Thursday, September 20, 2007

European Genizah

Someone asked me recently what the European Genizah is. For starters, it is not like the Cairo Genizah. A proper genizah is a room where a Jewish community stored its own discarded books and documents. Besides Cairo, there were probably other places like that throughout the East from which Avraham Firkovitch collected manuscripts. But in most other communities, the pages were buried and, in the damp earth, they decayed and were completely lost.

What scholars refer to as the European Genizah is actually a phenomenon evidenced throughout Europe, where discarded manuscripts were used as pastedowns, fillers or binders for other books or volumes of notarial documents. Sometimes the manuscripts used were musical notations, or earlier Latin documents. Sometimes, they were Hebrew books. Usually they were large parchment folios, best suited for this kind of thing.

Fragments like this have been found in Hungary and Poland. Tens of thousands of pages were recovered from throughout Northern Italy, in a concentrated effort led by Israeli and Italian scholars, and funded by the Italian government. The prime mover of the Italian Genizah has been and still is Prof. Mauro Perani. From his many publications, most important for the purposes of this blog is his recent catalogue of all the Talmudic fragments. Because of the need for large folios, most of the Hebrew pages used are from biblical codices or prayer books. But they also include fragments of a Mishnah codex very similar to Parma de Rossi 318, a copy of Tosefta, unknown and unidentified biblical commentaries and pages from medieval halakhic works like Sefer Ra'avyah.

A nice cache of pages from paper manuscripts was found in Girona, Spain. Read about them here, and in my article in Materia Giudaica 10,2 (2005), pp. 310-312. One fragment, of Halakhot Gedolot, was shown to CD Chavel when he visited the city in the 1970s, and he published it in Ha-Darom, if I remember correctly. These pages are smaller than the Italian ones, and seem to reflect local libraries. Also, because they are paper, the contents are sometimes more ephemeral (and therefore more interesting historically), including multiple pages from an account book.

Over the past few years, a coordinated effort has been made to locate Hebrew manuscripts in bindings in Germany and Austria. The pages I have seen are mostly liturgical, from Ashkenazic mahzorim. I hope the search continues, and widens to other locales, and that the results are made available online.


Blogger Drew_Kaplan said...

I am okay as being linked to be the person who posed to you the query about the European genizahs (unless someone in addition to myself inquired, as well).

8:13 AM  
Blogger Menachem said...

Then there is The American Genizah Project... same idea.

1:03 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

To your list should be added the publication by the Late Nehemiah Allony of an early Yiddish ms. [the Shmuel Bukh?] which he found in the binding of an early 16th c. Mikraot Gedolot.

5:08 PM  

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