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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. 12 October 1986


[two gentlemen chatting]

Prince Philip discussing the Genizah Fragments with Dr Stefan Reif

Prince Philip visits T-S Unit

The most distinguished visitor of recent months was His Royal Highness, Prince Philip, Chancellor of the University of Cambridge, who saw some of the Genizah fragments and talked to the Unit's director, Dr Stefan Reif, about their importance.

Prince Philip was at the University Library to re-open the Bible Society's library in its new location. The University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, made arrangements for him to be shown various Library treasures connected with the Bible.

Among these were the oldest and most important fragments of the Hebrew Bible to be found in the Cambridge Genizah Collection, as well as a tenth century manuscript of part of the Book of Ben Sira (Or. 1102) and the Zadokite Fragment (or Damascus Document: T-S 10K6) from the literature of the Dead Sea sect, a copy of which had been used in mediaeval Cairo and preserved there in the Genizah.

The Chancellor was particularly interested in the identification of the group that might have retained the Zadokite Fragment at that time and in change of use from scrolls to bound volumes. He also asked about conservation methods and the publication of the newsletter Genizah Fragments.


In search of joint projects

One often wonders why other people's projects are taking so long to complete while remaining confident that there are valid reasons for the delays in the implementation of one's own plans.

The truth is that some minor scholarly undertakings do tend to suffer from a lack of urgency while others deserve to be seen as major tasks that will inevitably take years to complete, however enthusiastically and energetically they are tackled.

The work of this Unit - involving as it does 140,000 fragments containing difficult texts in various languages, often barely legible - must surely be regarded as one of these major tasks, complicated by the fact that, on its establishment a dozen years ago, the Taylor- Schechter Genizah Unit inherited the problems of many years of virtual neglect.

Working with what can only be described as a shoestring budget and a mainly part-time staff, the Unit has applied itself industriously to the tasks facing it. The whole, massive collection has been successfully conserved and microfilmed, descriptions have been compiled or located for almost half the fragments, three catalogues have been published and two are in proof.

Those of us working in the Unit are anxious to produce even more impressive results within a short time but require the assistance of our academic colleagues and our financial supporters to make this possible.

If such colleagues could, with their own institutions, sponsor joint projects with this Unit to research particular areas of the Genizah material, and our external supporters could increase their contributions and encourage wider participation in the funding of the Unit's work, the successful completion of many of our tasks could be greatly expedited.

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


Bibliography in progress

The volume containing many thousands of references to Cambridge Genizah fragments published in numerous books and articles since the end of the last century is now at the proof stage.

The book, entitled Published Material from the Cambridge Genizah Collections: A Bibliography 1896-1980, will be published in the University Library's Genizah Series by Cambridge University Press and will contain almost 50,000 lines of computer output printed on about 600 pages, with entries according to classmark and author, and a list of works cited.

The edition will be printed in a limited number of copies. Those wishing to ensure that they, their institution or their library are able to purchase copies should inform the editor, Dr Stefan Reif, of their interest.

No obligation will be incurred, but such information will provide Cambridge University Press with a clear idea of how many copies are likely to be sold within a short time and how many to print.


5,000 grant

The Genizah Unit has just received a generous contribution of 5,000 from the Care Charitable Fund of Lugano by kind arrangement of Dr and Mrs Davide Sala and has recently benefited from the continuing assistance of the British Academy (an increase to 2,067), Sir Michael Sobell (an increase to 1,250), Mr Cyril Stein (1,000 and much helpful advice), and Mr John Rubens (1,000).

Renewals of their annual contributions have also been made by Mr and Mrs Michael Phillips (500); Ellison Marsden Charitable Trust (500 through its Trustee, Mr Cecil Ellison); Mr and Mrs David Lauffer (300); St John's College Cambridge (200); Barclay Charitable Fund (100); and Mr and Mrs Conrad Morris (100).

Welcome new support has come from United Mizrahi Bank Limited (500) and from Ilford B'nai B'rith (300).

Financial contributions received through the American Friends of Cambridge University in the first half of the year included $1,000 allocated by the Directors of the Friends themselves; $500 from Mr and Mrs Nathan Spiewak; $200 from Ms Kathryn L. Johnson; $150 from Mr and Mrs Raphael Levy: $100 from Mrs Anne Schechter Hertzberg ("in memory of Jeanne and Morris Schechter"); and $100 from Mr Charles I. Wiesenthal.

The Unit's grateful thanks are offered to all these supporters and to those many others who have contributed smaller or anonymous sums.


[two gentlemen looking at a letter]

David Schechter (right) and Dr Reif examine one of Solomon Schechter's letters from Cairo

Keeping it in the Schechter family

I recently fulfilled a desire of several years by visiting the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University. Solomon Schechter was my great-grandfather (my grandfather Frank's father) and a source of family interest and pride.

Audrey Galex (my wife) and I travelled to Cambridge during a visit to London last October. We are currently studying at the World Union of Jewish Students Institute in Arad, Israel, and by profession are journalists.

Stefan Reif showed us treasures from the Fustat Genizah at Cambridge University Library. These included draft work by Moses Maimonides, perhaps the greatest Jewish intellect yet produced, and autographs of Yehuda Halevi and Joseph Karo.

Also among the prize possessions was a tenth-century CE copy of a Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus) text written in the second century BCE. Schechter's find, which indicated that an early text of Ben Sira had existed in Hebrew, was confirmed decades later in 1964, when Yigael Yadin unearthed a first-century CE edition.

Of a less scholarly nature, though equally interesting, were the doodlings of a boy learning to write the Hebrew alphabet some thousand years ago and a letter from a rabbi seeking refuge from the Crusaders' onslaught.

The rabbi sought permission from the Muslim authorities to leave his village . "Don't worry about my congregation, " he wrote, "I get nothing from the members of this community except with a good deal of heartache."

Much work remains to be done unravelling the mysteries of the Genizah fragments. It was disappointing to hear of the financial realities that limit progress on this work. Reif's budget currently includes about 25,000 raised from private sources, but he hopes to raise larger sums for important new developments.

It seems a shame that these treasures are kept out of sight in a special store-room, rather than under glass in a setting more befitting their historical and cultural significance. "The University Library would like an exhibition centre. It certainly should have one to display its many treasures," Reif told us.

I was also interested in hearing about my great-grandfather's personality. "They say he was a lively, enthusiastic person, with a warm and friendly character. People who met him liked him - until they fell out with him when he lost his temper," Reif said. "He would apparently lose his temper quickly, but then later on he'd forget it all."

At the WUJS Institute, located in a development town at the northern end of the Negev Desert, I am studying Hebrew and other subjects. Among these is a class on Maimonides, based on an interest sparked in Cambridge. In his first lecture, Rabbi Simcha Roth discussed Schechter's contribution to knowledge about Jewish life in the Mediterranean area for a period of several hundred years.

WUJS students recently toured the Diaspora Museum in Tel Aviv - a "must" for anyone visiting Israel. A display there has a diorama of the Fustat Genizah, reproductions of important fragments, a copy of Schechter's letter to Mrs Lewis (whose purchase from a Cairo dealer led to his venture), and a picture of my great-grandfather surrounded by tens of thousands of fragments.

I mention the WUJS class and the Diaspora Museum as evidence of the wide and continuing interest in the Genizah fragments. These are the records of one of Jewish history's most significant communities. That fact alone warrants interest in and support of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit.

David M. Schechter


Maintaining momentum

The following reference to the work of the Genizah Unit was made in the Annual Report of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate for 1984-85:

"The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit maintained its momentum and its place in the field of international Hebrew scholarship. Dr G. Khan prepared some 4,000 entries for the post-1980 Bibliography and surveyed about 7,000 fragments in Arabic script. Dr Haskell Isaacs, now part-time, continued his research on the medical fragments and out of 2,255 examined, identified 195 as material medica. Mrs S. Reif conducted the second and third `sort-and-merge' operations for the computerised Bibliography and reduced the total number of lines in the University's Phoenix computer to 57,618.

The Director of the Unit, Dr S. C. Reif, now also head of this new department, was concerned still in virtually every aspect of the Unit's activities whilst bringing very necessary leadership and administrative skills to the department. It is hoped to apply his exceptional fund-raising skills to areas outside the Genizah. Professor J. Emerton was reappointed Honorary Keeper of the Collection."


A delightful experience

It has now become regular practice for Israeli guests of the British Government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office to come to Cambridge to view exhibits from the Genizah Collection.

The arrangements are made for the Government by the staff of the Central Office of Information (both in London and in Cambridge) who escort the visitors on their trips across the country.

A recent guest was Mr Zevulun Hammer, member of the Israeli Knesset and General Secretary of the National Religious Party, who visited the Genizah Unit with Mrs Hammer.

On his return to Israel, Mr Hammer reported in a newspaper article how it had been "a delightful experience to see the autograph responsa of Maimonides and his signature, a letter from Rabbi Joseph Karo, many fragments of old prayers, and thousands of rare and informative documents that excite a great desire to discover their secrets and reveal more of our history and culture."

Another guest of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office brought to the Genizah Unit was Mr Yaacov Edelstein, political and diplomatic correspondent of the Israeli daily Hatzofe, who came with his wife in the context of an eight-day tour of political and educational institutions in the Unit Kingdom.


The Society for Judaeo- Arabic Studies will mark the ninetieth anniversary of Genizah research in Cambridge by holding its next meeting at St. John's College, Cambridge, on 14-17 July, 1987. Details are available from the President of the Society, Professor Joshua Blau, at the office of the Ben-Zvi Institute, P.O. Box 7660, Jerusalem 91076, Israel.


[a manuscript]

T-S 8K13.11, concerning the marriage of a woman raped and taken captive.

Cases of polygamy

The ban of Rabbenu Gershom ben Judah of Mainz (early eleventh century), which prohibited polygamy among the Ashkenazim, was never accepted by Jewish communities living under Islam. But how polygamous were these Jews during the so-called "classical" Genizah period of the High Middle Ages, between the tenth and thirteenth centuries?

The late Simcha Assaf, an eminent Genizah scholar, wrote that this society was completely monogamous and that not one case of polygamy had been found in the Genizah documents.

There is no doubt that most families were, in fact, monogamous. Among the methods to prevent polygamy was a stipulation written into the marriage contract.

The earliest known example appears in a recently discovered Geonic responsum, probably from the tenth century (Cambridge University Library, Or. 1080 3.45v), and this became common in Fustat in the twelfth century.

Recent research by my lamented mentor, Professor S. D. Goitein, and myself has identified tens of cases of polygamy among the Genizah documents. I have collected more than seventy fragments, most of them from the Taylor-Schechter Collection, that are associated with monogamy or polygamy and the related problem of illicit relations with slave-girls.

These can be divided into ten separate categories. A brief description of these categories, with a relevant citation from one Taylor-Schechter fragment for each, well illustrates the situation:

1. Special undertakings not to marry a second wife begin to appear in Egypt in the late eleventh century. Several examples involve mixed marriages between Rabbanite and Karaite Jews.

T-S 13J6.33 concerns a match between a Karaite man and Rabbanite woman: "There will be no way for him to take a second wife or keep a slave-girl as a concubine. If he disregards this, he will be obligated to pay 100 dinars dedicated to the Rabbanite and Karaite poor."

2. Before a woman agreed to let her husband marry a second wife, she would usually demand that he bind himself by an agreement that would protect her rights. At times both wives were promised equal treatment. In some documents, special guarantees were made for the security of the first wife.

T-S 16.214: "If she permits me to marry another woman, make the symbolic purchase (qinyan) with me that whenever she desires to separate, I will divorce her ... her delayed settlement will be in her hand as long as we are married ... Her mother is present and hears all this."

3. Documents containing agreements with second wives show that women who entered a polygamous marriage were frequently of a lower social class or for some other reason had no choice but to accept the arrangement. The rough draft of a kethubbah of a woman raped and taken captive when the Mamluks conquered Akko from the Crusaders in 1291 is a good example.

T-S 8K13.11: "The groom's first wife permitted him to marry any one of three women that he wants to take. This is the first, and he still has the right to marry two other women."

4. Divorce did not always mark the end of all contracts between a man and woman. After a divorced man remarried, he and his divorcee sometimes were reconciled, so that he now had two wives.

In a kethubbah dated 1125/6 (T-S 8J32.1; two connecting fragments are in the Bodleian Collection in Oxford), Eleazar promises his bride Hasana (Beauty) not to remarry his divorcee. (He later did.)

5. The levirate, that is, the obligation to marry the widow of a brother who had died without children (Deuteronomy 25:5-10), resulted in polygamy when the surviving brother was already married. The widow did not always object to this.

T-S G1.64 (Query to a Gaon): "The dead man had three brothers. The oldest brother has a wife and child, and the widow wants him, not his brothers."

6. The most common circumstance of polygamy, since antiquity, was when the first wife did not bear children or was otherwise incapacitated. Several examples of such marriages are preserved among the Genizah documents.

T-S 8.116: "I want to see a child before me ... so that my name and the name of my fathers be not cut off."

7. Polygamous marriages did not always mean living together as one large family unit. Wives usually had separate apartments. Sometimes they lived in different cities.

T-S 12J2.25 (Fustat, 1139): "He has a wife in the city of Damascus ... The government - may God give it glory - will not engage him in the civil service until he has a local wife."

8. Before marrying, one applied to the local Jewish communal leaders for a licence. The authorities did not permit one to take a second wife unless his first wife consented. Women who felt wronged by their husbands applied to the religious leaders for assistance. Among measures used to enforce rulings was the ban of excommunication.

T-S13J26.6: "The man whom they banned in Fustat, Cairo and Dammuh arrived in Qus with his real wife and a small daughter, and he said `I divorced that other one whom I had taken, and they released me (from the ban).'"

9. The wives in a polygamous family often saw themselves as rivals. Sisterly affection and co-operation were the exception, enmity the rule.

Or. 1080 J173 (a mother, visiting her daughter in the countryside, writes to her son): "Your sister is heavy (pregnant). I cannot bear her rival wife's mistreating her."

10. Slavery was common under Islam, and some Jewish women had slave-girls who did housework. Jewish law, unlike Islamic law, forbids sexual relations between a free man and a slave-girl. The example of their Muslim neighbours influenced some Jewish men to engage in illicit affairs with their slave-girls. Often they emancipated them and married them legally.

T-S K25.285 (responsum on marriage of former slave-girl in India): "If one says to a woman `You will be betrothed to me ... after you are emancipated', she is betrothed."

The complete texts of these documents will be edited in my forthcoming book Polygyny in Jewish Tradition and Practice - New Sources from the Cairo Geniza (Hebrew).

Mordechai A. Friedman
Professor of Talmud, Tel Aviv University


[a manuscript]

T-S AS 74.2, Midrash to Proverbs

Repository of human relationships

As the late and revered Professor S. D. Goitein demonstrated in his masterful, five-volume A Mediterranean Society, the Genizah is a vast repository of human relationships.

Fragment after fragment yields fascinating glimpses into the daily lives of Jews and Gentiles during the past ten centuries. Text after text uncovers the warmth of personal contacts between friends, family and business associates.

For those of us fortunate enough to have the opportunity to work with the manuscripts first hand, the relationships revealed in the fragments mirror our own lives and contacts in odd, yet telling ways.

I first met Stefan Reif, curator of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection, some ten years ago when he was in New York at my home institution, the Jewish Theological Seminary of America. He was researching aspects of the life and work of Solomon Schechter, the rabbi who brought the Genizah Collection from Cairo to Cambridge.

Readers of this newsletter no doubt know that, not long after establishing the Genizah Collection, Schechter left his Faculty and Library appointments in Cambridge and sailed to America, where he re-established the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Schechter's most recent successor in the Genizah field, Dr Reif, and I were next in contact when I wrote to him for permission to use Cambridge Genizah fragments in my critical edition of the mediaeval Midrash to Proverbs. At the time, I made use of microfilms at the Jewish Theological Seminary of three fragments from the Cambridge Collection.

Still later, Dr Reif was instrumental in securing my appointment as a Visiting Fellow of Clare Hall so that I could come to Cambridge for my sabbatical year. Of course, while I was there, I could not resist dabbling in the Collection and prepared a hand-list of the contents of one of the boxes of rabbinic manuscripts in the New Series (T-S NS 218).

It was while I was working on the hand-list (a back-breaking task of bending over large volumes, deciphering the script, and then scurrying to the stacks to consult the appropriate volumes and rabbinic reference books) that the human connections which I mentioned above bore fruit.

My stay in Cambridge was not only made more pleasant by the personal hospitality of Stefan and Shulie Reif and their children, but also by the presence in Cambridge of Dr Marc Hirshman, of the University of Haifa.

Dr Hirshman, like myself, is a scholar of midrash. He, too, used Genizah fragments in his critical editions of midrashic works. But, the world being the small place that it is, our connections reached back much further.

Marc Hirshman and I both wrote our Ph.D. dissertations under the same adviser at the Jewish Theological Seminary. We not only spent years together as students in New York; we knew each other growing up in Chicago and attended summer camp together more than two decades ago!

Imagine my delight when Cambridge scholars asked me if I knew of the Israeli midrash scholar who was also spending his sabbatical here, and it turned out to be my old acquaintance.

I write of my association with Dr Hirshman not only to demonstrate how the Genizah draws scholars from all over the world, but to underscore my point about human relationships and the Genizah.

Dr Hirshman was the one who pointed out to me that he had glimpsed a mention of Genizah fragments of the Midrash to Proverbs on a hand-list prepared by his senior colleague from Israel, Dr Jacob Sussmann, in co-operation with the Cambridge Genizah Unit.

At Marc Hirshman's urging (and grateful to Dr Sussmann for his initial sleuthing), I found seven additional fragments of my midrash, previously unknown. One of the fragments had a variant reading that solved a textual crux that I have been pondering for the five years it has taken me to prepare my critical edition of the Midrash to Proverbs for publication.

Fortunately, the combined efforts of Doctors Reif, Sussmann and Hirshman enabled me to discover these new fragments in time to include them as an appendix to my work, about to be published in Israel.

I am sure that my case is but one of countless examples of how the Genizah Collection brings scholars from the four corners of the world to study together. While in Cambridge we form a unique society of scholarship, helping one another study the books and relationships of an earlier, Mediterranean society.

Burton L. Visotzky
Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics, Jewish Theological Seminary of America


Genizah goes to USA

In a busy eight-day visit to California and Texas arranged by the B'nai B'rith Lecture Bureau in New York, Dr Stefan Reif lectured on the Cambridge Genizah Collection and met a number of academic colleagues and important supporters of Hebrew and Jewish studies in higher education.

Through the combined efforts and kind hospitality of Professor and Mrs Jacob Milgrom and Rabbi Robert Kirschner, Dr Reif visited Berkeley to speak on "A Unique Medieval Archive". The lecture was jointly sponsored by the Congregation Emanu-El and the Center for Middle Eastern Studies of the University of California at Berkeley.

Rabbi Joe Pessah and Mrs Diane Claerbout arranged an address to the Karaite Jews of America on the relevance of the Genizah manuscripts to the history of the Karaite community. For his part, Dr Reif was able to discover a great deal about the activities and attitudes of today's Karaite Jewish communities.

"The Treasures of the Cairo Genizah" was the subject of Dr Reif's Arnold Bondi Memorial Lecture at the United Orthodox Synagogues of Houston in Texas. His host was Rabbi Joseph Radinsky and the lecture was sponsored by Dr Edith Bondi, a patron of learning like her late husband, Arnold, who belonged to a distinguished academic family.

At the University of California in San Diego, the first of the "Maimonides Lectures 1986" was given by Dr Reif on the subject of the "The Cairo Genizah and Maimonides"; the arrangements there were made, and the meeting chaired, by Professor Richard Friedman, of the Judaic Studies Program. Among Dr Reif's hosts in San Diego were Jerome and Miriam Katzin and Charles and Rene Taubman.

Additional support for the Unit has been attracted as a result of the trip and a number of Californians who attended the lecture in San Diego have already visited the Genizah Collection in Cambridge.


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

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University of Cambridge; last updated February 2004