About the Collections

Bookplate of Elkan Nathan Adler, WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions
Bookplate of Elkan Nathan Adler, WUSTL Digital Gateway Image Collections & Exhibitions

The Cairo Geniza is a cache of about 400,000 pages and fragments of pages that survived in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, the medieval residential core of the larger metropolis of Cairo. Geniza materials were gradually sold and given to libraries and private collectors between 1888 and 1897.

The Jewish Theological Seminary of America (JTS) owns the second largest Cairo Geniza collection in the world (after Cambridge University Library), bought from Elkan Nathan Adler in 1923. The ENA collection consists of 43,000 manuscript fragments, most dating between 1000 and 1250, with a sizable minority of material dating to the Ottoman period (after 1517).

On a visit to Cairo in 1888, Adler became one of the first manuscript collectors in the world to acquire geniza material. He describes visiting the Ben Ezra Synagogue and being allowed by the synagogue custodians to take as much material as he could stuff into two disused Torah scroll covers — as it turned out, more than thirty-five thousand fragments. Around 1910, he augmented his collection by some 6,000 items that the Bodleian Library deaccessioned and sold.

The material has not been fully catalogued. Neil Danzig catalogued the halakhic and midrashic fragments in a Hebrew book published in 1998. More than 7,000 fragments have been catalogued since 1985 in the Princeton Geniza Project Database, most of them documentary texts such as letters, legal deeds, lists, accounts, and official government papers. While most of the texts are in Hebrew script, compared to most geniza collections, the ENA collection is especially rich in Arabic-script material.

ENA shelfmarks and series

Some manuscripts from the ENA collection were incorporated into the JTS general manuscript collections, most of them literary items. These items appear in the Friedberg Genizah Project (FGP) website under both their old ENA shelfmark and their new shelfmark (MS, MS Rabbinica, MS Lutzki [for biblcal texts], and Scroll).

The ENA collection was bound after the pioneer of documentary geniza research, S.D. Goitein, investigated it, so occasionally there is a slight discrepancy between the shelfmarks Goitein used and those the manuscripts bear today (e.g., Goitein cites ENA 2739.17 as ENA 2739.16). Shelfmarks that Goitein cites as JTS Geniza Misc. are now found in ENA NS 48.

A small number of ENA items made available to Paul Kahle seem not to have retained their original ENA designation and now bear shelfmarks beginning with KE.

Other Collections

Beside the ENA collection, JTS is the home of several smaller Geniza collections, e.g., Krengel and Schechter.

The ENA New Series (NS) consists of material conserved and encapsulated over the last forty years. The most recent batch was conserved in 2016, and runs up to ENA NS 86.