Geniza digitalization

Geniza digitalization -...

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1 Ha'aretz English Language Edition Week's End October 21, 2011 Reuniting the dispersed fragments An ambitious new project seeks to digitize the entire Cairo Geniza, and piecing together half a million document fragments scattered around the world. by Ofer Aderet One spring day in 1896, a pair of scholarly Scottish twin sisters approached Dr. Solomon Schechter, an expert on rabbinical literature at Cambridge University. They had several tattered pages they had purchased in a Cairo antiquities shop. The lecturer rubbed his eyes incredulously. He took the pages with him for examination, and then wrote a hurried, excited note to the two women, asking them not to share news of the discovery until a formal announcement could be made. The women's souvenir turned out to be part of a rare book that had been lost since the Middle Ages. It was the original Hebrew text of the apocryphal "Book of Ben Sira," written early in the second century BCE, 250 years before the destruction of the Second Temple. A few months later, Schechter headed to Cairo to look for the rest of the book. His efforts led him to the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue, where he discovered the Cairo Geniza: a tremendous pile of torn and tattered pages. Some had been lying there for 1,000 years, since the 9th century, when the synagogue was established. They included sacred writings and documents from the community's daily life - and constituted a Jewish time capsule, preserved thanks to the Jewish custom of saving texts that included God's name, instead of throwing them away.
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2 Prof. Schechter crawled through a hole in the wall in the women's section of the synagogue to the dusty and suffocating geniza (a Hebrew word meaning "storeroom" ), and began removing the manuscripts. After receiving the proper permits, he packed them into cartons and placed them on a ship to Cambridge. That is how most of the Cairo Geniza was taken to safety. The rest of the material, about 40 percent, was scattered among antiquities dealers, collectors and world travelers. Some of it wound up in other libraries. Last week, two professors from the Blavatnik School of Computer Science at Tel Aviv University sat down to burrow through the tattered pages. But they weren't searching through them physically: The pages appeared on the huge screen of a state-of-the-art Macintosh computer with a wireless keyboard and mouse. The two, Nachum Dershowitz, a logic expert, and Lior Wolf, a expert on "computerized vision" (which is used for face recognition, among other things ), are the Tel Aviv branch of a revolutionary international project called Genazim, based in one of the high-rises in Jerusalem's Givat Shaul neighborhood. Its ambitious objective is to reconstruct the Cairo Geniza and to make available a complete digital version online. (A preliminary, partial version of "The Friedberg Genizah Project" can be viewed at
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This document was uploaded on 10/30/2011 for the course JEWISH STU 201 at Rutgers.

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Geniza digitalization -...

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