The Cairo Geniza is a collection of an estimated 750,000 manuscript pages found discarded for “burial” in the Geniza chamber of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo in the late 19th century. In addition to holding religious poems and fragments of Torah scrolls, the Cairo Geniza contains approximately 15,000 mundane papers that reflect the daily life of the Jewish community in Cairo during the medieval period (mainly in the 11th to 13th centuries) – letters, contracts, wills, and other legal documents preserved in the area’s arid climate. These “Geniza documents” range in size from a few words to long letters of 80-100 lines.
For more than two decades, Mark Cohen and his Princeton colleagues have been working to bring these ancient papers into the digital age. Their work, called the Princeton Geniza Project, has created the world’s only online, searchable-text database of the Cairo Geniza’s historical documents.