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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. 11 April 1986


Scholars on sabbatical

Three experts in the study of early Rabbinic literature, currently spending sabbatical leave in Cambridge, are closely involved with the work of the Genizah Unit.

The long and happy association with the Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York goes back to the days of Solomon Schechter and is now being further strengthened by the presence of Professor Burton L. Visotzky, Assistant Professor of Talmud at the Seminary. Professor Visotzky is a Visiting Associate at Clare Hall and has prepared a handlist of some of the midrashic items in the Collection.

Over the last four years the Rothschild Foundation in Jerusalem has sent three Rothschild Fellows to Cambridge. Yoram Erder came from Tel Aviv University to study Karaite origins, Menahem Ben-Sasson from the Hebrew University to research the history of North African Jewry in the Middle Ages, and now Marc Hirshman of the university of Haifa is studying Bible interpretation in the Talmudic period.

A Visiting Research Associate who was with us in 1981 has returned. Senior Lecturer in Talmud at Haifa University, Dr Tsvi Groner, will be attached to the Unit for most of 1986 and will be working on the Collection's Rabbinic fragments in the context of the Unit's various research projects.


[three gentlemen examining a folder containing leaves from manuscripts]

Mr Eli Dayan (left) and Mr Albert Biton (centre) examine an Ashkelon fragment with Dr Geoffrey Khan

Uniting Arab and Jew

Both Israeli and Arab politicians have been among recent visitors to the Library who have found items of special interest to them in the Genizah Collection.

Dr Suleiman Fares, Dean of the Syrian Ba`thist Party's Higher Institute for Political Science in Damascus, was shown an Islamic chancery document from the early twelfth century of which there are a number of important examples in the Collection.

The fragments referring to the city of Ashkelon in the eleventh and twelfth centuries held a particular fascination for Israeli visitor, Mr Eli Dayan, who is currently mayor of that city. He was accompanied by Mr Albert Biton, general manager of Bank Leumi in Ashkelon.


Maimonides anniversary

The Cambridge Genizah fragments featured a number of times in a series of lectures sponsored by the University's Faculties of Divinity, Oriental Studies and Philosophy to mark the 850th anniversary of the birth of Maimonides.

The Vice-Chancellor and Master of Pembroke College, Lord Adrian, referred to the importance of the Collection and of recent work done in the Genizah Unit when introducing the series and its first lecturer, Professor Raphael Loewe, Emeritus Goldsmid Professor of Hebrew at University College London.

At the session devoted to Maimonides manuscripts, both the chairman, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, Cambridge University Librarian, and the lecturer, Dr David Goldstein, of the British Library, pointed to the many autographs of Maimonides to be found in the Collection, and the discussion centred on the number of such manuscripts to be found in the various Genizah collections in England and the rest of the world.


Genizah has something for everyone

It is good to be able to report that a number of long-term projects on which the Unit has been engaged are on the verge of completion and that the publication of the resultant volumes should not be long delayed.

The computerized bibliography of many thousands of items relating to fragments in the Collection, published over a period of some eighty years in various countries and numerous languages, is at the stage of the final proof-reading. The introduction has been written and it is hoped that next month the final printed format will be decided.

Work has already begun on the second volume, covering the years 1980 onwards, and we rely on colleagues all over the world to provide details of their publications, as well as corrections and additions to the first volume.

The third and fourth volumes of the catalogue of Hebrew Bible fragments have also been completed, by a former Research Assistant, Malcolm Davis, now with the Brotherton Library in the University of Leeds and kindly loaned to us briefly for the purpose by that Library. Once the substantial bibliography and also the catalogue of vocalized Talmud texts compiled by Professor Shelomo Morag have appeared, the Davis volumes will be next in line for printing.

As far as the Morag volume is concerned, progress has been delayed by the inability of our printers in Jerusalem, Yael Kaplan Typesetting, to give the preparation of complex proofs the kind of attention that had been expected. If, however, corrections can be made to the final proofs by the summer, the volume could still appear within the year.

To avoid such difficulties in future, the Unit is now looking into the possibility of having its own mini-computer and printing facility with software that makes possible the preparation of texts that have substantial sections of both English and Hebrew. This would, of course, be in addition to the terminal already in the Unit that provides access to the University's main "Phoenix" computer.

So much for home achievements. Abroad, visits have been paid to the USA and Israel and contacts have been strengthened with the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, the Saltykov-Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad, and the World Sephardi Federation. Close relations with these organizations promise all manner of exciting developments. As a recent article in the Jerusalem Post put it, "there is something for everyone in the Cairo Genizah".

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


The Arabic manuscripts in the Genizah - Part two

The education which was received by the majority of Jews in mediaeval Egypt was based principally on Jewish tradition. Non-traditional education, the prerogative of a small minority, was broadly divided into two major disciplines: Arabic language and literature, which was studied by Jews who were training for government service, and science-philosophy, which was studied mainly by those who were preparing for the medical profession.

A large proportion of the books used by students of these disciplines must have been in Arabic script, particularly those relating to Arabic language and literature. Many fragments of such books have survived in the Genizah.

The fragments of literary works include proverbs, belles letters (`adab), and poetry. The poetical texts are more numerous than the rest. They include several leaves from the Diwan of Tarafa, poems by al-Mutanabbi, and, true to the loyalist spirit of the Jewish community in mediaeval Egypt, fragments of a compendium of poems written in eulogy of the Egyptian Sultan Saladin (reigned 1169-1193).

Also preserved are several small snippets of anonymous ghazals and of other genres of poetry which were roughly jotted down in notebooks or on scraps of paper.

There are a number of fragments of Arabic philosophical texts. They are mainly from works of the Aristotelian philosophers of Baghdad or commentaries written by them on the Aristotelian corpus. Also preserved are a few leaves of Arabic translations of Greek commentaries on Aristotle and of various pseudo-Aristotelian works.

A substantial number of the fragments in Arabic script are leaves from medical works. These found their way into the Genizah from the libraries of Jewish physicians. The majority of the texts relate to materia medica (description of drugs and treatment) and therapeutics (preparation of drugs and treatment).

There are also works of symptomology, especially ophthalmology and fevers, and a few works on surgical procedures such as phlebotomy and lancing. A great many of the texts are Arabic translations of the works of Hippocrates (especially the Aphorisms) and of Galen, or commentaries on these works.

The Genizah shows us that certain elements of the mediaeval Jewish community attempted to solve problems through various occult practices. Several fragments relating to these are written in Arabic script. They include astrology texts, horoscopes, almanacs, and various types of magical charms.

Many of the charms belong to the field of paramedicine and frequently employ verses from the Qur`an in their formulation. There was a popular belief among the Jews that the addition of passages from Muslim scripture gave extra potency to magical texts.

Finally, there are several leaves of what appear to be mediaeval scrapbooks. These contain all manner of items which attracted the interest of the writer and which he hastily jotted down for future reference. Of especial interest is one leaf containing a description of games, together with several illustrations.

The Arabic manuscripts in the Genizah are qualitatively representative of the material written in Arabic script which circulated in the mediaeval Jewish community in Egypt. The quantitive proportion of those that have survived vis--vis the documents in Hebrew script, however, probably does not reflect the original state of affairs.

This is because fragments in Arabic characters found their way into the Genizah by accident rather than by design. It is very fortunate for us that these accidents occurred!

Geoffrey A. Khan,
Research Assistant


Planning a visit?

Scholars planning to visit Cambridge University Library for the first time to work on the Genizah manuscripts should bring with them an academic letter of introduction.

A brief interview with the Admissions Officer is necessary for the issue of a reader's ticket, and manuscripts may then be ordered in the Manuscript Reading Room. Other research materials are available in other areas of the Library.

The Library is normally open from 9a.m. until 7.15p.m. (10p.m. from 22 April until 13 June). It is closed on the Easter and August public holidays, during the eight days spanning Christmas and New Year, and for the period of annual inspection in mid-September (16-23 September in 1986).

The Admission Office is situated to the left of the Entrance Hall and is open on weekdays from 9.30-12.30 in the morning and from 2.15-4.15 in the afternoon.


From far and wide

Readers of this newsletter must by now have gathered - if indeed they did not already know - what a wonderful array of items is to be found in the Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library. Something of which few users will be aware, however, is our continuing amazement, as the fetching staff of the Manuscripts Reading Room, at the range of readers who come to see it.

You need only look back through the issues of this newsletter to appreciate some of the famous visitors we have seen here, including (and I happily accept any charge of name-dropping), the Israeli Ambassador, Mr Yehuda Avner; Israeli Government Minister, Dr Yosef Burg; Chairman of Marks & Spencer, Lord Sieff; and the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Coggan.

Thankfully, senior staff at the University Library have taken charge of such VIPs. My assistants and I, however, have been pleased to meet and care for many others, some of whom we now regard as personal friends. The more mature of these scholars have been coming here for what must be in excess of 40 years and are all well-remembered by us and our more senior predecessors.

One has to realize, therefore, sooner or later, that something special is here. Some mystery will, of course, remain for us three Manuscript Reading Room staff because, not being familiar with the script and the background, we have no clear concept of what is involved.

But if you look closely and consider the users, the researchers and even the short-term viewers, you can appreciate that there are among them historians, theologians, sociologists, lawyers and students of medicine and commerce.

How enthralling that the Collection contains not only the "important" but the "unimportant", the bits and pieces of everyday life which illustrate not just those things that historians in their texts wish to tell us, but items from which we can obtain a fuller view of how it was and has been. See, for instance, the children's books, the marriage documents, lists of goods for supply, and other everyday items.

It often seems a shame - and this is an all too frequent observation of ours - that some new readers allot themselves such little time for even a preliminary visit to the Collection.

One can sense barely controlled excitement on occasions ("I never knew there was so much in it"), and with such furious filling out of order forms, particularly on the last day of a visit, we sometimes feel we cannot do enough to help; we also have readers of other manuscript material to consider, of course.

It is known that there are microfilm copies of our Genizah fragments elsewhere. One hopes that those visiting us to look at the originals will have already have consulted these in order to establish their most important needs. Such preparation can only help us to maintain a high standard of service.

It is always good to see new "T-S" readers, and very warming to welcome old faces. Professionally speaking, one must avoid having favourites, but inevitably we are happy to see our old friends again. The number of these seems to increase steadily every year and we all hope that this trend may continue.

Godfrey Waller,
Superintendent of the Manuscripts Reading Room, Cambridge University Library


[two pages of a manuscript]

The twelve months debate their relative importance

Targumic poems of the Pentateuch

The Cairo Genizah has proved to be a unique kaleidoscope of mediaeval Jewish society. Its many thousands of manuscript fragments have shed light on almost every aspect of Jewish life in the Mediterranean basin. The texts and documents reflect both the sacred and mundane realms of daily life.

In the synagogal domain, new liturgical customs and texts have become known. Among these are manuscripts of the various targumim, the ancient translations of the Hebrew Bible, that were read in the synagogue alongside the Hebrew text.

For several centuries before and after the Common Era, Hebrew was no longer understood by the masses and had to be translated into the Aramaic vernacular. Similarly at a later stage, in the early Islamic centuries, when Aramaic was forgotten, there emerged Judaeo-Arabic translations of the Pentateuch - the most famous of them by Saadya Gaon.

But the Aramaic targumim, having been attributed by the rabbis of the Talmud to Ezra the scribe and having been further sanctified by centuries of use in the synagogue, refused to yield their position of prestige. Instead, there emerged a new trilingual Bible manuscript composed of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic, verse by verse.

There are, in fact, hundreds of fragments of this genre in the Cambridge Genizah Collections, in which the Aramaic is that of Onqelos, and the Arabic is Saadya's.

My personal interest over the past decade has been in the Palestinian Targumim of the Pentateuch, and this has brought me in recent years on four visits to the Taylor-Schechter Unit. From among the 230 pages of text collected, more than 130 are from Cambridge (the others being mainly from Oxford, the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, and Leningrad).

The Palestinian Targumim are of particular interest because they are not merely literal renderings of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic. Indeed, they often interpret and elaborate upon the Biblical text. They frequently contain lengthy midrashic passages (toseftoth) embroidered upon the terse Hebrew narratives about the patriarchs.

For example, they explain how Cain and Abel, the only two reported children of Adam and Eve, were actually born with twin sisters - so that they might have women to marry. Each married the other's twin (in order to minimize the incest); and this was also the source of their deadly dispute.

The Palestinian Targumim explain how the dying patriarch, Jacob, had wanted to reveal to his twelve sons the esoterical "End of Days" - but, alas, no sooner had it been revealed to him than it was concealed again.

The manuscripts of Palestinian Targum also include many introductory poems written in the same dialect (Galilean Aramaic) as the Targum itself. These poems were recited in the synagogues on festivals and special Sabbaths prior to the Torah reading.

There are poems, for example, that describe the debate among the twelve months to determine in which of them Israel will be delivered from Egypt. Such verses were recited on the Sabbath nearest the new moon of Nisan. Nisan argues that Iyyar cannot be chosen, since its zodiacal sign is Taurus, and the golden calf that Israel made in the wilderness was a young ox. And so on.

Another targumic poem, read on the seventh day of Passover, tells of how the sea refused to split before Moses, angrily saying "I shall not be vanquished by one born of woman"

Yet another beautiful poem tells with great pathos how Moses refused to accept his mortal destiny. He goes to Hebron, where he awakens Adam from his eternal rest. He blames him for sinning in the Garden of Eden, and thereby bringing death upon all mankind - Moses included.

But Adam cleverly quotes the midrash which states that the Torah was written 2,000 years before the creation of the world. The mortality of man was, therefore, predestined. Moses sheds a tear and accepts his inevitable lot.

The Palestinian Targumim from the Genizah have long been recognized as one of the most important sources for the study of Galilean Aramaic. Christian scholars have sought in these texts the Aramaic dialect that was spoken by Jesus, and in which his sayings and quotations from the Jewish Scriptures were originally transmitted.

The Palestinian Targumim have also been a source of early non-normative interpretations of legal passages in the Pentateuch. They frequently preserve an exegesis that runs counter to what later became the accepted halakhah (religious law) as found in the Mishnah and Talmud. This is a subject that deserves further attention.

Finally, the ancient Palestinian rite followed a triennial lectionary cycle, i.e., completing the reading of the Pentateuch every three years, or twice every seven years - in contrast to the Babylonian annual cycle that is followed to this day in all traditional synagogues.

The manuscripts which were used in synagogues contain signs and ciphers marking the respective triennial sidroth (weekly readings). They also record the haftaroth (readings from the prophets) in many instances. All this information has been valuable in the reconstruction of the rite of the ancient Palestinian synagogue.

The orderly and systematic study of the above-mentioned subjects in targumic and related studies has to a very large degree been made possible by the meticulous and unparalleled labours of conservation and cataloguing of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Unit. Under the leadership of Dr Stefan Reif, the Unit has made accessible to scholars of Hebraica and Judaica the great treasures of the Cairo Genizah.

Michael L. Klein,
Professor of Bible and Targumic Literature and Dean of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem


Peres visit

Dr and Mrs S.C. Reif attended a reception given in Claridges Hotel in London by the Israeli Prime Minister, Mr Shimon Peres, during his visit to England in January. Among the guests were the British Prime Minister, Mrs Margaret Thatcher, a number of distinguished ambassadors, politicians and statesmen, and leading figures closely associated with the activities of the Israeli Embassy in London.


Bristol bequest aids T-S Unit

Further study of the medical fragments in the Cambridge Genizah Collection has been made possible by the will of a Bristol businessman who died over a hundred years ago.

John Stewart, of Rannoch, bequeathed his various properties in the Bristol area to the University of Cambridge on condition that the income be used to encourage the study of various subjects, including Hebrew.

The University accepted the bequest and established a special fund that bears his name.

Over the years, his generosity has enabled the University to provide scholarships, purchase books and otherwise encourage the study of Hebrew.

Now the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies, who manage the fund, have voted the sum of 3,000 over the next three years to support the project to describe all the fragments of medical interest in the Collection.

Other generous supporters of the Unit in recent months have included Dr Davide Sala and Mr Cyril Stein (1,000), both of whom have given helpful advice on fund-raising; and Mr Trevor Chinn, Mr Sidney Corob, Mr Stanley Kalms and Mr Gerald Ronson (500). A warm welcome is extended to new supporters Mr Eddie Ishag (250) and the Women-in-Business Group of the JIA (300).

Renewals of their annual contributions have been gratefully received from Mr and Mrs Abrahams-Curiel, Mr Stanley Burton, Mr Mark Goldberg and Mr and Mrs Harry Landy (250).

Others who have kindly continued their financial assistance include Mr Joe Dwek (200), Mrs Helena Sebba (150), Mr Michael Rose (120), Isaacs Charitable Trust, Mr Henry Knobil, Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau, Sir Sigmund Sternberg and Mr Fred Worms (100).

Helpful American support has again been received, mainly by way of the American Friends of Cambridge University, and has included contributions from Dr Edward M. Bernstein ($1,000); Dr Claude Schochet ($250); Mrs Diane Claerbout ($225); Mr and Mrs Raphael Levy ($150), who continue to play an active part in planning the Unit's public relations; and Mr and Mrs Ira Hertzberg ($100 "in memory of Jeanne and Morris Schechter"). Contributions just received from the American Friends will be acknowledged in Genizah Fragments, no. 12.

The Unit also acknowledges with gratitude smaller or anonymous donations amounting to over 500.


Found after fifty years

One of the few requirements made of those who use the Library's manuscripts is that they cite their correct classmarks when publishing information about them. Those who find this procedure tiresome may like to reflect on a typical example of what happens when it is not followed by authors.

In 1931, Professor Jacob N. Epstein, first professor of talmudic philology at the newly created Hebrew University, published an article in the periodical Tarbiz (no.2, p.324) of which he was then the editor. He described some Cambridge Genizah fragments that demonstrated the active development of Jewish law in Eretz Yisrael in about the seventh century.

Unfortunately, the classmark he gave for one of these fragments - "F8" - was, for some reason, wrong. As a result, scholars anxious to trace that manuscript and read it in the original have been unable to locate it among the 140,000 fragments of the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

In this case, the story has a happy ending. After half a century, the correct classmark was recently identified as T-S E2.145 and the manuscript is now therefore "back in circulation". It should not be forgotten that a fragment incorrectly described is effectively a fragment lost to future scholars.


Professor Michael Albeck (left) with Mr Reg Carr

[two gentlemen examining a book]

Prof Albeck in Cambridge

Many distinguished personalities have visited the Unit in the past few weeks. The President of Bar-Ilan University, Professor Michael Albeck, was received by the Deputy Librarian, Mr Reg Carr, as well as being guided through the Library by members of the Unit. Accompanying Professor Albeck was the Director of the Friends of Bar-Ilan University, Mrs Cherry Torrance.

Among other visitors associated with major foundations have been Mrs Sheila Taylor, of the Rothschild Foundation, and Mr Morton Creeger, Director of the Ronson Foundation.

Three women writers, Elaine Feinstein, of Cambridge, Shulamit Lapid, of Tel Aviv, and Blu Greenberg, of New York, have been among the Unit's guests, as has the BBC TV producer, Edward Goldwyn ("Horizon").

Various groups have also come to Cambridge to see exhibitions of some of the fragments, to hear lectures about their importance and to view slides dealing with their acquisition. They have included the JIA Women's Division, Leo Baeck College, Spiro Institute and Yakar Educational Foundation.


Dr Reif in Maryland

Last year, through the kind assistance of Mrs Blanche Sachs and Professor Michael Edidin, Dr Stefan Reif gave a series of lectures on the Cambridge Genizah Collection at the Humanities Center of Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore; the Joseph and Rebecca Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Maryland in College Park; and the Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore.

Dr Reif also had useful meetings with Dr Michael Neiditch, of B'nai B'rith International; with Mr Gordon Williams and Mr Stephen Price, of the American Friends of Cambridge University; and with Dr Louis Kaplan; Executive Vice-President of the Joseph Meyerhoff Fund.



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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University of Cambridge; last updated December 2003