T-S NS 327.44, believed to be a Maimonides autograph
The Genizah Collections at Cambridge University Library contain a number of documents relating to Maimonides, including several autographs.
One finds, for example, the first page and other parts of his famous work Dalalat al-Ha`iriin (Guide for the Perplexed), several leaves of his Commentary on the Mishnah, as well as some responsa and private letters.
In addition, there are letters addressed to him and various other documents that refer to him or his works.
Sixty Maimonidean documents - out of more than 140,000 Genizah fragments at Cambridge - is, however, somewhat disappointing.
Maimonides was, after all, one of Jewish history's greatest scholars, whose writings covered various disciplines, including Jewish law, rabbinic commentary, philosophy and medicine. What is more, he played a major role as communal leader, halakhic authority, and court physician.
The discovery of any new autograph by Maimonides is therefore real cause for celebration. I was delighted to find a short unknown message by him in Judaeo-Arabic, "hidden" in a folder which otherwise contains, in the main, fragments written in conventional Arabic script.
Its classmark is T-S NS 327.44, and it has not been previously noted because of the broader context to which it was consigned.
Although the first lines of this manuscript are missing, and it carries no signature at the foot, there seems little doubt about the identity of the writer.
In the first instance, the handwriting appears identical to that of other documents written by Maimonides.
Secondly, the "concluding formula" at the foot of the text - u-shelomkha yirbeh ("may your well-being increase") - is one regularly used by Maimonides to end his letters and responsa.
Especially conclusive is the citation of the view that a person is judged by people in accordance with his deeds and his knowledge. This is expressly stated by Maimonides in his Jewish law-code Mishneh Torah (Sefer ha-Madda`, Hilkhot Teshuvah 4:4 and 9:1).
The fragment measures 11.7 x 7.3 cms and the text is written on paper in semi-cursive Judaeo-Arabic. The reverse of the leaf contains some honorific titles, presumably intended for the recipient (Solomon ben Yefet?), and five words in Arabic that are difficult to decipher.
I translate as follows: "...in this; and I have already indicated that a man is respected by people only for his knowledge and his deeds, and the Lord has said: 'Get wisdom, get understanding' [Proverbs 4:5]. May God make him [i.e., you] ever one of the seekers of the law and those who adhere to it [see Psalms 119:31 and 44], as it is said: 'May this book never cease to be, etc.' [Joshua 1:8]. May your well-being increase."
My fuller account is published in Essays in Honour of Alexander Fodor on his Sixtieth Birthday, edited by K. Dévényi and T. Iványi (Budapest Studies in Arabic 23; Budapest, 2001), pages 193-96.
T-S Genizah Research Unit
The latest volume in the Library's "Genizah Series" has just been published by Cambridge University Press. Entitled The Cambridge Genizah Collections: Their Contents and Significance, it is edited by Stefan Reif, with the assistance of his wife, Shulie.
Its ten sound but readable essays summarize recent developments in Genizah research.
Stefan Reif's overview of the exploitation of the Taylor-Schechter Collection at Cambridge University Library is followed by Menahem Kister's textual interpretations of the Ben Sira fragments.
In his study of targumim, the late Michael Klein (to whom the volume is dedicated) uncovers synagogue settings and fanciful renderings, while Menahem Kahana demonstrates how Genizah texts permit the reconstruction of early midrashim.
Neil Danzig's analysis sheds light on ninth-century prayers for communal leaders and on the formal conclusion of homilies. An examination of Judah Halevi's last years in Egypt and the Holy Land is offered by Joseph Yahalom.
Haggai Ben-Shammai makes an assessment of S. D. Goitein's contribution to Jewish historiography and discusses Jewish religious ideas in the medieval Islamic world, and Paul Fenton notes that Muslims and Jews often co-operated professionally and sometimes enjoyed close social contact.
Child brides, family violence and Jewish marriage documents are Mordechai Friedman's topics, with Joel Kraemer describing numerous and varied letters between women and their relatives.
There are also full indexes and twenty-two clear and readable plates. The volume (ISBN 0 521 81361 1) has 229 pages and its retail price is £45.
T-S F2(1).47 (left) and T-S F1(1).74 clearly belong together
As Genizah research enters its second century, substantial technical advances are being made that will continue to change the methods of approach used for the material retrieved from Cairo.
For the past hundred years, the bane of research has often been the fragmented nature of the Genizah texts. Although they are generally older and more novel than their counterparts from other manuscript sources, scholars have often preferred to work with complete manuscript codices as against the piecemeal texts gleaned from the Genizah.
The vastness and dispersion of the Genizah source have also been forbidding to researchers. Even if one had a valuable and interesting fragment worthy of publication, one never knew where or when the consecutive folio might be found that would render the earlier study obsolete.
For example, in 1922, B. M. Lewin published, in Ginzei Qedem, two bifolia found in Oxford of a unique early gloss on the tractate Hullin in the Babylonian Talmud.
In the 1923 volume of that series, he published four adjacent folios from the same manuscript, which he had meanwhile found elsewhere in Oxford. Having discovered another four folios in Paris in 1924, he published these in the 1925 volume.
The nature and size of the Genizah source have had another inhibiting effect. Research on such important rabbinic classics as the Mishneh Torah code of Maimonides and the halakhic digest of Isaac Alfasi has been stunted, since thousands of leaves emanating from numerous copies of these classics lie scattered in this virtually infinite haystack.
To attempt to piece together all such manuscript copies would be a venture likely to prove too costly, because of its labour intensity. But any research done without such Genizah texts would from the outset be obsolete.
With the support of the Friedberg Genizah Project - managed in Waterloo and involving many Genizah projects and researchers around the world - I am working at the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts (IMHM) in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem (http://sites.huji.ac.il/jnul/imhm/) to overcome these special problems of Genizah research.
The Institute, now under the directorship of Benjamin Richler, has in the course of fifty years collected Hebrew manuscripts on microfilm from over 600 locations and has functioned as a locus of research on these Jewish literary treasures.
Among the manuscripts are practically all the known Genizah collections, ranging from the massive Cambridge Taylor-Schechter corpus at Cambridge University Library to the most minute and obscure private collections.
I am therefore able to assemble and reconstruct Genizah fragments of rabbinica in such a manner as to render them as manageable and researchable as complete manuscript codices.
Through the utilization of the many well-indexed catalogues and handlists published in recent decades, as well as of various computer databases, it is proving possible to arrange, with relatively little effort, comparative fields such as text location and paleographic features, and in this way to piece the fragments together.
For the Aleph database of the IMHM, and for the Friedberg Genizah Project, I have recently completed an updated catalogue of the Genizah fragments of Rabbinic manuscripts in Oxford's Bodleian Library and in the David Kaufmann collection of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest. Telnet access to the database is available.
Naturally, most of these links found in this material lead to Cambridge T-S fragments. Any given Cambridge fragment can be retrieved, along with its Oxford or Kaufmann counterpart, by way of a simple boolean search.
Of the Oxford Genizah items pieced together, some 150 are linked with one or more Cambridge fragments. In the Kaufmann index, 121 different Cambridge fragments have been found to be linked.
In the case of the Kaufmann items, a hard-copy catalogue will soon be available, along with an index to Cambridge fragments.
Although this work is still in its early stages, it will ultimately encourage researchers to abandon the notion that the Genizah source is virtually endless. It will help reinforce confidence that scholars will ultimately be able to access and master all its scattered contents.
Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, Jerusalem
Left to right: Professor Stefan Reif, Sir Martin Harris, Professor Philip Alexander, Joe Dwek, CBE, and Professor Bernard Jackson at the John Rylands Library conference in Manchester
A one-day conference on "Jewish Heritage at the Rylands", sponsored by the Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Manchester and the Library's Special Collections Department, was held at the John Rylands Library.
Scholars at the Centre and the Library lectured on the Library's Hebrew and Jewish Collections, and Professor Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University Library, was the guest speaker. He was introduced by the Vice-Chancellor, Sir Martin Harris, FBA.
Professor Reif's topic was "Fragments of Jewish History and Literature in the Genizah: the Man/Cam Connection", which he illustrated with slides. He pointed out the various links between the Cambridge and Manchester Genizah collections, with regards to both content and personalities.
Especially exciting was his report that, only a few days before, a fragment had been identified at Cambridge which represented a folio that followed directly one to be found in Manchester.
Professor Reif also compiled a report on the current state of the Genizah Collection at Rylands. He suggested how international co-operative projects in the field could be of assistance in describing the material in Manchester.
Major funding has recently been promised for the continuation of the Unit's various projects in the academical year 2002-2003.
Almost £100,000 is assured, with substantial contributions to come from "Cambridge in America", the University of Pennsylvania's Van Pelt Library, the John S. Cohen Foundation, and the Friedberg Genizah Project.
Friedberg has now moved its administrative base from New York University to the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada.
Its new director is Dr James A. Diamond, who is Chair of Jewish Studies at the Waterloo campus and teaches medieval Jewish philosophy and exegesis.
Negotiations are also taking place with other potential benefactors and, if successful, will lead to fresh developments in the Unit's programme of activities. In recent months contributions have been received from a number of supporters.
In the USA, the Georges Lurcy Charitable and Educational Trust has made an award of $5,000, and a similar sum was gratefully received from the Linda Noe Laine Foundation.
Other substantial contributions have come from the H. Joels Charitable Trust (£500); J. Davies Charities (£500); and the Goldberg Family Charitable Trust (£350).
Among those who have also assisted the Unit are the Sydney and Elizabeth Corob Charitable Trust (£250); the Harbour Charitable Trust (£250); the Benjamin Leighton Charitable Trust (£250); the Ruth and Jack Lunzer Charitable Trust (£250); and the Sternberg Charitable Foundation (£250).
Welcome contributions have also been received from Mr Elliot Philipp (£150); the Louis and Mrs M. Shenkin Charities Fund (£100); the Leeds branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England (£100); and the British Emunah Tikvah Society (£100).
Other smaller or anonymous donations, amounting this time to over £1,200, have been regularly received and are also much appreciated.
Promotion for research staff
The achievements of any research project are obviously dependent on the levels of scholarship, industry and commitment displayed by its staff.
In this respect, the Genizah Research Unit has been fortunate over the years to enjoy a succession of outstanding researchers, and the current team is no exception.
It is consequently most gratifying to be able to report some important developments in connection with the Unit's staff.
Dr Erica Hunter, who has been working on the Unit's bibliographical project since 1995, is to be congratulated on her appointment as Temporary Lecturer in Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Manchester from 1 October 2002.
To ensure completion of the bibliographic project in 2003, Rebecca Jefferson has been appointed to a full-time post. She is in the final stages of writing her doctoral dissertation and will therefore be available for more work in the Unit.
Dr Friedrich Niessen and Dr Ben Outhwaite, who are engaged on describing the Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic fragments, have recently gained well-deserved promotion to Research Associateships.
In addition to their work in the Unit, they have both written articles on important fragments and have examined doctoral dissertations in fields related to their research.
The Unit is happy to welcome back Ellis Weinberger as its specialist in information technology. Among projects in which he will be occupied are the maintenance and development of the Unit's website, the co-operative venture with the University of Pennsylvania, and the preparation of camera-ready copy for volumes in the "Genizah Series" published by Cambridge University Press.
A few months ago, the honorary curator of the Genizah Collection, Professor Robert Gordon, was honoured by the University of Cambridge with the award of a Litt.D. for his published work. I was delighted to follow in his footsteps a few weeks ago, when he presented me in the Senate House for the same higher doctorate.
The Unit welcomes the inclusion of its website on the British Academy's portal directory (http://www.britac.ac.uk/portal/), an online resource that selects sites "for their high quality and potential utility to the academic community, responsible ownership and up-to-date state".
Stefan C. Reif
Director, Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit
Left to right: Elaine Culshaw, Valentine Kang, Robert Culshaw, Roger Edgar and Stefan Reif at the dinner party hosted by Britain's Consul-General in Chicago. Ms Kang and Mr Edgar are on the staff of the "Cambridge in America" support organization
The University Librarian, Peter Fox, and Professor Stefan Reif, Director of the Genizah Unit, spoke about the Cambridge University Library's great treasures at a dinner party hosted by the British Consul-General in Chicago, Robert Culshaw, and his wife Elaine.
A number of distinguished guests from the local community heard reports of the progress made in recent years in describing the treasures and making them available. Details were also given of the Library's plans for future developments.
Before the dinner party, Professor Reif lectured on the Genizah Collection at the Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies. The chair was taken by Dr Dean Bell, Dean of the Institute.
Mr Fox and Professor Reif also met with Professor Ernest Frerichs, Executive Director, and Mr Michael Hill, Associate Director, at the Dorot Foundation in Providence, Rhode Island.
Among matters discussed were possible sources of support for the Library and the Genizah Research Unit in the Boston and New York areas.
T-S Misc.36.121, a Hebrew commentary on chapters in Genesis, representing the oldest extant version of Aggadat Bereshit and dating from the tenth century
T-S Misc.36.121 is a fragmentary manuscript, found in the Cairo Genizah, and consisting of two folios, each written on both sides. The folios cover most of Aggadat Bereshit (AB), chapters 67-68 and 79-80, and seem to have been written by two hands.
AB is an aggadic midrash, generally dated to the tenth century C.E. It is written in Hebrew and consists of a commentary on Genesis.
It does, however, also deal with texts from the prophetical books and from Psalms. This is because of a remarkable feature, according to which all its eighty-four chapters are always presented in groups of three.
The first deals with a Genesis verse; the second with a prophetic verse; and the third with a verse from Psalms. This structure, which also attests to the unity of the three-fold Tanakh, is unique in rabbinic literature.
The most commonly used edition of AB is that of Salomon Buber (Cracow, 1903). The first edition appeared in Venice in 1618, and there are four manuscript witnesses.
The present Genizah fragment is the oldest extant version of AB, and therefore most valuable for its textual history.
Neither its date nor its provenance has been firmly established, but the semi-square script could be as early as the tenth century and may have been written in Italy. Only further investigation of the script and other features will permit more definite conclusions.
The manuscript has another outstanding feature. In all but one instance, it has the epithet ha-elohim ("God") for God, and not ha-qadosh barukh hu ("the Holy One, Blessed be He"), as in other texts.
This feature is also found in some early manuscripts of the Tanhuma midrashim, indicating that AB may be related to that literary group. There are also linguistic and contextual features that support such a connection.
If T-S Misc.36.121 turns out to be as early as the tenth century, the work itself may be older. Such a conclusion may have important consequences for the dating of the Tanhuma and other "later" midrashim.
The transcribed text of T-S Misc.36.121 has recently been published in an appendix (pp. 257-264) to my volume Aggadat Bereshit: Translated from the Hebrew with an Introduction and Notes (Leiden, 2001).This translation, following Buber, is based on the Venice edition and the only complete manuscript (Bodleian Library, Oxford, Add.2340).
The book's lengthy introduction includes a description of AB's content - such as its anti-Christian polemic - its relation to other rabbinic works, and its textual and literary history.
As well as providing a commentary on the text, the notes make reference to textual variants in two manuscripts unknown to Buber, namely, the present Genizah fragment and a manuscript from the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York (L 899a, 41r-45v).
The differences between the manuscripts and the first printed edition are often considerable. This is typical of medieval Hebrew texts, which were often supplemented and liberally altered by those who transmitted them.
Lieve M. Teugels
Utrecht University, The Netherlands
Israeli Ambassador Dr Zvi Shtauber signing the Visitors' Book at Cambridge University Library, where, he subsequently related, he felt an "overwhelming sense of excitement"
Two groups from the Embassy of Israel recently visited the Unit to see some of the most outstanding Genizah items and to hear explanations of their significance by staff in the Unit.
In both cases, the seminars began in the Unit and continued over lunch at St John's College.
The first group was led by the Minister of Health for the State of Israel, Rabbi Nissim Dahan, accompanied by Yair Amikam, Head of International Affairs at the Israeli Ministry of Health, and Embassy staff.
Rabbi Dahan was formally welcomed by the Deputy Librarian, Anne Murray. In signing the Visitors' Book, he added the following comment:
"Most sincere and cordial wishes to the University of Cambridge and its national treasure-house of books, holding secrets stretching back into our distant past. May their light of learning illuminate the world from here."
A second group came with the Ambassador, Dr Zvi Shtauber, and General Jacob Amidror, of the Israel Defence Forces, and were welcomed by the Librarian, Peter Fox. The Ambassador's subsequent letter of thanks included the following remarks:
"It was a fantastic day and I felt an overwhelming sense of excitement at being able to have this rare glimpse into our traditions. Thank you for your explanations, which were both educational and captivating, and for me, were an eye-opener into one of the great pillars of our history and tradition."
Among other visitors were groups from the International Spring School sponsored by the European Commission, and arranged by Professor David Abulafia, on the subject of "The Jews in Medieval Europe"; the Washington Foundation for Jewish Studies, led by its Director, Dr Joshua Haberman; the British Emunah Tikvah Society, from North-west London; and the Leeds branch of the Jewish Historical Society of England.
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 (01223) 333160, or by telephone (01223) 333000. The Internet access is at http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter/. Enquiries by e-mail should be addressed to email@example.com.
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).
"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.
The Unit is again indebted to members of the family of the late David Lauffer who have defrayed the cost of producing this issue of Genizah Fragments. David took a great interest in the work of the Unit over a number of years and was among its regular supporters. He very much appreciated the importance of Genizah documents for reconstructing Jewish history.
Edited by Stefan C. Reif
If you have any questions, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
Return to the Genizah Fragments index
Return to the Taylor-Schechter Home Page
Return to Cambridge University Library's Home Page