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Cambridge University Library

The future of Egypt’s past: the Mosseri Collection

Jacques Mosseri
Jacques Mosseri
Ben Outhwaite
Fri 7 May 2021

The Jacques (or Jack) Mosseri Collection arrived in Cambridge in 2006. After Schechter brought his famed hoard to Cambridge, Mosseri, a prominent member of Egypt’s Jewish community with a keen interest in its history, and knowing that other manuscripts had been buried, set about retrieving these from various places. Following his death, and with his family leaving Egypt, scholars lost track of the collection, but it re-emerged in the 1970s to be microfilmed. For many years this microfilm was the only way to access the collection, but following discussions with members of the Mosseri family in the early 2000s, Prof. Stefan Reif arranged for Cambridge University Library to take the manuscripts on long-term loan for 20 years. The collection includes gems such as autographs by Moses Maimonides, a letter from the Babylonian Gaon Nehemiah ha-Kohen (with his crumbling personal seal impression - bulla - still attached), a note signed by the kabbalist Isaac Luria (the Ari), responsa of R. Gershom b. Judah (the Ragma), and the poem of Dunash b. Labrat’s wife.

The Mosseri’s 7000 or so manuscripts are now undergoing conservation and digitisation in Cambridge, and digital images are going up on CUDL, albeit slowly due to the difficulties in getting funding to work on a collection that the Library does not own, and of which it is only a temporary custodian.

Just like the Taylor-Schechter Collection, the original acquisition of the Mosseri manuscripts is largely the result of one man’s passion for Jewish history. This story has recently captured the attention of an Egyptian podcaster, Nadeen Shaker of Kerning Cultures, who produced an excellent and thoughtful podcast, ‘Whose Genizah?’, on the past, present and future of the Mosseri Collection:

The Mosseri collection, and its search for more permanent accommodations, was also recently profiled at length by David B. Green in the Israeli broadsheet Haaretz: 'A Wandering Jewish Treasure, Looking for a Permanent Home', Haaretz, 29 April 2021.

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