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Book Notes: The Cambridge Genizah Collections: Their Contents and Significance, Stefan C. Reif (ed.)

Raphael Loewe

<plain_text><page sequence="1">Jewish Historical Studies, volume 39, 2004 Book Notes The Cambridge Genizah Collections: Their Contents and Significance. Cambridge University Library Genizah Series 1, edited by Stefan C. Reif, assisted by Shulamit Reif (Cambridge University Press 2002) isbn o 521 81361, pp. xiv + 239, 22 plates, ?45. Although numbered 1, this book is in fact the seventeenth to appear in this distinguished series. In outlining the achievement of a century's research in the Genizah's contents, it commemorates a signal act of academic vision. Hebrew fragments had been percolating to Europe from Egypt throughout the second half of the nineteenth century, and probably a single large cache reached St Petersburg. The world of scholarship is indebted primarily to Solomon Schechter, who in the 1890s appreciated the loss of coherence implicit in any continued random curio-hunting; secondly to Charles Taylor, a Hebrew scholar and Master of St John's College, Cambridge, for financing the transference thither en bloc of the contents of the genizah of Ben Ezra synagogue in Cairo, and to the University for agreeing to Schechter's request for permission to remove it; and thirdly, to the leaders of the Jewish community for accepting its removal. As a result, it has proved possible to reconstruct a social (and much of the literary) history of a Mediterranean-centred medieval Jewry, and in so doing to bring to light much which, transcending purely Jewish concern, may be of significance to medieval historians generally. A bridge to this wider sphere of interest was provided by the monumental series of volumes entitled A Mediterranean Society, by the late S. D. Goitein, whose sustained endeavours in the Genizah surely place his name alongside that of Schechter himself. Professor Reif, without whose devoted curatorship and drive Genizah studies would have remained a Cinderella, had the happy thought of mark? ing the centenary by a series of lectures, which are here published, by specialists in the major disciplines of Jewish studies as conventionally recognized, supplemented by some designed to apprise students of social history in general of the kind of material which the Genizah can offer them. He himself provides a wide-ranging centennial assessment. M. Kister writes on the apocryphal text of Ben Sira / Ecclesiasticus, the spectacular discovery of parts of the lost Hebrew original of which, in the early 1890s, so to speak put the Genizah on the academic map. (Steinschneider, the doyen of Hebrew bibliography, is reputed to have pooh-poohed the whole 217</page><page sequence="2">Book Notes enterprise of exhuming it.) The fragments then identified can now be corre? lated with Hebrew Ben Sira material recovered at Massada and among the Dead Sea scrolls. The late Professor Michael Klein discussed the evidence for the various Aramaic translations (targumim) of the Bible, and M. Kahana that for the early midrashic collections assembled apparently in the tannaitic period (i.e. c. 10 bce - c. 200 ce). N. Danzig examines in close detail the emergence of two Aramaic prayers, the yequm purqan, and the form of qaddish {qaddish de-hadatha) now customarily recited at funerals, showing that the latter was originally but a recension of qaddish de-rabbanan that follows any rabbinic discourse; its survival testifies to a lapsed custom of marking committal of the deceased not by a mere eulogy {hesped), but by linking the latter to a lecture. It has to be said that this valuable contribution is marred by the overloading of the footnotes with matter that ought to have been succinctly ingested into the text, with source-references in the notes, any essential elaboration being relegated to an appendix. J. Yahalom surveys the genizah material relating to Judah Halevi's poetical oeuvre and his personal history; holograph letters by him have survived which, with other documents, yield evidence of how, on his journey to Eretz Yisra'el, he was lionized in Egypt. H. Ben-Shammai looks at what the Genizah can tell us regarding some of the classical expositions of Judaism, in particular Sa'adyah's Beliefs and Convictions, and P. Fenton at Jewish-Muslim rela? tions. The last two chapters, by M. Friedman entitled 'Marital Age, Violence and Mutuality' and by J. Kraemer on 'Women Speak for Themselves', should interest a wider audience. The documents considered tell us much about charitable endeavour, relying for effectiveness on communal authority and social presssure, while also illustrating the literacy and articulacy of (an unquantifiable proportion of) the female population. Prolonged absenteeism of husbands, for commericial or sometimes, it would seem, for less justifiable causes, created numerous problems. These two contributions are valuable, but probably have to thank the Zeitgeist for the amount of space allotted to them, since some of the reference material which they cite would appear to arrogate authenticity as an academic disci? pline for 'gender studies'. But general medieval historians have much else to gain from the Genizah, regarding economics (e.g. prices, sugar-manufacture, communications, travel-time and the speed of postage), as well as other aspects of social organization, crusader military history and so on. In the nature of things, however, this volume is not likely to impinge on the notice of those beyond Jewish studies without further action. But the following suggestion, if implemented with any appropriate modifications, might remedy that situa? tion. Perhaps Professor Reif could interest a small team of students commencing postgraduate work (2, or 3 at the most) in producing an index 218</page><page sequence="3">Book Notes of topics of general interest, leaving aside all specifically Jewish and philo? logical matters, by combing the indexes of this volume, of Goitein's Mediterranean Society, some of Professor Reifs own publications, and whatever else seems to him relevant. Such an index, giving references to such secondary sources only and not to the classmarks of the manuscripts, should be published in a periodical of wide circulation, such as The Journal of Economic History, with an indication that it would be kept up to date on the Genizah^ web-site. I feel sure that some medievalists would welcome such a tool as heartily as I myself have been grateful for J. E. Thorold Rogers' History of Agriculture and Prices in England. Raphael Loewe</page></plain_text>