A treasure trove of historic documents uncovering Jewish life in the Middle East 1,000 years ago has been put on display at a free exhibition in Cambridge.
The documents are some of the 200,000 carried back to England by Cambridge dons from the genizah (store room) at the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, where more than 280,000 scripts had accumulated from A.D. 870 to the 19th century.
Manuscripts – which the exhibit’s curators have translated – showcase letters, contracts and wills, as well as peculiarities such as a child’s Hebrew lesson doodles and even a Jewish magic charm against scorpions.
Others document love stories, including the promised efforts of wayward lovers to win back the hearts of women, the tale of a Jewish lady who fell in love with a Christian doctor, and details of a rich Jewish woman excommunicated for adultery.
The genizah haul was once a matter of great secrecy; when Cambridge scholar Solomon Schechter heard it was available to buy in the late 19th century, he swore his friends to silence on their purchases, worried that their great rivals at Oxford would get wind of it too.
The exhibition, called ‘Discarded History: The Genizah of Medieval Cairo,’ is now showing at Cambridge University Library until 28 October.