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Rylands Cairo Genizah Collection

Medium: Manuscript

Number of items: over 11,000 fragments

The Library holds a collection over 11,000 fragments in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judaeo-Arabic and other Jewish languages from the Genizah (storehouse) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo (Fustat).

The Genizah was uncovered in the 1890s by Solomon Schechter and others, and the fragments were dispersed among libraries in Europe and the United States, the largest portion (140,000) now being held at Cambridge University Library. In many cases fragments from a single manuscript were divided between two or more institutions.

The Rylands collection was purchased from Dr Moses Gaster in 1954. About ninety per cent of the items are on paper, the remainder on parchment, the vast majority being very small fragments. They date from the tenth to the nineteenth centuries ad and include:

  • Bible, Midrash, Mishnah and Talmud fragments
  • Prayer fragments
  • Liturgical Poetry
  • Religious and legal texts from the Middle Ages
  • Philosophical and scientific texts
  • Material relating to Kabbalah and magic
  • Sermons
  • Letters, including personal letters and business correspondence
  • Documentary sources, such as legal and administrative documents and the notebooks of merchants
  • Calendars
  • Children's writing exercises

Many parts of the Mediterranean world are represented in the collection, and there are numerous fragments written in Ashkenazi hands. There are several autograph fragments of Maimonides, including portions of his Guide of the Perplexed and Commentary on the Mishna. Altogether they constitute a major primary source for the study of the Middle Ages. They throw light not only on Jews and Judaism but also more broadly on the social, commercial, political, religious and intellectual life of the Levant as a whole.

In a major project funded initially by the Friedberg Foundation, the Safra Foundation and Mr Joe Dwek, and subsequently by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, the entire collection was fully catalogued and digitized in 2003–9. This has already enabled relationships to be established between certain Rylands fragments and those in other institutions.

Further information:

Catalogue and high-definition digital images of the Genizah fragments available via LUNA.


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