A collection of rare artifacts that gives a fuller sense of the once-thriving Jewish community on the Silk Road will be on display to the public for the first time as part of Life in Medieval Khorasan: A Genizah from the National Library of Israel at the State Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg.The exhibition, which opens September 11 in Russia, will include pieces from Israel’s Afghan genizah, which holds virtually the only original documentation about this Jewish community, as well as the region’s Islamic and Persian cultures prior to the Mongol invasions. A genizah is a repository for a Jewish community’s discarded texts, documents and ritual objects. The Mongol conquests took place during the 13th century, creating the vast Mongol Empire that covered large parts of Eurasia by 1300. Historians regard the Mongol devastation as one of the deadliest episodes in history. However, the documents provide a window into the day-to-day life, society and economy between the 11th and 13th centuries that existed along the Silk Road, the ancient highway that linked Europe and China at that time.The exhibition, curated by Anton Pritula, a leading researcher at the State Hermitage Museum’s Oriental Department, will also feature rare artifacts from the Hermitage’s collections.The exhibition is funded by Barbro and Bernard Osher and The David Berg Foundation.
The National Library of Israel's Afghan genizah holdings comprise nearly 300 pages and is considered perhaps the most important find of Hebrew manuscripts since the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls in the mid-20th century. The genizah acquisition was supported by the William Davidson Foundation and the Haim and Hanna Salomon Fund.Much of the collection comes from an archive of the 11th-century Abu Netzer family of Jewish traders living in and around the city of Bamyan, a once-bustling commercial center located on the Silk Road.One fragment represents the earliest evidence of a rabbinic text found in Persian-speaking lands to the east of the rabbinic centers of Babylonian. The collection, written in Persian, Arabic, Aramaic and Judeo-Persian, also includes legal documents, liturgy, poetry, texts of Jewish law, a historical chronicle and Biblical passages.Another portion of the collection contains documents dating from the early 13th century, chronicling the broader Islamic culture on the eve of the devastating Mongol conquests of 1221. This is the singular collection of primary sources from the time period.David Blumberg, chairman of the National Library of Israel board of directors, said that the exhibit is yet another example of “the timeless Jewish value of treasuring the power of texts to unify, educate and inspire.”