Thursday, April 07, 2011

Solomon Schechter's Genizah gossip from 1898.

Here's an interesting article from the Jewish Chronicle, April 1, 1898. This Cambridge-Cairo Genizah article is one of Solomon Schechter's earliest progress reports, which included some of his more preliminary impressions of the Genizah.

Interesting from a historical perspective, but I will have to take issue with at least one things. He writes, "On one biblical fragment I found some gilt letters. Gold ink was well known to the Jews of antiquity. . . . But its use in the writing of the Scriptures was early forbidden by the Rabbis. The prohibition was meant only to apply to copies intended for public reading in the synagogues. . . . The fragment in question forms a rare exception and must therefore date from an age when simplicity and uniformity in the materials used for writing the Bible had not yet become the rule."

Right, or it was not intended for synagogue use. Although he had the fragment, not me, but I seriously doubt that it was a piece of a Torah scroll, and he doesn't quite say that he thinks it is. So I think his conclusion is imaginary. .

He also mentions the famous children's אלפא ביתא primer (which I posted about here). He calls it a "'Reader without Tears' of the Old World." See here for a related post.

His explanation for why children would begin with Vayikra (Leviticus)? "The Jew of ancient times was not given to analysis [vis a vis education]" and they saw "in every babe, the budding minister." If this sounds disdainful (and it is) note though that he is very positively contrasting it with modern educational theories, which would find Leviticus to be a very improper beginning for children!

He interestingly notes that of the many palimpsests uncovered so far, only two turned out to be Hebrew on Hebrew. The rest are Hebrew on "Greek, Palestinian Syriac, Coptic or Georgian." A palimpsest, in case any reader is unacquainted with the term, is when the ink is removed from a paper or vellum sheet and reused for writing. Over time the original ink becomes faintly visible once again. Schechter points out that it turns out the "the under writing is usually of more importance than the later surface writing."

Next he writes of the exciting discovery of some fragments of the Greek translation of the ger Aquila, which had previously been known only through quotations and from Origen. He notes that the Tetragrammton in the Aquila fragments are written in the ancient Hebrew script.

Finally, he has some unkind words for modern critics, such as Wellhausen. He notes that even though "modern learning . . . has people these very centuries [i.e., 450 to 160 B.C.] with lawgivers, prophets, psalmists, and apocalypse writers," in reality it is still a very obscure period, and many modern theories are "mountains suspended on air," no better than views they are meant to replace.

As one expects, Solomon Schechter is a chatty, interesting writer.


  1. The prohibition was meant only to apply to copies intended for public reading in the synagogues. . . .

    This line is often stated, without support, about the various halakhic rules regarding כתיבת ספרי התורה שבעל פה. However, I don't think it's correct. Rather, it reflects the notions of a later period, in which "Torah scrolls" vs. "Chummesh Codices" were two different, clearly defined entities. I did a fair amount of work on this issue last year, but am currently taking time off from that project.

  2. Amazing that no one but me responds.

  3. I am not capable of responding

  4. No responses doesn't mean no readers.



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