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The Language Maimonides Has Forgotten - "Cairo Genizah" - Dr. Benjamin Outhwaite


Video from Kedem


"Dr. Benjamin Outhwaite, Head of Cairo Genizah Research Unit, shares a new and exciting research that identifies the author of a very interesting Genizah manuscript as none other then the great medieval philosopher, Moses Maimonides. The manuscript, written in Maimonides' Handwriting, is a glossary of words in Judeo-arabic and their translation to what has recently been recognized as a lost and forgotten romance language that was spoken at Maimonides time in Al Andalus, modern day's Andalucía, Spain. Maimonides, who grew up in Al Andalus and escaped to Cairo with his family as a child, seem to have forgotten this language himself. His effort to recollect his memory have yielded this unique recollection of a now lost medieval language. Dr. Outhwaite reviews many more of the recent and amazing discoveries that the Cairo Genizah research keeps supplying, here: • Exciting New Find... " from video introduction


Who was Maimonides?

Moses Ben Maimon (1138—1204) is known to English speakers as Maimonides and to Hebrew speakers as Rambam. He was a medieval Jewish philosopher. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls him the “greatest Jewish philosopher of the Medieval Period” (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides, accessed 10/27/2020). Maimonides’ philosophy was distinctly Aristotelean.

Maimonides’ 14-volume work, the Mishneh Torah (“Second to the Torah”) is a detailed accounting of medieval Jewish observance. It was meant to be a comprehensive record of the oral law that explained and expounded upon the written law of Scripture. Menachem Kellner, Ph.D., of the University of Haifa and the Shalem Center in Jerusalem suggests that, if it were not for Maimonides’ work, it would be impossible to speak of “orthodox” Judaism today (“From Moses to Moses,” pub. 10/31/2010, Rambam Maimonies Medical Journal online, accessed 10/27/2020). In fact, the title of his article, “From Moses to Moses,” is in indication of the great respect paid to Maimonides as a lawgiver.

In his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides attempts to reconcile the Torah with Greek philosophy. The Mishneh Torah and his Guide are considered his greatest and most influential works.

Maimonides was also a physician (at one time, in the court of the sultan Saladin). Dr. Kellner suggests that it was Maimonides who gave legitimacy to a scientific outlook in the Jewish community. Then as now, Judaism has a strong vein of mysticism running through it (i.e., Kabbalah), but it has also produced many men of science and medicine.

Much of Maimonides’ practical advice is still good today. Here are some examples of his wisdom:


• “A person will never become impoverished from giving charity” (Matnot Aniyim, 2).


• “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”


• “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”


• “Silence is the maturation of wisdom.”


• “Lose with truth and right rather than gain with falsehood and wrong.”


• “A wise man is a greater asset to a nation than a king.”


• “In finances, be strict with yourself, generous with others.”


• “The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it.”


Maimonides’ writing and thinking influenced Jewish communities of his time, and his influence is still felt. Many of his writings are readily available today online. His work may be useful to the Christian who is attempting to understand Jewish philosophy and the thoughts that have influenced the shape of Judaism. However, it is important to realize that Maimonides’ work is closer to being a systematic theology than a biblical exegesis." from the article: Who was Maimonides?


What Is the Cairo Geniza?

The Cairo Geniza is a cache of roughly 400,000 pages of manuscript (and some printed) material that accumulated in the worn text repository (Hebrew: geniza) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo between the eleventh century and the late nineteenth. It is now dispersed across more than sixty libraries and private collections. The term “Cairo Geniza” also sometimes includes material from other Jewish sites in Cairo, such as the Dār Simḥa Qaraite synagogue. Geniza material covers an enormous swath of the globe over more than a millennium of history. The earliest manuscripts it preserved are early Christian texts that were later palimpsested, in addition to a papyrus codex likely from the sixth century. The latest are from 1897. There are texts from every shore of the Mediterranean basin, as well as Saharan Africa, transalpine Europe, Central Asia and many places across the Indian Ocean basin, from Aden to Malacca. But the densest and most coherent set of texts center on Egypt, especially greater Cairo and the delta.

The synagogue and the community The synagogue in which the texts survived is in the medieval residential core of the metropolis of Cairo, Miṣr al-Qadīma (Old Cairo), also called Coptic Cairo because of the abundance of medieval churches. In the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it was called Fusṭāṭ. Plenty of medieval geniza documents refer to a neighborhood within Fusṭāṭ called Qaṣr al-Shamʿ, on the site of a Roman fortress. The name of the Ben Ezra Synagogue is modern, but the synagogue is medieval. It was known locally as kanīsat al-shāmiyyīn, the synagogue of the Syrians, as distinct from the synagogue of the Iraqis, reflecting the two main rites of rabbinic Judaism in the eleventh century, when the synagogue was founded. The labels Iraqi and Syrian refer not to the geographic origins of the congregants, but to the legal and liturgical traditions they followed. There were also houses of worship of the Qaraite Jews, an alternative to rabbinic Judaism. Geniza documents reflect the intermingling not just of different groups of Jews, but also of Jews with Christians and Muslims. Most of what survived in the geniza is written in Hebrew script (in languages that include not just Hebrew itself but also Judaeo-Arabic and Aramaic), but there are also texts in Arabic, Coptic, Syriac, Greek, Latin, Ladino, and even Yiddish.

The dispersal of the fragments Manuscripts from the geniza had begun to reach the attention of dealers and collectors during the great age of Egyptology in the second half of the 19th century. By 1896, about 200,000 fragments had changed hands. These form the basis of nearly all the world’s geniza collections today, with one exception: Cambridge. In 1896–97, Solomon Schechter, Cambridge’s professor of rabbinic literature (and later the chancellor of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York), convinced the Jewish community of Cairo to allow him to remove the remaining 200,000 fragments and bring them back to England. Oxford’s Bodleian Library already housed a massive collection of Hebrew and Arabic manuscripts; the unpromising-looking fragments from Cairo interested them not nearly as much as they interested Cambridge, which had a much smaller collection of Middle Eastern manuscripts. Cambridge University Library now owns about half of the Cairo Geniza. 1 Haggai Ben-Shammai, “Is the ‘Cairo Genizah’ a Proper Name or a Generic Noun? On the Relationship between the Genizot of the Ben Ezra and the Dār Simḥa Synagogues,” in From a Sacred Source: Genizah Studies in Honor of Professor Stefan C. Reif, ed. Benjamin M. Outhwaite and Siam Bhayro (Leiden: Brill, 2011), 43–52." from the article: What Is the Cairo Geniza?


Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza


Video from Knopfdoubleday


"An extraordinary tale of intellectual adventure" —James Kugel, author of How to Read the Bible. In Sacred Trash, MacArthur-winning poet and translator Peter Cole and acclaimed essayist Adina Hoffman tell the story of the retrieval from an an Egyptian geniza, or repository for worn-out texts, of the most vital cache of Jewish manuscripts ever discovered. Part biography and part meditation on the supreme value the Jewish people has long placed on the written word, Sacred Trash is above all a gripping tale of adventure and redemption.


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