“The Genizah Scribes at Work,” a lecture by Judith Olszowy-Schlanger, Professor of Hebrew and Judaeo-Arabic Manuscript Studies at the École Pratique des Hautes Études (EPHE), Paris, was delivered April 25, 2018, at the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books, and Manuscripts.
In this lecture sponsored by the Jewish Studies Program at the University of Pennsylvania, Judith Olszowy-Schlanger explored the social status, training, and working conditions of the scribes who produced the manuscripts found in the Cairo Geniza, a treasure trove of over 300,000 sacred and secular documents produced from the 10th to the 13th centuries and preserved for centuries in the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo), Egypt, until its dispersal among libraries around the world.
Professor Olszowy-Schlanger brings to life a wealth of information buried in what she describes as “a necropolis of discarded books, contracts, and letters.” By examining the physical evidence left behind in the mass of discarded documents, she uncovers the habits and practices of scribes of all types—from professionals to “mediocre hacks” to scholars producing their own libraries—in order to demonstrate the rich and complicated nature of Jewish book production in the Middle Ages. Her study ranges across the spectrum of manuscript production: from fragments revealing the time-consuming, lavish production of prayer books to a twelfth-century scribe’s diary containing drafts of legal documents and the remnants of young students attempts to learn how to write their alphabets.
The Schoenberg Institute for Manuscript Studies/Herbert D. Katz Center Distinguished Fellow in Jewish Manuscript Studies fellowship is supported in part by the David B. Ruderman Distinguished Scholar fund.