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Tel Aviv computer scans ancient documents

May 28, 2013 at 5:22 AM

TEL AVIV, Israel, May 28 (UPI) -- A Tel Aviv University computer is scanning fragments of the Cairo Geniza, documents reflecting Jewish life in Egypt since the ninth century, officials said.

The Cairo Geniza is a collection of about 320,000 fragments of parchment and paper documents including religious texts, contracts, recipes, magic amulets and letters, dating to the beginning of the ninth century, The Times of Israel said. The documents reflect the life of Jews in Egypt during that period.

Computer operators began scanning the fragments this month and will compare them to fragments held in more than five dozen libraries across the world to help researchers better understand the documents,

By the time the project ends June 25, the computer will have made 12 billion visual comparisons between pieces. Approximately 4,000 matches have been made in more than a century of research, the Times said.

"This is the first time the whole geniza has been available to researchers anytime, anywhere," Yaacov Choueka, the computer scientist in charge of the project told The Times of Israel.

Jewish law forbids throwing out documents that bear the name of God. For centuries, Cairo Jews stuffed such documents through a hole in the wall of the women's section of the Ben-Ezra synagogue where they were stored in a small room, known as geniza, the Hebrew word "to store." They were found by European scholars in 1896.

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