The Friedberg Genizah Project

Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson

Former Member of Parliament
Professor of Jewish History and President Hebrew University

Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson is Professor of History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israel, whose principal research interest over the years has been the social and intellectual history of Medieval Jewry in Muslim lands from the 7th to the 14th centuries, with special emphasis on the unique characteristics distinguishing this society from other Jewish societies. He builds his historical picture upon a variety of sources, literary and legal as well as historical, and has worked extensively on collecting and deciphering fragments of manuscripts found in Cairo at the end of the 19th century (the Cairo Genizah) and now scattered in libraries the world over.

His major publications include: Jews in the Era of Transition - the Traditional World; the Jews of Sicily; The Rise of the Local Jewish Community in Muslim Lands.

Prof. Ben-Sasson earned his degrees at the Hebrew University, where he now teaches. He spent a post-doctoral year as a Rothschild Fellow at the Genizah Research Unit at Cambridge University, UK. He has been a visiting lecturer at the graduate schools of the Jewish Theological Seminary and Yeshiva University (both in New York). He was a fellow at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Jerusalem, and at the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania, and he spent time in St. Petersburg as a visiting research fellow at the Russian Academy of Sciences. Prof Ben-Sasson served as the chief academic officer for The Friedberg Genizah Project and chair of its academic steering committee.

In an administrative capacity, Prof. Ben-Sasson has served as vice-chairman of the Ben-Zvi Institute for Research of Oriental Jewish Communities and of the Misgav Yerushalayim Institute for Research of Oriental Jewry; as Deputy Dean of the Faculty of Humanities; as Chair of the Research Committee of the Faculty of Humanities, responsible for research and academic development. He has served as editor or member of the editorial board of several periodicals and publications, including Tarbiz, the Jewish Studies quarterly.

Prof. Ben-Sasson is involved in three major research projects: the first was an investigation into continuity and change among the Jews of Muslim lands during the tenth century, a period of crystallization of the medieval-Jewish book-shelf; the second looked into the Maimonidean clan’s leadership of the Jewish communities in the East (1140-1400); and inter-disciplinary research on models of making texts into canonical literature (based on group-work focused on the Genizah and compared with models of canonization in parallel fields).

In 1997, Prof. Ben-Sasson was awarded the Feher Prize for Jewish History, and the Ben-Zvi Prize for the Study of Jewish Heritage.

Prof. Menahem Ben-Sasson served as Rector of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem from 1997-2001 and was the chairman of the Ben-Zvi Institute for Research of Oriental Jewish Communities. In August 2005 he was elected President of the World Union for Jewish Studies. In March 2005 he was elected to the Knesset and appointed chairman of the constitution, law and justice committee.