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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. 15 April 1988


New Vistas

As envisaged at the beginning of the academical year last October, 1987-1988 is proving to be a most exciting and productive time for the Genizah Unit.

In addition to the usual achievements of our regular team, the efforts of our visiting researchers, Professor Michael Klein and Dr Robert Brody, and their involvement in the wider work of the Unit have helped to maintain an atmosphere of discovery and industry.

The catalogue of targumic fragments being prepared by Professor Klein already contains over a thousand items and his work has revealed the existence of a new genre of material. While "fragment-targums" had previously been known for Palestinian targumim, he has now discovered a number of such types for the Targum Onqelos.

Dr Brody's research on the thousands of rabbinic fragments has opened up new vistas in the halakhic literature of the geonic age that followed the Talmud and predated Maimonides. Among his finds have been sections of unknown legal monographs.

There can be little doubt that these and similar discoveries will ultimately improve our whole understanding of a period of Jewish literary history that still has many obscure aspects to it.

The interest I have found among laymen in knowing what Jews wrote, read and studied for over a thousand years ago is gratifying and encouraging. The lectures I have given on the subject to various organisations have been warmly received and the result has been not only an intellectual stimulus from the Genizah for the participants, but also additional financial support for its analysis and research.

One of the innovations has been joint fund-raising functions for the sponsoring group and the Genizah Unit. A novel subject is provided for the audiences and a wider financial benefit ensues.

I hope that the idea can be widely duplicated for the mutual benefit of the Unit and other educational organisations. There must be a number of committees who would like to introduce the Genizah to their members.

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


[three people looking at a print]

The University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe (right), presenting a framed print of Maimonides' autograph to Dr Lionel Kopelowitz, President of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, and Mrs Kopelowitz during their visit to the Library

Cambridge visit leads to site of pilgrimages

Recent discoveries in the Cambridge Genizah Collection have led an archaeologist to the site of an ancient Jewish settlement in Galilee. During his visit to Cambridge in 1977-78, and as a result of later correspondence with the Genizah Unit, Dr Zvi Ilan, of Tel Aviv, has been able to build a picture of Jewish pilgrimage to Eretz Yisrael in the fourteenth century.

With the help of a number of Genizah documents and the co-operation of researchers in the Unit, he has compiled a book, shortly to be published, that will detail many of the holy sites visited by pilgrims at that time (see Genizah Fragments 8, page 4).

Even more remarkable has been his romance with Kefar Marus (= Marous = Marut = Meroth), a place mentioned in a Cambridge Genizah text but nowhere else in the mediaeval literature about the tombs of saints.

Following up this Genizah lead, Dr Ilan has succeeded in locating the ruins of Marus four kilometres west of Tel Hasor, to the north of Lake Tiberias, and has identified them as the remains of a Jewish settlement mentioned in as early a source as Josephus, the first-century Jewish historian.

Excavations on the site have just concluded and have brought to light a synagogue, school and academy. An illustration of David and Goliath and a Hebrew inscription adorn a mosaic floor, and the lintel carries a verse from Deuteronomy.

The wealth of the village is indicated by the presence of hundreds of coins, and an amulet in Hebrew and Aramaic exemplifies a contemporary local confidence in magic.

Genizah research and archaeology have worked hand in hand to reconstruct parts of the history of a Jewish community in Palestine that apparently flourished through the Byzantine, Islamic and Crusader periods and survived to be mentioned in Genizah texts dating from the fourteenth century.

A book and some articles have recently been published by Zvi Ilan and Emanuel Damati, and the archaeological exhibits are on display at the Israel Museum.


Wolfson aid

The Genizah Unit's first grant awarded by the Wolfson Foundation has been promised for 1988-89 in support of the full-time post initiated this year for the description of all the rabbinic fragments in the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

The sum offered is 5,000 and will be provided when an appointment is made to continue the work being done in the current year by Dr Robert Brody, who is on sabbatical leave from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

It is hoped that other funding bodies, at present being approached, will provide the remainder of the sum required for the project.

Other awards made in recent months have also been ear-marked for the assistance of special research projects. Mr Stanley Kalms has contributed 1,250 towards the cost of preparing a catalogue of all the Targum fragments in the Collection; and the John Stewart of Rannoch Fund, managed by the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies, has supported the work on the medical material with an award of 1,000.

Mr Sidney Corob has met part of the cost (750) of computerizing a bibliography of all published work on the Cambridge Genizah Collection; Heron International plc has sponsored part of this issue of Genizah Fragments (500); Mr Stanley Burton has made it possible to catalogue Hebrew books relating to Genizah research (335); and Mr Fred Worms has provided financial assistance for the installation of a second computer line and visual display unit (270)

The regular and invaluable support of Mr Cyril Stein (1,000), Mr Trevor Chinn and Mr Mark Goldberg (500) has continued, as have the annual contributions kindly made by Mr Joe Dwek and Mr and Mrs Harry Landy (250).

Renewals of their awards have also been welcomed from Mr Cesare Sacerdoti (200), Mrs Helena Sebba (150), Mr Conrad Morris (150), Mr Henry Knobil (100), Mr William Margulies (100), and Mr and Mrs Anthony Rau (100).

The generous offer of the sculptress, Hazel Alexander, to sell a limited number of copies of her cold cast bronze of Maimonides for the benefit of Genizah Unit funds (as reported in the last issue of Genizah Fragments) has been especially helpful, with a total of 1,000 being raised in only a few weeks.

The warm hospitality of Dr Ralph and Mrs Zehavah Kohn also benefited work on the Genizah fragments. At a supper party in their home Dr Reif spoke on the life of Maimonides as reflected in these fragments and funds were jointly raised for the Unit (600) and for Emunah's Child Resettlement programme.

Among those newly associating themselves with the Unit's efforts to increase its financial backing in recent months have been Arthur and Jeannie Rivkin ($500), Dr Meyer Lifschitz and Mr Julian Falk in the USA ($100) and Mr S. W. Laufer in England.

To all these supporters and to those contributing anonymous and/or smaller sums, the Unit offers its warm thanks. It is a source of satisfaction that it enjoys their confidence.


1,000 copies

The Annual Report of the Cambridge University Library Syndicate for 1985-86 contained the following comments on the Genizah Unit:

"The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit continued to operate at that high level of scholarly efficiency which the Library has come to expect and even to take for granted.

"Working alongside the Genizah team are to be found each year distinguished visiting scholars. During 1986 Mr M. C. Davis completed his fourth volume of Bible fragments; Dr E. J. Wiesenberg described forty rabbinic fragments; Professor B. L. Visotzky hand-listed the whole of binder T-S NS 218; and Dr T. Groner analysed literally hundreds of rabbinic and liturgical manuscripts in all three parts of the collection.

"The Unit's highly successful Newsletter, Genizah Fragments, now has a circulation of over one thousand copies and carries details of the numerous initiatives and activities of the Unit to interested parties in many parts of the world."


[a manuscript]

Or.1080 J193: a letter from Jerusalem to Cairo, 1513-14

New light on Holy Land sages

For a number of years I have participated in the Oriens Judaicus project of the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem. The aim of this project is to identify, decipher and publish Genizah documents from the end of the mediaeval period, that is, from the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 until the emergence of the pseudo-Messiah, Shabbethai Sevi in 1666.

Since Genizah researchers have paid insufficient attention to this period, there is still the exciting prospect of interesting discoveries about the Jewish communities of the Near East, particularly those of Egypt and the Holy Land, and the relations they enjoyed with each other.

In 1983 and 1985, I spent a few weeks in Cambridge working on this part of the Genizah material and discovered two letters which, taken together with one from the British Library give an insight into the lives and work of more than a dozen sages of Jerusalem in the early sixteenth century.

Many of these are personalities of the highest rank, a large number of whom were refugees from Spain. They are known principally through their literary works, but the historical details of their lives have remained almost completely obscure.

Previously existing sources indicate that all but one of these sages were active in the first decades of Ottoman rule (after 1516). The newly identified documents are of considerable interest, since they establish that they were already living and working in Jerusalem at the end of the Mamluk period and attest to their financial dependence on certain notables in the Jewish community in Egypt.

One of the letters (MS Cambridge University Library, Or.1080 J193) was sent in 1513/14 by R. Moses de Castro from Jerusalem to one of the most prominent dignitaries in Egypt, Abraham ibn Sanji, requesting financial assistance to complete the construction of a communal building for the Jews of Jerusalem.

The writer, who was clearly one of the leading personalities in the Jerusalem community, is more familiar as an active participant in the great debate which took place in 1538 between the sages of Safed and Jerusalem concerning rabbinic ordination and the proposal to re-establish the Sanhedrin.

In his letter, he also alludes to family matters which are of historical importance. He refers to two of his relatives who lived in Jerusalem - his stepfather, the well-known Spanish visionary, R. Abraham ben Eliezer ha-Levi (in the words of the writer: "who brought me up like a father and was the husband of my mother"), and his maternal uncle, Abraham Zacuto, the famous astronomer and historian who wrote Sefer ha-Yuhasin. Concerning them he writes: "There is nobody in Jerusalem who is more poor and needy than they are."

The writer also mentions his two teachers who resided in Jerusalem, R. Levi ibn Habib and David ibn Shoshan. The information about R. Levi ibn Habib is particularly interesting.

Accepted scholarly opinion has placed the arrival of this personality in Jerusalem in 1523, but from this new source it emerges that he was already living there ten years earlier.

The other letter from the Cambridge collection (T-S 13J24.21) was sent by Abraham Sagis from Jerusalem in the second or third quarter of the century to the Jerusalem sage, R. Joseph Corcos, then living in Egypt. The writer reports to him on various events that have occurred in Jerusalem in his absence.

Prominent among these is the distribution of money to individuals and institutions from the funds sent by the Egyptian dignitary, Solomon al-Ashqar, for the support of the community.

In this context he mentions two Jerusalem yeshivoth that received assistance from him: the yeshivah of the Ashkenazim and the yeshivah headed by the recipient of the letter.

I have published full details of these letters in Shalem 5 (1987), 229-49.

Abraham David
Jewish National and University Library, Jerusalem


Rich archive

The importance of the Cairo Genizah as a rich, communal archive surviving into the modern period was touched on by Professor Alan Crown, head of the Department of Semitic Studies at the University of Sydney and Acting President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew Studies, when he addressed a symposium held in February at the British Library, London.

Some sixty delegates attended from London, Oxford, Leeds, Cardiff, Southampton, Birmingham, Hull, Manchester, Leicester, Warwick and Liverpool. Dr Stefan Reif represented Cambridge, and Southampton University Librarian, Mr Bernard Naylor, presided. The initiative and organisation came from Parkes Fellow Dr Tony Kushner.

The meeting discussed the future of archival material relating to Jewish studies in Britain, with scholars, librarians, archivists and communal officials debating ways of ensuring its survival, availability and conservation.

It was agreed to set up a working-party to look into the subject and to report back to a second symposium next year.


[picture of poster]

Anniversary poster

Spreading the word

As executive editor Peter Tomson, of Amsterdam, was preparing the final proofs of The Literature of the Sages, edited by Shmuel Safrai, last spring, he decided to include a plate of a Cambridge Genizah fragment to illustrate an early Palestinian halakhic text (T-S NS 252.1a).

Following a number of telephone calls to Cambridge and some feverish activity in the Genizah Unit and in the University Library's own photographic department, a bromide print was despatched to Amsterdam and duly appeared in the volume when it was published two months later.

The volume is part of the series Compendia Rerum Iudaicarum ad Novum Testamentum published by Van Gorcum of Assen and Fortress Press of Philadelphia.

The Cambridge Genizah also featured in popular articles in the Jewish Chronicle in London and Present Tense in New York and was the subject of a feature prepared by Shlomo Nakdimon of Yediot Ahronot in Tel Aviv.

Dr S. C. Reif and Dr G. Khan were interviewed for a regular Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio programme, and advice was sought from Dr Reif by BBC Radio Scotland in the preparation of a debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Pictured is one of the three posters printed in limited numbers to mark ninety years of Genizah discoveries in Cambridge. The posters are available from the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the University Library while supplies last.


Genesis fragment yields a surprise

In the summer of 1986 I spent two months working on the Genizah Collection at Cambridge. A fair number of years had elapsed since my previous visit there and this renewed encounter with the original leaves was a refreshing experience.

No mass-produced electronic technology can compete with the real thing. Faded or stained folios, hardly giving any idea of their contents when read on a microfilm or photostat, suddenly become legible in the original.

I went to Cambridge with a list of fragments to check, and with a clear idea of the kind of fragments I was seeking. All were within the literary part of the Genizah and I hoped to find at least some.

The results, though not starling, are nevertheless satisfactory and may be classified into two: 1. fragments of works hitherto unidentified, unknown or considered lost; 2. others that provide more texts of well-known works, many of them long since published. Some examples of each kind may be in place here.

Many years ago Hartwig Hirschfeld, of Jews' College and University College, London, published in the old series of the Jewish Quarterly Review a series of articles on Genizah fragments. In one of them he mentioned in passing (XVI, 421) A Judaeo-Arabic work entitled kitab al khaliqa (i.e., The Book of Creation/Genesis).

He did not indicate the classmark. His footnote, however, aroused some speculation over the years that the contents of the fragment might constitute another old commentary on the famous Sefer Yesira.

Having almost completed for the press a short piece on Saadya's commentary on Sefer Yesira, I had a personal interest in that fragment. The Judaeo-Arabic boxes, once known as "Hirschfeld's boxes" and now marked T-S Arabic 51-54, were in any case on my list.

In one of them, there it was, T-S Arabic 52.184, four long, narrow pages (36 lines each) written in square script.

Nevertheless, its contents turn out to be a surprise. It is not a commentary on Sefer Yesira, but a philosophical commentary on Genesis, the extant fragment being the end of the fifth and beginning of the sixth "discourse" (maqala) of the work (also the beginning of the commentary on 1:2).

It may well be that the fragment belongs to a commentary under that very title, which, according to the tenth-century Karaite al-Qirqisani (al-Anwar, ed. L. Nemoy, 44, line 15), was written by Da'ud ibn Marwan al Muqammis in the ninth century.

A pertinent example of fragments of well-known works is Saadya's al-Amanat (Beliefs and Convictions), his major philosophical treatise. The two printed editions of the original Arabic text (S. Landauer, 1880; J. Qafih, 1970) are based mainly on two complete codices (in Oxford and Leningrad), although Qafih has also taken into account some Genizah fragments.

The many differences between the two codices pose a real problem in the edition of the text. This problem is compounded by the mediaeval Hebrew translation of the text by ibn Tibbon, which is rather close to the Leningrad version.

In this situation Genizah fragments can be highly important in any attempt to establish a definitive edition of the Arabic text. Over the years I have accumulated a list of well over twenty Genizah fragments of the Amanat, mostly in the Cambridge T-S Collection, some of them very old.

Together they cover a substantial portion of the text. Having been able to compare a considerable number of them with the printed edition, I am in a position to say that in many, if not most, cases they tend to be closer to the Leningrad version.

Not all of these fragments were identified by me. Many had been identified by earlier scholars who had never published their findings.

How, then, did I get to know their identifications? In the early days, when the fragments were kept inside paper folders, scholars working on them used to note on these same folders some suggested identifications (occasionally with initialled signatures, e.g., G. V[ajda], M. Z[ucker] etc.). These varied from tentative generalisations to positive and accurate references.

More recently, with the conservation of the fragments in "Melinex" pockets, the folders were attached in batches to the volumes containing the corresponding pockets. These folders, inaccessible to those who make do with photographic reproductions, prove an invaluable source of information about the fragments.

In the present situation, where the process of cataloguing all the T-S Collection has still some way to go before completion, folders are the nearest substitute for a handlist.

As I examined all the folders, this state of affairs kept bringing to mind a similar situation in the sphere of geographical discovery, namely, the nineteenth-century maps of Africa that were covered with blank spots marking unsurveyed areas.

These spots challenged adventurous travellers, who were sometimes fortunate to discover new territories, or else found on arrival either a living Dr Livingstone or only the traces of former "Livingstones", of whom they could have had no knowledge before setting out. The real challenge then was to undertake a proper survey of the unknown.

In the case under discussion, the real challenge and urgent need is a proper catalogue, or handlists, of the T-S Genizah Collection and in the long run, a unified catalogue of all Genizah collections. The staff of the Genizah Research Unit is doing its best, and more.

For the rest, this task should occupy a place high on the agenda of individual scholars, institutions concerned with Jewish studies and funding bodies.

Haggai Ben-Shammai
Department of Arabic, Hebrew University of Jerusalem


[a manuscript]

T-S K5.13: the child's alphabet primer heading for New York to be displayed at the Hebrew book exhibition

Manuscripts for New York

Following a visit to the Cambridge University Library by Dr Leonard Gold, Chief Librarian of New York Public Library's Jewish Division, the President and Chief Executive Officer of that distinguished American library, Professor Vartan Gregorian, has requested the loan of two Hebrew manuscripts for an exhibition being mounted there from October 1988 until February 1989 and entitled "A Sign and a Witness: The Hebrew Book from Antiquity to our Time."

The Syndicate of Cambridge University Library has agreed to allow the Librarian to accede to this request and has obtained the approval of the University's Regent House for the arrangement.

There are, of course, strict conditions attached to the transit, insurance, exhibition, conservation and publication of the manuscript to which the New York Public Library has gladly agreed.

One of the two manuscripts is Genizah fragment T-S K5.13, part of an illuminated Hebrew alphabet primer for children, from about the eleventh century.

Dr Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah Unit, has also agreed to serve on the exhibition's International Advisory Committee.


The Jewish Identity Group of North-West London takes the study of its roots seriously.

For a number of years it has organised visits to places of Jewish interest but it has always prepared its members with background information.

This year the trip will be to Cairo and will include the Ben-Ezra Synagogue. By way of introduction, Dr Stefan Reif led two illustrated seminars on the Genizah's import for Jewish history and literature.


What the Seder `Olam really said

In the world of Jewish studies, one often hears of fascinating new texts discovered in the Genizah, in the fields of Bible (for example, previously unknown targumim), of Rabbinics (such as previously unknown midrashim), and especially, of course, documents of all sorts from the Middle Ages.

But the Genizah is also of crucial significance for scholars in many other fields, working with texts which have been known for centuries, and indeed, have been intensively studied all this time.

A short description of the textual history of Seder `Olam - a rabbinic chronography which deals with dates and ages of the biblical period and for which I am preparing a critical edition and commentary - will illustrate the paramount importance of the Genizah for my research and, similarly, for other rabbinic texts.

At first glance, one might almost think that the fragments from the Cairo Genizah would be relatively unimportant for any textual work on Seder `Olam. After all, this chronography was very popular in the Middles Ages, and ten different manuscript codices of it have been preserved and are now located in various libraries around the world. How much can a few Genizah fragments add?

The answer is - a great deal. What has become clear during the course of my work on Seder `Olam is that all of these manuscript codices found in the various libraries (with one solitary exception) derive from a single textual tradition, and this textual tradition contains many errors.

Only a careful perusal of the Genizah evidence has led me to a realization of the problematic nature of these manuscripts, which in turn is crucial for my attempt to determine the original text of Seder `Olam.

The historical basis for my conclusion is obvious. All the manuscript codices are of late date, from the fourteenth century onwards, and most have a European provenance.

The majority of the Genizah fragments of Seder `Olam, on the other hand, were written between the ninth and twelfth centuries, and almost all are of Eastern (that is, Egyptian, Palestinian or Syrian) origin.

Sometime during the transmission history of Seder `Olam, one specific textual tradition became predominant in Europe, and its offspring are those which were preserved; indeed, it may have been the only tradition known to most of Europe. In the East, however, many different textual traditions co-existed.

All this can be reconstructed only thanks to the Genizah. Thus, the importance of the Genizah transcends the actual readings preserved in the various fragments; very often these fragments open the door to a proper understanding of textual tradition as a whole, which is, of course, the first stage in the study of any text.

In addition to this aspect of the Genizah, there are also many individual readings where the evidence of the Genizah fragments is crucial for a determination of the correct text. An analysis of one example will be a fitting conclusion to this brief discussion of the importance of the Genizah for Seder `Olam.

The first chapter of Seder `Olam start with the creation of Adam and concludes with Jacob. One of the biblical events dated in this chapter is the binding of Isaac.

Eight different textual witnesses to the passage state that Isaac was thirty-seven years old at the binding, and this was also the reading in the text of Seder `Olam available to Rashi, the Tosafoth, Rabbi Solomon ibn Adret, and many other Jewish scholars of the Middle Ages.

Nonetheless, from the Genizah evidence it is clear that according to the original text of Seder `Olam, Isaac was twenty-six at the time of the binding. As I discuss in a commentary soon to be published, this can be deduced from the context in Seder `Olam itself and is also the position of the only other tannaitic text relevant, the Sifrey to Deuteronomy.

The secondary reading found in many manuscripts - "thirty-seven" developed as a result of the tremendous influence of popular aggadic tales, specifically the story making Sarah's death dependent upon the binding. Since it can be determined from the biblical data that Isaac was thirty-seven when his mother Sarah died, this would mean that he was thirty-seven at the binding.

Seder `Olam, in its original pristine form, knew none of this and derived Isaac's age at the binding from completely different data. However, as is well known to scholars of Jewish literature, mediaeval scribes very often "corrected" ancient texts according to their own inclinations and so we are dependent upon the Genizah for providing us with the ability to determine what Seder `Olam really said.

Chaim Milikowsky
Department of Talmud, Bar-Ilan University


[a person]

Regular readers of Genizah Fragments, Michael [above] and Avital Makushkin, of Leningrad, have recently received permission to emigrate to Israel.

During their years as Russian "refuseniks" the Makushkins kept themselves informed about Genizah scholarship and were particularly interested in the story of the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism in the ninth century. Reference is made to this conversion in a number of Genizah fragments.

Mr Ramon Phillips, of Burwell, Cambridge, who maintained contact with the Makushkins, reports that they conducted their own research into Hebrew palaeography by investigating Hebrew tombstones and other inscriptions in the Crimea.

"Their aim is to settle on a religious kibbutz," says Mr Phillips, "and they will want to continue to receive the newsletter."


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 June 2005