Yaniv Fox has a History Compass post called “The Digitization of the Cairo Genizah,” about the Genizah Project, “which aims to digitize the entire corpus of finds included in the Cairo Genizah”:

The Cairo Genizah is a staggering amount of fragments of documents (some 250,000 in total), quires and books found in a locked synagogue room toward the end of the 19th century in Egypt. Most of the documents, ranging in date of production from the 9th to the 16th century, were taken from Egypt to England by Professor Schechter of Cambridge, and are still kept there today. The remainder was eventually dispersed throughout the world… The fragments range in topic from Rabbinical to liturgical, biblical and Talmudic works, on a variety of subjects, and are in a generally deteriorated state, due to the conditions in which they were stored….

So far, the team has managed to scan some 85,000 pictures, and have now begun scanning the largest repository of fragments, found in Cambridge, at a rate of 10,000 per month.

The second stage of the project is perhaps even more ambitious. The Friedberg Genizah team intends to add a second layer of information to the existing scans. This layer will include, when complete, an identification, transcription and translation of the fragment. Since there are so many of these fragments, there arose a need for an identification system, in order to catalog the pieces by their various attributes, but also as part of an attempt to match separate pieces which once belonged to a single, original manuscript… The second layer also contains a collection of all the research literature ever published on the subject of the Cairo Genizah, as well as software designed to navigate through it.

Things like this help me remember that the twenty-first century has its good points. Thanks for the links, Jonathan!


  1. Since the experts are scattered all over the globe, for this kind of work (once the digitizing was completed) a controlled Wiki (not open to all) would be ideal. It would speed up the pace of research immensely if people didn’t have to wait for annual conferences or for journal articles published two years after they were written.

  2. Some 500 manuscripts from the Cairo Genizah are preserved in the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, purchased by the late 19th-century Director of Rabbinic Institute David Kaufmann who almost succeeded in acquiring all the material. We are just working on its digitization as participants of the above project. You can read more about it on the page dedicated to this material within the David Kaufmann site composed by us and containing the complete facsimile of some of the most precious medieval Hebrew manuscripts in Europe.

  3. I really don’t get why Funnelbrain spams. It looked like an okay idea when I first saw, but now I’m put off from looking more into it.
    Something far more recent has also just been digitized: the entire archives of two Danish papers – unfortunately only for subscribers.

  4. David Marjanovi&263; says

    What, if anything, is a quire?

  5. David Marjanovi&263; says

    What, if anything, is a quire?

  6. David Marjanović says

    Mère ! Deux !

  7. Madame Curie aside, the contribution of women to 19th century scholarship was pretty small. But when you meet a case when it was very large, the credit is still given to the male, Professor Schechter. Woe, woe and thrice woe.

  8. A quire is either 24 or 25 sheets of paper. There are 20 quires in a ream.

  9. Alternatively
    These lassies should interest you, Hat; their father had told them that every time they learnt a new language, he’d take them to visit the corresponding country.

  10. But also (and in this context) a quire, because it was originally one piece of paper that was folded up, is a booklet of 8 pages. Books are made from large sheets of paper that are printed with many pages and then folded. In the old days you occasionally needed a knife to cut the page edges of a new book.

    A quire of paper is today used as a measure of paper quantity. The usual meaning is a set of 24 or 25 sheets of paper of the same size and quality. It might also be thought of as 1/20 of a ream.

    It originally had other meanings:

    A quire (also called a “gathering”) was in the Middle Ages most often formed of 4 folded sheets of vellum or parchment, i.e. 8 leaves, 16 pages. The terms “quaternion” (or sometimes quaternum) designate such a quire. A quire made of a single folded sheet (i.e. 2 leaves, 4 pages) is a “bifolium” (plural “bifolia”); a “binion” is a quire of two sheets (i.e. 4 leaves, 8 pages); and a “quinion” is five sheets (10 leaves, 20 pages).

    The current word “quire” was derived when quaternum was shortened to “quair” or “guaer” in common usage. Afterwards, when bookmaking switched to using paper and it became possible to easily stitch 5 to 7 sheets at a time, the association of “quaire” with “four” was quickly lost.

    It also became the name for any booklet small enough to be made from a single quire of paper. Simon Winchester, in The Surgeon of Crowthorne, cites a specific number, defining quire as “a booklet eight pages thick.”

    In blankbook binding, quire is a term indicating 80 pages.

  11. It seems to me that Wikipedia isn’t quite managing to make what’s important clear: these various numbers of sheets are folded together; it’s a quire / gathering because the pages share that internal fold. When not standing alone as a pamphlet (as is intended here in contrast to a book), quires are stacked to make a book.

  12. Yes, and then stitched to the binding to keep them in place.
    When I was a student, during the summer holidays I worked at the Houses Of Parliament, printing Hansard while the printers were on strike*. We cut & pasted typed pieces, xeroxed and assembled them and then used a stapling machine, but it was still called “stitching”, not stapling.
    *they went on strike every July & August (this was the 1970s).

  13. (That’s A.J.P. Clunky.)

  14. Some old books have scattered numbers telling you which folded page certain book pages belonged to. I tried to figure out the system of folding once, but I’m just too lazy.

  15. Some of the pages get printed upside down and others don’t. The only way to figure it out (if you’re like me) is to fold it, write the page numbers in the outside bottom corner, and open it up again.
    Empty & MMcM probably have other ways to do it.

  16. AJP: I fixed your indents. Note to all and sundry: In the comment box, you have to repeat tags (ital, bold, blockquote, whatever) each time you use a line break; they don’t carry over between paragraphs.

  17. Thanks.

  18. Clunky: funny, I thought it was you. Style? I can never see into cars; but there’s a guy in this village I recognize by his driving style even when he’s in a different car…
    I type here, because I’ve come back after some hours, and see that the discussion has gone on. I was ALARMED to see that it appeared that the possibly divine David Marjanović didn’t know a word I use – lets say weekly.
    The Catalan is plec. It means “fold”.
    Another bookbinders’ word in English is “signature”; but it’s less transparent.
    There are some stunning analyses of manuscripts where tiny nicks in the page edges suggest that WRITTEN TEXTS were WRITTEN on skins (parchment/vellum) before they were cut and folded. Like your iPhoto’s suggestions for multiple photo layout or…more complicated printing programs.
    Very very thought provoking.

  19. I should say that one of the first things I thought of when I read this post, was: would the scans include the full size and edges of the fragments. Much can be done with purely physical analyses, which “content based” analyses sometimes overlook.

  20. David Marjanović says

    Ah, thanks. I have some vague idea of traditional bookbinding (and we have at least one uncut book at home), but I don’t know most of the terms and don’t care. 🙂

  21. And obviously I mean folded and cut, not cut and folded. Euphony has a lot to answer for.

  22. Come on, Daf. Someone gives you the word for quire in Catalan and you don’t care?
    I bet David knows the German for quire.

  23. Don’cha mean “David the German for quire knows I bet”?

  24. I’d compromise with “Big Dave, the Australian”.

  25. unscribbl’d quires, where soon the scholars scratch

  26. Bare ruined quires, where late the sweet birds sang

  27. Goddamn it, not only is the History Compass post gone, but the Wayback Machine has no record of it. Thank goodness I quoted a decent chunk of it here. Note to self: keep doing that.

  28. No worry, it’s archived.

    (I dug around the top level site and found it.)
    (I tried the address as in your post and it works fine.)

  29. I substituted it in, and I bow to your mastery of the archives!

  30. Egyptian Antiquities Authorities Confiscates New Genizah Found In Cairo Jewish Cemetery.

    Chances are it’s not very ancient, but it’s still theft, not to mention unprofessional.

  31. That’s really shocking:

    While restoring and cleaning, a new genizah was discovered there including documents and materials whose date is unknown. The new genizah has enormous significance, and the treasure requires careful examination because if it is an ancient genizah, it has a very significant historical and cultural value.

    A few days ago, employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority broke into the cemetery, having received information about the genizah, and began dumping its contents into dozens of plastic bags without examining the contents. They worked for 48 hours, ignoring the protests of the Jewish community who demanded that a Rabbi must oversee the removal.

    If Egypt wants to be taken seriously as a safe home for antiquities, it shouldn’t be allowing that sort of thing. Reminds me of what I heard about conditions in the Dar al-Kutub some decades back.

  32. David Marjanović says

    Al-Sisi is all about the pharaohs, apparently. Research on their age proceeds at an impressive pace; later Egyptian history is probably getting neglected.

  33. If it were neglected, the authorities wouldn’t bother confiscating it. The Fustat Genizah is perhaps the most famous collection of Old Things to come out of Egypt that isn’t pharaonic.

  34. It’s not Al-Sisi (at least not mainly), it’s Zahi Hawass — or at least his legacy in the practice of Egyptian archaeology.

  35. Interpreting fragmentary texts written in often difficult-to-read scripts is long and tedious, but fortunately, Genizah researchers are willing and able to highlight the fruits of their research. Cambridge University has the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research Unit, which publishes a “Fragment of the Month” collection, with many tidbits, and the context for understanding those tidbits.

  36. One that I browsed to after reading the one about the Hexapla fragment

    June 2015:
    A petition against an anti-social child: T-S Ar.40.3

    The Cairo Genizah is not only the most important source for medieval Jewish history but also preserves a wealth of texts to and from the Islamic chancery, with numerous petitions addressed to influential Fatimid and Ayyubid dignitaries. High ranking – judges, military leaders, and even the great Saladin himself – held public audiences in which aggrieved individuals could petition for the support, assistance, or intervention of the great and powerful. Petitions were delivered to the dignitary in writing or set down by court secretaries after the petitioner had voiced his request in person. They have a highly formulaic structure, wishing blessings on the dignitary (e.g. ‘may God cause his days to endure and make eternal his rule’) and use obsequious terminology (e.g. ‘the slave [i.e. the petitioner] kisses the ground’).

    T-S Ar.40.3 is one such petition. The petitioner, Muḵliṣ of Minyat Ḡamr, has been struggling to deal with some extraordinary behaviour from the young son of his new neighbours. The child has ‘brazenly set upon’ Muḵliṣ and bitten his wife. The child’s father hasn’t been responsive to any of Muḵliṣ’s complaints, has put about different versions of the facts, and allows his terrorising son free reign to attack and harass his neighbour. Muḵliṣ – ‘a man of property … a devout and learned man’ – has had to abandon his home and cast himself on the mercy of the Ayyubid military leader Šams al-Dīn ‘the sword of the warriors’. He asks for a thorough investigation into how his rights have been infringed by the antisocial behaviour of the child.

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