“Geniza 29”: A Letter by Rabbi Hanan’el

By: Rabbi Hanan'el ben Samuel al-Amshati

Collection ID





ca. 1200






Ink on Paper


7.5 × 5.2 × 1 in. (19 × 13.2 × 2.5 cm)

Exhibit Location

Not on View

This unique letter from the Cairo Geniza was written by Rabbi Hanan’el ben Samuel al-Amshati, a contemporary of the well-known Jewish sage Moshe ben Maimon, commonly known as Rambam or Maimonides. In fact, Hanan’el was not only his contemporary but also a student and eventual in-law of Maimonides. In this letter, Hanan’el discusses a much-debated topic within Judaism at the time, the study of Greek philosophy. Specifically, he asserts his opinion that Maimonides was one of the few individuals capable and pious enough to study the subject responsibly.

Created around 1200 by Rabbi Hanan’el ben Samuel al-Amshati, Egypt.[1] Acquired in 1899 by Eugen Mittwoch, Cairo, Egypt.[2] Privately purchased around 1980 in Jerusalem by David Sofer, London;[3] Privately purchased in 2017 by Green Collection, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Donated in 2017 to National Christian Foundation (later The Signatry), under the curatorial care of Museum of the Bible, Washington, DC.

Notes: [1] Paul B. Fenton was able to determine that Rabbi Hanan’el wrote this letter from his unique script style. For more information, see Fenton’s chapter “A Re-Discovered Description of Maimonides by a Contemporary” in Maimonidean Studies, vol. 5. [2] In his article “Ein Geniza-Fragment,” Mittwoch mentions his purchase of this fragment in Cairo in 1899 and states that it came from the geniza. [3] Acquisition documents explain that D. Sofer purchased the fragment from the Mittwoch family in Jerusalem around 1980. It is unclear, however, whether the manuscript remained solely in their possession from 1899, when Eugen Mittwoch purchased it, until the 1980s when Sofer purchased it. Fenton noted that sometime after Mittwoch had published his article, the manuscript “disappeared in the personal turmoil [Mittwoch] experienced” during the World Wars (“A Re-Discovered Description of Maimonides by a Contemporary,” 267–268).

Selected References:

Paul B. Fenton, “A Re-Discovered Description of Maimonides by a Contemporary,” Maimonidean Studies, vol. 5 (New York: Yeshiva University Press, 2008), 267–291.

Eugen Mittwoch, “Ein Geniza-Fragment,” Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgnelandischen Gesellschaft 57 (1903), 61–66.

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