Wednesday, August 12, 2009

What is a "genizah"?

In an anonymous comment to a previous blog post (Wednesday, July 8, 2009 – “Photograph of Elkan Nathan Adler”) the question was raised: “What is “genizah”?”

The Encyclopedia Judaica defines ‘genizah” as follows:

"[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." [Encyclopedia Judaica, 2007 ed., v.7, p.460]

The particular genizah referred to in the blog post about Elkan Nathan Adler was the “Cairo Genizah”. The website of the Friedberg Genizah Project (, an organization that was started to facilitate research into the Cairo Genizah, explains the history and significance of this genizah thusly:

"The Cairo Genizah, mostly discovered late in the nineteenth century but still resurfacing in our own day, is a collection of over 200,000 fragmentary Jewish texts (which may well equal three times that number of folios). Many of these were stored in the loft of the ancient Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat medieval Cairo [to the south-west of the modern city] between the 11th and 19th centuries ... The dark, sealed, room in the arid Egyptian climate contributed to the preservation of the documents, the earliest of which may go back to the eighth and ninth centuries … These manuscripts outline a 1,000-year continuum of Middle-Eastern history and comprise the largest and most diverse collection of medieval manuscripts in the world. The Genizah can be described as one of the greatest Jewish treasures ever found." [Friedberg Genizah Project -]


  1. Thirty-five thousand fragments from the Cairo Geniza contain invaluable information pertaining to the social, cultural, religious and economic life of Mediterranean Jewry from the ninth through the nineteenth centuries. All the fragments have been digitized and are available online through The Friedberg Genizah Project.

  2. To see a JTS geniza fragment visit: