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Up in the Attic

Sacred Trash, new from Nextbook Press, tells the remarkable story of the Cairo Geniza, a trove of Jewish documents from the Middle Ages discovered again in the late 1800s

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Solomon Schecter examining manuscripts from the Cairo Geniza.(Cambridge University Library)

In the late 1800s, Solomon Schechter, the scholar and teacher whose name is familiar to scores of Jewish day-school students, discovered a remarkable trove of Jewish documents stuffed in an attic-like space in a Cairo synagogue. Ranging from liturgical texts to shipping orders, the documents were mostly written in Judeo-Arabic, Aramaic, and Yiddish and dated back to the Middle Ages. It was a geniza, a store room for documents containing the name of God and awaiting ritual burial. The Cairo Geniza, as the collection has become known, has since fueled decades of scholarship on centuries-old poets and theologians, as well as long-forgotten details of daily existence.

In Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza, new from Nextbook Press, poet and translator Peter Cole and essayist Adina Hoffman recount the history of the Cairo Geniza and the scholars who dedicated their professional (and sometimes private) lives to its holdings. Cole and Hoffman spoke to Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about how such a remarkable collection of documents came to exist, the many characters—from Schechter to a woman from the Middle Ages known as “Wuhsha the Broker”—associated with it, and what its contents reveal about historical celebrations of Passover. [Running time: 25:54.]  

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Steve Stein says:


Jerry Salem says:

At the very beginning of the podcast Dr. Hoffman refers to the Jews of Palestine living in Egypt.

I was always taught that term was not introduced until the British mandate. Up to the 40’s Israel was referred to using the name ‘Israel’. Why do seemingly knowledgeable people use such a politically charged term?

Please educate me. Maybe that would be a good subject for a podcast.


Gilah says:


The name “Palestine” comes from the Latin name for the territory that included the two Israelite kingdoms: “Palestina.” That’s why the Talmud Yerushalami is also called the Palestinian Talmud (as opposed to the Babylonian Talmud). The controversy is whether there is validity to the concept of “Palestinians” as a distinct and identifiable group of Arabs. There is no controversy about the use of the name to designate the geographical region.

Shalom Freedman says:

This is a fascinating subject and one hopes that in the book both Peter Cole and especially Adina Hoffman have been a bit more fair and objective in it than they have in their writing on Israel. In Hoffman’s previous work allegedly a biography of the Palestinian poet Tara Mohammed she while showing sympathy for the Palestinian Arabs plight in the 1947-48 period displayed a condescending antipathy to Israelis and the Jewish state. In that work she tells the story as if the founding of Israel were nothing but a senseless act of aggression against the passive peace- loving Palestinian Arabs. In other words she writes History upside down much like the world is doing in its current delegitimization campaign against Israel. It would have been fairer if ‘Tablet’ had included this information in their preliminary biographies of Cole and Hoffman.

eli says:

There is another book, Sacred treasure, the Cairo genizah by Mark Glickman, which is also on this subject, also published this year. A coincidence? I wonder if anyone has read the two and how they compare.

I intend to read them but that is a long term project.

Dani Levi says:

Ordered it .
Hoffman and Cole run Ibis Editions, a publishing house in Jerusalem. The translations published, be it Gershom Sholem or Bialik are most fascinating. I have read many of the books edited by them which often include fascinating prefaces and other essays which enrich the mind. It is a beauty made rare in our time.
Treasures, that’s what these two are.

I request more people will make a note websites such as this which are in truth accommodating to read. With the thistledown floating nearly online, it’s uncommon to look on the find such as yours rather.


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Up in the Attic

Sacred Trash, new from Nextbook Press, tells the remarkable story of the Cairo Geniza, a trove of Jewish documents from the Middle Ages discovered again in the late 1800s

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