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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. 43 April 2002

On other pages


New home for Research Unit

[Professor Owen Chadwick]

Professor Owen Chadwick, OM, former Master of Selwyn College, opening the new Manuscripts Reading Room

A reception was held on 4 December, 2001, to mark the official opening of the north-west corner extension of Cambridge University Library. The speakers were Peter Fox, University Librarian, and the Reverend Professor Owen Chadwick, formerly Professor of Modern History and Master of Selwyn College.

Some 200 invited guests included members of the University, the Library Syndicate, staff based in the extension and regular users of the north-west reading rooms.

The reception took place in the spacious surroundings of the new Manuscripts Reading Room, where there were a number of manuscripts on display, including an exhibition of a dozen treasures from the Cairo Genizah, organized by Dr Ben Outhwaite.

Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the generosity of other donors, the north-west corner extension has made possible the rehousing of various reading rooms and departments. In the enlarged and modernized Manuscripts Reading Room, scholars can order and view fragments from the Genizah Collection.

A new home has also been provided for the Genizah Research Unit, which now occupies four offices on the second floor. These offices are not only comfortable, spacious and well-lit - the last-mentioned essential for manuscript reading - but are also conveniently situated near the manuscript stacks, where the fragments are stored in specially controlled conditions.

Plans are also in hand for the refurbishment of these stacks and the project will begin as soon as the necessary funding can be obtained.

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Van Pelt in joint project

In addition to the current year's major external funding reported in the last issue of Genizah Fragments, other financial support has continued to come to the Unit over the past few months.

The generosity of an anonymous donor in the United States has enabled the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt Library and Cambridge University Library to undertake a joint Genizah project. The first payment of 16,500 has now been received.

The Lauffer Family Trust has made an award of 3,000, Mr Raymond Burton has sent 1,000, and a donation of 1,000 has been received from Mrs Sophie Cohen.

Other substantial contributions to Unit funds have come from the Kohn Foundation (500, through Dr Ralph and Mrs Zahava Kohn); and the Cyril and Betty Stein Charitable Trust (500).

Among those who have also assisted the Unit are the F. and D. Worms Charitable Trust (300); the R. and M. Phillips Charitable Trust (250); and Ingrid and David Sellman (200).

Welcome renewals of their contributions have been received from the Athelney Charitable Trust (150); Diana and Anthony Rau (150); the Rubin Foundation Charitable Trust (150); Mr Michael Rose (100); and the Sterling Charitable Trust (100).

The Unit is also grateful to Mr J. Peter Ebstein (100); to Dr Barry Mittelman ($150); and to anonymous donors who contributed 100 in memory of Dr Haskell Isaacs.

Other smaller or anonymous donations and payments, amounting to over 1,000, are also much appreciated.

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[Dr Howard Sulkin and Phyllis Lambert]

Spertus College president Dr Howard Sulkin at the opening of the exhibition with Phyllis Lambert, founding director of the Canadian Centre for Architecture and editor of a volume on the Ben Ezra Synagogue

Acclaim for Spertus display

The Spertus Museum's newest exhibition, "A Gateway to Medieval Mediterranean Life: Cairo's Ben Ezra Synagogue", opened in Chicago to critical acclaim on 21 October 2001.

The exhibition, under the guest curatorship of Professor Jacob Lassner, of Northwestern University, displays original Genizah fragments from Cambridge University Library and the Jewish Theological Seminary Library in New York.

To complement the original fragments (each group of which may be displayed for only three months because of conservation considerations), facsimiles were created to show the wide range of topics brought to light by the Genizah discoveries.

Other artifacts from the period, as well as video, audio, photographs, drawings and maps, encourage visitors of all ages to imagine themselves in medieval Fustat, walking the streets and inside the Ben Ezra Synagogue.

The exhibition is divided into six "lenses", each of which explores a different aspect of the Genizah story and the world revealed through the fragments 'discovered' in 1896. Three of these "lenses" deal with Solomon Schechter's role in the discovery, multicultural life in Genizah times, and daily life in Fustat.

The others feature the Ben Ezra Synagogue and the shape of worship and education at the time, intellectual life, and conservation, which includes the ongoing treatment of the Genizah fragments.

Visitors also have the opportunity of "entering" the Genizah and of viewing a multi-screened film, created by movie-maker Lauri Feldman, that brings several fragments to life.

The success of the exhibition is demonstrated by the number of visitors who have been to the museum. Since the attacks on 11 September, most museums in the United States have reported a marked decrease in attendance. The "Gateway to Medieval Mediterranean Life" exhibition bucks this trend and is now the best attended show to date at the Spertus Museum.

Visitors have stated that the show opened a new world to them and that its message of cultural co-existence could not have come at a more timely moment. In addition, many express a deep connection to history when they encounter the 1,000-year-old documents.

To enrich the exhibition, a variety of public programmes - including lectures, workshops, and group tours for both adult and student groups - expand on the contents of the exhibition and increase its relevance for all visitors.

It is hoped that over 25,000 visitors will have seen the exhibition before it closes in mid-August 2002.

Among the professors who have lectured to date, Dean Bell, of the Spertus Institute, has given a mini-course on Jews, Muslims and Christians in the Middle Ages; Stefan Reif has spoken on unexpected aspects of the Genizah story; and Jacob Lassner on the development of Genizah research and on Jewish-Muslim relations.

Hebrew poetry in the Genizah and the history of the synagogue have been treated by Ross Brann, of Cornell University, and Helena Zlotnick, of the University of Kansas, while Byron Sherwin, of the Spertus Institute, has dealt with the life and legacy of Solomon Schechter. Joel Kraemer, of the University of Chicago, has lectured on women's letters and on Maimonides, and Professor Norman Golb is due to address the topic of historical manuscripts in the Genizah.

Dean Bell

Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies

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New books draw on Cambridge

Readers of Genizah Fragments will be interested to learn of two recently published books that give close attention to important sections of the Cambridge Genizah Collections.

The first volume is a handsomely produced and carefully annotated edition of Maimonides's commentary on the tractate Shabbat in the Mishnah.

The draft of the commentary has been preserved in twenty-four Genizah fragments (twenty-one of them from the Taylor-Schechter Collection), forming seven successive leaves that cover almost the entire tractate, 1:2-24:3, and probably written after Maimonides's arrival in Egypt.

The draft is particularly important since this tractate is missing from the principal manuscript source, the fair copy preserved in the Bodleian and former Sassoon libraries.

Simon Hopkins, now Professor of Arabic at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, began this work, together with the late Dr E. J. Wiesenberg, while a research assistant in the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge (1975-78). He has also incorporated findings by another former Unit researcher, Professor Paul Fenton.

In his characteristically thorough introduction - provided in English as well as Hebrew - Hopkins describes the manuscript of the fair copy, details all the autograph Genizah fragments of the draft commentary, and explains the history of the transmission of the text.

Possession of both early and late copies of the commentary in the author's hand demonstrates clearly Maimonides's method of working and reveals the corrections and changes he made to the text.

The edition is entitled Maimonides's Commentary on Shabbat: The draft commentary according to autograph fragments from the Cairo Geniza: Arabic original and Hebrew translation, by Simon Hopkins (Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem, 2001; ISBN: 965-235-085-0)

The second volume, a slightly updated version of a doctoral dissertation by Yehezkel Luger, is a close textual study of seventy Genizah manuscripts containing the `amidah (sixty-seven of them at Cambridge), comparing them with over 200 other manuscripts and early sources.

In general, the texts of most `amidah blessings are found to belong to one of two versional traditions. There are exceptions, however, such as the blessing shome`a tefillah, with four different branches, and the blessing ge'ulah, which is almost identical in every manuscript.

The data help to clarify whether the Genizah forms of the `amidah were isolated and unique, and to what extent today's rites reflect a continuation of ancient traditions.

Although, at an early stage of research, many of these variant Genizah versions were described as Palestinian, recent scholars have questioned the validity of making such a general attribution.

With his monograph, Luger, who teaches at Israel's Open University, has laid some useful foundations for the further expansion of the topic and detailed consideration of its historical ramifications.

The volume, written in Hebrew, is entitled The Weekday Amidah in the Cairo Genizah, by Yehezkel Luger (Orhot Press, Jerusalem, 2001; ISBN: 965-90352-0-9).

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The fate of Schechter's family

Whatever happened to Dr Solomon Schechter's children? This question is often asked by Genizah researchers, or addressed to them by others.

When Mathilde and Solomon left Cambridge in 1902, after a stay of twelve years, their young family consisted of Ruth, Frank and Amy.

It was the distinguished rabbinic scholar's earnest hope that moving to New York would provide them with a more intensive Jewish environment. In fact, all three preferred to be more active in the broader world.

Frank studied law and served during the First World War as an officer with the United States Army in France, where he suffered the effects of gassing.

He later obtained a doctorate in jurisprudence from Columbia University in New York and made his mark as a successful patent lawyer. Sadly, he died young, in 1937.

His grandchildren are today active in American Jewish communities and one of them, John, is a Conservative rabbi.

Both Ruth and Amy had more revolutionary bents and found fulfilment in literary and political spheres, rather than in their father's scholarly or religious world.

They moved away from Jewish practice, became enthused with socialism and its plans to cure many of the world's ills, and ultimately joined the Communist Party.

In 1907, Ruth married in New York a thirty-year old South African lawyer and politician, some eleven years her senior, whom she had first met at tea in her parents' home in Cambridge. Morris Alexander, from a German-Jewish family, had come to St John's College in 1897 and successfully completed his B.A. and Ll.B. in 1900.

The couple settled in Cape Town and, in the early years of their marriage, while she was bringing up three children, Ruth was active in both the Jewish community and wider cultural groups.

By the 1920s, however, she was devoting herself to writing and lecturing on social and political issues and championing the cause of the non-whites in the South African state.

Amy, for her part, had been a labour journalist and a member of the Communist Party in London from as early as 1920 and returned to the USA in 1921. She campaigned vigorously for workers' rights and was involved in the Gastonia, North Carolina, struggle of 1929, when a chief of police was shot.

Sixteen communists were charged with first-degree murder and, despite considerable local hostility and prejudice, her brother Frank helped to direct a successful defence. According to sparse family traditions, she married someone named Kweit, spent some years in the Soviet Union before the Second World War, and died in 1962.

Ruth, who had moved progressively more into left-wing intellectual circles, and been inspired by the renowned Olive Schreiner, was eventually divorced from Morris Alexander. In 1935, after spending two years in New York, she married an Irish classicist and socialist, Ben Farrington, who had been an academic in Cape Town and her lover for a number of years. They lived in Swansea, Wales, until Ruth's death in 1942.

Tragically, her two daughters spent most of their lives in institutions, but her son, Solly, married Elsie and moved to Australia, where they brought up their family.

Ruth's story during her years in South Africa has now been told by Baruch Hirson, a physicist and historian who spent nine years in a South African prison for his active support of the African resistance movement.

Carefully combing through those archives that have survived, Hirson has drawn a sympathetic and revealing portrait of Ruth's friendships and correspondence with such leading figures as Schreiner, Gandhi, van der Post and Lancelot Hogben.

He quotes extensively from her reviews and articles, as well as from an unpublished novel that appears to have significant autobiographical content.

What emerges is an account of a remarkable woman who cared passionately about the under-privileged of society, criticized the establishment and embraced utopian values in South Africa, the United States of America and the United Kingdom, especially in the period between the two world wars.

Hirson bravely completed the book despite a serious and ultimately fatal illness - he died in 1999 - and it has now been published by the Merlin Press in Cape Town as The Cape Town Intellectuals: Ruth Schechter and her Circle, 1907-1934 (ISBN 0 85036 500 7).

The volume testifies to his devotion to his subject, as well as to Ruth's intense, caring but also troubled personality, and to her prolific literary output.

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[Joe Dwek]

Pictured above at one of the launches of the volume is Joe Dwek, CBE, who arranged the sponsorship.

A book on the Genizah

A book on the Genizah (sponsored by the Dwek Charitable Trust) has recently been published, entitled A Jewish Archive from Old Cairo, by Stefan C. Reif (Curzon Press, Richmond, Surrey). The ISBN is 0 7007 1276 3 (hardback) and 0 7007 1312 3 (paperback).

Copies may be obtained through booksellers or from Taylor & Francis Books which has now taken over Curzon Press. Taylor & Francis publications are obtainable by email at salesorder.tandf@itps.co.uk; by website at www.tandf.co.uk; by fax on + 44 (0)1264 343005; and by telephone on + 44 (0)1264 343071.


The cost of producing this issue of Genizah Fragments has kindly been met by the immediate family of the late David Lauffer. Their generous support is a fitting tribute to David, who took a close interest in the study of Jewish historical documents and was a regular contributor to Genizah Unit funds.

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Valuable benefits of 'Penn-Cam' link

From the Editor's desk

It was a most refreshing experience to spend the first term - or semester, as our American hosts called it - in an alternative academic setting. Thanks to the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies of the University of Pennsylvania, and to the study leave granted by the University Library and the Faculty of Oriental Studies at Cambridge, I was able to devote myself to over three months of personal research, and to participate in the Center's challenging and vibrant programme of seminars, lectures and meetings.

An excellent staff, led by the Director, Professor David Ruderman, ensures that all the arrangements are academically attractive and productive. As a result, a steady stream of scholars from around the world find their way to Philadelphia for each year's research project.

While in what was once America's capital city (with extensive and exciting evidence to prove it), I was also in close contact with the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, run by Professor David Stern. Through his courtesy, I was able to give some individual lectures to an excellent group of faculty and students.

Most gratifyingly, I found that the Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library and the work being done on its contents were well known to many of those whom I met. They welcomed the Unit's activities in research and publication, as well as in the electronic area, and were enthusiastic about our future plans.

One of these plans involves a joint Genizah project with the Van Pelt Library at the University of Pennsylvania. This is being directed by Dr Michael Ryan, Head of its Special Collections, and myself in this Unit.

The project is run on a day-to-day basis by Dr Arthur Kiron in Philadelphia and by Ellis Weinberger in Cambridge. At "Penn", there is involvement with its Schoenberg Center for Electronic Text and Image and at Cambridge University Library with its Photography Department.

The plan is to prepare and make available descriptions and digitized images of Genizah fragments at both libraries. This will be done in a manner that permits us to locate any instances in which a piece of a manuscript in one collection belongs to the same original codex as an equivalent item in the other, or is even a consecutive leaf.

Practical sessions involving workers in both teams have taken place, and the project is now under way. The matching process should prove particularly interesting, and first results are eagerly awaited.

Best efforts are being made by the "Penn-Cam" project to ensure that there is no duplication of effort with what is being internationally sponsored by the Friedberg Genizah Project at New York University; to this end, meetings have already been held with its managers. The theme continues to be research co-operation on the widest possible scale.

Stefan C. Reif

Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit

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[Jonathan Djanogly MP and Professor Stefan Reif ]

Huntingdon MP Jonathan Djanogly with Professor Stefan Reif during his visit to the Unit

Visitors to T-S Unit

Jonathan Djanogly, Member of Parliament for Huntingdon (previously represented by former Prime Minister, John Major), visited the Genizah Unit in the autumn of 2001.

Mr Djanogly met members of the research team and was taken on a tour of the Library and the Genizah Collection by Professor Stefan Reif, subsequently dining with him at St John's College.

Rabbi Abraham Rapaport came to view Genizah fragments with students of his college for Jewish religious studies in Hitchin, and Dr Dorothy Thompson, of the Faculty of Classics at Cambridge, brought a group from the Catholic University of Leuven, Belgium, led by Dr Willy Clarysse.

[Mrs Sophie Cohen and Dr Avihai Shivtiel]

Genizah Unit supporter Mrs Sophie Cohen with researcher Dr Avihai Shivtiel

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Variants on Song of Songs

While literal approaches to the biblical Song of Songs tend to stress its highly poetical character, the midrashic work Shir Ha-Shirim Rabbah (=SSR) prefers to offer an allegorical interpretation.

There, the love story is explained as a tale of liberation in three stages: the exodus from Egypt, the return from the Babylonian exile, and the imminent liberation from contemporary oppression by Rome (Edom).

The Taylor-Schechter Collection at Cambridge University Library has six fragmentary manuscripts of SSR, with the classmarks T-S C2.4 (SSR 3:4.2-3:6.2), T-S C2.20 (SSR 1:9.6-1:10.1), T-S C2.51 (SSR 1:9.1-1:9.6), T-S C2.119 (SSR 3:10.2-3:10.4), T-S F1(2).72 (SSR 1:9.1) and T-S F17.57 (SSR 1:2.3-1:2.6). The references are to the Vilna edition, as corrected by myself.

These Cairo Genizah fragments comprise a total of eight folios (on fifteen sides), of different sizes and in various states of preservation.

Codicological studies done by earlier scholars such as Z. M. Rabinowitz and H. E. Steller support the hypothesis that T-S C2.20 and T-S C2.51 (and probably T-S C2.119) belong to the same original codex, and that some of its remaining folios are to be found in the Kaufmann Collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest (MS 27/1), the Russian State Library in St Petersburg (MSS Antonin 104 and 998), and the Bodleian Library at Oxford (MSS Add. 2669/4 and 2828/3).

However, Steller (in Rashi 1040-1990, Paris, 1993, pages 301-11) calls into question whether two of these six fragments - T-S F1(2).72 and T-S F17.57 - do indeed belong to codices of SSR, pointing out that they are bound together with texts of the Babylonian Talmud (Bava Batra 25a) and with other, unidentified texts.

One of these two, T-S F17.57, represents what could be regarded as a second version of this midrash, somewhat different from that attested in the majority of manuscripts. It supplies interesting readings and is essentially identical with one of the oldest dated manuscripts (MS Parma 3122, De Rossi 1240), as well as demonstrating a similarity with the thirteenth-century anthology, Yalqut Shim`oni.

In general, the text of SSR is well established and the variants between the available manuscripts are minor. Nevertheless, it is exactly in these short Genizah fragments that the most significant variants can be found, mainly in the consonantal text (ketib), and this supports their early dating.

In a study published in 2000 (Sefarad, pages 43-74 and 255-81), I offer an individual analysis of each of these six fragments, with a summary of their orthographic characteristics, including possible morphological phenomena. There is also a list of unique readings occurring in each fragment, and a section identifying and discussing unusual textual repetitions and omissions.

The script of these fragments contains many Palestinian characteristics. Among signs of antiquity are the particle shel, which is always attached to the following word, and the systematic use of 't (pronounced 'atta'?) as second person, masculine singular, pronoun.

Of special interest in T-S F17.57 is the orthography mtyyn (= 'two hundred', page 1, line 32) instead of m'tyn|m. Rabinowitz discusses this fragment, and T-S C2.119, in Ginze Midrash, Tel Aviv, 1976, pages 101-17.

In the case of the former (pages 108-17), this orthographical peculiarity occasioned a misreading of the text (myyn = 'of wine'), and a suggestion to include a quotation from Deuteronomy 33:2, despite the lack of space for such a verse.

Luis F. Giron

Complutensian University,
Madrid, Spain

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How you can help the 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: Professor S. C. Reif, Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, at Cambridge University Library, West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DR, England.

The Library may also be reached by fax + 44 (0)1223 333160, or by telephone + 44 (0) 1223 333000. The Internet access is at http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter. Enquiries by e-mail should be addressed to genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk.

Readers not already supporting the Unit are asked to help ensure the continuity of this newsletter by making a small, regular gift. The sum of 10 (UK) or $18 (abroad) is suggested; payment may be made to Cambridge or to "Cambridge in America".

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, "Cambridge in America" supports the Taylor-Schechter Collection with its unfunded grant number 7/78. If you are interested in supporting this project, please contact the Director of the Annual Appeal at: 309 West 49th Street, New York, NY 10019-7399 (tel: 212-984-0960). Transfers of such funds are regularly made to Cambridge from the USA.

"Cambridge in America" is recognized by the IRS as a charitable organization, and contributions are legally deductible for USA income tax purposes. Contributions are similarly deductible in Canada even if made directly to Cambridge.

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Edited by Stefan C. Reif
If you have any questions, please e-mail genizah@lib.cam.ac.uk
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University of Cambridge; last updated October 2002