Genizaschmutz. So cool.
Among the documents:
"an 11th-century certificate by a rabbinical court testifying to the kosher status of certain cheeses produced on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives, and palimpsests of biblical passages on paper or vellum"
"wills and bills, merchant contracts, trousseau lists, children’s primers, Hebrew grammars, prescriptions, petitions, a letter describing the Khazar kingdom’s conversion to Judaism in the eighth or ninth century, and eyewitness accounts of the Crusader massacres in the Holy Land"
on the discovery of an inadvertent archive in Egypt.Photograph of Solomon Schechter examining manuscripts from the Cairo geniza.
Via Cambridge University Library
Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
Nextbook, April 2011. 283 pp.
Guided by Judaism’s reverential regard for — and fidelity to — the dignity of the written word, many Jewish communities, right up to the present day, keep a geniza, or repository for discarded sacred texts to gather dust or disintegrate. Such repositories, often in synagogue attics or cellars, hold anything bearing the name of God, texts with scribal errors or physical damage, or sometimes anything written in Hebrew characters.
These storerooms have functioned both to protect a text’s sanctity and to hide away heretical texts. Concealing both the sacred and the censored, the geniza, as one scholar put it, serves “the twofold purpose of preserving good things from harm and bad things from harming.” Whether for the purposes of preservation or banishment, a geniza offers a dignified way of consigning a text to oblivion.
But as the essayist Adina Hoffman and the poet and translator Peter Cole make clear in Sacred Trash, for antiquity and sheer wealth of forgotten treasure, none compared with the geniza of Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue (first built in the eighth or ninth century), which had accumulated the largest collection of medieval manuscripts in the world. Their book offers an elegant history of one of the great modern feats of cultural resurrection: the rediscovery of the Cairo geniza, which served as what Hoffman and Cole call “an inadvertent archive” for almost 10 centuries.