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vendredi 3 juin 2011


When you are Jewish, you can look at the world from the view point of the Other and feel left out or ostracized, depending upon the country and the century or marvel at the long continuous erudite history of the forefathers who were intellectuals' intellectuals and adventurous.
Avraham Ben Yiju left his native Tunisia and arrived in Mangalore in the Malabar Coast in 1428 and prospered for twenty years, and took his Nayar wife and two children to Aden and Israel (thus making them the first Malayalee Jews to be in Eretz Israel).. How did we know that?
Being a merchant, he was in constant contact (that era's FaceBook?) with his co religionists and colleagues in the business world. Their notes to each other and replies and requests were deposited in the Geniza of the Ben Ezra Synagogue at Fustat (where Maimonides once lived). An extremely erudite Romanian Rabbi Scholar by the name of Shechter (of the Solomon Shechter fame) brought the manuscripts to Cambridge University.
The story is well documented in Sacred Trash The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole.
Reading the pages with such eagerness that the waiter at the Resto tonight was annoyed that I was paying no attention, so excited about this aspect of the dark ages of jewish history and also the attempts to distort the importance of the jewish sacred writing and discrediting them by trying to push them out of the general christian religious discourse... well written book and a must read for Jews and Gentiles to know this aspect of the jewish history..
No wonder, that great Indian writer Amitav Ghosh has written a good chapter in his book in an Antique Land about Abraham ben Yiju and his Indian agent, Bomma, a tulu speaking native of Mangalore..
It is amazing to me that Abraham Ben Yiju who was born in Tunisia had traveled through Fustat and then on to Aden and then to the malabar coast long before the Europeans had any idea of the place.. and Abraham Ben Yiju was one of the many jewish traders to have come and lived in that part of India for centuries...

Now all the Taylo-Schehter collection of Cairo Geniza manuscripts are available to be viewed on line
Open Access Cairo Genizah Manuscripts

The Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP)
...The Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP) was established to facilitate and rejuvenate Genizah research. It is achieving this goal by locating the Genizah manuscripts and then identifying, cataloging, transcribing, translating, rendering them into digital format (i.e., photographing) and publishing them online. FGP is operating in a joint venture with the Jewish Manuscript Preservation Society of Toronto, Canada.
The high-resolution digital images of the manuscripts (600 DPI, or dots per inch, the standard set by the Research Libraries International Organization) are, in a certain sense, "better" than the original manuscript because they can be visually enhanced by computer-generated viewing tools and can be accessed from any computer with internet access at the FGP's online research platform.

The huge academic interest generated by FGP is evidenced by the fact that the most prestigious university libraries in the world have signed copyright agreements with FGP, are participating in the project and are sharing their invaluable manuscript collections with the world...

...In May 2008, FGP released a fully-operational version of its online research platform, where it is now possible to view over 100,000 digitized images of Genizah manuscripts.

from the New York Times

The Secret Life of Cairo’s Jews
Published: May 27, 2011

About 120 years ago, a cache of manuscripts, mostly fragments, was discovered in the storeroom of an old Cairo synagogue. Its members had deposited them there over many centuries. This collection of documents managed to be both heterogeneous and comprehensive at the same time.
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The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
By Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole
Illustrated. 284 pp. Nextbook/Schocken. $26.95
Adina Hoffman is the author of “House of Windows: Portraits From a Jerusalem Neighborhood.” Peter Cole is a poet and translator. As they relate in their engaging book “Sacred Trash,” the materials in the storeroom included letters, wills, bills of lading, prayers, marriage contracts and writs of divorce, Bibles, money orders, court depositions, business inventories, leases, magic charms and receipts. One early examiner of the cache described the scene as a “battlefield of books.” The most recent deposits were made in the 19th century; there were fragments that dated back to the 10th century. Another early visitor described the scene thus: “For centuries, whitewash has tumbled” upon the documents “from the walls and ceiling; the sand of the desert has lodged in their folds and wrinkles; water from some unknown source has drenched them; they have squeezed and hurt each other.”