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The Basic Facts about the Cairo Geniza

The Cairo Geniza is an account of over 3000 Jewish Manuscript that was found in a storeroom of an ancient Egyptian synagogue known as Ben Ezra synagogue in old Cairo. These remains outline the account of 1000-year era from 870CE to the 19th century. It gives a historic account of the Jewish, North African and Middle Eastern people. It comprises of the most diverse, and significant manuscripts regarded in the whole world. The writings are done in different languages with the most common being Aramaic, Hebrew and Arabic. In addition, it is written on paper, which is the most common, but other materials such as vellum, cloth and papyrus are also used.

Details of the Cairo Geniza manuscripts

This significant relic is well known for articulating the Jewish religious account with the most common biblical writings, Talmudic and Rabbinic writings being seen. On top of this is an account of the Eastern Mediterranean and North African economic and cultural lifestyles dating from the 10th century to the 13th century.
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These writings have become of historical importance and are spread in different universities all over the world including the Cambridge and Manchester Universities. In addition, more manuscripts were found in Basatin cemetery in the Easter side of old Cairo.
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How the Cairo Geniza was discovered

Simon Van Gelderen was the first to bring attention to the Cairo Geniza after he visited the Ben Ezra synagogue in 1752 or 1753, the exact year is not well known. In 1864 however, Jacob Saphir who was a scholar and traveler visited the synagogue and explored the documents for two days. Although he did not make any notice of importance, he suggested that further investigations were in order to establish if the synagogue’s stores had anything significant to offer.

Later in 1896, Agness and Margaret who were twin sisters after their visit to Egypt and probably the synagogue, brought back some of the fragments of the Geniza to a friend known as Solomon Schechter in Cambridge for further investigations. Solomon Schechter realized the significance of the material and made a journey out to Egypt to investigate further.

He was assisted by the chief rabbi to separate the biggest part of the Geniza from its original chamber. This was the start of how the numerous fragments of this writings have spread all over the universities in the world. The significant fragments are used in different studies including theology.