Photo Credit: Twitter screenshot
Employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority emptying the newly discovered genizah at the the al-Basatin Jewish cemetery in Cairo, March 2022.

A new genizah (archive) was found in the ancient Jewish cemetery in Cairo last month, and in recent days, according to a Reshet Bet radio report Thursday morning, employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority arrived at the scene and began emptying the genizah, ignoring opposition from the local Jewish community and without first conducting a thorough examination of the contents.

To remind you, the best-known genizah, famous for both its size and spectacular contents, was the Cairo genizah which was introduced to the Western world in 1864 by scholar and traveler Jacob Saphir and studied by Solomon Schechter, Jacob Mann, and Shelomo Dov Goitein. The Cairo genizah contained close to 280,000 Jewish manuscript fragments dating from 870 to the 19th century and informed about the religious, social, and economic history of Jews, especially in the Middle Ages.

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In recent years, members of the Jewish community in the Egyptian capital, with funding by private and government agencies in the United States, began cleaning and preserving what was left of the al-Basatin Jewish cemetery, which had been neglected for decades. Tons of garbage were removed and the wall surrounding the site was rebuilt.

In recent weeks, members of the Jewish community in Cairo have discovered a new genizah in one of the burial wards. According to a community source in Cairo who spoke to reporter Roi Kais, the collection includes documents and materials whose date is unknown, so it’s unclear whether the finds are from the last century or much older. This has enormous significance, and the treasure requires careful examination because if it is an ancient genizah, it has a very significant historical and cultural value.

A few days ago, employees of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority broke into the cemetery, having received information about the genizah, and began dumping its contents into dozens of plastic bags. They worked for 48 hours, ignoring the protests of the Jewish community who demanded that a Rabbi must oversee the removal.

The Cairo Jews contacted the US embassy, but so far nothing is known about the fate of the precious documents and artifacts. The community has stressed that it doesn’t want to remove the documents from Egypt, only to be involved in monitoring them to prevent damage. But so far, they have been ignored.

The incident takes place at a time when relations between Israel and Egypt are warming up. This week has seen the trilateral meeting of Prime Minister Bennett, Egyptian President al-Sisi, and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed, in Sharm el-Sheikh, followed by the resumption of flights between Ben Gurion Airport and Sharm el-Sheikh. The Jewish community in Cairo hopes that the issue would be raised by international media and cause the Egyptian authorities to change direction.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.