Genizah

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GENIZAH

GENIZAH (Heb. גְּנִיזָה; literally "storing"), a place for storing books or ritual objects which have become unusable. The genizah was usually a room attached to the synagogue where books and ritual objects containing the name of God – which cannot be destroyed according to Jewish law – were buried when they wore out and could no longer be used in the normal ritual. As a result ancient synagogues can preserve books or sections thereof of great antiquity. The word is derived from the root גנז from the Persian ginzakh ("treasury"), the root meanings of which are to "conceal," "hide," or "preserve." Eventually it became a noun designating a place of concealment. In Scripture there occur ginzei ha-melekh ("the king's treasuries"; Esth. 3:9; 4:7) and beit ginzayya (Ezra 5:17; 6:1; 7:20) with the sense of a "treasury" or "archive." In talmudic and midrashic literature, however, it is used as a nomen actionis (Shab. 16:1; Lev. R. 21:12; Meg. 26b), as a place for the putting away of all kinds of sacred articles, such as sacred books no longer usable, as well as the books of Sadducees and heretics, and other writings of which the sages disapproved but which were not required to be burned (Mid. 1:6; Shab. 116a); whence the expression sefarim genuzim ("books to be hidden away"). The expression beit genizah ("storeroom," Pes. 118a) means a treasury "powerfully and strongly guarded" (Rashbam, ad loc.). There was an ancient custom of honoring a dead man by putting holy books next to his coffin (bk 17a; see also Meg. 26b; mgwj, 74 (1930), 163). In times of war and forced conversion, Jews used to hide their books in caves or tombs in order to preserve them. The letter of *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut to the king of the Khazars relates, in the name of the elders (yeshishei ha-dor), that during a period of forced conversion "the scrolls of the law and holy books" were hidden in a cave. In 1947 certain scriptural scrolls, books, and fragments were discovered in a cave at ʿAyn al-Fashkha in the Judean wilderness and later in other caves in that vicinity. It is probable that the sectarians who lived there hid the books when compelled to leave (see *Dead Sea Scrolls). There were also genizah sites between the stone courses of sacred buildings (Shab. 115a), under the foundation stones of synagogues (as in Mainz), and attics and special cupboards kept in synagogues. When the cupboards and attics could take no more, the tattered pages, which, because they contained the Divine Name, were known as shemot ("names," i.e., of God), were buried in the cemetery. The day on which the shemot were conveyed from the genizah for burial in "one of the caves on the slope of Mount Zion" was celebrated in a festive way in Jerusalem, even during the modern period. The participants in the ceremony would play musical instruments, sing, dance, and play games "facing one another with drawn swords in order to magnify the joyousness of the affair" (Yerushalayim (ed. Luncz), 1 (1882), 15–16). There is evidence that a similar custom prevailed in other areas.

Such genizot existed in a great number of both Eastern and Western communities. Although they usually contained only the worn-out remnants of books in daily use such as the Pentateuch and the prayer book, rare or historically important books and documents were sometimes hidden among them. In the majority of cases the material of the genizot was so damaged by dampness and mildew that the collections were of no value for the purposes of historical research.

For the Cairo Genizah, see following entry.

bibliography:

Masseri, in: Mizraḥ u-Ma'arav, 1 (1920), 27–31 (English version in Jewish Review, 4 (1913), 208–16); Halper, in: Ha-Tekufah, 19 (1923), 261–76; 20 (1924), 261–84; A.M. Habermann, Ha-Genizah (1944); idem, Edah ve-Edut (1952), introd.; E.L. Sukenik, Megillot Genuzot, 1 (1948), introd.; 2 (1950), introd.; idem (ed.), The Dead Sea Scrolls of the Hebrew University (1955), introd.; Zulay, in: Luʿaḥ Haaretz li-Shenat 5710 (1950), 110–26; Teicher, in: jjs, 1 (1948/49), 156–8; Golb, in: Judaism, 6 (1957), 3–16; P.E. Kahle, The Cairo Genizah (19602); S.D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, 1 (1967), 1–28; idem, in: paajr, 23 (1954), 29–40; Allony, in: Aresheth, 3 (1961), 395–425.

[Abraham Meir Habermann]