Sacred Trea­sure — The Cairo Genizah: The Amaz­ing Dis­cov­er­ies of For­got­ten Jew­ish His­to­ry in an Egypt­ian Syn­a­gogue Attic

  • Review
By – September 1, 2011
Sacred Trea­sure of the Cairo Genizah is a well-writ­ten per­son­al tale that weaves in and out of the sto­ry of the his­to­ry of the Genizah.

The sto­ry involves great schol­ar­ship as well as inter­na­tion­al intrigue. It tells of peo­ple doing any­thing and every­thing they can to buy, pro­cure, sim­ply get their hands on doc­u­ments that depict the his­to­ry of an Egypt­ian com­mu­ni­ty and describe the inter­ac­tions of that com­mu­ni­ty over the mil­len­ni­um from 870 to 1880.

The Genizah is a stor­age area in the old sec­tion of Cairo called Fus­tat in the Ben Ezra Syn­a­gogue. The place still stands in today’s old Cairo. Tra­di­tion­al­ly, any Jew­ish text with Hebrew was con­sid­ered holy as it was writ­ten in the holy lan­guage and so it was not thrown out, but either stored or buried. In the Ben Ezra Syn­a­gogue the stor­age room was in an attic. Doc­u­ments, books, receipts, let­ters— almost every­thing writ­ten in Hebrew or Ara­ma­ic was uncer­e­mo­ni­ous­ly tossed in. There was no order or fil­ing sys­tem, just a jum­ble of doc­u­ments span­ning a 1000 year peri­od.

The weath­er was so dry up in that attic that the papers nev­er decayed. 280,000 doc­u­ments were pre­served, found, and pur­chased. Lost items were tracked down and brought to Cam­bridge, where Solomon Schechter plowed through them. Many of the texts pro­vide rare insight into ear­ly Chris­tian­i­ty, Islam, and Judaism. Includ­ed among the works are ear­ly ver­sions of Mai­monides and ear­ly Koran­ic works.

This his­tor­i­cal find is beyond riches.
Mic­ah D. Halpern is a colum­nist and a social and polit­i­cal com­men­ta­tor. He is the author of What You Need To Know About: Ter­ror, and main­tains The Mic­ah Report at www​.mic​ah​halpern​.com.

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