Cairo Jews protest at Egypt’s seizure of second Geniza

The Egyptian Antiquities Authority has carried off a trove of historic Jewish texts from the Bassatine Jewish cemetery in Cairo, raising uproar in the Israeli press. The move is in line with Egypt’s policy of treating Jewish heritage as ‘national’ heritage. During preservation and renovation work at the Cairo Jewish cemetery at Bassatine, a second geniza* (repository of  documents bearing God’s name) was discovered in a burial plot belonging to the Mosseri family. What is interesting is that the current tiny local Jewish community, perhaps led by the Drop of Milk Association, has protested at the seizure of the geniza. This marks a change from the past: Magda Haroun, the community head, has acted as a stooge for the authorities, presiding over the shipping of Jewish libraries to the National Archives and refusing to back calls for Jewish access to community archives and records. She has even demanded that four Jewish-owned paintings in France be ‘returned’ to Egypt. (They have since been restituted to the owner’s descendants.) Report (Hebrew)  in JDN News (via Elder of Ziyon):
It is thought  that the Egyptian government was worried that the documents would be smuggled to Israel so they decided to grab them all now, against the wishes of the remaining Jews in Cairo, whose relatives might be mentioned in the collection.
It is not how old the Genizah is. No one has had the chance to study it yet. The Bassatine cemetery is the second oldest Jewish cemetery in the world, built in the ninth century. The burial plot for the Genizah belonged to the Mosseri family, who immigrated to Egypt from Italy in the 18th century.
Ahmed Gendy, an Egyptian professor of Jewish and Zionist Studies who has studied the famous medieval Cairo Genizah,  confirms that the Egyptian Antiquities Authority has been negligent in how they handled this priceless collection. When he would request an item from the Genizah to study, he said that they would bring them to him in cloth bags, where insects and humidity could damage them.
Nevertheless, he supports the antisemitic actions of the authority by invoking his own antisemitism:
What the members of the Egyptian Antiquities Authority did by transferring the contents of the discovered Genizah is right, from the reality of the first experience that witnessed the theft or sale of the contents of the ancient Genizah.
What the Jewish community did most likely was done in coordination with the Israeli authorities, in order to internationalize the issue, so that the international community and its institutions would pressure Egypt to implement what the members of the community want in Egypt, on the basis that what was discovered may be linked to Jewish families, and that they do not belong to the Egyptian government. But the fact that members of this sect live in Egypt, and hold Egyptian citizenship, makes the issue of their resorting to the American embassy in order to pressure Egypt on this issue reprehensible, and confirms what we mentioned earlier in another place about the Jews of their constant feeling of isolation and lack of belonging to the countries in which they live.
The community saw that the Egyptian authorities were stealing their property from their own cemetery and ignoring their protests, so they appealed to the Americans who were also working on fixing up the cemetery. This “expert” who understands how little the Egyptian Antiquities Authority cares about the preservation of priceless Jewish items says that this is proof of how Jews in Egypt aren’t really patriotic Egyptians.
As far as whether Israel has the right to these documents: the Egyptian Jewish community in Egypt is reportedly down to only three members, while there are over 50,000 Egyptian Jews in Israel. Tens of thousands of Egyptian Jews in Israel should have a large say on their own relatives’ possessions, especially when the Egyptian authorities’ interest in those items is more to keep them away from Jews than to benefit from them. As with priceless Jewish objects from Iraq and Yemen, it is disingenuous to say that the antisemites who drove out the ancient Jewish communities out of their countries should have the right to the possessions of those very people they expelled.
*The first  and most famous Geniza, now dispersed to Oxford, Cambridge and North America,  was discovered in the 19th century in the attic of the Ben Ezra synagogue and contains valuable texts dating back to medieval times.

 

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