The Secret of the Genizah of Cairo and legacy of Maimonides

Imagine for a moment that in the restoration of the Mosque, suddenly discovered a camera hidden sealed and contains much of the books of the great library of Cordova X century. There would be the great texts of philosophers and poets Cordoba, original drawings of flying machines of Firnas, Temple plans that would reveal all its mysteries, and countless handwritten documents of the society of those golden days Cordoba. Necessarily this discovery change many chapters of our history written. Well, because that happened in the late nineteenth to Jewish culture. And there appeared also a part of the history of Cordoba, through countless papers and books whose author was our countryman .

The of Cairo is undoubtedly the most important archaeological find of Jewish culture. A large library with more than 200.000 paper and parchment documents, with 1000 years old, is the most complete documentation ever ever discovered on medieval society.

* Genizah and Genizah is the term used in Hebrew to refer to a chamber or room in which the Jews deposited obsolete documents and objects that once had sacred value or contain the name of God. Also sacred documents that scribes had made mistakes and expecting a sacred ritual for destruction . In the Middle Ages it was common also place all kinds of documentation, by default, could include the name of God, although not always the case (cheques, prescriptions, scores, etc.).

Synagogue of Ben Ezra, in Cairo. Today much restored, you can see in the photo the attic where was the document repository.

The genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, in Cairo, city ​​that hosted the most fertile stage of Cordoba Maimonides, was found in the attic of this synagogue which was built on the ruins of a Coptic church and sold to the Jews. In 890 was rebuilt but the penthouse situated in a very hidden section remained intact. From this time the Jews of the region were quietly deposited both secular and sacred materials in the attic of the sanctuary that functioned as a sort of carefully sealed chamber. The documents are dated between the tenth and thirteenth.

The tradition and Jewish law attributed special value to the study. It is for this reason that the documents relate to the wisdom and knowledge are considered sacred. When a book becomes useless sacrum, by estar Viejo or rotated, its pages are valued as a human body and are, therefore, the same treatment, namely, be read from a place of rest. With the passage of time the Jews began to protect all books, regardless of content. Thus the genizah also serves as a refuge for a variety of currently non-religious writings are invaluable for the study of Jewish history. The existence of the Genizah of Cairo was known from ancient times in certain academic circles, but only in the nineteenth century intellectual and antiques dealers managed to persuade managers that allowed the synagogue to the extraction of certain materials. It was around this time that the Genizah fragments began to appear in various places like St. Petersburg, Jerusalem, London, Oxford Filadelfia. In the late nineteenth century is Solomon Schechter who identifies the Cairo Genizah as the source of all those manuscripts and notes the richness of the deposit. Most fragments (c. 140.000) were transferred to the Library of the University of Cambridge making up what is known as Taylor-Schechter collection of Genizah.

According to Professor Solomon Schechter, "The genizah represents a combination of a room with sacred material and secular records office". After staying in Cairo 1896 a 1897 devoting his time to the study and research of this literature, Schechter able to extract near 100.000 pages. Later volumes published several classic with this item, but much has yet to be deciphered, organized, edited and published. The complex mosaic of paper that is the Genizah and its interpretation is a very complex process, and it still. A part of its fragility, something that complicates their interpretation is that the Jews of Fustat used to write in the vernacular, Arabic, with Hebrew characters, although sometimes they did the opposite; in Hebrew with Arabic characters. After the arrival of Spanish refugees, sometimes written in Ladino (the lost language of the Sephardic Jews) or documents are pure Castilian.

At present most of these fragments are incomplete and contain many unknowns. Among the historical documents and literary treasures found in Cairo include a wealth of texts related to the history of Jews in and Egypt since the time of the Islamic conquest until the Crusades, and a wide variety of historical and cultural materials.

(*) The word comes from the Hebrew genizah ganaz it means to keep or hide.

The Legacy of Maimonides in the Cairo Genizah

Maimonides autograph

If the Cairo Genizah is important for the data provided on Jewish medieval society, more so by the vast amount of writings and books found in it and the author is the great Maimonides. Activity as document repository matches the peak years public and scholarly study of this Cordovan. The genizah kept a detailed biography written hundreds of documents signed and written by himself. The “Guide for the Perplexed” is one of the books of Maimonides manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza, is a first draft of the work, (was probably completed by 1190), with author's corrections, additions and deletions. The other is “Torá Mish”, in which Maimonides lasting fame rests.
This fame as a philosopher Maimonides sometimes overshadows su reputable medical, but, lifetime, was equally famous as a physician, with their knowledge and skills sought by Jews and Muslims, and, apparently, even by the Crusader King of Jerusalem. Several of his medical writings manuscripts preserved in the Cairo Genizah, for example one of his lesser known works, was a treatise on sex and the use of aphrodisiacs in the dietary, a branch of medicine in which Maimonides was a pioneer. It was commissioned by Sultan Omar, nephew of Saladin.
Among many others is also the proclamation declaring the “Rais Maimonides-Yahud, 'Head of the Jews”. The incumbent was elected by the Jewish notables of Fustat (the first Islamic city of Cairo) and recognized by the Muslim authorities, as the official representative of the Jewish community. Maimonides, twice served as (in 1171-2 and 1196-1204), and the said document refers to his first term in office.

Volumes have also been published complete Hebrew poetry composed in medieval times in Spain. Finally, there are still many manuscripts and fragments of the New Series in which one might find additional material that is still a mystery to be saved with great zeal in the Geniza Synagogue.

+ Maimonides autograph manuscripts in the Library of the University of Cambridge


The virtual reconstruction of Cairo Genizah

Cast manuscripts and documents worldwide Genizah. Interestingly in Spain seems no. You can view many of the documents in virtual libraries attached, in some cases we have included the transcript of the English documents. If by the consultarlos, surely you will remain amazed at the large number of writings of Maimonides containing and logically are in many cases the protagonists of the files.

Cambridge, University Library– > 140.000
Westminster College– ± 2.000
Manchester, John Rylands University Library– ± 10.000
Oxford, Bodleian Library– ± 5.000
London, British Library– ± 5.000
Birmingham, Selly Oak Colleges, Mingana and Mittwoch Collections– ± 40

New York, Jewish Theological Seminary of America– ± 30.000
Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Advanced Judaic Studies– > 500
University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology28
Cincinnati, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion– ± 250
Washington, D.C., Smithsonian (various)– 114

Rest of World
France, Paris, Alliance Israelite Universelle– ± 4.000; Jack Mosseri Collection– ± 4.000.
Strasbourg, National and University Library– ± 1000
Austria: Vienna, Austrian National Library, Rainer Collection– ± 150
Hungary: Budapest, Academy of Sciences– ± 650
Russia: St. Petersburg, National Library of Russia: Antonin Collection– ± 1200. Firkovich Collection– ± 1.000
Ukraine: Kiev, Academy of Sciences, Abraham Harkavy Collection– ± 30
Israel: Jewish National and University Library– ± 300




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