Book Discussion: Sacred Trash
by David Stein
Read the review of this book in Reform Judaism magazine
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of The Cairo Geniza
by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole
When I am travelling I enjoy visiting flea markets and neighborhood garage sales hoping to find a local treasure from objects others deemed as trash. Even if I don’t find an artifact, the knowledge I have gained about the area, the people who live and have lived there is a treasure. Our lives are measured and described by the artifacts we leave behind. Artifacts, the treasures and garbage of our lives define us and give meaning to our daily existence. Through the objects we leave behind others must decode to learn about our lives.
Sacred Trash is a true mystery story of how our scholars found and decoded the meanings of objects left behind a thousand years ago in the Cairo Geniza. During the middle ages materials that were decaying or no longer useful were buried in special places, sacred ground, in synagogues. Prayer books, letters, diaries, letters, the hearts and souls of a people, materials that contained holy words and sacred ideas were left as an unintended gift for the future.Sacred Trash is a fascinating account, a true story of how these objects were found, sold, pieced together, studied debated, and discussed across at least one hundred years.
Sacred Trash is a story of how we as Jewish People recreate our lost histories and gain insight concerning Jewish life. From the artifacts we can connect to Jewish life as it was experienced socially, politically, intellectually and spiritually and perhaps find correlates to our own lives today. From the experiences of others we might gain insight about the meaning of living Jewishly today. Across the great divide of time we can talk with, laugh with, and pray with those who sleep in the dust of time. What can we learn about ourselves from the lives of the past?
Is this a Significant Jewish Book? I would recommend reading this book not only to learn about the culture of medieval North Africa Jewish Communities but to feel the excitement, the challenge, and the mystery of trying to recreate social, intellectual and religious practices of Jewish communities long lost. We are as a people the accumulated experiences of all came before us and all that might be. Our tradition teaches us that all generations were present when the Jewish People received the Torah. As Moses said” Not with you alone do I seal this covenant and this oath, but with whoever is here standing with us today before Hashem, our God, and with whoever is not here with us today.” (Deuteronomy 29:13). Sacred Trash might be said to represent another way to connect across the generations.