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Geniza

GENIZA

The Hebrew name for a room in a synagogue in which damaged manuscripts of the Bible or other writings with sacred associations are preserved when withdrawn from use. It is also a collective term designating writings so preserved. The Hebrew verb gãnaz means "to conceal," and, consequently "to preserve carefully." The setting apart of the "holy" from the "profane" being one of the main tenets of the Jewish religion, sacred objects worn beyond usefulness were concealed instead of being destroyed. This practice was observed in Biblical times in respect to the knife used in the temple for killing

sacrificial animals and the linen garments worn by the high priest on the Day of Atonement. The command to conceal applies especially to canonical Scriptures and other writings in which the divine name appears. An exception is made regarding writings of heretics, especially Christians, which may be destroyed by fire even if the name of God is found in them (Bab. Talmud, Sab. 116a). Books whose canonicity was contested or held suspect were equally concealed: "Originally, it is said, Proverbs, Song of Songs, and Ecclesiastes were concealed [g enûzîm ] , until the men of the Great Synagogue [variant: the men of Hezekiah] came and interpreted them" (Aboth de R. Nathan, 1). No mention is made in the Talmud of the mode of concealment, except a remark of Rabba (4th-century Babylonian sage) that a Torah roll unfit for use was concealed by being placed in a scholar's grave. Maimonides (11351204) makes the authoritative pronouncement: "A Torah roll which has become old or unfit for use is to be laid in an earthen vessel and buried beside a scholar. In this consists its concealment" (Mishnēh Tôrâ, Hilkôth Sēfer Tôrâ, 10.3). Fortunately, this prescription was not always carried out. Today "the Geniza" refers to the ancient storeroom of the now re-built Ezra Synagogue (once the Melkite Church of St. Michael) in Old Cairo (Egypt), belonging to the Karaites and containing valuable documents accumulated for centuries. Solomon Schechter, U.S. Jewish theologian and Talmudist, in 1896 brought over to Cambridge University Library from Cairo about 100,000 of these treasured fragments, the bulk of the collection, although other portions of it reached Oxford, Paris, and New York. A broad survey of its significance is given by Paul E. Kahle in his The Cairo Geniza (2d ed. New York 1960). The two most notable finds were the original Hebrew text of the book of sirach (Ecclesiasticus), known until then only in Greek and Syriac translations, and the Zadokite Document, the true character of which did not appear clearly until the discoveries in the Judean Desert in 1947 (see dead sea scrolls). It should be noted that the title given by E. L. Sukenik to his first edition of the scrolls found in the Judean Desert, Megilloth Genuzoth (v.12, Jerusalem 1948, 1950), is misleading, as these scrolls were indeed stored away, but not concealed.

Bibliography: s. schechter, Studies in Judaism (2d ser. Philadelphia 1908) 130.

[m. j. stiassny]

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