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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. 8 October 1984


Wellcome's 27,000

The final instalment of the total award of over 27,000 made by the Wellcome Trust has been received and the Unit is grateful to the Trustees for all the help they have provided.

The description of all the medical and para-medical fragments is now well advanced, but still requires further financial assistance to see it through to a successful conclusion.

The publication costs of the latest volume in the Genizah Series, Professor Morag's monograph on vocalized Talmudic fragments, has been partly offset by a gratefully acknowledged award of 1,500 voted by the Faculty Board of Oriental Studies from its John Stewart of Rannoch Fund.

Over the last few months the work of the Unit has also been generously supported by major grants from the British Academy (1,898), Mr John Rubens (1,000), Sir Michael Sobell (1,000), and Mr Cyril Stein (1,000), who has also assisted the entire fund-raising programme.

Other British donors who have kindly renewed or increased their annual contributions are Mr Trevor Chinn and Mr and Mrs Michael Phillips (500); Mr and Mrs David Lauffer (300); Mr Conrad Morris (250); St John's College, Cambridge (200); and Messrs Clifford Barclay and Michael Rose (100).

Helpful support has continued to come from the other side of the Atlantic. Special thanks are due to Mr Saul Koschitzky, of Toronto ($500); Mr Samuel Brennglass, of New York ($100); and Mr Milo Mandel, of Los Angeles ($100), for their first-time contributions, and to Professor Jacob Neusner, of the Max Richter Foundation ($250), and Mrs Anne Hertzberg ($100) for their renewals.

Other smaller or anonymous donations amounting to 250 have been gratefully received.


Sharing our excitement

The Unit has apparently become a victim of the success of its campaign to publicize the importance of the Genizah fragments. The past summer has seen a steady stream of visitors to the Library anxious to view the treasures of the Collection, many of them arriving on the off-chance that they will be able to view the fragments. They are not researchers, for whose needs the Library exists to cater, but simply tourists and visitors.

It is good to have such wide interest and enthusiasm, some of it possibly generated by the second showing of the NBC film "From Cambridge to Cairo" a few weeks ago. As our friends already know, the Unit does make arrangements for previously organized parties, at least once a month, to view an exhibition, hear a lecture and see some slides about the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

Distinguished guests, from academic, commercial and public life, are also welcomed by prior arrangement and are then able to spread the news of what is being done in the Unit to promote Hebrew and Arabic scholarship, as well as Jewish self-awareness. In this way, the Unit makes important contacts both in the wider and scholarly worlds, as well as laying firm foundations for its fund-raising efforts.

On the other hand, the Library is not a museum and has no facilities for dealing with casual visitors. If the University Librarian's plans are blessed with support and success, we shall eventually have a purpose-built exhibition centre and lecture hall and shall then be in a position to share more effectively with the interested public the knowledge and excitement that our holdings can create.

In the meantime, however, every casual visitor seen by Unit staff means a further delay in the work of making this famous Collection more accessible to researchers and, consequently, in bringing their findings to bear on our understanding of our history and our roots. Conversely, it is a pity to have to deny people even a glimpse of items which hold such fascination for them.

If friends, supporters and scholars could therefore encourage those anxious to view the Genizah Collection to make their arrangements in advance, an important service will have been performed for the Library, for Genizah scholarship and for the visitors themselves.

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

Dr and Mrs Reif and other members of the Unit take this opportunity of wishing all its Jewish friends, supporters and correspondents a happy and healthy New Year in 5745.

[Hebrew text]

[Mr R.P. Carr, Lord Sieff]

Lord Sieff (right) being greeted on arrival by Mr R. P. Carr, the Deputy Librarian

Sieffs see Collection

Lord Sieff of Brimpton, chairman of Marks and Spencer plc, and Lady Sieff visited the Library to see the Genizah Collection.

The Deputy Librarian, Mr R. P. Carr, welcomed the visitors and entertained them to coffee and they signed the visitors' book. Dr S. C. Reif then showed them some of the most interesting items among the Taylor-Schechter fragments and they also had the opportunity of looking around other parts of the University Library.

Twenty-one members of the American Friends of Cambridge University, led by their retiring president, Mr Gordon Williams, and their president-elect, Mr Stephen Price, also had the story of the Genizah discovery and significance of the finds explained to them by Dr Reif in the course of a visit to the Library.

Having been welcomed by the University Librarian, Dr F. W. Ratcliffe, they were divided into three groups and escorted around the Library by senior Library staff. Each of the groups had the opportunity of viewing the Genizah fragments for themselves and entered into lively discussions about the contents of the manuscripts, particularly those relating to ordinary life in mediaeval Egypt.

Other distinguished personalities who have recently visited the Unit, some with their wives and families, have included Professor Josef Singer, President of the Haifa Technion, Judge Jacob Bazak, of Jerusalem, Mr Brad Sabin Hill, of the National Library of Canada, Professor Sol Kripke, of Princeton University, Professor Stephen Goldstein, of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Mr J. Z. Lurie formerly of the Hadassah magazine of New York, Professor Nahum Rakover, Deputy Attorney General of Israel, Dr Richard Lorch, of Munich, and Mr Alexander Peli, of Massada Press.

The Unit were also happy to welcome long-standing friends and supporters of the Unit, Mr and Mrs Raphael Levy, of New York, and Mr and Mrs Sidney Corob, of London.

[Group standing on steps in front of building]

A group of American Friends at Cambridge in July


[Dr Shaked]

Professor Shaked at Cambridge



Magic moments
Part One

Among their varied treasures, the Cairo Genizah collections contain valuable materials for the study of a number of fields of Jewish and general interest for which they have, until now, hardly been used at all. Among these fields are Judaeo-Persian texts and magic fragments and it was to these that I devoted a few weeks at Cambridge University Library in the summers of 1983 and 1984.

Some of the oldest extant fragments of documents and literary compositions in Judaeo-Persian - that is, in the Persian written by Jews in Hebrew characters - have survived thanks to the Genizah. These are, in fact, some of the oldest extant documents in any form of neo-Persian.

The oldest dated document of this group from the Genizah, or from any other source, carries a date which corresponds to 950 C.E. It is a court settlement over matters relating to family property and was issued by a Karaite court.

Some of the literary fragments written in Judaeo-Persian and preserved in the Genizah are actually remnants of what might have been an extensive Judaeo-Persian religious literature written by Karaites. That many of the leaders of the early Karaite movements came from Persia is a well-known fact, but in the Genizah we now find for the first time evidence for the use of Persian in their sectarian writings.

We now have available to us specimens of Karaite Bible commentaries, of legal discussions and theology, and possibly of Hebrew grammatical analysis, all of them written in Persian in Hebrew characters.

Scholarly interest in the Judaeo-Persian material in the Genizah goes beyond the question of the Karaite connections of some of these fragments. The corpus of Judaeo-Persian texts from the Genizah is well in excess of 100 folios and it incorporates private letters and legal deeds, as well as such items as Bible commentaries, midrashic and halakhic compositions, medicine and magic.

There are also fragments of poetry, both original (including at least one piece of popular poetry, probably designed to be sung at a wedding) and translated from Hebrew and Aramaic (usually liturgical compositions given as part of a prayer book, with the original poem in Hebrew or Aramaic copied together with the Judaeo-Persian version).

These fragments constitute about all that remains of the literature written and used by the Jews of Persia in the period which preceded the invasion of that country by the Mongols in the early twelfth century. Their conquests meant extensive devastation of many towns and villages in Iran and the complete disappearance of several Jewish communities. They were the cause of a profound disruption in the history of Iranian Jewry.

The value of the discovery of these new texts can be better appreciated when we note that, with one exception, none of the literary products of the pre-Mongol period is known from any of the rich collections of Judaeo-Persian manuscripts in various libraries in Europe, the USA and Israel.

Apart from their importance for historical and literary study, these fragments are also instructive for the study of the Judaeo-Persian language and of the development of Classical Persian. The early Judaeo-Persian fragments use an archaic form of New Persian and appear to have been written, for the most part, in the western regions of Iran, at a distance from the eastern area where literary New Persian was in the process of crystallization around the tenth century.

The fact that they used the Hebrew script made the Jewish writers less dependent on the orthographic conventions which were at that time imposed on the writing of standard Persian in the Arabic script. They thus provide us with a valuable, independent witness for the division of Persian dialects in that early period.

Shaul Shaked,
Professor of Iranian Studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Karo mystery

While preparing a catalogue of the fragments in T-S Misc. 8, 9 and 10, Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson, Rothschild Fellow and Visiting Research Associate in the Unit, has discovered two historical documents connected with the Karo family.

One of the items, T-S Misc. 10.80, is a set of shop accounts, apparently from Safed, the sixteenth-century centre of Jewish mysticism in the Holy Land. On the third line of the manuscript there appears a reference to "our honoured teacher and rabbi, Joseph Karo" in connection with a precious stone and in the general context of goods and their prices.

In the second document (T-S Misc. 10.170), dated in Egypt in 1707, David Dayyan undertakes to teach young Hayyim ben David Karo "the writing skills used by businessmen." The pupil, for his part, agrees not to employ these skills for anyone without his teacher's permission.

The scribe of the document adds the following interesting note to his signature as a witness: "Both father and son have instructed me to sign on their behalf [editor's italics] that they have agreed to these conditions."

Who precisely were David Karo and his son Hayyim, and does the evidence indicate that they were at this stage unable to sign their names?


Royal visit

Dr Stefan Reif and Mrs Shulie Reif had a brief chat with Prince Philip when they attended a Royal Garden Party held by Cambridge University Press to celebrate four hundred years of printing and publication.

The extensive exhibition of CUP publications mounted on the Press's lawns on that occasion included all the Genizah Series published to date, plus books written by Dr Reif and Professor J. A. Emerton, Honorary Keeper of the Collection.


Yemenite poems by Shibzi

In the context of a research trip undertaken in the summer of 1983 to Europe and the USA in order to collect lexicographical material for a scientific Yemenite-English dictionary, I visited Cambridge University Library and came across a Yemenite manuscript with the classmark Or.1080.1.91. It seems to be incomplete, its pages are not numbered, and the author is unknown. It is pointed with supralinear vocalizations.

My impression is that it contains several poems from the liturgical diwan (anthology) of R. Shalem Shibzi, which usually also contains the work of anonymous poets that varies from one manuscript to another.

In the Jewish National and University Library, for instance, there is in the department of manuscripts a considerable number of diwans attributed to Shibzi which also contain poems of anonymous authors that differ from one manuscript to another.

In the Bodleian Library at Oxford, I encountered a manuscript with the classmark MS. Opp. Add. 8o 30, which is of the same literary genre - a Yemenite diwan of poems - and is pointed with supralinear vocalization like the above-mentioned manuscript.

At the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, I found a manuscript with the classmark 1386, the most beautiful manuscript I have ever seen. It is pointed with full sublinear vocalization. This calligraphic manuscript was produced to order for Professor Israel Davidson of the Seminary by a Yemenite scribe, Raphael Yihya Sirri, in Beersheba in 1927.

Moshe Piamente,
Professor of Arabic Language and Literature at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


Conference on Jews in Arab lands

The first international congress on Judaeo-Arabic studies, organized at the University of Chicago's Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations through the initiative of Professor Norman Golb, took place on 6-8 May, with Professor Shelomo Dov Goitein as the guest of honour.

Scholars from America, Israel and Europe took part in the lectures and discussions, which dealt with the language, history, culture and thought of Jews in mediaeval Islamic lands, all as part of the substantial Judaeo-Arabic creativity of the period.

A major topic of the congress were the basic problems encountered by students of mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic, particularly the lack of a corpus of material in this language.

Participants also exchanged views on how best to publish the Judaeo-Arabic sources and in what way such publications could be made to follow a consistent pattern. There was general agreement on the need for further contact between scholars in the field.

At the centre of all the sessions was, of course, the Cairo Genizah. The Cambridge Unit's project to produce a bibliography of the many thousands of published items until 1980 was welcomed as an important first step in the preparations needed for the production of a corpus of Judaeo-Arabic material.

Dr Menahem Ben-Sasson, Rothschild Fellow and Visiting Research Associate in the Unit, reported on the latest progress of the Cambridge bibliography and on the Unit's future plans for a bibliography from 1980 onwards, various subject catalogues, and handlists of particular sections of the Collection.

A visit to the Saltykov Shchedrin State Public Library in Leningrad to examine its Genizah fragments was described by Dr Paul Fenton. His involvement in the Cambridge project had made it possible for him to be included in an exchange of scholarly visits by the United Kingdom and the Soviet Union and he gave an account of discoveries made and lessons learnt in the course of his stay in Russia.

The congress set up a new society for mediaeval Judaeo-Arabic studies and elected Professor Goitein as honorary president, Professor Joshua Blau as president, Professor Golb as vice-president, and Professor Mark Cohen as treasurer.


Women's Lib

The report in our last issue of Professor Ezra Fleischer's discovery of a poem by the wife of Dunash ibn Labrat has led to lively correspondence between scholars in the field and with the editor of Genizah Fragments

Professor I. O. Lehman, of Miami University, has written: The Women's movement is strong in America and to hear of a tenth-century Hebrew poetess is a sensation, to be sure.

Professor Fleischer and Professor S.D. Goitein have different views about the interpretation of some of the text, and Professor Goitein has promised to publish the results of his researches, which also concern another poetess, in the fifth and final volume of his Mediterranean Society.

Mrs Dunash certainly now seems to be matching her husband for scholarly attention!


[Mrs Reif in front of a terminal]

Mrs Shulie Reif at work on the Unit's computer terminal

Putting the bibliography on computer

While completing and updating its bibliography of published fragments, the Cambridge Unit is also involved in preparing catalogues and handlists for various parts of its Genizah holdings.

The systematic description of every single manuscript will occupy scholars for many years, but the completion of the project will enable researchers to make more efficient use of the Genizah material in general and the Cambridge fragments in particular.

From experience built up in the Unit, it has become clear that the preparation of any subject catalogue is bound to be adversely affected by the fact that the Genizah fragments on a particular subject, however concentrated their number in one part of the Collection, are also to be found, scattered in various other, unrelated sections.

They are there because they were not identified when, many years ago, specific subjects were assigned their own classmarks and the remaining items were classified as miscellaneous material.

Even in the case of the relatively less complicated matter of compiling a catalogue of Hebrew Bible fragments, the volumes produced in the Unit constantly need updating when Bible fragments are located in unexpected areas of the Collection.

The Unit's newly provided access, through a terminal and VDU, to the University's central computer, and the brief training that members of the Unit have recently received in its use, will help to overcome these old problems and to speed up developments towards the more efficient use of Genizah material.

As soon as all aspects of every fragment in a particular volume have been systematically described for the relevant handlist, the information is stored in the computer according to classmark. As a result, each scholar can draw whatever information he requires from the store, whether it is technical specification, manuscript form, material on which the text is written, content, date, and even significant key-words that occur in the various fragments.

With the help of a brief computer course at the University of Cambridge, I was recently able to take advantage of this new element of mechanization in the Unit while preparing a handlist of some of the volumes in the "Misc." section of the Taylor-Schechter Collection.

By definition, many of the volumes in this section contain material under a variety of headings and the computerized system of cataloguing now makes it possible for the researcher to gain swift access to his specific subject of interest.

Of particular importance are items that have somehow found their way into volumes containing quite different subjects and are identified there by those cataloguing the main subject; for example, poetic fragments in volumes of historical documents. The information about all such "rogue" fragments now fed into the computer is likely to be of interest to many scholars in various fields.

By the same token, researchers who come across such "lost" items are earnestly requested to bring this information to the attention of those compiling handlists and catalogues in the areas to which they rightly belong.

The input of such identifications into the general store of information will be of assistance to all scholars. It is therefore obvious that the creation of links with the Unit's store of information would be to everyone's advantage.

Menahem Ben-Sasson,
Rothschild Fellow and Visiting Research Assistant in the Unit, 1983-1984, and Lecturer in the Department of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem


[An image of the manuscript]

T-S AS 74.25, a fourteenth century list of places in the Holy Land

The missing link

The Unit's filing cabinets recently played a part in locating the missing fragments of an important Hebrew manuscript from the Genizah.

Early in 1978, Dr Zvi Ilan, writer and archaeologist from Tel Aviv, visited Cambridge University Library in a search for mediaeval documents describing the Holy Land. He was guided by Dr Reif to a fragment (T-S K21.69) which represented a kind of manual or log-book for pilgrims to Eretz Yisrael written in the fourteenth century.

The names of various Palestinian places were written in bold red characters and were followed by details of the tombs of saints to be found there. Dr Ilan obtained a photograph of the fragment and began his research.

A few months later, Dr Reif discovered another piece of the same manuscript (T-S Arabic 49.164) and passed the information on to Tel Aviv. Dr Ilan published various popular articles relating to his finds in Cambridge and continued his research on the manual.

By the time that Mr Oded Irsay arrived at the Library in the autumn of 1983 to spend a year working on his doctoral dissertation for the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, many thousands of other fragments and enquiries had been dealt with.

When, however, in the course of his involvement in the Unit's work, Mr Irsay discovered the third part of the missing fragment (T-S AS 74.25 - and smaller material in AS 74.227), a quick consultation of the files identified the others and the name of the scholar who was working on them.

This third part is particularly important since it mentions places like Kefar Hares, Shiloh and Ashkelon and describes in detail the annual pilgrimage and celebration at the tomb of the prophet Samuel in Ramah.

Dr Ilan is now in possession of all the details he needs to complete the study of the fourteenth-century manuscript and the actual pilgrimages to the Holy Land that obviously lie behind it.


Egyptian Jews' petition

The Additional Series of the Taylor-Schechter Collection contains hundreds of fragments of historical interest. Most of these are small, and, from that point of view, somewhat less valuable than the many long and full letters in the Old and New Series.

Recently, however, I identified in the Additional Series a highly interesting and significant document dating from the mid-fifteenth century, a period of time rather poorly documented in the Genizah as a whole.

The fragment (T-S AS 150.3) contains a draft, in Judaeo-Arabic, of a petition from the Jewish community of Egypt to a Mamluk Sultan, requesting the removal from office of the head of the Jewish community (the ra'is al-yahud, or nagid in Hebrew), whose administration and leadership the Jews deemed oppressive and even threatening to their security as a minority. The document also alludes to a crisis in Mamluk - non-Muslim relations that is chronicled in Muslim historical sources from the period.

In April 1442, Muslim religious authorities were conducting a routine inspection of a synagogue in Fostat (Old Cairo) in search of violations of the Islamic law prohibiting repairs in houses of worship constructed after the advent of Islam.

Quite unexpectedly, they discovered an anti-Islamic blasphemy - two names of the Prophet Muhammad carved on the steps of the reader's platform. As a result, that platform was ordered destroyed.

This punitive measure was followed by a general scrutinization of other houses of worship, Jewish and Christian alike, in the course of which some churches and other synagogues were put in jeopardy.

It seems that the Jewish community as a whole know nothing about the blasphemous inscription and that three individual Jews had perpetrated the incriminating act.

The Genizah fragment mentions these events cryptically and hints that the much-disliked head of the Jewish community had somehow been aware of the inscription. Many other complaints about his administrative malfeasance and fiscal rapacity suggest that the community was desperate to rid itself of such a tyrannical leader.

The document is preserved intact, although, as is general with Genizah fragments, there are tears and stains obscuring some words.

By examining the fragment in Cambridge during a recent visit, I was able to clarify many doubtful readings that I had extracted from the bromide print ordered from the Library.

More importantly, Dr Reif kindly arranged for me to call upon the expert services of Mrs Sue Greene, formerly of the Taylor-Schechter conservation team, who meticulously unfolded several tiny flaps that were masking some of the text.

This procedure resolved several more problematic readings in the document and cleared up for me some minor points in the article that I shall soon be publishing about the Jews in Mamluk Egypt, on the basis of this fresh discovery in the Additional Series.

Mark R. Cohen,
Associate Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University, New Jersey



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 July 2003