The Basic Facts about the Cairo Geniza
Cairo Geniza is a collection of old manuscripts that were found in a synagogue’s storeroom, the Ben Ezra synagogue, in old Cairo. These manuscripts give an account of a period spanning 1000 years ranging from the 870CE to the 19TH century period and form a basis of most historical studies that are done today. The Cairo Geniza is an account off the history of North Africa, Middle East and the Jews. In fact, it comprises of the most significant manuscripts in the world with its diverse medieval collections. The texts in these manuscripts are of different languages including Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic. It is written in different material with the most common being paper and vellum although cloth and papyrus have also been used.
Details of the Cairo Geniza manuscripts
This significant relic is well known for articulating the Jewish religious account with the most common biblical writings, Talmudic and Rabbinic writings being seen. Apart from the religious content, the manuscripts content documented evidence of the Eastern Mediterranean and North African economic and cultural activities from 10th and 13th century.
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The writings are spread all over the world with universities such as Cambridge and Manchester being the beneficiaries as they are used in studies and references with some universities investing a great deal of money to preserve their existence. There were additional manuscript findings in Basatin cemetery located east of Old Cairo.
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How the Cairo Geniza was discovered
Simon Van Gelderen did the initial mention of this writings in either 1752 or 1753 when he first visited the Ben Ezra synagogue but not much was said during the writings back then. In 1864 however, Jacob Saphir who was a scholar and traveler visited the synagogue and explored the documents for two days. He may not have noted any item of importance but he reported that something significant could be contained in the store.
Later in 1896, Agness and Margaret who were twin sisters after their visit to Egypt and probably the synagogue, brought back some of the fragments of the Geniza to a friend known as Solomon Schechter in Cambridge for further investigations. He noted the significance of the material, which led to his Egyptian expedition.
Through the assistance of the chief rabbi of the synagogue he was able to get to the most important part of the writings and separate the most important part of the Geniza. This was the start of how the numerous fragments of this writings have spread all over the universities in the world. In fact, most of these fragments are used in different studies including theology as reference and basis of the studies.