Thursday, May 24, 2007

THE CAIRO GENIZA gets a nice little profile in the Canadian Jewish News. Excerpt:
As with other major discoveries discussed in this column, it was locals who first brought the material to the attention of the outside world. At first, Europeans noticed something new in the Cairo antiquities market. It was thanks primarily to the efforts of two sisters, Agnes Smith Lewis and Margaret Dunlop Gibson, residents of Cambridge, that the renowned university there obtained the bulk of the collection.

This was indeed quite fortuitous, since they brought the material to the attention of the man who would be forever associated with the Genizah documents, the redoubtable and legendary Rabbi Solomon Schecter, who at that time was the reader in talmudic and rabbinic literature and keeper of the collection of Hebrew manuscripts at Cambridge.

Fortunately, Rabbi Schecter was probably the one man in the world who would be able to fully appreciate and analyze the material. One of the first documents he came across was the Wisdom of Ben Sira, popularly known as Ecclesiasticus, which he published. His study of the material is still a landmark of scholarship.

But Rabbi Schecter realized that he would have to go to the source, to the genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue itself. What he found there astounded both him and the world. It contained more than 100,000 documents, which have since given us a unique and unparalleled look into a prominent Jewish community of 1,000 years ago.
The article also discusses recent Canadian contributions to Geniza research, including the refurbishment of the Ben Ezra synagogue, a ditigization project on the texts, and a possible upcoming conference.