[Cambridge University Library logo]


The Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

Genizah Fragments

The Newsletter of Cambridge University's
Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
at Cambridge University Library

No. 31 April 1996

Images of the Newsletter:

Page 1 (452,680 bytes)

Page 2 (430,632 bytes)

Page 3 (436,880 bytes)

Page 4 (442,534 bytes)

In this Edition:

Memories of a momentous find

It is now almost exactly a century since Solomon Schechter's Scottish friends in Cambridge, Mrs Agnes Lewis and Mrs Margaret Gibson, showed him a manuscript folio that ultimately led him to the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, and to the massive haul of Genizah fragments that he brought back to Cambridge.

Schechter was able to identify the folio as a Hebrew text of Ben Sira (Ecclesiasticus), the wisdom book written in the 2nd pre-Christian century and copied in 10th-century Cairo.

During the period from the initial discovery until the official presentation of the Taylor-Schechter Collection to the University of Cambridge in October, 1898, various noteworthy events took place. These will be commemorated in the relevant issues of Genizah Fragments between now and 1998 by transcriptions and reproductions of original documents.

The series begins with an extract from Mrs Lewis's description of developments in the spring of 1896, as related in her volume, In the Shadow of Sinai (1895-1897) (Cambridge, 1898), pp.168-80:

We left Jerusalem on April 17th. Whilst there we had bought one large Hebrew MS. of the Pentateuch, and we got a bundle of fragments from a dealer in the plain of Sharon. There was a similar bundle bought in Cairo, packed away in Mrs Gibson's trunk...

We reached home on May 3rd, and set about the work of examining our treasures and developing photographs. I had arranged our fragments of the previous year, so I left our acquisitions this time entirely in my sister's hands.

She identified all those amongst them which formed part of the Canonical Books of the Old Testament, and as we thought that the rest were probably either portions of the Talmud or of private Jewish documents, we resolved on asking our friend Dr Solomon Schechter, Reader in Talmudic to the University, to examine them.

Accordingly, on May 13th, I met him by chance on King's Parade, and told him that we had a number of things at home which awaited his inspection. He must have gone to our house immediately, for I returned after doing a little shopping and found him in the dining-room with our two bundles of fragments on the table.

He held up a large vellum leaf saying, "This is part of the Jerusalem Talmud, which is very rare; may I take it away?" "Certainly," I replied.

Then he held up a dirty scrap of paper. "This, too, is very interesting; may I take it away and identify it?" "Certainly."

"May I publish it?" I replied, "Mrs Gibson and I will only be too happy if you find that it is worth publishing."

Dr Schechter departed, and an hour afterwards we received a telegram : "Fragment very important; come to me this afternoon." Again there came a letter as we were sitting down to lunch. Here it is:

[Solomon Schechter's letter]
Solomon Schechter's letter to Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson, identifying the Ben Sira fragment (Cambridge University Library, Or. 1102), 13 May 1896

(Size of full image = 35,810 bytes)

We learnt afterwards that Dr Schechter had confided the news of his discovery to the first people he met in the Library: Dr Streane, Mr Magnusson, Mr Rogers, and others.

We went to his house in the afternoon, and at his request I wrote that same evening to both the Athenaeum and the Academy, giving the dimensions of our leaf, the number of lines in its two columns of writing, etc.

More than five weeks later, on June 27th, a notice appeared in the Athenaeum to the effect that two of the learned Librarians of the Bodleian at Oxford had found nine more leaves of the same Hebrew text of Ecclesiasticus, which further examination has shown to belong to the same manuscript.

Although this occurred in June, the fragments were brought to England by Professor Sayce almost simultaneously with ours, and it is natural for us to think that my letter of May 13th, published on May 16th, was of some assistance in guiding Messrs Neubauer and Cowley to this important result.

Yet it was bound to come sooner or later, for the Oxford leaves were in much better condition and more legible than ours, and I have been told that the first words which attracted attention were those of the characteristic passage: "Let us praise famous men, and the fathers that begat us."

Dr Schechter published our fragment in the July number of the Expositor; then Dr Neubauer and Mr Cowley brought out the text of the whole ten leaves in the form of a book in the following January.

Dr Schechter, having observed the word "Fostat" on many of our Hebrew fragments, determined to investigate the source from which they all came, and for that purpose he repaired to Cairo at the close of the year 1896...

Another aspect of the matter affords us intense amusement and gratification. Sira, the author of Ecclesiasticus, was a woman-hater. The names of Deborah, Ruth, and Judith do not occur in his list of national heroes; and one of his aphorisms runs: "Better is the wickedness of a man than the goodness of a woman" (Ecclus. xlii. 14).

It seems therefore a just judgment upon him that the Hebrew text of his book, the text which he actually wrote, should have practically disappeared for fifteen centuries, and should have been brought under the eyes of a European scholar, I may say a scholar of his own nation, by two women.

Back to the Index

T-S unit realises a golden dream

[Nancy Elkington and Les Goodey]
Nancy Elkington, of the American Research Libraries Group, being shown digitised Genizah images by Les Goodey of the photography department at Cambridge University Library

(Size of full image = 132,549 bytes)

A golden dream has become a reality. The Genizah On-Line Database (GOLD) is on the Internet.

At the end of December, 1995, the first World-Wide Web pages were launched, not in a blaze of publicity but still with a remarkable number of visitors in the first months.

Anyone with suitable computer software (Lynx, Mosaic or Netscape, for instance) and an Internet connection can view our pages at http://www.cam.ac.uk/Libraries/Taylor-Schechter.

The GOLD database will provide virtual visitors to the Library with high-quality digitised images, designed for conservation and to provide scholarly access.

The pages currently contain images, transcriptions, catalogue details and other information about a few selected fragments, and it is hoped that feedback from users will enable the project to tailor the information to scholarly needs.

Meanwhile, rather less ethereal visitors have also had a chance to see the work of the GOLD project. Recent visitors include a group of librarians from Poland; Nancy Elkington, a leading light from the American Research Libraries Group; and Professor Alec Broers, Vice-Chancellor-elect of Cambridge University (whose own field is in digitisation).

Dr Douglas De Lacey, who set up these pages with the scholarly participation of the Unit's Director, and much technical co-operation from the Library's Automation and Photographic Departments, says that he is delighted by their reception.

"Allow me to congratulate you on your admirable WWW site". "Exactly the sort of thing I had always wanted to do''. And (de Lacey's favourite) "At last, someone's got it right!''. These are just some of the comments which have been posted by enthusiastic viewers.

"My only disappointment'', says Dr de Lacey, "is that people have been so excited that we have had too little critical assessment of where we haven't got it right yet.''

Unit Director Dr Stefan Reif commented : "Assistance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England has made it possible to set up this pilot project and to initiate an exciting new development in the field of Hebrew scholarship.

"My hope is that some other major funding body may now be persuaded to provide the financial backing for an equally exciting continuation of the project.''

Back to the Index

Karaite ketubbot

[An Egyptian Karaite ketubbah]
T-S 13J37.11, one of the rare Egyptian ketubbot discussed in this article

(Size of full image = 450,921 bytes)

As is well known, the Karaites have existed as an independent Jewish sect since their establishment in Babylonia around the eighth century. They have distinguished themselves from Rabbanite mainstream Judaism by rejecting the oral tradition, as recorded in the Talmud, and by considering the Bible as their exclusive source of legal authority.

The Jewish marriage contract, the ketubbah, is not explicitly mentioned in the Hebrew Bible but forms a part of the oral traditiom The Karaites have nevertheless considered it as a necessary condition for their marriages and have made use of it through the ages, but with some notable features of their own.

Thanks to the discovery of the Cairo Genzah, a number of mediaeval Karaite ketubbot are now known to us. A few of these have been published or mentioned in other contexts by previous scholars, but the topic has never been studied in depth.

After spending several months reading through thousands of manuscripts from various parts of theTaylor-Schechter Collection, I have been able to identify nearly fifty Karaite marriage and betrothal contracts.

Due to their fragmentary and damaged state, however, thedate and provenance of many of these documents are difficulf to ascertain. The manuscripts in which the date and location clauses have been preserved inform us that they were written either in Egypt or in Eretz Israel.

The most ancient marriage contract from the Genizah, which is also the oldest Karaite ketubbah known to us, dates from the tenth century. Its poor physical condi- tion makes it impossible to be more precise, since only the beginning of the date has been preserved.

The most recent Karaite contract in the collection was written at the very beginning of the thirteenth century.

Karaite and Rabbanite marriage contracts may be distinguished from each other in three main areas: palaeography, language and formula tradition.

As far as palaeography is concerned, the Karaite tradition of writing the ketubbot involves the use of clear, monumental Hebrew square script, comparable to that used in the manuscripts of the Bible itself.

The Rabbanite ketubbot from the Genizah, on the other hand, are usually written in a more specific, quasi-cursive script, often with double spacing between the lines of the manuscript.

The language of the Karaite ketubbah is its most distinctive feature. Unlike the Rabbanite marriage contracts, which are traditionally written in Aramaic, those of the Karaites - who were attempting to conform to the ketubbah tradition of the Bible - were written exclusively in Hebrew, and in a style heavily inspired by the Bible.

As for the formulae, the Karaites were undoubtedly influenced by those included in the Talmud and in the Aramaic contracts of the Rabbanites. In addition, a unique feature of the Karaite tradition is the attempt to use biblical verses (mainly from the Torah) as binding legal formulae.

Other distinctive aspects of the Karaite ketubbah include the mention of the Nasi (leader of the Karaite community) at the beginning of the document; and the dating of the marriage according to the Seleucid era, known as Mispar Yevanim, "Counting of the Greeks".

It is explicitly stated that the bride is represented by a proxy called paqid; that the additional marriage payment (mohar) is divided into advanced and delayed portions; and that both groom and bride commit themselves specifically to observe Karaite religious customs

The Karaite marriage contracts from the Taylor-Schechter Collection constitute a unique source of information about various aspects of Jewish life in the Midd1e Ages. Much information can be gathered from them about the history of Karaite communities in Egypt and Eretz Israel, and notably about the names and genealogies of the Karaite Nesi'im who stood at their head.

The presence of the formulae inspired by the Rabbanite tradition casts a new light on the relations between Karaites and Rabbanites in the field of Jewish religious law, indicating that polemical attitudes did not rule out cultural borrowing.

At the same time, these documents highlight distinctive aspects of the Karaite faith. It is thus a contractual marriage obligation on both parties to abide by the Karaite calendar

Unlike the Rabbanites, who use calculation for the calendar, the Karaites fix Rosh Hodesh according to the appearance of the new moon, and the date of Passover according to the ripening of barley in Eretz Israel

The Karaites' use of Hebrew in their legal documents provides a remarkable source for our understanding of the development of the Hebrew language in the Middle Ages


Junior Research Fellow, Somerville College, Oxford

Back to the Index

Visitors to the Library

Recent visitors to the Unit were thirty London members of the Women's International Zionist Organisation, and seven students from the University of Sussex's Centre for Continuing Education researching "the uses of the Old Testament".

The Editor of the CAM magazine for Cambridge alumni, Mr Peter Richards, heard about the latest developments, and Ms Suzi Thomas, from the Office of the Vice-Chancellor, was particularly interested in the combination of mediaeval manuscripts and current technology

Back to the Index

How you can help the T-S Genizah Unit

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 he reached by fax (01223) 333160.

Readers not already supporting the Unit are asked to help ensure the continuity of this publication by making a 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, Mr Stephen C. Price, P.O. Box 9123, JAF BLG, New York, N.Y. 10087-9123, USA. Transfers of such funds are regularly made from the USA.

Contributions in Canada should be made payable to the University of Cambridge and may be sent to the Director of Cambridge University Development Office, Mr David Rampersad, at 188 Eglington Avenue E, (Suite 703), Toronto, Canada M4P 2X7.

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

Legacy of a faithful supporter

From the Editor's Desk

Raphael - known to us all as Ray - Levy, who died a few months ago, was the original inspiration of this newsletter. As one who had devoted most of his career to the public presentation of Jewish culture, politics and history, he was keenly aware of the need not only to uncover new information, but also to disseminate it widely and excitingly.

Having first corresponded with me and visited the Unit with his wife, Florence, some twenty years ago, Ray fed me a constant diet of comments and ideas for the improvement of the Unit's efforts. He never ceased to be thrilled with what came to be revealed in the Genizah and thereby was added to Hebrew and Jewish scholarship.

As the son of one of Solomon Schechter's nieces, he had always had a family interest in the Collection and ensured that many others in the large Schechter clan came to hear of its importance and to visit its Cambridge "shrine". He also offered invaluable advice to those researching the history of Solomon Schechter's close and wider family.

Ray would have been greatly thrilled by the current use of the novel and popular "Internet" phenomenon to spread the word about the Genizah treasures and to bring it to the personal computers of many who might never reach a major research library, let alone Cambridge itself. The presence of this newsletter on the World-Wide Web may in many ways be seen as a tribute to his memory.

Another of Ray's great interests was Israel in general, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in particular. He would therefore have warmly welcomed the arrangement for me to spend the coming academical year at that establishment's distinguished Institute of Advanced Studies.

The Institute, directed by Professor David Shulman (assisted by Dr Laure Barthel) runs a number of important research projects and invites chosen scholars from Israel and abroad to come and contribute their expertise to these. Since the Hebrew University is one of the world's leading centres for Hebrew and Jewish studies, topics in that area are consistently tackled, and important publications produced as a result.

The theme for 1996--97, to be directed by Professor Israel Ta-Shema, is "The Beginnings of Jewish Prayer" and I have been invited to participate in this project as a specialist in the history of mediaeval Jewish liturgy, as reflected in the Genizah fragments.

Since such research is of direct importance for our ongoing project to describe and analyse the Cambridge Genizah material, the University of Cambridge has kindly granted me leave of absence to accept this invitation.

My appointment in Jerusalem, at the level of full professor, will commence in October, 1996, and will last for twelve months. During that time, it is hoped to attract the services of a senior scholar to oversee, with my assistance and involvement, the continued activities of the Research Unit and its ongoing successes. Ray, of blessed memory, would not have approved of anything else.


Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

Back to the Index

Spotlight on Saadiah

The Seventh International Conference of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies was held under the auspices of the Department of Hebrew and Jewish Studies at the University of Strasbourg in July, 1995.

The underlying theme was "Saadiah Gaon -- Pioneer of Judaeo-Arabic Culture" and many of the papers touched on Saadiah's unique role in mediaeval Jewish culture, both as innovator and as champion of rabbinic tradition.

Paul Fenton provided a fascinating account of the history of Saadiah studies in Western Europe as a whole, and in the University of Strasbourg in particular. He highlighted various stages of interest in Saadiah's works since the 17th century, particularly by such outstanding 19th-century orientalists as T. Noeldeke and his students, and the work on Saadiah's Arabic translations of the Bible, which continue to attract modern scholarly attention.

Several talks were related to this aspect of Saadiah's work. They included Yosef Tobi's "The implementation of Ta'wil in Saadiah's Tafsir"; Sasson Somekh's "Remarks on the style of Saadiah's Tafsir"; and Aviva Schussman's study of "An unidentified exegetic Genizah fragment and the question of its relation to Saadiah's Tafsir", in which the manuscript under discussion, dealing with the Ten Commandments, was T-S Ar.48.104.

Joshua Blau discussed pre-Saadian translations of the Bible; Shimon Shtober spoke on parables and proverbs in the commentaries of Saadiah, Yefet and Isaac Kinzi; and Daniel Frank lectured on Karaite introductions to biblical books.

Saadiah's theory of language and his grammatical terminology were the respective themes of papers by Shelomo Morag and Aaron Dotan. Amnon Shiloah touched on the Gaon's musical concepts, and Daniel Lasker on his familiarity with Christianity.

My own talk dealt with various types of Arabic Bible translation, as well as the general functions of translation as a literary medium within the Judaeo-Arabic Genizah sources. These observations were based on recent work in the Genizah Unit on the Arabic material in the Old Series.

It is hoped that this catalogue, when completed, will provide a bird's eye view of the wide range of literary and documentary sources typical of Judaeo-Arabic literature. It may also serve as a further incentive for an outline of the genres unique to this literature, whose variety and depth received such a lively portrayal at Strasbourg.


Lady Davis Research Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

Back to the Index

Exhibition in Berlin

[Ernst Bartelt preparing Genizah fragments]
Ernst Bartelt, chief conservationist of the Prussian State Library, preparing Genizah fragments for the Berlin Exhibition

(Size of full image = 135,447 bytes)

Three Cambridge Genizah fragments featured among a rich variety of Hebrew and Jewish material exhibited between November, 1995, and February, 1996, at the Charlottenburg Palace in Berlin.

The exhibition, entitled Die Reise nach Jerusalem (The Journey to Jerusalem), was arranged by the Jewish Community of Berlin and sponsored by Das Land Berlin and the Berliner Festspiele. It consisted of some 400 exhibits from around the world.

The Cambridge items comprised a letter by a Jew about the Crusader conquest of Jerusalem (T-S 20.113); a 10th-century guide to Jerusalem (T-S Ar.53.2); and a letter by an 11th-century Jewish merchant mentioning the yeshivah of Jerusalem (T-S Misc.28.199).

These were lent by special permission of the University of Cambridge on the recommendations of the University Librarian and the Library Syndicate.

The catalogue, which bears the same name as the exhibition, was edited by Hendrik Budde and Andreas Nachama and published by Argon Verlag in Berlin, in November, 1995.

Back to the Index

Lectures in Washington

In September, 1995, the Director of the Unit, Dr Stefan Reif, was the Scholar-in-Residence at the Foundation for Jewish Studies in Washington DC.

The Foundation, presided over by Dr Joshua Haberman, and directed by Mrs Ruth Frank, "brings eminent authorities in Bible, Jewish History and Jewish Thought to serve as master teachers" in and around the Washington area.

The main theme of Dr Reif's lectures was, of course, the Genizah but he treated the subject from a variety of angles.

One topic was the manner in which the Genizah had illuminated the life and work of Maimonides, while another was the role of women in the Mediterranean society of the Middle Ages.

The final lecture was widely regarded as the highlight of the series. An audience of about 170 distinguished Washington scholars and devotees of cultural history gathered at the Smithsonian Institution to hear an assessment of the overall significance of the Cairo Genizah manuscripts for understanding the Middle Ages and the religious cultures that stood at their centre.

Back to the Index

Council awards further £68,500

The Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) has followed up last year's award of £68,000 in support of the University Library's Genizah Research Unit with another grant of £68,500 in the current year.

These funds are earmarked for special research posts in the Unit to ensure further progress on the description of various uncatalogued parts of the Cambridge Genizah Collections.

Dr Douglas De Lacey and Dr Erica Hunter are working on projects described in this and the previous issue of Genizah Fragments. Other appointments are expected to be made shortly and it is hoped that the funding will continue to be available for a further three years.

A major gift has been received as a contribution to the costs of producing Genizah Fragments over the next three years. The family of the late David Lauffer have been impressed by the role of this newsletter in bringing information about the Genizah to a wide readership and have donated £10,000 in his memory in support of this and future issues.

Two awards made in the United States and channelled to Cambridge by the American Friends of Cambridge University also deserve special mention. The Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust in New York has contributed $5,000 to Genizah funds; and the Joseph Meyerhoff Fund in Baltimore has assisted the Unit with an award of $2,000.

Other generous contributions received in recent months have been made by an anonymous trust in London (£2,923); the Samuel Sebba Charitable Trust (£1,500); the Harbour Trust (£1,000, through Barbara and Stanley Green); the Kessler Foundation (£1,285), whose income is derived largely from the Jewish Chronicle; the Dr R. and Mrs Z. Kohn Charitable Trust (£1,000); the Jewish Memorial Council (£1,000); and the Goldberg Charitable Trust (£1,000).

Further important support for the work of the Unit has come from Cyril and Betty Stein (£500); Sir Trevor Chinn, of Lex Services plc (£500); Harry and Gertie Landy (£500); the Israel Koschitzky Charitable Foundation in Toronto ($500); and an anonymous trust in the Midlands (£300).

Among those who have kindly renewed their contributions are Conrad and Ruth Morris (£250); Michael and Ruth Phillips (£250); Mrs Helen Sebba (£250); and Fred and Della Worms (£250).

The Unit is also grateful for the financial assistance of Harvey and Adrienne Beckman (£100); Mr S.W. Laufer (£100); William Margulies (£100); Anthony and Diana Rau (£100); Mrs Anne Schechter Herzberg ($100); and Mrs Clara B. Laks ($100).

In addition, smaller contributions amounting to £2,556 have been a welcome addition to the Unit's funding, and all supporters are warmly thanked for their interest and generosity.

Back to the Index

Edited by Stefan C. Reif

If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
Return to the Genizah Fragments index.
Return to the Taylor-Schechter Home Page.
Return to Cambridge University Library's Home Page.

©University of Cambridge; last updated September 1998