Connected Histories

The Friedberg Genizah Project and the Princeton University Genizah Project

About This Resource

Amitav Ghosh discovered Abraham ben Yiju, a 12th-century Jewish merchant, whose letters survived in the Cairo Genizah, a figure also profiled by Gordon Stewart. The Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP) and Princeton Geniza Project were established to facilitate research and public knowledge of the document collection known as the Cairo Genizah. The collection of fragmentary Jewish texts from the 8th to the 17th centuries came to light in the 19th century in the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. These documents illuminate a millennium of Jewish and Middle Eastern history.

The Friedberg Genizah Project serves the research by locating the Genizah manuscripts and then identifying, cataloging, transcribing, translating, digitizing, and publishing them online. The Friedberg Genizah Project website provides background on the Cairo Genizah and the research projects and partnerships, as well as interesting samples of documents from everyday Jewish life. 

The Princeton Geniza Project of the Department of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University facilitates research into the Geniza documents by digitizing, creating a full text retrieval text-base, and developing dictionaries and other aids to further their study. The project is committed to disseminating its materials as widely as possible to the international community of scholars.

Text

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. . .

Source

Text excerpt and image from “The Friedberg Genizah Project.” The Friedberg Genizah Project. http://www.genizah.org/Index.aspx. Department of Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University. "The Princeton Genizah Project.” http://www.princeton.edu/~geniza/.

How to Cite This Page

"Muslim Journeys | Item #251: The Friedberg Genizah Project and the Princeton University Genizah Project", April 26, 2018 http://bridgingcultures.neh.gov/muslimjourneys/items/show/251.

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