Genizah workshop

Interdisciplinary Workshop

From medieval Cairo to modern Veitshöchheim. Jewish religious practices as reflected by Genizah sources

The workshop is jointly organised by the EZJM, the Research Centre “Dynamics of Jewish Ritual Practices in Pluralistic Contexts from Antiquity to the Present“ at the Max-Weber-Kolleg/University of Erfurt, the Chair for Jewish Studies at the University of Bamberg and the Association of Jewish Studies. It is supported by the Fritz Thyssen Foundation.

Date: 25 – 27 March 2019
Venue: Bamberg and Erfurt

The Hebrew term genizah (pl. genizot) describes a depository for Jewish sacred literature and ritual objects which are deemed no longer usable. Many Jewish communities traditionally established their own genizot. The internationally best-known discovery of its kind is the Cairo Genizah: At the end of the 19th century, in the course of renovation work in the Ben Ezra Synagogue in the Egyptian capital, nearly 200,000 text fragments were found, dating from a period from the year 800 up to the 19th century. Nowadays, the items from this significant genizah are scattered all over the world and are consulted for a variety of research issues. Up to the present day, the image of the Jewish Middle Ages and the cultural history of the Mediterranean region is governed by this material.

In the German-speaking area, during the last decades genizot were mainly recovered in Southern and Central Germany in former synagogues. A considerable number of these finds, mainly from Franconia, is today stored in the Veitshöchheim Genizah Project ("Genisaprojekt Veitshöchheim"). Compared to the Cairo holdings, the scope of the German genizot is relatively small. They were mostly installed during the 17th and 18th centuries, but they may also include older material. These testimonies of individual and collective Jewish religious practices in the communities range from written sources like handwritten or printed prayer books or their fragments and small notes for use in prayer to ritual objects such as Torah or Esther scrolls, tallitot (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries). Thus, Genizot can reasonably be regarded as the archives of ritual traces of Jewish communities. The value of genizot as first-hand Jewish sources cannot be overstated both in respect of continuity and change in Jewish ritual practices – the main topic of the workshop – and of further research in other sub-areas of Jewish cultural history.

The workshop will juxtapose Cairo Genizah material from the Middle Ages and modern European genizah sources. Although these deposits differ so much from each other in terms of space and time, they are nonetheless very similar regarding working methods and problems: How to decipher the material? How to handle fragments which only contain a few lines or even only a few words? How to recover information from these fragments which is so important for research? What has to be taken into consideration and what are the limits in research? Regarding content, too, bringing together the two corpora of sources will lead to new insights: Which conclusions can be drawn in respect to the minhag und the ritual characteristics of a specific community? How can the sources make us learn something about  the religious practices of individual Jewish communities?

Another common feature of the Cairo Genizah and the European depositories is the direct access to Jewish community life and to specific religious practices. In this way, the ‘in situ’ textual fragments and testimonies of Jewish material culture from the genizot form, so to speak, a companion piece to the  written and printed prayer books which are kept 'ex situ' in libraries.

The workshop will enable eleven representatives of different Judaic/Jewish Studies disciplines (e.g. religious history, music, liturgy, theology, history, building research) to discuss questions concerning Jewish religious practices in a cooperative manner. At the Veitshöchheim Genizah Project, the researchers will be working on the heterogeneous original sources available there.

During the public part of the workshop (on 25 March 2019 at Bamberg and on 27 March 2019 at Erfurt) the participants will hold short paper presentations on their respective research areas. The keynote lecture will be given by Isidoro Abramowicz, Head of the cantorial training at the Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam.



Martha Stellmacher
Research assistant
T. +49-(0)511-3100-7129
E-Mail: Martha Stellmacher

Workshop programme

Genizah workshop 2019

Last modified: 2022-03-29

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