<%BANNER%>
Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000258/00001
 Material Information
Title: A Day in the Life of a Genizah Researcher
Series Title: Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department Newsletter
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Jefferson, Rebecca ( Author, Primary )
Publisher: Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department, University College London
Place of Publication: UK
 Subjects
Genre: serial   ( sobekcm )
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: IR00000258:00001

Permanent Link: http://ufdc.ufl.edu/IR00000258/00001
 Material Information
Title: A Day in the Life of a Genizah Researcher
Series Title: Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department Newsletter
Physical Description: Serial
Language: English
Creator: Jefferson, Rebecca ( Author, Primary )
Publisher: Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department, University College London
Place of Publication: UK
 Subjects
Genre: serial   ( sobekcm )
 Record Information
Source Institution: University of Florida
Holding Location: University of Florida Institutional Repository
Rights Management: All rights reserved by the source institution and holding location.
System ID: IR00000258:00001


This item has the following downloads:

( PDF )


Full Text


UCL Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department Newsletter December 2003 pp. 15-17


A Day in the Life of a Genizah Researcher
Rebecca Jefferson


In 1996, having spent a wonderful three years at the HJS department, I left to study Cairo
Genizah manuscripts in Cambridge. The collection at Cambridge University Library is
huge, some 140,000 classified fragments, and contains enough Hebrew and Arabic
material for a thousand doctorates (even though I'm still struggling to get one). By 1999,
I'd managed to persuade the Director of the Taylor-Schechter Genizah Research
Unit, Professor Stefan Reif, to hire me and I have worked in the Unit ever since (that is,
until he works out how to fire me).

Work tends to begin between 8-9am. Our indefatigable Director has already been here an
hour and looks on approvingly while his researchers (I use the plural liberally) drag
themselves in early after a night on the sofa with Friends and Jacob's Creek. The first
task of the day is to answer e-mail queries relating to the Genizah manuscripts. This
usually consists of spam, a few genuine questions, many silly questions, and more spam.
Heavy sighs are emanating from the Professor's room.

We are a small unit of nine people: the Professor, his wife Shulie, Dr Ben Outhwaite, Dr
Friedrich Niessen, Mr Ellis Weinberger, Dr Efraim Lev, Dr Avi Shivtiel, Mrs Sarah
Sykes, and myself.

Ben Outhwaite works on the liturgical manuscripts. He receives descriptions from a
catalogue being compiled in Israel and checks the manuscripts to ensure that the details
are accurate. He is also compiling a catalogue of Hebrew letters from the Middle Ages.

Friedrich (Fred) Niessen is writing a catalogue of the Arabic material in the New Series
of the collection. Both of them supervise undergraduates in their spare time. Avi Shivtiel
is a part-time Senior Research Associate working with Fred. He started their catalogue
and now he comes twice a month to supervise its final stages.

Shulie Reif is our proofreader and editor. She has the sharpest eye which nothing can
pass (you will observe that I haven't shown her this article). She and the Professor are a
lovely couple and we marvel at their ability to work together and stay speaking.

Ellis Weinberger is our computer boffin; he works on our website
(http://www.lib.cam.ac.uk/Taylor-Schechter), is in charge of the digitisation project to get
the manuscripts online, and generally makes himself available every time one of us (or is
it just me?) has another unexplained glitch.

Sarah Sykes handles the correspondence that arrives from all over the world, makes
bookings for visits, and is in charge of mailing our bi-annual newsletter. Sarah is
forgetful and thoroughly organized all at the same time (don't ask).

Efraim Lev is a Visiting Research Fellow from Israel. He is with us for one year,
gathering all the evidence he can find on medical substances in the medieval






UCL Hebrew and Jewish Studies Department Newsletter December 2003 pp. 15-17


manuscripts. His enthusiasm is endless and he has already mentally written about two
books and five articles and has moved on to envisioning future projects.

Me? I work on the Unit's bibliography. I hunt for all the articles and books I can find that
mention the manuscripts. These are manifold: we have just sent the second volume to the
Press which incorporated over 324 monographs and 767 articles, that is, over 25,000
references. I enter the references into a database noting the type of reference, be it a
mention, quote, transcription or translation. Then I go to check the manuscript to see that
the reference is right. It is often wrong. Two scholars are currently competing for the top
prize in the erroneous classmark competition. The next half hour could be spent finding
that 'T-S K25' is actually referring to a tiny scrap of paper classmarked T-S K25.235. But
I enjoy my work; it provides me with a unique opportunity to become acquainted with a
lot of interesting written material and to familiarise myself with fields of research that I
wouldn't otherwise encounter.

Work continues until the coffee break at 10.30. We all go down to the canteen together.
Shulie sometimes brings treats from Israel; Fred sometimes brings doughnuts from a
Jewish bakery; library coffee is always soapy. Talk is manuscripts, religion, politics, tv,
kids and grandkids, not necessarily in that order or necessarily unconnected.

At any point in the day, the nature of the work might change. The professor will come
into my office and ask me to write a description for an exhibition of some fragments, or a
piece for our newsletter, or he might announce that a group is coming to see the
collection and I'll have to prepare a general talk. Right now, I'm helping to proofread Avi
and Fred's catalogue. Soon preparations for the newsletter celebrating 30 years of the
Unit will begin. We all have lunch at our desks and the sound of crunching ensues.
Our consumption is strictly along national lines. The Brits (Me, Sarah, Ben): crisps,
chocolate, maybe a sandwich; the Israeli (Efraim): vegetables; the German (Fred): a
fastidiously prepared lunchbox filled with items promoting good health. Avi has gone
over to St John's College and the Professor is on a lunchtime committee. Fred's young
twins give their daily call to dad; Ben rings to check all is ok with his toddler. I surf the
net looking at popular ... ahem, at Genizah related items. Ellis pops his head round the
corner, could we check his latest addition to the website?

After lunch, the guys might confer over an interesting manuscript. Perhaps Avi has found
another unknown fragment, or Ben has seen an interesting watermark or script type. Fred
and Efraim might be discussing the medical manuscripts they hope to publish. The
Professor will be buzzing around with a hundred tasks to complete before sundown. By
4 o'clock, Sarah has gone for the day and then come back for her keys and then back
again for her shoes. Shulie has gone home and Fred is off back to London in a while. The
day is drawing to a close: a reader comes in who's lost his way; a librarian drops by to ask
the Professor a question; the phone rings: a Japanese TV crew want to film
some manuscripts. Soon there are only a few of us left. The office is quiet apart from the
sound of typing. Five o'clock passes; I tidy my desk, unplug the kettle, and leave to the
soft tones of the Professor speaking into his dictaphone.


He'll be staying at least another hour yet.