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Cambridge University Library

Throwback Thursday: Unit’s major discovery

T-S Ar.43.208
T-S Ar.43.208 P3 (recto): a leaf from 'Obadyah Maimuni's "Treatise of the Pool" (al-Maqāla al-Ḥawḍiyya)
Author: 
Melonie Schmierer-Lee
Thu 2 Sep 2021

Our Throwback Thursday this week is taken from issue 4 of the printed edition of Genizah Fragments, published in October 1982:

The Genizah has proved to be a mine of biographical information about the scholars of mediaeval Egypt, especially of the Maimonides family who were leaders of Egyptian Jewry for over 200 years. Indeed, communal and literary documents have come to light which testify to the sustained intellectual activity of Oriental Jewry’s most illustrious family.
Dr Paul Fenton, Research Assistant at the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, at present mainly engaged on the Unit’s bibliographical project, recently discovered among the Cambridge Genizah fragments a hitherto unpublished mystical treatise composed in Judaeo-Arabic by Moses Maimonides’ grandson, ‘Obadyah. The work shows the deep influence of the mystical and ascetic movement in Islam known as Sufism and as such is of great interest to the increasingly topical subject of the interdependence of Jewish and Muslim ideologies.
Unlike his rationalist grandfather, ‘Obadyah consciously uses Sufi concepts and mystical vocabulary in describing the Jew’s spiritual journey towards God. The very title of the work “The Treatise of the Pool” refers to the typically Sufi idea that the heart is to be emptied of all but God in order to draw it near to the divine, just as a pool is first cleansed and then filled with clean water.
Dr Fenton’s edition and translation of this important work has just been published (Octagon Press, London, 1981). In his introduction the editor traces the influence of Sufism through the Genizah period and its appearance in the later kabbalistic trends that emerged among Eastern Jewry. The text throws much light on the intellectual options exercised by Maimonides’ descendants as well as on the manner in which Oriental Judaism absorbed certain ethical elements from the dominant Islamic environment in which it flourished.

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