especially for the more recondite, but not, in the end, less 'relevant' subjects in the Humanities, to receive financial support from both inside and outside the universities.

The sums which the Humanities need are trivial in relation to what the Sciences need, but they are, nevertheless, considerable, and a world-wide effort in fund-raising is often needed to support worthwhile projects.

The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit is an example of support that has been well deserved and generously given and which, I hope, will continue. The materials which it has produced are a unique contribution to Jewish and world mediaeval history, which will keep scholars busy for many years.

A word of thanks should also be said to those many others who have supported the Genizah Research Unit by their work and interest generously given. Altogether, the Unit is a splendid example of co-operation of many kinds from many different people.

Derek Brewer
Master of Emmanuel College and Chairman of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate

'We are well satisfied'

The Annual Report of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate for 1982-83, presented to the General Board of the University and printed in the Reporter, contained the following paragraphs:

"The Library Syndicate approved the creation of a Department of Oriental and other Languages by merging the staff of the Taylor-Schechter Unit with those of the Near and Far Eastern Sections under the direction of Dr S.C. Reif.

"The most important event was the change of direction in the Taylor-Schechter Unit from the conservation of the collection to its scholarly exploitation. Already Dr H.D. Isaacs, who joined the staff in April on the departure of Dr P. Johnstone, has examined some 300 Judaeo-Arabic fragments of medical interest, some reflecting Jewish and Muslim attitudes to Christianity and popular Judaeo-Arabic poetry.

"Dr P.B. Fenton resigned to take up an appointment in the department of Hebrew at Lyons University and was replaced by Mr G. Khan. 351 visitors used or were shown the collection, and the newsletter, Genizah Fragments, has achieved a wide circulation.

"External funds continue to be attracted and an hour-long film on the Unit, made by N.B.C. in America, has already led to important new contacts in the U.S.A. The Steering Committee at its ninth meeting had cause to be well satisfied with the continuing progress made by the Unit."

Last stop

Early in January 1985 three members of the Samaritan community of Holon in Israel, Benjamin and Japhet Tzedaka and their assistant, visited Cambridge University Library. They had travelled to libraries and museums in many parts of the world to gather information about Samaritan manuscripts and Cambridge was the last stop on their tour before their return to Israel.

Dr Geoffrey Khan welcomed them and directed their attention to some of the Samaritan fragments in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, such as T-S 16.317 (a Samaritan targum) and T-S 8.267 (a Samaritan liturgical poem).

New labels

Readers of this newsletter may have noticed that the address labels on the envelopes bringing the current issue look somewhat different from their predecessors.

This is because the entire mailing list has now been computerised, greatly improving the clarity of the text, making it easier to update the information and saving considerable time and expense on the whole mailing process.

Should any of the details on your label require correction, please inform the Director's secretary, Mrs J.A. Jessop, at the Unit's usual address.

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
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