The Cairo Genizah, mostly discovered late in the nineteenth century but still resurfacing in our own day, is a collection of over 200,000 fragmentary Jewish texts (which may well equal three times that number of folios). Many of these were stored in the loft of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat medieval Cairo, to the south-west of the modern city) between the 11th and 19th centuries. A genizah is a storage room where copies of respected texts with scribal errors or physical damage, or unusable documents, are kept until they can be ritually buried. The dark, sealed, room in the arid Egyptian climate contributed to the preservation of the documents, the earliest of which may go back to the eighth and ninth centuries.
These manuscripts outline a 1,000-year continuum of Middle-Eastern history and comprise the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world. The Genizah can be described as one of the greatest Jewish treasures ever found.
...Early visitors to the Genizah were wary of examining its contents because of the local superstition that foretold disaster for anyone who might remove any of its contents. This, too, contributed to the preservation of the documents. In the second half of the 19th century some texts were sold by synagogue officials to dealers, scholars and visitors. Famous libraries in St. Petersburg, Paris, London, Oxford, Cambridge and Philadelphia acquired major collections.
In the early 1890's Rabbi Shlomo Aharon Wertheimer, a Torah scholar, collector and researcher, living in Jerusalem, began publishing manuscripts that he had purchased from the Cairo Genizah with his identifications and explanations – among them rare and important texts. He also sold some of these manuscripts to collectors in order to finance the purchase of additional ones. To some extent, he was one of the first to recognize the treasure trove that was the Cairo Genizah.
However, it was only in late 1896 and early 1897, that the entire treasure trove of the Genizah was finally revealed. Dr. Solomon Schechter, who at the time was a reader in Talmudic studies at the University of Cambridge, had earlier in 1896 been shown some rare precious leaves of two ancient Jewish literary works. Dr. Schechter's efforts to find their origins led him to Cairo, to the Ben Ezra synagogue, where, with communal assistance, he found the legendary Genizah hidden in a sealed room on its roof. His trip was funded and formally sponsored by the Master of St John’s College in the University of Cambridge, Dr. Charles Taylor.
After obtaining the permission of the synagogue officials to empty the Genizah, Schechter, shipped the bulk of the Genizah's contents (over 140,000 documents) to Cambridge for further research. Five years later, Schechter moved to New York as the newly appointed president of the Jewish Theological Seminary, bringing a small number of the manuscripts with him. More than a century later, this huge worldwide archive is still being identified and cataloged. . .