Sunday, February 14, 2010

Genizah Update #4 - Expedition Genizah: The Countdown Begins


25 Days …And Counting!

January 26, 2010

Hello Everyone,

The excitement grows; the schedule fills; and there are reports that the dust-clouds in the Genizah have halted mid-billow in anticipation of the arrival of Expedition Genizah.


The schedule for this two week expedition is filling rapidly. In fact, my full itinerary, replete with phone numbers, contact information, addresses, etc., is now almost five pages long. Here are some highlights of the recent additions:


• We have arranged for a full, behind-the-scenes tour of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit at the Cambridge University Library, home of Cambridge’s 193,000 Genizah Manuscripts.

• At the library, we will see the “Mosseri Collection” – 7,000-8,000 Genizah fragments discovered in Cairo shortly after Solomon Schechter’s 1897 visit. The collection is still raw, clumped and jumbled together just as it was in the Genizah. Conservators are now working to “declumpify” the documents so that they can be studied. It is painstaking work, and they only separate three or four documents each day. Here’s a sample:

These manuscripts will give us a glimpse of what all of the manuscripts looked like just after they emerged from centuries of Genizah storage.

EXCURSUS: The Genizah and Adam Sandler

For many years, the Mosseris were among the largest and most prominent of all Egyptian Jewish families. In fact, their name was probably derived from Mitzri, the Hebrew word for “Egyptian.” Most or all of the Mosseris have left Egypt for other countries, such as France and Israel. One of the Israeli Mosseris is an actor, Ido Mosseri, who recently had a large supporting role as Adam Sandler’s Israeli sidekick in that paragon of cinematic excellence “Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”

Yes, my friends, the web of Genizah connections extends far and wide. Even as far as Adam Sandler.

• In Cambridge, we also plan to meet with several scholars:
o A Maimonides scholar
o An Israeli Arabist
o An expert on Middle Eastern Jewish languages who has written a detailed history on the pronunciation of the tzere – the Hebrew vowel beneath this alef: אֵ. Another source I studied contained nine pages on the pronunciation of the sheva – אְ. Knowing what I do now about horizontally arrayed tzere and the vertically aligned sheva, all that’s left is to learn about the shuruk – אֻ – and I’ll be all set.

• I’ve been invited to speak about my research to the Cambridge Jewish Residents Association.

• Finally, I had long been looking forward to retracing Solomon Schechter’s footsteps on May 13, 1896, the day he first say the manuscript that led him to the Cairo Genizah. Here was his path:

o Home
o Errands on Kings Parade – Cambridge’s main shopping district. It’s still there.
o Visit to Castlebrae, the home of Margaret Gibson and Agnes Lewis, where they showed him their newly acquired manuscripts. Now a dormitory, we’ve arranged a tour.
o Research at the University Library. Arrangements for the visit already made.
o Home

As you can see, we’d made arrangements to visit each of Schechter’s stops that day, except for home.

Well, last week, in an email from a woman who has been helping me make these arrangements she said, “…and, by the way, I should introduce you to my friend, Sue. She’s Jewish, and she lives in Solomon Schechter’s old house.”

Ding! I contacted Sue. I arranged a visit. The loose ends are loose no more. Thank God for good friends!


• The Genizah: As I mentioned in previous updates, I do have official permission to visit the Genizah room at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo. However, a friend in Egypt warned that many people visit the country with great plans…”and Egypt laughs.” I am therefore in the process of arranging plans B, C, and D to ensure my access to that room.

• The other night, I spoke on the telephone with Carmen Weinstein, the president of the Jewish Community of Cairo, and I look forward to meeting her during our visit.

• The Egyptian government has recently done a complete and magnificent renovation of the Maimonides Synagogue – not the Ben Ezra of Genizah fame – and it will be dedicated only a few days after our departure. It’s an exciting event, and it’s too bad we’ll have to miss it.

New York

• I will be speaking about my at Sinai Reform Temple in Bay Shore, Long Island. We plan to film the session for possible use in the DVD.

• I have also set up a meeting with Dr. Burton Visotzky, at the Jewish Theological Seminary. He is the author of a novel based on Genizah texts. He also appeared in the Bill Moyers series on Genesis, and was a consultant for Dreamworks on their movie, “The Prince of Egypt.”


Many of you sent suggestions as to a title for the book – I received dozens of them! They all got me thinking, and I appreciate your input very much. Here, in edited form, are a few of my favorites:

1. Under the Dust in the Attic: Rediscovering Cairo Genizah
2. Forgotten Treasures: The Fantastic Tale of the Cairo Genizah
3. Unfolding History: The Story of the Cairo Genizah
4. Another Man’s Treasure: The Amazing Tale of the Cairo Genizah
5. Sacred Scraps: The Cairo Genizah Rediscovered

Of course, we could recombine the various titles and subtitles above, I may go back to one of my original ideas, and my editor may very well veto them all.

Your input, as always, is welcome.


Amidst all of this excitement, of course, I still need to write the book! I’ve attached an excerpt – the DRAFT of the first section of the chapter about one of the greatest Genizah scholars of all, Dr. Shelomo Dov Goitein. The rest of the chapter will discuss Goitein’s biography and the lasting significance of his work.

I would love some feedback on this excerpt. Please don’t hesitate to be brutal – I welcome your input on anything from tone to wording to sentence structure to the overall flow of the piece. I may not agree with all of your suggestions, but I promise that I will take them all seriously.

Thanks in advance.


As blog on Expedition Genizah will be opening soon – just as soon as I can figure out how to open a blog. Keep watching your email for announcements.


A couple of interesting Genizah related news stories have come out of Israel recently:

1. Billboards in the Genizah

Here is a billboard advertising an Israeli TV show called S’rugim, a program about Modern-Orthodox families living in Jerusalem.

It may not show in this picture, but the background behind the woman is an image of a Torah scroll.

You can probably guess where this is going.

A group of rabbis pointed out that the Torah in the billboard is a sacred text bearing the name of God, and, as a result, they insisted that the billboards all be put into genizahs. Rather than enter into a full-blown religious smackdown, the advertising agency responsible for the billboards agreed. I believe, however that it will just be the paper advertisements that will end up “going-genizah,” and not the structures holding them up. In other words, the bills will end up in genizahs, not the boards.

2. Genizahs Fall Prey to Budget Cuts

For many years, there have been public genizahs scattered throughout Jerusalem’s Orthodox neighborhoods – special receptacles into which observant Jews could deposit their no-longer-needed sacred texts. However, with the economy being what it is these days, Jerusalem’s municipal government recently announced that it is eliminating the program. The religiously observant community is up in arms over the decision, and rumor has it that privately owned pay-genizahs will soon open throughout the city.


I remain in search of funds to support the costs of publishing this book – travel, reprint permissions, etc. As I have mentioned, I will donate any remaining monies at the conclusion of the project to one or more of the main organizations now housing and caring for the manuscripts. The list includes, but is not limited to:

• The Taylor Schechter Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University
• The Jewish Theological Seminary Library
• The Friedberg Genizah Project, which is now digitizing the entire corpus of Genizah manuscripts

The more research I do, the more I realize that the people who run these organizations care for these priceless treasures on a shoestring budget, and they need our help and support. I hope that my book will demonstrate the vital importance of what they do and thus encourage readers everywhere to give. And I also hope that, with your help, my project can offer some gifts directly, as well. Please contribute as you are able – your gifts will go far in preserving the precious treasures of the Cairo Genizah.

Thank you so much for reading this far. More updates will come your way as news develops.


Rabbi Mark S. Glickman

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