Princeton Geniza Project

Fragment from the Princeton Geniza Projects Website

Are you interested the wonderful world of the Cairo Geniza, but are overwhelmed by the amount of fragments out there?  Wouldn’t you love a tool that just let you search the full-text of over 4000 documents from the Geniza (which you can then view on The Friedberg Genizah Project – but more about that at a different time)?  Say you know the name of one trader from Cairo, but want to see if there are other documents written by him…what do you do?

The Princeton Geniza Project is the answer to all of these questions.  Under the directorship of Mark Cohen at Princeton, the Project team has worked to enter text of Geniza documents from edited documents – including the fragments described in Goitein’s Mediterranean Society (available online to Columbia affiliates here) – and is an exceptional resource in Geniza Studies.

Note to Columbia students, faculty, and affiliates: Mark Cohen will actually be teaching at Columbia in Spring 2011!  His course,  "Jews and Muslims in the Middle Ages" is already full, but keep an eye out for a possible lecture or two…

6 thoughts on “Princeton Geniza Project

  1. Michelle, for those of us completely ignorant–can you talk a little about what the Geniza documents are? The Princeton page mentions “documents found in the Geniza chamber of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo in the late 19th century” but doesn’t get into much detail about what sort of documents they are or why they would have been in the synagogue. Or what “geniza” means. Can you explain?

  2. It’s hard to just talk “a little” about the Cairo Geniza (which will probably get its own post in its own time).

    In short: It’s that treasure trove of documents a scholar always dreams of stumbling upon.

    In long(er):

    Background: In Jewish law, holy texts (generally meaning anything with a Biblical verse on it, but often anything with a name of God on it or even, in some cases, documents written in Hebrew or with Hebrew letters) are considered sacred, and are not to be discarded with general trash. Instead, they are disposed of in a respectful manner, such as buried in the ground. This collection of discarded sacred documents is called geniza.

    History: In 1896, two women, twins named Agnes S. Lewis and Margaret D. Gibson, visited the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, where they found a plethora of documents that seemed to be a geniza of sorts. They brought some documents back to Solomon Schechter, a professor at Cambridge, who was amazed to see that these were incredibly important documents, some of which were thought to have been lost completely. He traveled to Cairo, examined the documents, and brought them (both physically, in transporting thousands of them back to Cambridge, and intellectually, in his publications) to the scholarly community.

    Highlights: The oldest of these documents date to about the 9th century and include the earliest Haggadah ever; a manuscript copy of Maimonides’ Mishne Torah with his annotations; and a poem from an Italian priest turned Jew who fled to the East upon his conversion.

    The Geniza still has yet to be completely described or studied, and is now an essential resource for anyone studying the Jews of the early Medieval period.

  3. There are also a few other digitization projects happening with regard to the Cairo Geniza:

    AHRC Rylands Cairo Genizah Project
    University of Cambridge Taylor-Schechter Geniza Research Unit
    Penn/Cambridge Genizah Fragment Project

  4. Thanks, Bob, very true. Genizah.org, of course, is the major site for digitized Geniza material, and includes images from the three libraries that you mention (at last check, they have about 65% of the Cambridge corpus, which is quite impressive!).

  5. Oh very good, I’m glad to hear that. I didn’t realize that the Friedberg project was providing a single place from which all of these different digitization projects will be accessible. Thanks!

  6. Let me qualify – Genizah.org has records but not images for Rylands, some Cambridge (as I mentioned earlier), and all of Penn. They have records (but not images) our Columbia Geniza fragments, but we’re working with Genizah.org to make sure that the Columbia fragments are digitized and added to the database.

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