We collected a few greetings and well-wishes for the holiday that were found in the ancient Cairo Geniza
Even though it is not one of the biblical Jewish holidays, the festival of Chanukah held an important place for the Jews of medieval Cairo who wrote a majority of the documents in the Cairo Geniza. This famous collection of ancient Jewish manuscript fragments was originally stored in Cairo’s Ben Ezra synagogue. It contained around 300,000 items, some of them over a thousand years old.
The Geniza reveals that even in the Middle Ages, the Jews of Cairo (then known as Fustat) would send Chanukah letters and greetings to one another. One such greeting contained a variation of a well-known Chanukah blessing which is still in use today: “He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days and in this month, will perform miracles and wonders for us and for your people”. We have collected a few more greetings and wishes that can be found in the Cairo Geniza to share with you this holiday season.
One of these dates to the mid-11th century: an invitation sent by a man to an honored friend for a Chanukah event: “…that we shall meet tomorrow in the synagogue.” He added, “God will put the days of Chanukah upon him and all that he has, as a sign of good and a sign of blessing.”
Another fragment of a letter, written in Judeo-Arabic, reads, “Bada al-ayyam al-sharifa (During these honorable days), al-mukhtazah al-mahawdeh b-elnasim (well-known and recognized for miracles)…He who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time…”
It was a great sin to allow anyone to spend the holiday alone, without family. In a letter sent by a man by the name of Yosef to one of his relatives, he wrote: “V-ana akool anani etzel el-eichem alei el-Chanukah (and I say that I will come to you in honor of Chanukah).”
The first two letters are currently part of the Cambridge University collections – TS10J 14.9 & TS8J22.7. The third is located at the JTS Library- ENANS 2.5. The letter which mentions the Chanukah family visit is part of the Lewis-Gibson Collection, LIT2.140
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