Investigating the Cairo Genizah
The New Yorker takes a peek at the sacred trash
Today on the New Yorker Page-Turner blog, Emily Greenhouse has an interesting (and thorough) piece about the Cairo Geniza.
To this day, synagogues collect expired prayer books and ritual objects, and bury the contents every few years. Historians were doubly lucky with the worshippers at Ben Ezra, who not only deposited written texts into the genizah, but, for some reason, never buried its contents. (Instead, they stored it in what was literally a hole in the wall). As a result, we have a frozen postbox of some two hundred and fifty thousand fragments composing an unparalleled archive of life in Egypt from the ninth to the nineteenth centuries. The community may have been somewhat atypical—many of its Jews were wealthy, living at the center of a mercantile network, and Fostat was safer for Jews than the Land of Israel. Still, scholars can extrapolate a great amount of information from the Genizah documents about life for Jews during the Islamic Period in cities such as Baghdad, Damascus, and Aleppo. No other record as long or as full exists.
The Cairo Geniza has long been a fascination of the historians and Jews alike and Nextbook Press even put out a critically acclaimed book called Sacred Trash written by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole about its contents.
They also spoke about their book and their work for Vox Tablet, which made for a fantastic podcast. Check it out here.
Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180
WAIT, WHY DO I HAVE TO PAY TO COMMENT?
Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.
I NEED TO BE HEARD! BUT I DONT WANT TO PAY.
Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.
We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.