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.

Maturity of Magic Studies

For a while now, I've been thinking about how different academic disciplines have reached different stages of maturity, based on the number of scholars that have been pursuing them intensively. My feeling, which causes me frustration, is that the field of post-Talmudic rabbinics still has a long way to go. The result is that studies in the field are either heavily focused on primary source material - describing manuscripts, sorting out the bio-bibliographies, publishing sources - or are more theoretical but lack proper grounding in the sources. Obviously, training is also an important part of that. But yesterday I saw the term "pre-paradigmatic" applied to the philosophy of Halakhah, and I think that term is helpful. It will take more time, more cumulative study and reflection, to develop a helpful vocabulary that accurately reflects medieval halakhic material without shoehorning it into either Talmudic or medieval Christian terminology.

It's not just about terminology and theory, though. The level of precision that can be applied to the manuscripts themselves is also cumulative. If I'm describing a medieval manuscript that has never been published or even properly catalogued and dated, and if I am interested in its literary structure and content, there is a limit to the amount of attention I can pay to things like glosses and marginal decorations, scribal idiosyncracies and dialects.

So I was impressed to find that, in Matthew Morgenstern's recent article on JBA (Jewish Babylonian Aramaic) in magic bowls, he makes extensive use of scribal errors. The kind of thing that editors focused on publishing new material tend to overlook - words that the scribe began writing, but then stopped midway because he realized he made a mistake, and then wrote afresh. Morgenstern reads these self-corrections as a sound-bite of the scribe's own pronunciation.

My thought is simply that the increasing proliferation of published magic bowls, including at least two recent books, allows for a higher level of textual scholarship. Yet another reason why it is important to publish rabbinic texts from manuscript, and why that job should not be left solely in the hands of amateurs. The more texts are published, the more scholars will be able to focus on reading them carefully.

If this post is too rambling, put it down to lack of sleep.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Before Yom ha-Kippurim

A few scattered things I wanted to link to:

Wishing all readers (and non-readers too) a wonderful year. May we all be inscribed in the Book of the Living.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Genizat Germania

A conference held in Germany in June. Four photos of fragments here.

To remind you (since I'm sure you remember) - the fragments of Sefer Yerushalmi were found in a couple of places in Germany. The "new and improved" Talmud Yerushalmi refered to by the Rokeah and the Ra'avyah, with additions made at some point during the Middle Ages. First noted by Victor Aptowitzer and expanded upon by Yaakov Zussman, who identified the fragments and published them in Kovetz al Yad.

Friday, September 07, 2007

More Munich Manuscripts

The Bavarian State Library in Munich has a very nice collection of Hebrew manuscripts. Mortiz Steinschneider's catalogue of the collection is available for download on Google Books. For a few years now, I've been aware that Ms. Heb. 95, the only complete manuscript of the Babylonian Talmud, was digitized and accesible on their site, and the JNUL includes it in the database of online Talmud manuscripts.

Now I found that the library has digitized many more manuscripts, including quite a few Hebrew ones. Especially noteworthy are Ms. Heb. 140-141, containing tractates from Seder Moed and part of Yevamot, and Ms. Heb. 6, with Pesahim, Yoma and Hagiga. They are both important, early examples of the Spanish textual tradition. Another major representative of this type is the Hamburg manuscript of Masekhet Nezikin, completed in Gerona in 1184. Shamma Friedman has explained why we need to be careful in using them, because their text underwent scholarly glossing. But they are definitely important, and these characteristics just make them more interesting.

There's also a fragment of Siddur Rashi that I will have to check out one of these days.