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Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza - Adina Hoffman, Peter Cole After reading one third of this book, I decided to put it down and leave it to those better versed in Hebraic study. I gave it three stars, because I felt certain that those who study Jewish antiquities will find this a treasure trove of information and rather than discourage those who would probably endow it with five stars, I wished to leave the door open.

A great deal of research went into the production of this book. It is a scholarly tome. The little gossipy tidbits make the rather dry discovery in Cairo, a bit more interesting, but the sentence structure seemed so convoluted and complicated, at times, that by the time I reached the end of the sentence, I was unsure of how it actually began. Although I did my own research to try and shed more light on the subject this book covers, I found that I would have to be a true student of Judaic history, before I could really appreciate and understand it. There were just too many holes in my background for me to comprehend its true value. It is written more for a student of this subject matter than for a mere reader with an interest in the subject.

Jewish treasures are, and have always been, stored and/or discarded in a special way. This book is about the treasures that were found in a repository in Cairo, the Cairo Genizah, a sacred storage place for Hebrew documents and books, at the tail end of the 1800’s. These manuscripts and records enlightened the world about Jewish history and connected the history of the Jews in an unbroken thread.

In 1896, twins Agnes Lewis and Margaret Gibson shared a fragment of a manuscript they had come upon in their travels, with Solomon Schechter. He continued to research the fragment and then traveled to Egypt to unearth a majority of the artifacts remaining there. Before these three, many other scholars had found remnants of genizas and Jewish documents, and they had scrabbled over their ownership and credit for discovery. Some understood the value of the discoveries; some thought of the wet, flea-ridden and weathered pieces of history as garbage, not worth saving and some thought the information was better left undiscovered or untold or told according to their own, possibly Anti-Semitic interpretation.

It is enough for me that Solomon Schechter appreciated the worth of the tiny fragment handed to him that day in 1896, recognized the historic Hebrew language it was written in, understood it was a piece of the original Ben Sira, and proceeded to unearth, decipher, translate and preserve the remaining manuscripts for posterity, shedding light on the authenticity of Jewish history in the process.