Cambridge University Library

History in Fragments: A Genizah Centenary Exhibition

November 1997–February 1998

This presentation of Cambridge Genizah documents at the University Library was a continuation of the highly successful exhibition The Cairo Genizah: A Mosaic of Life held at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, June–October 1997, by arrangement with the Syndics of Cambridge University Library.

The curators of that exhibition were Daisy Raccah-Djivre and Iris Fishof, assisted by Shulie Reif, Orpa Slapak and Ze'ev Elkin. The academic committee consisted of Haggai Ben-Shammai, Menahem Ben-Sasson and Na'ama Brosh (Jerusalem), Mark Cohen (Princeton), Mordechai Friedman (Tel Aviv) and Stefan Reif (Cambridge).

Images from the exhibition were displayed in the new Library exhibition hall.

Cambridge University Library is grateful to the Israel Museum for kindly making available here material that was specially prepared for the original exhibition in Jerusalem. A booklet describing that exhibition (no. 392; ISBN 965 278 204 1) was published by the Israel Museum in Hebrew and English versions.


manuscriptT-S J1.29
Dowry of a rich bride; Egypt; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

Hundreds of dowry lists have survived in the Cairo Genizah, but this fragment contains the fabulous trousseau of the richest girl in the Genizah. The dowry of a Jewish wife was entrusted to her husband, but in the event of a divorce or the husband's death, its full value had to be restored to her, thus providing her with the security of what was in effect a medieval insurance policy.


manuscript

T-S J2.71
Copy of a letter from Hisdai Ibn Shaprut (Spain, 10th century) to Empress Helena of Byzantium about the oppression of the Jews; Spain; 11th century; Hebrew; paper

Hisdai Ibn Shaprut was a leading dignitary in the court of the Caliph in Cordova. In this letter he pleads with the Empress Helena for religious liberty to be granted to the Jews of Byzantium. He points to his own warm relations with the Muslim Caliph in Cordova as well as his benevolent attitude towards the Christians of Spain.


manuscript

T-S K5.13
Illuminated page of a child's alphabet primer; Egypt; 11th century(?); Hebrew; vellum

This colourful children's Hebrew teaching aid is designed to interest and delight children. It is one of a large number of Cairo Genizah fragments depicting the world of children through their scribbles and Hebrew writing exercises. Such an early use of the magen david (star of David) together with other Jewish symbols makes this a particularly interesting example.


manuscript

T-S K5.41
Part of a piyyut, with the musical notation of Ovadiah Ha-Ger (Obadiah the Proselyte); Egypt(?); early 12th century; Hebrew; paper

When Johannes of Oppido, an Italian priest, converted to Judaism in 1102, changing his name to Ovadiah, he did not abandon his love of liturgical music. The Cairo Genizah contains several of his transcriptions, the best known are his neumatic notations to piyyutim, with formulas characteristic of the Gregorian chant. Ovadiah has thus provided us with the first written musical settings to Jewish liturgical poetry, but scholars are at odds about the degree to which he was responsible for their composition.


manuscript

T-S K10.1
Illuminated Haggadah with zoomorphic figures; Catalonia, Spain; early 14th century; Hebrew; vellum

The Genizah has preserved for us this Haggadah decorated with zoomorphic figures with bearded grotesque heads. This is a fine example of Spanish Hebrew illumination typical of the Catalan school, supported by wealthy court Jews living in Barcelona. Perhaps Spanish Jewish emigrĊ½s brought it with them when they sought refuge in Cairo.


manuscript

T-S K10.4
Part of a decorated ketubbah; Egypt(?); 12th century; Hebrew and Aramaic; vellum

Jewish women have, for well over two thousand years, treasured and preserved their marriage documents (ketubbot). Genizah finds include many of these documents and these have shed new light not only on the development of formulations but also on the tradition of ketubbah decoration and illumination. In order to make a ketubbah more attractive, the scribe often used colour and surrounded the text with floral and geometric designs, sometimes with micrography and elaborate good wishes on the borders.


manuscript

T-S K21.69
List of holy places in Eretz Israel; Eretz Israel and its environs; 16th century(?); Hebrew; paper

For at least six hundred years the land of Israel has been a tourist destination, but in Genizah times it was the tombs of saints that attracted the pilgrims. Three pieces of this clearly set out "travel guide" have now been found in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection.


manuscript

T-S K25.284
Lists and description of a compound for preparing the bill of sale of an expensive house; Fustat; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; vellum

"The following sale was effected with one handshake". Thus begins this hastily written draft deed dealing with the sale of a property valued at 220 dinars and written by the court clerk Halfon b. Menasseh Ha-Levi. Many legal documents in his hand have survived, among them this description of a compound consisting of a group of buildings, probably intended for the use of an extended family.


manuscript

T-S 8J14.18
Letter describing a visit to the house of Maimonides; Egypt; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

What made Moses Maimonides laugh? Did he have a sweet tooth? Fascinating details of the daily lives of great men, hitherto only to be guessed at, are revealed in the multitude of personal letters included amongst the documents in the Cairo Genizah. In this report of a visit to the home of Maimonides, apparently to deliver a secret message, the anonymous author is overwhelmed by his host's hospitality and friendliness. "I kissed his noble hand and he received us with a most cordial welcome… there transpired that which a book would prove insufficient to describe… caskets were brought and he began to eat lemon cakes…"


manuscript

T-S 8J18.5
Letter in the hand of Judah Halevi to Halfon Halevi b. Netanel discussing the redemption of a hostage; Spain; early 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

This famous Hebrew poet and philosopher, who was born before 1075 and died in 1141, not only left us with some of the best examples of Spanish Hebrew poetry as well as his philosophical work, the Kuzari, but was also active in communal affairs. The Genizah has preserved several letter sent by him to friends in Egypt. In this example, Judah Halevi asks his friend Halfon b. Netanel Dimyati to intervene personally on behalf of a captive Jewish woman.


manuscript

T-S 8J28.7
Letter from a teacher complaining about a naughty child; Egypt(?) 12th century(?); Judeo-Arabic; paper

Worries and concerns about children's education were no less felt in Genizah times than they are today. Interestingly, there is Genizah evidence that girls too were educated, although they were not trained in the same way as the boys. Examples of teachers' complaints about pupils' behaviour also existed then as reported in this fragment "I have to inform you, my lord, that I have not been successful in educating this boy… Whenever I spank him, I do so excessively…"


manuscript

T-S 8K10
Megillat Misrayim (the Egyptian Scroll): an account of attacks on the Jews of Fustat in 1011-1012; Egypt; 11th century; Hebrew; paper

Hebrew scrolls describing the dramatic rescue of a threatened Jewish group or community were sometimes read in the synagogue on the anniversary of such an event. In this scroll, the verses recount how, during a period of terrible persecution, a Muslim mob attacked the members of a funeral procession in the capital of Egypt. Agitators denounced the Jews to the authorities, on charges connected with taxes, and constables were sent by the governor to meet the Jews returning from the cemetry and to arrest them. Many Jews escaped, but twenty-three were arrested and sentenced to death. As a result of an appeal for mercy by the Jewish community at the court of the Caliph, they were later cleared of the charges and freed. Funeral processions through the streets of Fustat were also held for genizah material before its burial in the cemetery. When these attacks worsened, the processions were suspended and genizah material was stored in the Ibn Ezra synagogue.


manuscript

T-S 8K13.11
Draft ketubbah (marriage document) in which Abraham b. Solomon who is marrying a captive whom he has redeemed, maintains his right to take further wives; Egypt; 1291-1292; Aramaic and Hebrew; paper

Although most marriages in the Jewish communities living under Islam between the tenth and thirteenth centuries were monogamous, the Cairo Genizah contains several examples of polygamy. This rough draft of a ketubbah reveals the fate of an unfortunate woman who was taken captive and raped by the Mamluks when they conquered Acre from the Crusaders in 1291. In her desperate circumstances, she had no choice but to accept her fate as the second wife of the man who had ransomed her from captivity. "The groom's first wife permitted him to marry up to three additional women. This is the first, and he still has the right to marry two others".


manuscript

T-S 10J7.10
Notes of the Rabbinic Court containing testimony of Wahsha the businesswoman's love affair; Fustat; early 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

Women's involvement in activities outside their homes are documented in the Genizah, but the story of Wahsha (Desiree), daughter of `Ammar, is exceptional in many ways. Born to a wealthy banker, she continued her father's business to become a rich and successful woman in her own right. Her scandalous love affair with a married man, Hassun, from Ashkelon, which resulted in the birth out of wedlock of her son and heir, are documented in this fragment. From her detailed will (also preserved among the Genizah documents) we learn not only about her great wealth, but also about her intricate relationships with members of her close family and her attitude to the synagogue from which she had been expelled.


manuscript

T-S 10K6
Copy of the Damascus Document; Egypt or Eretz-Israel; 10th century(?); Hebrew; paper

One of the most exciting finds in the Cairo Genizah is this fragment of the Damascus Document, identified by Solomon Schechter as part of the writings of an unknown religious brotherhood and entitled by him the "Zadokite Fragment". Only with the discovery of the literature (Second Century period) of the Dead Sea Sect near Qumran, including an original text of the Damascus Document, fifty years later in 1947, was its true significance as part of that literature revealed. The mystery of how the Damascus Document came to be circulating in early medieval Cairo, many centuries after the disappearance of the sect itself, still remains.


manuscript

T-S 10Ka4.1
Moses Maimonides (Rambam), draft of his Guide for the Perplexed, in his own hand; Egypt; late 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

Moses Maimonides, born in Cordoba in 1135 or 1138, was the greatest Jewish personality of medieval times. Among his many famous works is the Guide for the Perplexed, a major philosophical treatise dealing with the apparent contradictions between the study of philosophy and science and that of traditional religious beliefs. This fragment is a draft with his own corrections, affording a glimpse into the creative process.


manuscript

T-S 13J20.3
Letter from Yehiel b. Eliakim concerning his son's education; Egypt, 12th-13th century; Hebrew; paper

Fathers away from home often insisted that their young sons should not waste their time playing with other boys, but should be in school all day. This father is particularly anxious to ensure that his son will be able to read a text upside down and from both sides, an invaluable skill at a time when a shortage of books meant that four or more children were often required to share a single codex.

"… Accustom my son Eliakim to read texts from all four directions, top and bottom, the way I like. Let him not waste his time with the other lads. Train him to say the blessings that he knows and instruct his mother to have him do the ritual washing of the hands and to recite the blessings over bread, wine, water and hand-washing in the way that we have already trained him…"


manuscript

T-S 13J21.10
Letter from a wife asking her husband to return home; Egypt(?); 15th century; Hebrew; paper

This woman is clearly not pleased with her husband's long absence on a business trip and insists that he abandon any plans he might have for travelling to Turkey, and return home to his wife, daughters and son-in-law. She also advises him that his tax problems may be solved if he elicits the help of the physician, R. Solomon. "…implore you from the bottom of our hearts not to go further, either by sea of by land, because we have heard that you have the intention of leaving for Turkey. I swear to the Lord that, if you do this, you must not speak with us any more; and if you do this, which will make the world despise us and cause a quarrel between your son-in-law and your daughter, who is pregnant, you will inflict pain upon your daughter and perhaps she will suffer a miscarriage…"


manuscript

T-S 13J22.2
Last will and testament of Nathan b. Samuel's wife; Egypt; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

This woman, Sitt al-Husan, fearing that death is imminent, has called witnesses to her bedside. Although it is Shabbat and nothing may be taken down in writing, she is anxious to make her final instructions known. She is clearly a woman of substance in her own right, and disposes of her considerable property, mainly to her husband, but arranges for the sale of part of her property to cover all her funeral expenses. Her two young slave girls are also beneficiaries, on condition that they remain in the Jewish faith. The will was drawn up at the conclusion of Shabbat by one of the witnesses.


manuscript

T-S 13J23.5
Letter from an ageing mother yearning for her son; Syria; 1067; Judeo-Arabic; paper

Women of independent means were rare in the medieval world, and this elderly widow is clearly irked by her dependence on her sons. In this letter, from Raqqa on the Euphrates to one of her sons in Egypt, she complains that her sons have left her in her daughter's home and failed to be in touch all summer. Even a bundle of dirty laundry would be a comfort to her "…send me your worn shirts, with their dirt, so that I may revive my spirit with them…"


manuscript

T-S 13J24.28
Letter, with the signature of Joseph Karo, to dignitaries of the Jewish community in Egypt; Eretz-Israel; 16th century; Hebrew; paper

It is not remarkable to find pages of the famous works of distinguished scholars in the Cairo Genizah, but always a delight to find fragments revealing details of their daily lives. In this letter, signed by Joseph Karo, but probably written for him by a professional Sefaradi scribe, he makes an earnest request for the repayment of a loan.


manuscript

T-S 13K2
Correspondence between the sages of Babylon and Eretz-Israel concerning a calendar controversy for the year 922; Iraq and Eretz-Israel; 10th century; Hebrew; paper

At the beginning of the 10th century a bitter dispute erupted between the Eretz-Israel yeshiva (rabbinical institute) headed by Cohen Zedek and Sa`adia Gaon concerning the regulation of the calendar and festivals. This fragment is from a letter in which a Babylonian sage summarises the Palestinian position and challenges the stance of its leading protagonist Aaron b. Meir.


manuscript

T-S 18J3.9
Letter to Egypt from Solomon b. Tsemah reporting an earthquake in Ramla; Eretz-Israel; 1033; Hebrew; paper

Over nine hundred years ago a violent earthquake shook the whole of Palestine and the surrounding area. The writer of this graphic account describes in this letter sent to Egypt how in the city of Ramla, people abandoned their houses when they noticed the walls bulging. They left all their belongings behind, only to see their homes collapse with many trapped under the ruins. "…The tongue is inadequate for the tale. Were it not for God's mercy that it happened still in daylight, when people could see and warn each other - and had it been in the night when everybody was asleep - only a few would have been saved…"


manuscript

T-S 12.122
Letter from the Jewish community of Kiev accrediting Jacob b. Hanukkah to raise funds for his redemption; Kiev; 10th century(?); Hebrew; vellum

This tenth century Hebrew document, written by the Jews of Kiev, provides proof of the existence of a Jewish community in Kiev in the Middle Ages. There are eleven signatories, and amongst their names are many of Hebrew origin, most of them the names of biblical characters. From the evidence contained in this letter, as well as other Hebrew sources, it seems probable that the Jewish community in Kiev was, at least partly, made up of Khazar converts.


manuscript

T-S 12.192
Letter of recommendation from Moses Maimonides; Egypt; late 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

In spite of his numerous medical duties, communal responsibilities and scholarly productivity, Maimonides was still able to find the time to help a needy colleague. Amongst the many letters in his own hand to be found in the Taylor Schechter Collection, is this one recommending a fellow scholar, Isaac al-Dar`i, to the community of Minyat Zifta, with a request that money be raised to pay his overdue poll-tax and that of his son.


manuscript

T-S 12.299
Letter about the mass emigration of rabbis from France to Jerusalem; Alexandria 1212; Judeo-Arabic; paper

Amongst the subjects dealt with in a correspondence between a pair of cantors in Alexandria and Cairo is this report about the mass `aliyah to the Jewish homeland of French rabbis in 1210 and 1211. They probably emigrated from France with the intention of repopulating Jerusalem after the departure of the Crusaders. The confiscation of their property by the King of France in 1210 possibly acted as a further stimulus for their departure.


manuscript

T-S 16.278
Personal letter from a business-man to his wife; Egypt; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

"…This is to inform you that I am now well and in good health, after having suffered various illnesses and serious ailments…; I am also having trouble with my meals. When I prepare something and put it on the fire, it does not turn out well, because of my fatigue, preoccupation and worries…; I think about you and your suffering and your loneliness and the loneliness of each of us. God know how I eat, drink and sleep…; I know I have talked too long about things for which shortness would be more fitting, but I speak to you about myself as if you were present, for consolation…"

Business trips abroad resulted in long absences, with husbands often away for many months, or even years. This man is clearly longing to return home to a dearly loved and much missed wife.


manuscript

T-S 16.364
Part of a copy of an eighth century Karaite document, Sefer Misvot Anan; Aramaic; vellum

Anan b. David was a diaspora leader in the 8th century, but after being removed from his post and imprisoned by the Muslim authorities, he organised his own faction, the Ananites. At the end of the 9th century, the Ananites united with another breakway faction to establish the Karaite Judaism of the day. In his Sefer Misvot Anan, fragments of which were found in the Genizah, Anan enumerates the laws of the Torah as written in the Hebrew Bible, rejecting the corpus of Rabbinic Torah which is based on Oral Torah.


manuscript

T-S 20.44
Record of a sale of books, with a list of the books; Fustat; 1223; Judeo-Arabic; paper

When a doctor died in medieval Fustat leaving no relative with an interest in his specialised professional library, it was sold at public auction and the proceeds went to the heirs. Since the library of a Jewish doctor usually contained both Hebrew and Arabic books, auctions were held at two different sessions, Muslims taking part in the Arabic sale. The Cairo Genizah has preserved this detailed record of the sale of the books of Abraham he-Hasid which took place in the presence of Abraham, son of Maimonides.


manuscript

T-S 20.47
List of precious objects in the synagogue of the Babylonian Jews in Fustat which were stored in the synagogue of the Palestinian Jews; Fustat; 1080; Hebrew; vellum

With which furnishings and artefacts did the Jewish communities of Cairo adorn their synagogues and Torah scrolls a thousand years ago? Torah decorations, lamps and candelabra, vessels of various kinds, precious fabrics, curtains and priestly prayer-shawls are all described in detail in this inventory of the synagogue of the Babylonian Jews preserved in the Genizah. The inventory, which also includes a list of volumes and scrolls with the names of their donors, appears to have been drawn up as an official document to be witnessed by the rabbinical court.


manuscript

T-S 20.160
Rabbinical court memorandum concerning the obligations undertaken by bridegroom Tuvia b. Eli towards his future wife Fa'iza, daughter of Solomon; Fustat; 1047; Hebrew; paper

Restrictions of the groom's general conduct could be inserted into marriage documents found in the Genizah. "…I will not bring into my house licentious men, buffoons, frivolous jesters and good-for-nothings. I will not enter the house of anyone who clings to licentiousness, corruption and ugly deeds. I will not associate with them for food and drink, or anything else. I will not purchase for myself a slave girl, as long as this Fa'iza is with me…" This young man clearly needed a warning that significant improvements in his behaviour were required.


manuscript

T-S 24.1
Marriage contract of a Karaite woman and the leader of the Rabbanite community of Egypt; 1082; Aramaic; vellum

The special importance of this text lies in the fact that it constitutes a rabbinically approved marriage document that permits the Karaite bride of a Rabbanite leader in the eleventh century to continue to adhere to her own religious customs. "…He also took it upon himself not to compel his wife to sit with him in the light of the Sabbath lamp, nor to eat the fatty tail, nor to profane her religious festivals, as long as she also observed his festivals with him…" Within a century, the religious leadership ceased to permit such social and religious integration and the schism between the two communities became complete.


manuscript

T-S 24.68
Part of a ketubbah (marriage document) with special reference to a woman's right of divorce; Egypt or Eretz-Israel; 10th century(?); Aramaic; vellum

"…And if this Maliha [the bride] hates this Sa`id, her husband, and desires to leave his home, she shall lose her ketubbah money, and she shall not take anything except that which she brought in from the house of her father alone; and she shall go out by the authorisation of the court and with the consent of our masters, the sages…" This document provides the evidence that a woman was able to add a clause to her marriage contract giving her the right to a divorce to be arranged by the rabbinical court at a future date if she so desired.


manuscript

T-S Misc.35.38
Copy of a letter to Hisdai Ibn Shaprut from a Khazar Jew describing the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism; Spain; 10th-11th century; Hebrew; paper

The story of the conversion of the people of Khazaria, a sovereign state in east Europe between the seventh and tenth centuries, was told by Judah Halevi in his book, the Kuzari. This letter reports that when the rulers of Khazaria considered converting to Judaism they received messages from the kings of Macedon and Arabia denigrating Israel and inquiring why the Khazars would want to adopt the faith of the Jews who were subject to the domination of all other peoples. In spite of this, having heard theological representations from the Christians, the Muslims and the Jews, they decided to commit themselves to Judaism.


manuscript

T-S Misc.35.45
Copy of a letter from the Jewish community of Provence to Hisdai Ibn Shaprut describing the persecution of Jews in Toulouse; Spain 10th-11th century; Hebrew; paper

There is a tradition that Jews lived in Toulouse from as early as the eighth century, and that every year at Easter they were forced to choose a member of their community to be publicly slapped on the face. This manuscript provides evidence that the custom of a public humiliation was still alive in the tenth to eleventh centuries when the payment of a special tax was accompanied by a public slap on the neck.


manuscript

T-S Ar.30.184
Cheques written by Abu Zichri Judah b. Josef Ha-Kohen; Egypt; 12th century; Judeo-Arabic; paper

The Cairo Genizah explodes the myth that cheques are a creation of the modern world. These money orders are remarkably similar in form to modern cheques, but since paper was expensive, the cheques are small. On the left upper corner is the sum to be paid (written in numerals). This is followed by the order: May so and so pay the bearer such and such an amount (written in words). On the left lower corner the date was indicated and on the lower edge the name of the issuer appears.


manuscript

T-S Ar.45.13
Medical instructions; Egypt; 10th-13th century; Judeo-Arabic; vellum

Medicine was a profession widely practised by Jews in medieval times. The Taylor-Schechter Collection contains more than 1,600 fragments of a medical nature covering most of the guidance needed by doctors who had to cope with a variety of ailments, including high fevers, as well as by those who assisted them as pharmacists, herbalists and bone-setters. This fragment lists the names of herbs used in the treatment of fevers, and recommends the application of cold and icy compresses to the patient's (preferably shaven) head.


manuscript

T-S Ar.51.60
Illuminated Arabic fable, Khalila wa-Dimna; Egypt(?); 13th-15th century; Arabic; paper

The presence of this fragment of an Arabic fable in the Cairo Genizah demonstrates that there were members of the Jewish community who were familiar with the literature of the Islamic world. The scene illustrated is from the first tale in a book of fables in which moral advice is put into the mouths of animals. The stories survive in a considerable number of illustrated manuscripts produced in various countries, but this single leaf is the only example to have been saved in the Genizah.


manuscript

T-S Ar.51.62
Qur'an in Hebrew script; ca. 12th century; paper

The reason for the transcription of the Arabic text of the Qur'an in Hebrew characters is unclear. Perhaps the reason was a Muslim rule discouraging any access to the Arabic text of the Qur'an by other religious groups. Maybe there were Jewish theological objections to such access, or possibly it was just easier for those Jews who were interested in reading it. It was certainly useful for Jews engaged in writing anti-Muslim polemics to have such translations available.


manuscript

T-S Ar.52.242
Bible in Arabic script; Egypt or Eretz-Israel; 10th-13th century; paper

This is one of a number of Cairo Genizah manuscripts of the Hebrew Bible transcribed in Arabic characters. The manuscripts appear to have been taken to Cairo from the Karaite community in Palestine, probably at the time of the Crusader invasion; a few may even have been written in Cairo by Karaites who had fled from Palestine. It is possible that the Karaites felt the need to make their own copies of the Hebrew Bible in Arabic letters because they had qualms about the accurate transmission of the written text of the Bible by Rabbanite scholars. They may also have used Arabic instead of Hebrew as an aid to the maintenance of a separate religious identity.


manuscript

T-S NS 143.46
Copy of a poem written by the wife of Dunash Ibn Labrat in the 10th century to her husband, with his poem in response; Spain; 11th-12th century(?); Hebrew; paper

Dunash Ibn Labrat is considered to have been one of the greatest Spanish poets of his age, but the Genizah reveals that his wife was no less talented. In this exchange of poems between the literary couple, Dunash's wife, a young woman left behind in Spain with their young baby when her husband embarked on a journey, expresses her thoughts and feelings in a poem written in beautiful Hebrew. Her husband's reply, swearing that he remains true to his young wife, follows on the same folio. But for the Cairo Genizah, this exquisite poem, by the only known medieval poetess writing in Hebrew, would have been lost for ever.


manuscript

T-S NS 275.27
Fragment of Pirqoi b. Baboi's propaganda sheet in favour of Babylonian traditions; written in the 9th century; Hebrew; paper

This polemical missive sent by Pirqoi b. Baboi, from the yeshiva (rabbinical institute) at Sura, to the people of the Maghreb, is one of the prime examples of the rivalry between the yeshivot of Babylon (Sura and Pumbedita) and Eretz-Israel. Pirqoi attempts to persuade the Maghrebis to adopt the Babylonian tradition. Babylon and Eretz-Israel clashed over matters of detailed custom and observance rather than on theological theory. Most Sefaradi exegetes followed in the path of their Babylonian forbears, while French and Ashkenazi sages maintained at least part of the Eretz-Israel tradition.


manuscript

T-S NS 324.112
Fragment of a letter in the hand(?) of Hai b. Sherira Gaon from the yeshiva (rabbinical institute) of Pumbedita to Nehemiah b. Abraham b. Sahlan of Fustat; Egypt; 1037; Hebrew; paper

In this letter Hai Gaon writes to the head of the Babylonian community in Fustat, instructing him to resume his position as a cantor and judge.


manuscript

T-S AS 142.174
Amulet; Egypt or Eretz-Israel; 10th-13th century; Hebrew and Aramaic; cloth

Among the Genizah fragments are remnants of magical compositions on astrology, alchemy and theory. There are also numerous amulets for a wide variety of circumstances. This cloth amulet has the aim of making the heart of the loved one burn with passion.


manuscript

T-S AS 182.291
Application to the Muslim court concerning a dispute about Abraham b. Moses Maimonides' attempts to change Jewish prayer customs; Egypt; 1240; Arabic; paper

This draft copy of a question sent by members of the Rabbanite Jewish community in Egypt to the Muslim court is one of many petitions sent by Jews to the Muslim authorities. The senders were concerned about the innovations introduced into liturgical Jewish traditions by the group led by Abraham, son of Maimonides. "…A group of Jews whose word is authoritative, namely the leader of the Jews and those of their sages who are his followers, have established the practice of genuflection and prostration in their worship. They have stated this to be an ancient practice and that they have revived an aspect of worship that had fallen into disuse…" The writers hoped that the Muslim religious conservatives, who were in power at the time, would also disapprove.


manuscript

Or.1080 J93
Record of court proceedings concerning the love affair between a Jewish woman and a Christian doctor; Egypt; 11th century; Judeo-Arabic and Arabic; paper

The Muslim regime at the time was scrupulous about preserving moral standards not only in the Muslim community but also among the Jews and Christians. In this court record a Jewish girl is accused by two Muslims of being intimate with a Christian physician. Although the document is written in Hebrew characters, the three Jewish witnesses sign their names in Arabic script, perhaps ultimately for the benefit of a Muslim judge.


manuscript

Or.1081 J1
Letter to Moses Maimonides from his brother David en route to India; `Aydhab; ca. 1170; Judeo-Arabic; paper

One of the gems to be found in the Genizah is this affectionate personal letter from David who, disobeying his older brother Moses Maimonides' strict instructions, was about to embark on a sea voyage to India. This was David's last letter as it was on this trip that he perished. "To my beloved brother R. Mos[es, son of R.] Maimon… David your brother who is longing for you… To make a long story short… I thought about what I had endured in the [desert and how I was saved]; then it appeared to me an easy matter to embark on a sea voyage… do not [worry]. He who saved me from the desert with its… will save me while at sea…"

About eight years later Moses Maimonides described his feelings thus: "The greatest misfortune that has befallen me during my entire life - worse than anything else - was the demise of the saint, may his memory be blessed, who drowned in the Indian sea…"


manuscript

Or.1102
Hebrew text of Ben Sira; 10th century(?); Hebrew; paper

Had Solomon Schechter not been shown this manuscript, he might never have travelled to Cairo, and this unique collection of manuscripts may have been lost to future generations. The Wisdom of Ben Sira, one of the books of the Apocrypha, is a work dating from the second century BCE. Jewish doubts about this book's degree of sanctity had led to its exclusion from the Hebrew Bible and eventually to the loss of its Hebrew text. Schechter's faith in the existence of an original Hebrew version was rewarded when the Scottish sisters brought him this text to identify.