The Newsletter of Cambridge
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
at Cambridge University Library
No. 28 October 1994
Understanding of the history of medicine has just been enriched by the publication of the first comprehensive description of Genizah items relating to that field.
Medical and Para-Medical Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collections is the result of ten years' intensive research by Dr Haskell lsaacs, lately assisted by Dr Colin Baker, with funding from the Wellcome Trust. It is the latest volume (No.11) in the Genizah Series published by Cambridge University Press for Cambridge University Library (ISBN 0 521 47050 i).
Among the fragments described are Arabic and Hebrew translations of Galen and Hippocrates and of commentaries on them; the medical writings of Avicenna, Rhazes, al-Majusi and Maimonides, some in the original Arabic, with others in Hebrew translation; treatises on the eye, fevers, sexual medicine and poisons; pharmacopoeias; and previously unknown works.
There are also details of correspondence between patients and physicians, medical certificates, and other fragments describing medical activities in mediaeval Islamic and Jewish society. Such information is of major importance for tracing the development of Renaissance Science.
Back to the Index
Two of the University Library's most famous Hebrew manuscripts were filmed during the summer for a programme recently shown in BBC Television's Everyman series and entitled "Secrets of the Sea".
The aim of the documentary, made by Roger Bolton Productions, was to provide a clear account of why the Dead Sea Scrolls are of such historical and religious importance.
It attempted to bridge the gap in the public's knowledge between the present state of scholarship and the misleading reports that have circulated in the world's press.
The two manuscripts of the Damascus Document (or Zadokite Fragment) from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection (T-S lOK6 and 16.311), discovered fifty years before the other literature of the Dead Sea Sect, are central to any discussion of the religious ideas and biblical literature to be found in the Scrolls. As such, they were the subject of an interview conducted with Dr Stefan Reif.
In the interview, possible explanations were offered of how the Damascus Document came to be circulating in early mediaeval Cairo, and it was suggested that non-talmudic forms of Judaism may have continued for a number of centuries and coalesced into mediaeval Karaism.
The programme was produced by Michael Waterhouse, assisted by Tessa Coombs, and was screened on BBCl on 25 September.
Cameraman Jim Howlett filming Michael Waterhouse's Everyman interview with Dr Stefan Reif
(Size of full image = 230KB)
Back to the Index
Having joined the Library staff as a "boy" (today called an assistant) in 1928, at the age of sixteen, I became acquainted with the documents from the Genizah in about 1930, when I was transferred to Room Theta.
My principal duties were to fetch "special order" books and manuscripts from the closed parts of the Library for readers in Theta, which was the precursor of the present West Room in the Library's former location, to the west of the Senate House and the Old Schools.
Room Theta led off from Room Lambda, where the reference books were housed. This was approached from Cockerell's Building, now the Squire Law Library.
The Taylor-Schechter Collection - which had no specific Library staff to oversee it - was kept in the Cairo Room, underneath Room Theta and more or less adjacent to the gateway in Trinity Lane, which leads to the University offices in the Old Schools.
Apart from the few bound volumes and the documents encased in glass, most of the fragments, which represented less than a quarter of what is now available, were loosely contained in large green boxes, many in a rather dilapidated condition.
The boxes were brought up to Room Theta to be ransacked by Hebrew scholars who, then as now, descended on Cambridge during the Long Vacation. I recall that Yefim Schirmann, of Berlin and then Jerusalem, and Solomon Skoss, of Dropsie College, Philadelphia, were frequent visitors. Professor Jacob Mann, with his research on the Collection, was a tradition even then.
Away from the Library for some six years, as an undergraduate and Browne Memorial Student, I was appointed in 1938 Under-Librarian in the Oriental Section and eventually succeeded E. J. Thomas in that area.
By then, the Library had moved across the river to its present location; the Taylor-Schechter Collection was housed on a floor under the Anderson Room. Don Crane and I began to note references to the Genizah documents in published works and to attempt to identify some of the printed items.
Among the curiosities I remember, from those and subsequent days, were a photograph of Professor Mann in a home-made gas mask - to prevent the foul odours caused by the long interment of the documents from reaching his nostrils; Schechter's letter to Mrs Lewis announcing, with great excitement, his discovery of the Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus and proposing to visit her at 11 that evening to explain it to her; and a papyrus of several sheets folded over and stitched down the middle. This was taken apart and put between glass, for its better preservation, at the request of Dr J. L. Teicher, Lecturer in Rabbinics.
In the 1950s, Professor Shelomo Dov Goitein learned of the existence of many thousands of other fragments (now known as the New Series), which had been set aside by the original sorters of the material as thought to be of lesser importance and interest.
Goitein managed to persuade the University Librarian, A. F. Scholfield, that these should be brought to light; but before being made generally available to readers, they had to be decontaminated.
To achieve this, the fragments were placed for a time on the rafters underneath the roof of the North Front until all foul odour was dissipated.
When I left Cambridge for the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, most of the fragments had yet to be conserved.
At that time, there were few lists of their contents, and no staff had yet been appointed to deal specifically with the Collection.
Emeritus Professor of Bibliography,
University of London
Solomon Schechter (left) studying a Genizah fragment in 1898 ...
and Jim Pearson studying a photograph of Schechter, at the same door in the Old School building, 96 years later
(Size of each full image = 120KB)
Back to the Index
In April, 1993, I visited St. Petersburg to study manuscripts from the Firkovitch collections in the National Library of Russia (formerly the Saltykov Shchedrin State Public Library). I was received as a guest of the Russian Academy of Sciences in the framework of an academic exchange between the British and Russian Academies.
The staff at the Russian National Library were most helpful and the atmosphere was always friendly. During my visit, I examined a wide variety of manuscripts, including Hebrew Bibles, grammatical works and Arabic documents.
The portion of the second Firkovitch collection containing Arabic documentary material in Arabic script has attracted virtually no interest from scholars. As I expected, the contents include many documents of great importance for the history of the Jews in mediaeval Egypt.
They also cast light on the origin of the second Firkovitch collection. A number of scholars now believe that the bulk of the Firkovitch collections is likely to have come from a Karaite source rather than from the Rabbanite Ben-Ezra Synagogue (see Genizah Fragments, No. 24). This theory is supported by a study of the Arabic documents in Arabic script.
Most of the documents I was able to examine were legal deeds written by Muslim notaries recording the sale of property in Cairo (al-Qahira). In virtually every case, at least one of the parties involved was a Kataite Jew. A few documents were written in the Fatimid period, though most were datable to the period of the Ayyubids, Mamluks or Ottomans.
In these respects, the documents differ from other Arabic legal documents preserved in various collections of Cairo Genizah manuscripts. The majority of Genizah documents of sale written by Muslim notaries concern property in Fustat; the parties involved are usually Rabbanite Jews.
Most are datable to the Fatimid period, with only a small proportion from later periods (see G. Khan, Arabic Legal and administrative Documents in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, Cambridge University Press, 1993).
These discrepancies also support the theory that the Firkovitch collections came predominantly from a Karaite synagogue.
The Arabic legal documents differ from the Genizah documents in their state of preservation; most of the latter are fragmentary and do not contain the full original text. In contrast, virtually every Arabic document I saw in the Russian collection was complete.
Since Arabic legal documents were written with fixed formularies, the documents from Russia sometimes help us to restore gaps in the texts of the Genizah documents.
Lecturer in Hebrew and Aramaic, Faculty of Oriental Studies
Back to the Index
Today, as at various times over recent years, heated discussion has surfaced about the future of one of the world's great research resources - the British Library in London.
The relocation of the various collections, and the alteration in use of the Reading Room in the British Museum, have occupied some critics, while the spiralling costs of the St. Pancras site and the quality, size and planning of its new building, are the concern of others.
We in Cambridge University Library are fortunate in having successfully completed the construction and occupation of an extension - the Rotherham Building, recently opened by Lord Runcie with only the most minor controversy when it was first mooted.
Its existence has brought some welcome relief to the urgent problem of space for the increasing number of books and readers that need to be accommodated to ensure the continuation of important international, as well as national, scholarship.
Another extension is already a pressing need and is under careful consideration.
If erecting new buildings is an essential concomitant of institutional expansion, so is the adoption of advanced technological methods an inevitable process for those who wish to increase efficiency and self-reliance and to keep costs under control.
It is therefore a pity that the M.P. for Manchester Gorton, Gerald Kaufman, in a recent article in The Times focusing on the British Library's current plight, should have chosen to decry the automated methods now being employed in such research libraries.
Whatever the problems of funding, resources and priorities, outstanding research libraries are likely to be in wider and more intensive use in the coming years of broadening educational expectations. There is therefore no escape from the increasing employment of technical means to cope with the growing demand.
This does not mean, as I indicated in a brief response to Kaufman published in The Times, that the aesthetic souls of such distinguished institutions have to be turned into the callous machinery of utilitarian storehouses.
As long as staff are appointed who love and produce scholarship, greatly value service, and widely disseminate information, the use of automated processes and streamlined systems can only be of inestimable help to them in meeting their professional and academic commitments.
In the course of its efforts over a period of more than twenty years to conserve, describe, publish and publicize the Library's Genizah material, the T-S Genizah Research Unit has considered various such technological aids, and has adopted a number of them.
Currently under consideration is the idea of copying the contents of all the fragments on to a CD-Rom by the newest photo-CD methods. Such a project could potentially provide scholars all over the world with the opportunity of accessing any Cambridge Genizah folio by way of local computers.
The initial cost would be considerable, but a consortium of libraries, possibly assisted by some interested foundations, could mount a joint project.
For fourteen years, all the efforts of the Unit to combine the best of scholarship with the most updated methods have received the active encouragement of the University Librarian, Dr Frederick Rateliffe.
As he now retires from his office, it is an appropriate time to place on record the Unit's deep gratitude to him for wise and generous advice, enthusiastic support and scholarly empathy.
The Unit hopes to work equally closely and affably with his successor, Peter Fox, and, with his encouragement, to continue its various undertakings energetically and successfully.
STEFAN C. REIF
Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
Back to the Index
Among the thousands of Genizah fragments at Cambridge University Library are several hundred dated and datable documents, some still unknown to researchers.
Unlike dated documents, in which the year of writing, and sometimes the month and day, are specified, datable manuscripts have their chronology fixed according to the names of known persons or other historical evidence found in their texts.
Both dated and datable documents provide essential data about the time and place of their composition, through the identification of stereotypical characteristics relating to such matters as script or writing materials.
The establishment of these features may then prove helpful to researchers attempting to classify undated Genizah documents - as well as other manuscripts - of the same period.
With the aim of establishing a research tool based on these palaeographical principles, I started a project two years ago under the auspices of the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem and the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library.
The project is also supported by the Hebrew Palaeography Project of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, in collaboration with the Jewish National and University Library, and by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture.
Progress has been highly accelerated by a recent visit to the Genizah Research Unit in Cambridge. This enabled me to study the script and material of the original documents, a process that is indispensable to palaeo- graphical research.
In addition to the morphological changes which were observed during the study of the script, I found interesting data relating to the material on which such documents are written. Elements such as the texture of the paper and the system of folding a letter before its dispatch are among the physical characteristics that differentiate various writing traditions, thus helping to date and localize a document.
With the help of the staff in the Library's Manuscripts Reading Room, I was able to examine hundreds of documents and to locate many items of direct relevance to my research.
The aim of the project is to catalogue all the known dated and datable Genizah documents in Cambridge. It is hoped that, with the co-operation of the Ben-Zvi Institute, the catalogue will be published in the Genizah Series edited by Dr Stefan Reif and published by Cambridge University Press for Cambridge University Library.
Each entry will include a brief description of the document, including the writer's name (if known), physical characteristics, content and language. A key to the catalogue will be a palaeographical map, divided into types and sub-types of scripts, drawn on the basis of the morphological changes in the Hebrew letters.
Photographs representing each of the script types will be included. Using the map and the photographs, scholars will be able to find parallel forms of letters in undated documents and thereby to date other material of interest to them.
Hebrew Palaeography Project,
Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem
T-S 8Ja2.1, a document clearly dated Thursday, 21 Adar Sheni, 4794 AM =14 March 1034 CE (four to five lines from foot) and witnessed by Sahlan ben Abraham, President of the Court in Cairo. There had been a family controversy, conducted between Qayrawan, Alexandria and Cairo, concerning the legacy of a Jew who had died in Sicily. A settlement had now been reached by the widow, children and brother and is here notarized by the court.
(Size of full image = 220KB)
Back to the Index
Two of the major projects currently occupying the attention of the Genizah Research Unit received important funding during this spring and summer.
The British Academy made its final grant of £8,506 towards the cost of describing the Judaeo-Arabic and Arabic fragments in the Old Series of the Library's Taylor-Schechter Collection, and the Harold Hyam Wingate Foundation awarded Dr Colin Baker a scholarship of £10,000 over two years, to enable him to prepare the descriptions for publication.
A group of booksellers, publishers and bibliophiles helped the University Library and the Faculty of Oriental Studies to find the £5,000 needed to ensure the preparation of camera-ready copy of the catalogue of over 1,000 Hebrew codices, now being completed.
Substantial awards were also made to the University of Cambridge for its Genizah research accounts by the Jewish Memorial Council (£3,500), by an anonymous trust in London (£3,000), and by the Aryeh and Raquel Rubin Fund in New York, through the American Friends of Cambridge University. The total sum transferred by the Friends was almost $5,000.
The Sobell Fund again gave a generous grant of £1,250; and a new supporter, a Jewish foundation in the south of England that prefers to remain anonymous, kindly sent a cheque for £1,000.
Other major supporters, whose assistance is much appreciated, included Mr and Mrs David Lauffer (£600), Mr Joe Dwek (£500), Mr Felix Posen (£500), Mr Cyril Stein (£500), Mrs Audrey Burton (£400), and Mr A. S. Oppenheimer (£389).
The Unit is most grateful to Mrs Chinita Abrahams-Curiel (£250), to Sir Sigmund Sternberg (£250), and to another anonymous friend (£250) for renewing their assistance.
Among others whose support is greatly welcomed are Mr Harold Joels (£150), Mr Cesare D. S. Sacerdoti (£150), Mr Stephen Rubin (£125), Mr Geoffrey Ognall (£125), Mr Stephen Barclay (£ioo), Mr Maurice Khalastchi (£100), Dr and Mrs P. Lipton (£100), Mr David Pinto (£100), and Mrs Miriam Shenkin (£100).
Other smaller donations have been received and constitute an important part of the Unit's income.
Contributors are reminded that all gifts should be made payable to the University of Cambridge and sent to the Director of the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library.
Back to the Index
Since the publication of Amulets and Magic Bowls: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1985), many additional magical texts have come to the attention of the authors, Joseph Naveh and Shaul Shaked.
These have now been assembled in their new book, Magic Spells and Formulae: Aramaic Incantations of Late Antiquity (Jerusalem, 1993), which contains an impressive collection of 17 Palestinian metal amulets, 14 Babylonian incantations on earthenware bowls, and 21 magical texts from the Cairo Genizah.
Among the 52 new texts, all of which have been meticulously transcribed, translated, annotated and photographed, the Palestinian amulets incised on gold, silver or bronze plates are considered of special importance and are reproduced in facsimile drawings.
In their introduction, Naveh and Shaked deal with the history and development of Jewish magic tradition in Palestine and Babylonia and discuss its relationship with Hekhalot literature, liturgy and medicine. Thcy refute the belief among nineteenth century scholars that magical practice was less prominent in Palestine than in Babylonia, and stress that the Palestinian Jews resorted to incantations no less frequently than their Babylonian brethren.
Although Palestine and Mesopotamia had two separate and distinctive magic traditions, when formulae from the two geographical areas converge it may invariably be established that the origin of the theme is Palestinian rather than Babylonian.
This study constitutes an important contribution to our understanding of Palestinian and Babylonian magic and its use of the Aramaic language. It also provides deep insights into the rich religious life and everyday practices of ordinary folk in the talmudic period.
Some of the texts from the Cairo Genizah appearing in this volume are to be found in T-S K1, which forms the subject of a separate study by Lawrence Schiffman and Michael Swartz, Hebrew and Aramaic Incantation Texts from the Cairo Genizah: Selected Texts from the Taylor-Schechter Box K1 (Sheffield, 1992), reviewed in Genizah Fragments, No. 26 (October, 1993).
While the Schiffman and Swartz volume is a monograph, with a selection of 14 incantation texts (mostly amulets) from box K1, the 21 amulets and fragments of magic books from the Cairo Genizah in the Naveh-Shaked volume are selected not only from box K1, but from boxes in the T-S Old Series (e.g., Arabic, Miscellaneous and Oriental) and from the T-S New Series.
Of the 12 texts from box Kl published by Naveh and Shaked, only two (T-S Kl.18+.3O & .42) have been published separately by Schiffman and Swartz.
In their wide-ranging selection of Genizah texts, Naveh and Shaked were guided primarily by the desire to find texts similar to those of the Palestinian metal amulets included in their volume. They point to the importance of the Genizah material in providing parallels that make it possible to reconstruct the texts of the amulets, thus simplifying their decipherment.
They also emphasize that, although the Genizah texts were written in the Middle Ages (mostly between the tenth and fourteenth centuries) and were somewhat influenced by Judaeo-Arabic and Babylonian literatures, they clearly reflect the tradition of Palestinian Jewish magical texts of Late Antiquity, both in their language (Palestinian Jewish Aramaic) and in their formulae.
In this way, they highlight the significance of the Genizah material not only for the decipherment of such Palestinian material, but also for the understanding of the subsequent development and history of this ancient tradition.
Peter Schafer and Shaul Shaked are hoping to publish an exhaustive collection of magical texts from the Cairo Genizah in the series, Texte und Studien zum Antiken Judentum (published by J.C.B. Mohr, Tubingen).
Research Assistant, T-S Genizah Research Unit
Under-Librarian Mrs Jill Butterworth examining one of the manuscripts bequeathed to the University Library by Professor William Robertson Smith, the noted semiticist. who died 100 years ago. The Library mounted an exhibition to mark the centenary.
(Size of full image = 150KB)
Back to the Index
If you would like to receive Genizah Fragments regularly, to enquire about the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, or to know how you may assist with its preservation and study, please write to: Dr S. C. Reif; Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge CB3 9DR, England. The Library may also be reached by fax (01223) 333160.
Readers not already supporting the Unit are asked to help ensure the continuity of this publication by making a small, regular gift. The sum of £5 (UK) or $10 (abroad) is suggested; payment may be made to Cambridge or to the American Friends.
All contributions to the Unit, whether for the research programme or for its other activities, are made to the "University of Cambridge", which enjoys charitable status for tax and similar purposes.
In the USA, all contributions may be directed to the president of the American Friends of Cambridge University (USA/Canada), Mr Stephen C. Price, at 466 Lexington Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10017, USA. Transfers of such funds are regularly made from the USA.
The AFCU is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization and contributions are legally deductible for United States income tax purposes. They are similarly deductible in Canada even if made directly to Cambridge.
Back to the Index
Edted by Stefan C. Reif and printed by the University Printing Services of Cambridge University Press
If you have any questions, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to the Genizah Fragments index.
Return to the Taylor-Schechter Home Page.
Return to Cambridge University Library's Home Page.