New Publication – From Cairo to Manchester: Studies in the Rylands Genizah Fragments

30 08 2013


Dr Renate Smithuis and Professor Philip Alexander have edited a volume entitled From Cairo to Manchester: Studies in the Rylands Genizah Fragments (Journal of Semitic Studies Supplement 31, Oxford University Press 2013).

The volume includes articles by both editors, as well as by Professor Gideon Bohak, Dr Ben Outhwaite, Dr Michael Rand, Dr Jonathan Vardi, Dr Efraim Lev, Dr Zohar Amar, Professor Geoffrey Khan and Dr Sagit Butbul.

Apart from a general introduction to the Rylands Genizah collection, one can read up on our new discoveries, some of which are particularly striking, such as a rare fragment of the Aramaic Levi document, copies of which were known to the community of the Dead Sea scrolls, the top half of a page found in Cambridge of a Maimonides autograph which joins with two of our collection’s fragments, a sixteenth-century exorcism document made up in a synagogue, and a fragment of a Judeo-Arabic anti-Christian polemical text Qissat mujadalat al-Usquf.

The book can be pre-ordered from Oxford Journals here.


“Now everyone can dive in”: the worldwide Friedberg Genizah database

3 06 2013

Why is digitisation of the Cairo Genizah fragments so important? Memorable quote from the Head of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit in Cambridge, Dr Ben Outhwaite, in the New York Times of 27 May:

“The thing it really makes possible is people from all walks of life, in academia and out, to look at unpublished material,” said Ben Outhwaite, head of the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University, home to 60 percent of the fragments. “No longer are we going to see a few great scholarly names hoarding particular parts of the genizah and have to wait 20 years for their definitive publication. Now everyone can dive in.”

For the full story “Computer Network Piecing Together a Jigsaw of Jewish Lore” please read:

Cairo Genizah on BBC 3 radio

3 06 2013

Fascinating glimpse into the Cairo Genizah via five episodes of the BBC 3 radio programme

The Essay – Life in Fragments: Stories from the Cairo Genizah

Available 3-7 June on BBC iPlayer via the following link:

‘World’s oldest Torah’ scroll found in Italy

3 06 2013

Historic rivals join forces to save 1,000 years of Jewish history

20 02 2013

Cambridge University Library and the University of Oxford’s Bodleian Libraries have today announced their first ever joint fundraising campaign to purchase the £1.2 million ‘Lewis-Gibson Genizah Collection’, currently owned by the United Reformed Church’s Westminster College. For more information please click here.

15 11 2012

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John Rylands Library Special Collections Blog

The John Rylands Library has recently agreed to contribute high quality images and metadata of its Genizah Collection to the Friedberg Genizah Project – as reported by The Ancient World Online (AWOL) blog: The Friedberg Genizah Project Updates. The Friedberg Genizah Project seeks to digitally unite Genizah fragments from around the world, using image analysis to highlight potential “joins” between separated fragments of the same original manuscript.

We hold nearly 15,000 fragments, mostly written in Hebrew and Judeo-Arabic, from the Genizah of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo, purchased from the estate of Dr Moses Gaster in 1954. About 90% of the items are on paper, the remainder on parchment. The vast majority are very small fragments. They date from the 10th to the 19th century AD and include religious and literary texts, documentary sources, letters, and material relating to grammar, philosophy, medicine, astrology and astronomy. High resolution images and searchable…

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Priceless Jewish treasure will be big draw in New York

2 04 2012

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A fourteenth-century Haggadah, preserved by experts at The University of Manchester’s John Rylands Library, has been hand delivered to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, where it is now on show.

The masterpiece from Catalonian Spain features in a special installation called Rylands Haggadah: Medieval Jewish Art in Context.

It was painstakingly conserved over eight months and is also to be made available as a narrated eBook facsimile this Spring thanks to the Rylands’ digitisation team.

Comprising 57 lavishly decorated vellum leaves, the treasure will be flown to the United States accompanied by Rylands’ conservator Steve Mooney.

James Ludovic Lindsay, 26th Earl of Crawford, sold the Haggadah to Enriqueta Rylands in 1901, as part of the world famous Crawford collection of manuscripts.

Rylands Collections and Research Support Manager John Hodgson said: “This manuscript is one of the finest Haggadot in the world.

“It is important for its intrinsic beauty and for various textual details, but it is also a key source for the study of the illumination of Hebrew manuscripts in general.

“It shines a light on the tradition of Biblical illustration among the Jews of the Middle Ages and on the cross-fertilisation between Jewish and non-Jewish artists within the medium of manuscript illumination.

“The Rylands Haggadah is among the top ten individual items of greatest significance within the JRUL’s Special Collections, in terms of its research, cultural, heritage and financial value.”

Conservator Steve Mooney spent eight months securing the areas of pigment and gold leaf which had started to crack and flake. 

To maintain the high level of concentration needed, Steve could work on the manuscript for only two to three hours a day, viewing the damaged areas under a microscope.

He said: “This has been a fascinating job – and I got a real sense of achievement when I’d finished.

“But it was a bit nerve-wracking: one slip of the hand and you could remove a fragment of gold leaf or pigment by mistake.

He added: “My job is to take it to the museum by hand into a secure area where it will acclimatise before going on display. I shall inspect it to make sure the conditions are exactly right.”

Dr Yaakov Wise from the University of Manchester’s Centre for Jewish studies said: “The Haggadah is one of the central texts of Rabbinic Judaism. Its use on the first nights of Passover by Jews all over the world from Alaska to Zimbabwe continues a tradition over 3,000 years old.

“It connects the Jews of this generation to their ancestors who left slavery in Egypt for a life of freedom in their own country and is the story of the first national liberation movement in history.”

For the installation at the Metropolitan Museum, works of art from its medieval collection – made for Christian use and telling the history of the Hebrew people – will suggest the larger context of biblical storytelling in which the Haggadah was created.

Jan Wilkinson, University Librarian and Director of the John Rylands Library, said: “We are immensely proud of the Rylands Haggadah, and we are delighted to share it with an international audience, by loaning it to The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and through the eBook digital facsimile.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, said: “The Rylands Library is one of the few institutions in the world that possesses a masterpiece of Hebrew manuscript illumination such as this.  We greatly appreciate the opportunity to showcase it in our galleries against the backdrop of our world-renowned medieval collection.

“The conservation work necessary to realize this loan was carried out thanks to funding from the UK’s National Manuscripts Conservation Trust and Dorothy Tapper Goldman.

“None of this would have been possible without the conservation project, and we are grateful to the funders who shared our vision and enabled it to be realised.”

The installation in New York is made possible by The David Berg Foundation.