The John Rylands Library in Manchester holds a collection of nearly 15,000 Genizah manuscript fragments from the Ben Ezra synagogue in Old Cairo.
The library acquired the Genizah fragments in 1954 as part of the Moses Gaster collection, three decades after the British Library purchased c. 3,000 fragments from Gaster himself.
The fragments are written in Hebrew, Arabic, Judeo-Arabic and other Jewish languages and date from the tenth to the nineteenth century. They contain:
- Bible, Targum, Midrash, Mishnah, Talmud
- Liturgical Poetry
- Jewish law
- Kabbalah and magic
- Children's writing
We invite you to browse through this impressive historical archive via the online Rylands Genizah image collection and catalogue, where the fragments can be studied in great detail. For a sample you can stay on this website.
A genizah is a temporary storeroom for discarded books, manuscripts and any other papers that bear or might bear references to God and are awaiting formal burial in accordance with Jewish law.
The contents of the attic of the Ben Ezra synagogue were left untouched for many centuries until scholars towards the end of the nineteenth century started to recognise the immense historical value of the manuscript material.
The archive ended up in a number of libraries around the world, including the Cambridge University Library, which houses the biggest collection with over 140,000 fragments, and the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York.
The Cairo Genizah is a major primary source for the study of the Middle Ages. Its contents throw light not only on Jews and Judaism but also more broadly on the social, commercial, political, religious and intellectual life of the Mediterranean world.