“This artifact has been in the country for over a thousand years, generation after generation, surviving revolutions, violence, fires and much more,” Prof. Yoram Meital told The Jerusalem Post.
By United with Israel Staff
Ben-Gurion University’s Prof. Yoram Meital discovered a 1,000-year-old biblical manuscript wrapped in inexpensive white paper during a visit at the Moshe Der’i Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt. He spent a year studying the masterpiece, which was written by the scribe Zechariah Ben Anan and his findings were recently published in the academic journal, The Jewish Quarterly Review.
Meital was aware that the valuable document existed due to a short text published in 1905 by Richard Gottheil, a scholar in Semitic studies conducting research in Egypt at the time.
The document, which is a part of the Jewish Bible called “Ketuvim” (Writings), dates back to the year 1028 and was discovered in the Moshe Der’i Synagogue, a Karaite place of worship. Among the pages of the ancient document were notes written in 1935 by the Karaite chief rabbi of the time.The Karaites are a group that broke off from traditional Judaism, rejecting the Talmudic law and traditions and observing only the laws they believed were written in the Bible.
Meital estimates it took years for the scribe to record his draft of “Ketuvim.”
“I focused on both the content and the form, including the corrections that were implemented on the biblical text,” Meital said, the Post. reported. “Moreover, the manuscript presents 12 extra pages with an index-like marking of the Massora [a collection of explanatory notes on the Bible], the names of the scribe and of the man who commissioned his work, something very rare.”
Meital hopes “that the rediscovery of the manuscript offers an important opportunity to shed light on the general project of restoring and bringing Jewish cultural heritage back to fruition, especially today when just a handful of Jews live in Cairo.”
“Over the last seven years a significant shift has been taking place in the perception of the Jewish community’s past within the public discourse in Egypt and in the stand of the Egyptian government,” Meital told The Post. “Moreover, about five years ago there was a change in what remains of the Jewish community in Egypt. Magda Haroun took the presidency of the community in Cairo and she came to the position with a vision that I completely identify with: safeguarding the local Jewish sites and artifacts and making part of them open and available for various usage including visits, cultural activities and studies.”
Jews lived and thrived in Cairo for about 2,000. Today, only a few dozen Jews remain in all of Egypt following attacks on the community over the past hundred years and a formal expulsion of Jews by the Egyptian government.
In 2014, with the election of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi, the country has taken steps to honor its Jewish history.
Following the re-dedication of the 14th-century Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in Alexandria last month, efforts are being made to create a Jewish library in the Sha’ar Hashamayim Synagogue compound, in the heart of Cairo. The project’s goal is to display more than 10,000 Jewish texts from the country’s synagogues. Thus far, more than 5,000 have been collected, cleaned and cataloged.
The Zechariah Ben Anan manuscript will join other priceless treasures that attest to Egypt’s Jewish history for two millennia.
“This artifact has been in the country for over a thousand years, generation after generation, surviving revolutions, violence, fires and much more,” said Meital.
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