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Ben Ezra Synagouge

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In December 1896, Rabbi Solomon Schechter stepped into the attic of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Cairo, Egypt-and found the largest treasure trove of ancient and medieval manuscripts ever discovered: hundreds of thousands of documents, many more than 1,000 years old

Because Jewish law forbids the disposal of sacred texts, even when they're torn or unusable, Jews have either buried the texts in a cemetery or deposited them in a genizah (Hebrew for "storehouse"), a dedicated room usually in the attic or cellar of a synagogue. Many communities transport their old papers from the genizah to the cemetery and bury them every few years. Not only does this afford the documents a proper interment, it also prevents them from falling prey to the ravages of mold and insects.

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The exhibition sheds light on Egypt in the time between the pharaohs and the modern city, roughly 650–1170 AD, when the main population lived in the area known as Fustat, located in today’s southern Cairo. Fustat was established in 641 by the first Muslim ruler of Egypt, ‘Amr Ibn al-‘As. His administration included Christians, whose community was established there some 600 years before, and Jews, who had settlements in the Nile Valley for over a millennium. "So much is known about Fustat from written sources,” said Jack Green, chief curator of the Oriental Institute Museum. “This exhibit also presents some the material possessions of the community, providing insights into the everyday lives of the people who lived in this bustling city.” Visitors will explore how Old Cairo’s communities lived together and melded their traditions to create a multicultural society. The neighborhoods of Fustat were populated by people from a patchwork of religious and ethnic communities, including native Egyptians and immigrants from Arabia, North Africa, and other regions of the Middle East

The exhibition focuses on the three main religious communities—Muslims, Christians and Jews—whose members, living in “peaceful co-existence,” helped shape Old Cairo’s neighborhoods, markets and public places. With the help of Christian and Jewish officials, a Muslim governor headed the administration of Fustat—the commercial and financial capital of Egypt. For much of Fustat’s history, the people did not express their religion through distinctive clothes, food or occupations. However, the different languages (Arabic, Coptic and Hebrew) and major architectural landmarks, including the Ben Ezra Synagogue (one of several in Fustat), the church of St. George, Abu Serga and al-Mu’allaqa (the “Hanging Church”), and the mosques of ‘Amr and Ibn Tulun—all of which can still be visited today—served as reminders of the diversity of the population. The show reveals patterns of life in Fustat by exploring the topics of taxes, administration and industry, as well as more personal aspects of life, such as dining, leisure, family life and adornment.

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Seismic analysis and planning is part of ongoing archaeological site management and conservation. In the last few years there has been significant and detectable deterioration to some of the major monuments in old Cairo area, like Ben Ezra Synagogue or El-Geniza Synagogue or the Synagogue of the Levantines, calling for an even more intensive and thorough review of their problems and needs, due tone of the most potentially serious, sudden and unpredictable of threats, seismic activity and related earthquakes. Seismic ground response characteristics, defined generally as “site effects”, are inevitably reflected in seismic code provisions

The selection of appropriate elastic response spectra according to soil categories and seismic intensity is the simplest way to account for site effects both for engineering projects and for a general-purpose microzonation study. Contemporary seismic codes (IBC 2000, UBC97, EC8) have largely accepted the significant role of site effects and attempt to incorporate their influence either by means of a constant amplification factor exclusively dependent on the soil class or including additional parameters like the shaking intensity, near field conditions (Seeskin K., 2005). Even though concerning site classification different approaches exist, the basic idea of the mean value of shear wave velocity over the last few decades of meters (30 m or other) is considered to be a sound parameter for site classification. However soil classification exclusively based in terms of VS, 30 assumption, is a rather simplified hypothesis, misleading in many cases, which can potentially lead to erroneous results, especially in cases of deep soil formations or abrupt stiffness change between the soil layer at − 30 m and the bedrock laying deeper (Seed RB, 1991).

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Definitely, at the same time, most of Cairo’s Karaites gradually relocated to the 'Abassiya sector. Karaism is based on the Jewish Bible instead of the Rabbinic law that evolved from Talmudic literature. As such, the Karaite community adopted its own unique customs focusing on the Moshe Dar‛i Synagogue. Except for Ben Ezra and a few other exceptions, these Cairo synagogues lie empty and relatively unused except for an occasional holiday ceremony

The ARCE-funded survey is an initial step toward consideration for further restoration and other uses that reflect Cairo’s Jewish heritage and, more broadly, the role of this important minority in Arab and Muslim societies.

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Formisano A, Vaiano G, Fabbrocino F, Milani G. Seismic vulnerability of Italian masonry churches: The case of the Nativity of Blessed Virgin Mary in Stellata of Bondeno. J Build Eng. 2018;20:179–200. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jobe.2018.07.017.

Seeskin K. The Cambridge companion to Maimonides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press; 2005. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-521-81974-9.

Seed RB, Dickenson SE, Mok CM. Seismic response analysis of soft and deep cohesive sites: a brief summary of recent findings. In: Proceedings, CALTRANS first annual seismic response workshop, Sacramento, California; December 3–4, 1991.

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