REVIEW: Seride Teshuvot: A Descriptive Catalogue of Responsa Fragments from the Jacques Mosseri Collection in Cambridge University Library

Seride Teshuvot: A Descriptive Catalogue of Responsa Fragments from the Jacques Mosseri Collection in Cambridge University Library

Shmuel Glick et al.

Cambridge Genizah Studies 3; Leiden: Brill, 2012

Reviewed by Amir Ashur

The Cairo Genizah – the hoard of manuscripts found in the Ben Ezra synagogue in Fustat (Old Cairo) contains more than three hundred thousands documents covering more than thousand years of history – is by all means the most important source for the study of the history of Jews under Islam, and for the study of the relations between Jews and Muslim throughout the period, as was emphasized by S.D. Goitein repeatedly.  This vast amount of documents is kept in many collections all around the world. The largest collection is kept in Cambridge University Library – around two hundred thousands documents.

The Mosseri Collection was for many years hidden and inaccessible to scholars. A few years ago, the Collection was loaned to Cambridge University Library in order for it to be conserved, with a view to it being eventually deposited in the National Library of Israel, provided that certain conditions are fulfilled. The catalogue under review is the first attempt to prepare a comprehensive catalogue of the responsa fragments of this valuable and important collection. Indeed, it is the first work, to the best of my knowledge, to describe and publish a collection of responsa from any Genizah collection. As such, it should serve as a valuable contribution to the study of responsa, Halakhah and Genizah documents.

The catalogue contains seventy-seven documents. It is not a complete catalogue of all the responsa and related material in the Mosseri Collection. Thus, the data base of Geniza responsa based on Professor Mordechai A. Friedman’s identifications, which I prepared under his supervision as part of my work for the FGP (and which I supplemented), contains some additional 27 relevant class marks. We can assume that, after the Collection is fully conserved and analysed, this number might increase. But this catalogue can by no means be regarded as premature. Indeed, much has been accomplished.

Some of the discoveries revealed in this catalogue are very exciting: one of the oldest Ashkenazi manuscripts found in the Genizah, C. 7 (pp. 230–235); hitherto unknown responsa by Abraham Maimonides, C. 4 (pp. 211–219, see comments below); responsa by Isaac Alfasi, in their original Arabic version, C. 6 (pp. 225–229, see comments below). All three of these manuscripts were registered in my hand-list, but without their correct identification. We should, therefore, thank Glick and his team for revealing them to the scholarly public.

The catalogue follows the format of G. Khan, Arabic Legal and Administrative Documents in the Cambridge Genizah Collections (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1993) – that is, a catalogue that includes a general descriptive text edition, translation (into Hebrew, if the text is in Judaeo-Arabic) and commentary. Thus the reader is given complete information on every manuscript. Furthermore, good quality photographs are placed beside the transcriptions for ease of comparison.

Each document is accompanied by introductory notes regarding the responsum’s topics, its place of origin, its language and paleography. The material is sorted chronologically by period: A. Responsa of Palestinian Geonim; B. Babylonian Geonim; C. Rishonim (11th–15th centuries) and D. Ahronim (16th–18th centuries). This method, although simple, is not free from errors. Thus Ephraim b. Shemariah appears under Palestinian Geonim (p. 11) and also under Babylonian Geonim (p. 63). Regarding the sorting of each section, I would prefer to see all the responsa attributed to one legal authority grouped together one after the other, e.g. responsa of Hayya Gaon appear in sections B. 4, 6, 18, and 20–25. It would have been better, in my opinion, to group them together. The same is true regarding both Moses and Abraham Maimonides.

The nature of some of the material is ambiguous, and many identifications of a text as a responsum can be uncertain. Glick correctly decided to include such instances in the catalogue. Still, in my opinion, a clear distinction regarding such identifications should be made. For example, document A. 3 appears to me to be a letter rather than a responsum. Glick’s description of this document is also ambiguous, referring to it in the ‘Topics’ section as ‘A portion of responsum[?]’, but in the content notes as a letter (‘this letter is not published there’).

Glick gives a general dating to each document, e.g. ‘11th century’. In most cases we cannot give a more precise date, but, when the scribe is known, we can. For example, A. 1 (p. 3) is written by Solomon b. Judah and certainly dates to between 1025 and 1052 (as mentioned in the notes). In other places, however, Glick is more precise, e.g. D. 6 (p. 386) where the date ‘16th century (c. 1540)’ is given. More examples will be given below.

The literature Glick uses is not always the most up to date. For example, in the few responsa attributed to Hayya Gaon, Glick could have consulted Zvi Gruner’s article רשימת תשובות רב האי גאון to determine whether they were written by Hayya Gaon or not. Although Gruner’s work is cited in the bibliography, it is not referred to in the body of the book. Another example of this may be found in the Hebrew section, where Glick refers to אלמרשד אלכאפי, תל אביב תשכ”א, although a new edition of this work was published in 2005 by Hadasa Shai. A third example can be found in C. 2, where Glick cites Poznanski and Mann on Isaac b. Israel Rosh ha-Gola, but does not use Gil, Ishmael, I, pp. 461–462.

In some descriptions, the language section is not complete: for example, in A. 3 (p. 11) and C. 35 ‘Hebrew’ and Judaeo-Arabic respectively should be added.

As previously mentioned, the book also contains a Hebrew section, in which additional information is given on each and every document published in this book. In most cases this information is useful, containing references to the Talmudic literature as well to other studies on the material. In one case, however, there is a difference between the data given in the Hebrew section and that in the English section: in his Hebrew comments on A. 5 Glick refers to one of the parties mentioned in the manuscript as חסאן בן מסכה, but in the English comments that appear following his edition, he correctly reads: חסאן בן מנשה. Such an error makes one wonder if the Hebrew section was proof-read at all, in comparison with the English section, which was apparently updated.

Glick’s team, in particular Dotan Arad and Dr. Zvi Stampfer who are both excellent Genizah scholars, were responsible for the copying, editing and translating of most of the material, and have produced editions and translations that are as reliable as can be expected from Genizah editions of this nature.

In summary, this catalogue makes an important contribution to the study of Halakhah and the Genizah. The editors of the series, Dr Ben Outhwaite and Dr Siam Bhayro, should be commended for the huge effort they have given in order to bring us a well-edited, handsome volume, and one that will be useful to many scholars in a variety of fields.

Despite some errors, the editions and translations are mostly very good. The interpretations and commentaries on the documents, however, could have been better. In most cases, Glick has done a decent job, but one is left at times with the feeling that something is missing and that the descriptions could be more precise.

I will now take the opportunity to comment on a few items to which I can add more data, alternative reading or translations, or give a different interpretation. A deeper analysis is beyond the scope of this review.

  • Document A. 1, p. 4, n. 18: the small letters surrounding the signature of Solomon b. Judah contain the phrase ואנכי תולעת ולא איש (Psalms 22:7). For the custom of adding a motto in tiny letters to the signature see מ”ע פרידמן, ‘עיטורי חותמים ושיטה מיוחדת לציון תאריך’, תרביץ, מח (תשל”ט), עמ’ 160-163
  • A. 4, p. 16, Content notes: Assaf’s explanation (cited by Glick) regarding the verse אות באות ומילה במילה is not correct, for this phrase simply means that the copy of the deed given in the responsum is accurate. For this see מ”ע פרידמן, ‘אות באות, מלה במלה’, לשוננו לעם, שלח (תשמ”ג), עמ’ 194-195
  • B. 2: This responsum is on the same subject as C. 4, p. 46. The handwriting is similar too.
  • B. 3: In my opinion this is a letter and not a responsum.
  • B. 6: This leaf is written by the same scribe who wrote T-S NS J511–517, which contain a collection of responsa by Saadya Gaon. See R. Brody, A Hand-list of Rabbinic Manuscripts in the Cambridge Genizah Collection, I, Cambridge 1998. In the aforementioned data base of Geniza responsa there are several more leaves by this scribe, all containing Geonic responsa.
  • B. 19: As Glick correctly comments, these are pedagogical questions, a well-known genre in Bible commentary, and one that can hardly be considered responsa.
  • B. 20, p. 152. l. 6: Should be read ראובן נשא אשה (the last word is mistakenly omitted in the edition).
  • B. 22-23: These items are written by Halfon b. Manasseh ha-Levi, a well-known scribe active between 1100–1138. The T-S Genizah Collection contains 15 other manuscripts with Geonic responsa that were copied by Halfon, e.g. T-S Misc. 28.186. Other fragments can be found in JTS and JRL collections.
  • B. 24: According to Glick this manuscript is by the hand of Joseph b. Jacob ha-Bavli (Rosh ha-Seder), but in my opinion it is not his hand. Compare with C. 10, which is written in his own hand.
  • C. 1: The document also includes Judaeo-Arabic, and this should be added to the description.
  • C. 3: I will soon publish this responsum in the forthcoming קובץ-על-יד. My understanding of this document differs to that of Glick. It seems to me to be a page from a notebook of a student attending a lecture of R. Joseph ibn Migash. This manuscript was apparently written during R”I Migash’s lifetime (d. 1141). The reader should consult my publication and compare it to Glick’s edition.
  • C. 4: A very important discovery of new responsa by Abraham Maimonides. However, this manuscript is not from the end of the 13th century as stated in the description, as the scribe is well known from other documents, one of them dated 1201. Based on this dating we can assume that this manuscript was copied during Abraham Maimonides’ lifetime or soon after his death in 1237. In the content notes Glick comments ‘The handwriting of section כ”ו appears to be similar to section צ”ז …’ and this surely needs to be corrected to ‘the content of section …’
  • C. 6: Another very important discovery appears in this manuscript. The final question here deals with the marriage of a female minor. We have very few references to the marriage of female minors, so this query provides a useful new reference on this subject. On child marriage seeא’ אשור, ‘שידוכין ואירוסין על-פי תעודות מן הגניזה הקהירית’, חיבור לשם קבלת התואר דוקטור לפילוסופיה, אוניברסיטת תל-אביב תשס”ז, pp. 162-172.
  • C. 10: This manuscript is an autograph by Joseph b. Jacob Rosh ha-Seder.
  • C. 13: I have identified a number of pages by the same scribe, containing responsa and other material. ENA 1338, a copy of an unknown query sent to R”I Migash, will soon be published by me in קובץ על יד. Another fragment written by the same scribe is found in Mosseri VII.122.2. In my opinion the hand is later than the 12th century, and should be dated to the 13th–14th centuries.
  • C. 16: In my opinion it is beyond doubt that this manuscript is written by Maimonides.
  • C. 23: This document is written, to the best of my knowledge, by the hand of Moses b. Perahya (the grandson of Abraham Ibn Yiju, the famous India trader), the dayyan of al-Mahala. See D. Goitein & M. A. Friedman, India Traders of the Middle Ages: Documents from the Cairo Geniza (‘India Book’), Leiden–Boston 2007, p. 89 (where 1220–1234 should be corrected to 1220–1237). Glick’s note 2, on p. 305 should be corrected: the term הגדולה refers to al-Mahala al-Kabira, which is sometimes referred to in Genizah documents as מחלה הגדולה (see, e.g. TS 13J19.6)
  • C. 33, p. 344, line 13: I suggest the reconstruction [אי הוה קיים אבוהון אי]ך הוה, for the reading of the final kaf is certain and cannot be read as a final nun.
  • C. 34: This is a query sent to a group of scholars rather than to a single scholar. Another such example can be found in ENA NS 16.23, from the time of Abraham Maimonides.
  • C. 36, Translation of line 3: פי יעקב אזוג ברחל ודכל בהא. For דכל בהא should be translated as כנס אותה, that is, entered to the marriage chamber with her (and not בא עליה, that is, had sexual relations with her).
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