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Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza (Jewish Encounters Series) Hardcover – April 5, 2011
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“Beautifully written, learned and lucid, Sacred Trash is a treasure that should not be hidden . . . Exquisitely realized.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“A literary jewel whose pages turn like those of a well-paced thriller, but with all the chiseled elegance and flashes of linguistic surprise that we associate with poetry . . . Sacred Trash has made history beautiful and exciting.”
“Hoffman and Cole unfold this saga with dramatic flair, peppering their narrative with the Geniza’s own distinct voices, from the ancient and medieval to the modern and contemporary. Skillfully they embed the drama contained within the old texts with the contemporary dramas of the people handling the texts . . . It is a testament to [them] that they have fleshed out these ghosts, and patiently constructed a vivid, human saga every bit as extraordinary as a miracle.”
“Both lively and elevating . . . An extended act of celebration of Cairo’s historical Jewish community, their documents, and their documents’ 20th-century students . . . wonderfully revived by Hoffman and Cole.”
—Anthony Julius, The New York Times Book Review
“A multi-layered work that provokes admiration and excites the imagination on many levels.”
“Hoffman and Cole’s vivid portrayal of the discovery of the ancient Cairo Geniza . . . is equal parts treasure hunt for the sacred and historical, and Herculean rescue of important texts . . . Sacred Trash is a wonderfully accessible and exciting account of ‘numerous heroes, medieval and modern’ and their discoveries of artifacts that have transformed our understanding of the interplay between history and religion.”
—The Boston Globe
“The real behind-the-scenes story of the Cairo Geniza and the Western scholars who retrieved and studied it is . . . also a very human story, as Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole show in their charming and unobtrusively erudite new book.”
—The Jewish Review of Books
“A wonderfully passionate and lively account of a civilization we could not have imagined existed and of the men and women whose enthusiasm and dedication brought it to light.”
—Gabriel Josipovici, The Wall Street Journal
"Absorbing . . . Hoffman and Cole are adroit in their exegesis . . . [Sacred Trash is] an accessible, neatly narrated story of hallowed detritus and the resurrection of nearly 1,000 years of culture and learning."
“What a delight to have the story of the Cairo Geniza, its romantic recovery and spectacular contents, told here by two such brilliant wordsmiths as Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole. This book takes readers to the very navel of the medieval world, east and west, Arab and Jew, shattering many preconceptions along the way.”
—Janet Soskice, author of Sisters of Sinai
“Hoffman and Cole spin an extraordinary tale of intellectual adventure and lasting scholarly accomplishment. The men and women who brought the Cairo Geniza to light are presented here in painstaking detail, their quirks and their brilliance exposed in equal measure. Carefully researched and beautifully written.”
—James Kugel, author of How to Read the Bible
“Sacred Trash is a jewel of a book: a lively and deeply informed account of the Cairo Geniza, a magnificent Egyptian treasure-house of Jewish religion, literature, and history that was forgotten for centuries, and of the extraordinary crew of scholars and impresarios who saved the documents, fitted the scraps back together, and made them speak and sing.”
—Anthony Grafton, Princeton University
One hundred and twenty years ago, time travel was all at once realized: With the discovery of the Cairo Geniza, medieval Jewish life in all its sacred and mundane efflorescence came tumbling out in thousands of manuscript fragments, each one a distinct and living voice of an ancestral civilization. No longer can we speak of the seven wonders of the world—in this astounding and acutely relevant tale, Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole have uncovered a remarkable eighth; and in its connection to our own humanity, it surpasses all the rest.”
“Sacred Trash is a small masterpiece. The romance of Hebrew scholarship has never been so vividly conveyed. This book is extraordinary in characterization, thought, and prose style. It will teach common readers, Jewish and gentile, how much spiritual tradition owes to the greatest scholars. This teaching comes through delight.”
About the Author
Adina Hoffman is the author of House of Windows: Portraits from a Jerusalem Neighborhood and My Happiness Bears No Relation to Happiness: A Poet’s Life in the Palestinian Century, which was named a best book of 2009 by the Barnes & Noble Review.
Peter Cole’s most recent book of poems is Things on Which I’ve Stumbled. His many volumes of award-winning translations include The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950––1492. He was named a MacArthur Fellow in 2007.
Hoffman and Cole live, together, in Jerusalem and New Haven.
Top Customer Reviews
Civilization lost its memory of Jewish happenings during the first half of the second Temple period, from about 536 until about 165 BCE, and for centuries of the Middle Ages. Then, like the amnesiac in the example, scholars unearthed some three hundred thousand documents from these periods.
Jews and many Christians considered God's name so holy they felt it was wrong to treat the name as trash and toss it like garbage. Thus, in ancient time, they stopped mentioning or writing God's name and substituted "Lord" for y-h-v-h. This sensitivity was later extended. Jews began to bury papers containing God's name, as people bury relatives, with respect. Soon, in Cairo, Egypt, from about the eleventh century, Jews placed many of their unwanted documents in a storeroom in the Cairo synagogue, as well as other synagogues, and they buried some as well, even papers without God's name, for writing too, they felt, has a holiness.Read more ›
For example, Hoffman and Cole explain how Solomon Schechter, who collected most of the Genizah for Cambridge University, was interested in big names found in the collection. He crated business documents and other miscellaneous material and labeled it trash. This "trash" remained in the attic of the Cambridge library becoming, in a sense, a second Genizah, until it was re-discovered Solomon Goitein, who went on to detail the everyday life of Jews and Gentiles in the Mediterranean during the Middle Ages.
This book shows how dynamic really top-notch scholarship can be; it is a perfect illustration of how a group of documents can turn an entire field on its head and not only provide new information about a lost world, but reveal something of ourselves and our interests and the changing tastes of the times.
The narrative bogs down in the second half of the book when the authors, who are poets and literary historians, concentrate on their own special interest in medieval Hebrew poetry to the exclusion of much else in the collection.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Cannot recommend this book highly enough. Forwarded on to my rabbi after finishing and he gives is GLOWING review.Published 8 months ago by MM
A good book if you like this sort of thing. I do. Lots of detail.Published 10 months ago by simeon cragun
Love this journey through the trash of the Cairo geniza. The explanation of what was found was wonderful - if sometimes over my head. Read morePublished 15 months ago by Readerrover
Five stars because of my vague knowing of the topic.
But whoever the editor or person that selected this title, i wish this was asia so that they might be repeatedly split... Read more