Thursday, April 21, 2022

Rescuing Egyptian Jewish manuscripts

HERITAGE CONSERVATION: Yiddish in Cairo: Egyptians Rescue Centuries of Jewish Life From Garbage Dumps (Ofer Aderet, Haaretz).
Over the last five years, [Prof. Yoram] Meital [of Ben-Gurion University’s Middle East Studies Department], a 63-year-old specialist on Egypt, has been taking part in a project aimed at conserving synagogues, cemeteries and other Jewish sites in Egypt. The project is being carried out by the tiny Jewish community that remains in Egypt, with American funding and the cooperation of Egyptian authorities. A consultant on the history of the Jewish community, Meital is documenting existing conditions through photography and texts, and creating a detailed database of remaining Jewish sites in Egypt.
I commend the Egyptian authorities for their support of Professor Meital's project. This is very good news indeed!

As the headline hints, this article has some information about the recently-discovered "new" Cairo Geniza:

Last month, the focus of the project was an old Jewish cemetery in Cairo. “Some 250 garbage trucks were used to clear the area. The place had become the neighborhood dump,” says Meital.

While the site was being cleared, Meital received a WhatsApp message while he was in Israel that made him sit up. “They sent me a photo of an opening to a genizah (repository) inside a burial chamber,” he says excitedly.

But before he had a chance of examining the material found there, officials from the Egyptian Supreme Council of Antiquities arrived and took away 165 sacks of documents. “We can’t say what’s there and how valuable it might be,” he says.

We now know a little more about what happened. But we still don't know where the documents are, how they are being cared for, and when scholars will be able to see them.

Reminder to the Egyptian authorities: The world is watching.

Please give us a full update on the manuscripts.

The article also mentions other discoveries by Professor Meital's team. This one is particularly exciting:

The most important finding came from the Karaite synagogue in Cairo, a manuscript of the Bible written 1,000 years ago on vellum “preserved in excellent condition,” he says. “It’s inconceivable. This book was located in a place where anyone could have picked it up .... You can’t imagine its monetary value.” The 616-page book, dated to 1028, had been previously documented by researchers but later disappeared.
For more on the restoration of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, the source of the famous Cairo Geniza, see here.

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