The Princeton University Library is very pleased to announce that The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS), located in New York City, has placed its renowned Geniza Collection on deposit in the Library. The collection will be housed at Princeton until fall 2019 in the Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, and will accessible for scholarly purposes. It will then return to the new Rare Book Room of an entirely rebuilt JTS Library. The Geniza Collection contains some 40,000 handwritten text leaves and documents, chiefly on paper and fragmentary. These have been conserved and mounted in 1024 bound volumes. The individual items are written in Hebrew, Arabic, Aramaic, Judeo-Arabic, and Judeo-Persian (the latter two terms respectively referring to Arabic or Persian written in Hebrew script). The JTS Geniza Collection represents a substantial portion of some 300,000 items “discovered” in the late nineteenth century in the Cairo Geniza (a Hebrew word meaning “storeroom”) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, in the old city of Cairo (Al-Fusṭāṭ). The Cairo Geniza fragments were consigned to the storeroom over the course of a millennium because damaged or worn-out religious texts and unneeded old documents could not be thrown away if they contained the name of God.
Over a century ago, western scholars began using the Cairo Geniza to study the religious, social, economic, and cultural life of Jews in Egypt from the Umayyad Caliphate until the nineteenth century. The Geniza fragment seen below is from the oldest extant Passover Haggadah (ca. 1000 CE), inexpertly written with a spelling error that reflects the influence of oral tradition. Someone also practiced writing the alphabet on the right side. Found among the preponderance of religious texts are legal and economic documents that offer unparalleled insight into the everyday lives of Jews in medieval Egypt and beyond, in a sense like the documentary papyri of Roman, Byzantine, and Islamic Egypt, as well as Arabic paper documents of Egyptian Muslims during the Middle Ages. A significant portion of the Manuscripts Division’s holdings of documents from ancient and medieval Egypt have been digitized in the Princeton University Digital Library (PUDL) in the Princeton Papyri Collections and Michaelides Collection of Letters and Documents (1106-1497).
Princeton scholars have long been interested in Geniza studies. The historian S. D. Goitein (1900-85) began working with Geniza documents in 1948, and in 1970 he was appointed to the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton. There he completed his monumental 6-volume work, A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza (1967-1993). Since 1985, Princeton University’s Department of Near Eastern Studies has been the home of the Princeton Geniza Lab, beginning under Professor Mark R. Cohen, Near Eastern Studies, with Goitein’s working files and copies of Geniza documents. The Geniza Lab is a collaborative space devoted to making Cairo Geniza documents accessible to the scholarly world and the general public. It hosts the Princeton Geniza Project, a searchable database of Geniza texts transcribed from the originals. Since fall 2015, the Geniza Lab has been headed by Professor Marina Rustow, Khedouri A. Zilka Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Near East, and Professor of Near Eastern Studies and History. She is also a MacArthur Fellow (2015). Others who will be using the JTS Geniza Collection in the next few years include Professor Eve Krakowski, Near Eastern Studies, as well as graduate students and post-doctoral fellows.
The JTS Geniza Collection is the world’s second largest such collection, after the Cambridge University Library’s Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection. Smaller numbers of Cairo Geniza fragments are found in more than sixty other libraries and private collections worldwide. Recent digital initiatives have been used to reunite the dispersed Cairo Geniza holdings. The JTS Geniza Collection has been largely digitized with funding support from the Friedberg Geniza Project and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and is now almost entirely available online through The Friedberg Genizah Project. Prior to visiting the Princeton University Library, researchers can find digital images, make preliminary identifications, and obtain other pertinent information by accessing the Friedberg site and following the link to the Cairo Geniza. Users must register to use the Friedberg site. Researchers wishing to visit the Princeton University Library in order to consult the original items in the JTS Geniza Collection should first determine the specific volume and folio numbers of the items in which they are interested. This will allow them to select the exact volume(s) in the JTS Geniza Collection (JTS001) finding aid. Then researchers must register as readers in order to use the Library. No fee is required either to access the Friedberg site or register as a Princeton reader.
For visiting hours and registration information, please go to the website of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. For information about using the JTS Geniza Collection, contact firstname.lastname@example.org For information about the Geniza Collection, including cataloging, photoduplication, and publication, please contact David C. Kraemer at DAKRAEMER@jtsa.edu, Joseph J. and Dora Abbell Librarian at the JTS Library and Professor of Talmud and Rabbinics.