The Geniza Research Project for Hebrew Poetry was established by the Israel Academy in 1967, with the aim of deciphering, identifying and cataloguing fragments of liturgical poems (piyutim
) preserved in the Cairo Geniza. The initiative was made possible by the National Library of Israel's Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts, which consolidates photographs of the manuscripts in most of the Geniza collections around the world. In addition, today there are excellent scans of Geniza fragments available on different websites, especially the website of the Friedberg Genizah Project (www.genizah.org
). Using the scans often makes it easier to decipher the material.
After 49 years, the cataloguing of the poems in most of the major Geniza collections has been completed. The database now contains more than 88,000 titles of piyutim from the Geniza and the opening words of more than 71,700 piyutim that exist in print. From the major collections of Geniza fragments, all that is left to catalogue are the Additional Series in the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Collection at Cambridge University and the Firkovich Collection in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg. There are also some minor collections which have yet to be catalogued, and some of the collections already catalogued require supplementation.
The project is named after the late Professor Ezra Fleischer, who founded it and directed it for 39 years. Prof. Fleischer passed away in July of 2006. His life’s work is carried on by Prof. Shulamit Elizur, assisted by a steering committee including two Academy members. Most of the deciphering, cataloguing and computerization has been done by the Project’s permanent staffer, Dr. Sarah Cohen.
Over the past year, Dr. Cohen has completed the initial work of deciphering the contents of the volumes classified as “poetry and piyut” in the Additional Series of the Taylor-Schechter Collection at Cambridge, and most of the material has been reviewed and entered into the computerized database, although some of it has not yet been fully processed. In light of the review, more than 1,500 new titles have been added over the past year. This is a very significant part of the project, as the Additional Series contains 28 comprehensive volumes of piyut fragments, each volume containing hundreds of small fragments which are difficult to identify. It is worth noting that despite the challenging nature of this work, most of the fragments have been identified and catalogued. The work has yielded significant scholarly fruit, expanding the known oeuvre of a number of famous poets. With the final deciphering of the Additional Series of fragments, some fragments in the New Series of the Adler Collection in New York have been completed as well. Dr. Cohen is now working hard on cataloguing the Geniza fragments in the Rylands Collection at the University of Manchester, which also includes many fragments that have been poorly preserved. Alongside the cataloguing work, fragments of poetry and piyut that have been published in books and academic journals are being recorded as well. The piyutim from the Geniza already in the database are being critically examined, leading to information on 2,000 titles being sent each year to the Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts at the National Library.
The material in the Project’s database provides a constant stream of data for researchers in the field of Hebrew poetry and liturgy, in Israel and around the world, who frequently send in questions, in response to which they receive assistance, precise answers and even detailed reports, allowing them to advance in their research. The Institute of Microfilmed Hebrew Manuscripts also sends some of its people to the Fleischer Project to get help in identifying piyutim in different manuscripts, and students use its catalogue for their research papers.
The material in the catalogue has served for years as an invaluable resource for books on poetry and piyut published in Israel and around the world.