Library > News > Unrivaled "Afghan Genizah" Collection Acquired By National Library of Israel

Unrivaled "Afghan Genizah" Collection Acquired By National Library of Israel

The National Library of Israel has acquired an unrivaled collection providing a glimpse into the Silk Road's vanished Jewish community.

The collection is the largest of its kind, consisting of about 250 documents from the 11th-13th centuries and representing virtually the only evidence of a once-thriving community.

 

The texts also provide new information about the region's ancient Islamic and Persian cultures prior to Mongol destruction.

 

 

The National Library of Israel in Jerusalem has acquired a one of a kind collection of manuscripts which will revolutionize our understanding about the history and culture of the legendary Silk Road's ancient Jewish community.

 

The new collection, comprised of approximately 250 pages dating to the early 11th century, constitutes the largest body of original materials from the region prior to the modern era. Complementing the NLI's existing collection of 29 pages from the widely-reported "Afghan Genizah", it represents virtually the only primary source for information about this once-thriving Jewish community, as well as the region's Islamic and Persian cultures prior to the Mongol invasion.

 

 

 

This acquisition has been made possible through the generous support of the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund.

 

The 11th-13th century documents provide unprecedented access to the day-to-day life, society, and economy of Jews along the Silk Road, the ancient highway which once linked Europe and China.

 

Part of the collection comes from the same archive as the handful of pages already held by NLI. These texts flesh out our understanding of the lives of the eleventh-century Abu Netzer family of Jewish traders living in and around the city of Bamiyan, a once-bustling commercial center located on the Silk Road. A fragment of Tractate Avoda Zara from the Mishnah represents the earliest evidence of a rabbinic text found in Persian-speaking lands to the East of the traditional rabbinic center in Babylonia. A full 27 pages of a bound merchant's account book offers a look into the economic realities of an ancient and sparsely studied community. The collection, written in Persian, Arabic, Aramaic, and Judeo-Persian also includes legal documents, liturgy, poetry, texts of Jewish law, a historical chronicle, and Biblical passages.

 

"This is a particularly impressive find related to the lives and culture of Jews from this part of the world from the beginning of the second millennium," explained Prof. Haggai Ben Shammai, world-renowned expert on Jews of the Islamic world. According to Ben Shammai, the collection is of exceptional importance due to the previous dearth of first-hand accounts and evidence of Jewish life under local dynastic rule. Literary source materials had also been severely lacking until this discovery.

 

Another portion of the new collection contains documents dating from the early 13th century, chronicling the broader Islamic culture on the eve of the devastating Mongol conquests of 1221. As a result of the destruction wrought by Genghis Khan and his army, we have almost no documentation of the Persian and Arabic culture and language of the region – until now.

 

Many items in the collection had been part of a local administrator's archive, and contain administrative documents and fragments of religious and literary works, mainly in Persian. This material provides an unparalleled view onto the workings of local government administration, politics, and law in this far-flung region.

 

Scholars who have had a chance to examine the material have enthused about its importance. Though later Muslim scholars have written histories of the Islamic dynasties who reigned over the region, this singular collection of primary sources can shed light on uncharted areas of research including economics, geography, and social and political history.

 

"These documents enrich the NLI's world-leading collection of written and printed Judaica, as well as its world-class Islam and Middle East Collection, which includes exquisite manuscripts dating back to the 9th century," said NLI Director Oren Weinberg. "The National Library of Israel is proud to be able to expand its holdings of special collections relating to Judaism, Islam and the Middle East."

 

NLI will digitize the material and make it available to the international community of scholars and the general public. As the collection has never previously been made available to the public nor the academic community, the full richness and significance of its contents have yet to be revealed.

 

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NliImageGallery
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
  • Photo Credit: Polina Aizenberg (NLI)
Mishnah Seder Nezikin

 

 

A consecutive bifolio fragment of a Mishnah manuscript including the last line of ’Ediyot and the first three chapters of ’Avodah Zarah.


Similar to the early medieval Erez Israeli Mishnah common in Genizah and Kauffman and Parma manuscripts, this copy supplies the chapter number and sum of "Halakhot" at the end of each chapter.


A unique feature that has yet to appear in Mishnah is punctuation of a colon signifying an additional subdivision of the text into sentences. This may indicate the peculiar function of the copy is to be read aloud in public, or that it is intended for uninitiated students who have not digested an aural transmission of the text.

 

Haftarot for Sabbath 

 

 

 

 

 

Haftarot for Sabbath readings of Leviticus-Numbers, with Aramaic translation after each verse.


The weekly readings from Prophets tend to vary among the different cultural areas. The custom reflected here matches that recorded by Maimonides, as practiced today by Yemenite Jewry.

 

 Proverbs 22-23 

 

 

A fragment of a page from a Bible, including Proverbs 22-23. With superlinear ocalization as practiced in early medieval Babylonia. 

 

 Sabbath prayerbook 

 

 

This single folio of a Prayerbook, from the prayers for Sabbath, displays a rite that we have yet to find in the Genizah or other repositories of the rites of Medieval Oriental Jewry, from Saadiah Gaon onwards.


The Kiddush service here ends with a verse from Nehemiah IX 14. The Morning service is similar to the common version, but the Mussaf starts with what is commonly the beginning of the Evening service, and continues in a completely unique rite. The instructions are in Judeo-Persian

 

 

 Merchant's account book  

 

פנקס הסוחרים 

A full 27 pages of a bound merchant's account book offers a look into the economic realities of an ancient and sparsely studied community.