Wagner, Scribal practice & legal record-keeping in Cairo Genizah

Scribal practice and legal record-keeping in the Cairo Genizah

Esther-Miriam Wagner (Woolf Institute and University of Cambridge)

This paper investigates the scribal practice and legal record-keeping in the Jewish community of medieval Fustat (Old Cairo). Thousands of documents from the 11th to the 13th century have been found in the Cairo Genizah, which was a storeroom in a synagogue in Old Cairo where Jews deposited anything they wrote from medieval times to the end of the 19th century.

Some of the most prolific Genizah scribes, such as the 12th-c. court clerks Hillel b. Eli and Halfon b. Manasse, have left thousands of legal records, which enable us to trace the palaeographic and linguistic fashions and trends in the writing of legal documents at the time. For example, we can see how the handwritings of individual scribes becomes more cursive because of the influx of Spanish Jews, whose hands were more cursive than those of their Egyptian counterparts due to the greater influence of Arabic writing in Spain. Among the Genizah documents are also writing exercises and scribal templates which convey a vivid picture of the scribal practices at the Jewish legal courts.

The paper will also address general matters such as the practises of issuing and record-keeping of legal documents in the Jewish community of Old Cairo.