Discovering the discarded history in the Cairo Genizah

Legal document_Genizah_CUL
Fragment of a petition in Arabic, from 12th century Alexandria, T-S NS 228.41 (credit: Cambridge University Library)

The Cairo Genizah Collection at Cambridge University Library (CUL) consists of more than 200,000 fragments of medieval and early modern manuscripts recovered from the ‘sacred storeroom’ (genizah) of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Old Cairo (al-Fustat) in 1897.

Since discovery of the genizah collection, research on the enormous number of manuscripts has sought to educate the public about the Jewish communities of the medieval Islamic world and promote an appreciation of its manuscripts as a unique treasure within the UK Jewish community.

The research has been carried out in CUL’s Genizah Research Unit, which comprises a team of postdoctoral researchers under the direction of Benjamin Outhwaite who curate, conserve, identify, analyse, catalogue and study the manuscripts.

The team also carries out a public engagement programme of school visits, web and social media engagement, television documentaries, exhibitions and meetings with religious groups, making the collection available as a unique educational resource both in the UK and internationally, to be used by scholars, rabbis, school children and the interested general public.

A Brush with History: conserving the Genizah collection