A Most Glorious Attic

by Janet Tassel (March 2012)

Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
By Adina Hoffman & Peter Cole
Jewish Encounters/Schocken, 284 pp.

In the days of Queen Victoria, there roamed the earth a certain type of Englishwoman: Intrepid, adventurous, utterly undaunted, these ladies bustled fearlessly and eagerly to the most uncomfortable and often dangerous corners of the world, took and developed their own photographs, spoke a multitude of languages, rode camels, climbed mountains, and then came home to write books about their exploits.

Pause now to have a look at this bear of a man, the eminent Solomon Schechter:

The Lord apportioned to them great glory,
There are some that have left a name,
So that men declare their praise.
And there are some who have no name,
Who have perished as though they had not lived.

Ben Sira also included hymns to wine and gustatory pleasures, advice on etiquette at banquets and symposia, encomia to nature and a general appreciation of life well lived. In May of 1896, all Schechter had was one grimy scrap. But his agitation was such that within months, he was to drop everything, and, like Indiana Jones, hasten to Egypt.

The Geniza has given us different versions of the Passover Haggada:

On this eerily familiar note we must leave this rich treasure, both the Geniza hoard itself, and this gift of a book, so rich and generous in its sifting through and explicating centuries of sacred trash.

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