Using the Index Cards: A Detailed Guide

From Oded Zinger, “Finding a Fragment in a Pile of Geniza: A Practical Guide to Collections, Editions, and Resources,” in Geniza Research in the Twenty-Fisrt Century, ed. Jessica Goldberg and Eve Krakowski, special issue of Jewish History 32:2–4 (2019)

Until the development of new digital tools, Goitein’s index cards provided the most extensive database for the study of the documentary Geniza. A true yekke, in his decades of Geniza study Goitein constructed a “laboratory” (as he called it) that included, besides his already-mentioned typed texts, over twenty-seven thousand index cards. When Goitein died in 1985, his papers were sent to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, where his laboratory can be accessed today. Before they were sent, however, the contents of its twenty-six drawers were photographed in Princeton, resulting in thirty microfilm rolls. Recently, digital pdf copies of these microfilm rolls have been circulating among scholars of the documentary Geniza. Because this laboratory constitutes the best semiavailable database for the documentary Geniza and some guidance is needed before it can be used efficiently, a few orientation tips are given here in the hope that this resource will be made available online.

The best way to get acquainted with Goitein’s index cards is just to dive right in. One quickly learns to read his hand in Hebrew, English, and Arabic, and most of the abbreviations used should not pose particular difficulty. It is, however, important to keep in mind that, reflecting the trajectory of Goitein’s study of the Geniza, there are often two sets of cards for a given subject, one general and one related to the India Book.

This is the index card for the אבן אלגאזפיני (Ibn/Ben al-Ghāzfīınī) family of cantors, roll 19, 154, drawer 20 (10C), 523. Goitein recorded nine documents (an additional document is noted on the back of the card) with a short description, noted where one of them was published, and proposed a dating for two others. Notice how the card reflects his ponderings over completing a lacuna in one of the documents and over the meaning of the family name (based on place, based on occupation, a November 30, 1969, letter from the biblical archaeologist Abraham Biran, and references to the geographic dictionaries of Yāqūt [= yaq] and Ibn Duqmaq [= Duq] and Ibn al-Ukhuwwa’s maʿālim al-qurba fī aḥkām al-ḥisba). Incidentally, the reference to ENA 2738.12 is a mistake for ENA 2738.22.

Goitein’s index cards can be divided into two general types: those that focus on a specific topic (children, clothing, family, food, weather, etc.) and those that serve as research tools for the study of the Geniza.