The Genizah at the House of Shepher A Novel

Tamar Yellin

St. Martin's Griffin



Trade Paperback

368 Pages



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Winner of the 2007 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (Jewish Book Council)
Winner of the 2006 Ribalow Prize (Hadassah Magazine)
Shortlisted for the 2006 Wingate Prize (Jewish Quarterly)

Shulamit Shepher pays one last visit to her grandparents' home in Jerusalem after a fateful discovery—a mysterious and valuable Torah manuscript that's been stashed away in the attic genizah, a depository for old or damaged sacred documents, has been uncovered. So begins a remarkable journey that spans four generations of the family Shepher, one that begs Shulamit to reconsider not only her ancestors' history and heritage but her own passions, faith, and choices for the future. The Genizah at the House of Shepher is a tale of love and loss, exile and belonging, tradition and myth.


Praise for The Genizah at the House of Shepher

"Assured, professional and profound . . . She's got a kind of Vermeer pitch to her work, just a quiet quality. This novel is beautifully crafted and combines all sorts of mythic and mundane themes and ideas in a very assured way."—Jewish Chronicle

"A Jewish-style Da Vinci Code saga . . . Rich in fascinating detail, typical wit and humor."—

"In Shulamit, debut author Tamar Yellin gives us a Jewish heroine for our time . . . Shepher is the Hebrew word for beauty. This stunning book has its proper name."—Bookpage

"Yellin's first novel is impossible to put down. Both genealogical history and treasure hunt, it is one of those books that winds the reader in gauzy layers of ancient and recent history, woven into confusing patterns but somehow not losing sight of each other. The protagonist, an independent and single biblical scholar named Shula, is deeply connected to her family's history but not especially interested in either her own present or future. Tracing her genealogy through four generations to her great-grandfather Shepher, she learns of his purported journey to unknown lands to seek the lost tribes of Israel. More than 100 years later, a codex—a very early copy of the five books of Moses—is found in the Shepher family home outside Jerusalem shortly before the building is slated for demolition. Shula returns to the house, site of family vacations throughout her childhood, to find the remaining family in tumult, unsure of what to do with this archaeological treasure. When a strange man arrives to beg Shula to give him the codex, she is torn between her disconnection from her living family and her desire to honor its ancient past, however improbable it might sound. Although Shula's personal life and inner struggles do not truly resolve themselves, the story of the codex and the Shepher family history are more than enough to pull this novel through with beauty, deep love, and a timelessness that will likely make it a classic."—Booklist (starred review)

"The history of the family Shepher is a ‘record of theft, domestic discord, mutual blame-laying and bad luck.' Despite that—or perhaps because of it—this British author's debut novel is warm and engrossing, rich with historical detail and unmet yearning. The discovery of a mysterious, handwritten volume of the Bible, apparently the property of biblical scholar Shulamit Shepher's great-grandfather, brings Shulamit from her home in England back to her family's small bungalow in Jerusalem. There, in an attempt to unravel the book's origins, she recounts her family's troubled history, beginning with her great-grandfather Shalom, who disappeared for two years and returned addlebrained and clutching this strange book, known thereafter only as the Codex. Shulamit has inherited her great-grandfather's scholarly interests, but not his traditional Jewish practice. Still, she welcomes the attentions of a religious zealot named Gideon Ben Gibreel—who seeks the Codex for reasons he won't reveal—even as she tries to decide whether the book is the key to reviving her academic career. More than anything, this wide-ranging novel is a meditation on the power of the Holy City, able to restore or shake the faith of whoever enters. As Shulamit notes, ‘Of all the cities of the world Jerusalem has one of the shabbiest gates of arrival, and coming or going one is greeted by graves.'"—Publishers Weekly

"In Yellin's debut, Shulamit, a British biblical scholar and daughter of a third-generation Jerusalemite, returns to Jerusalem to seek out her roots. A codex has been found in her grandparents' attic, a veritable genizah of documents from many generations of the family. Shulamit's investigation of the manuscripts illuminates the lives of her great-grandfather, who traveled to Babylon in search of the ten lost tribes of Israel. Her grandfather, meanwhile, was a follower of the Zionist principles inherent in what is now called political Zionism. The mystery of the codex is heightened when a stranger claims to be a descendant of the tribe of Dan, one of the ten lost tribes. Filled with myth, mystery, and history, this novel gives the flavor of Jerusalem neighborhoods through the modern era."—Molly Abramowitz, Library Journal

"A warmly portrayed, densely researched fictional history of a scattered Jewish clan migrated to Jerusalem. In alternating chapters, English-born biblical scholar and first-novelist Yellin brings the various threads of the Sepher family together through the story of the so-called Sepher Codex—a priceless 13th-century copy of the Five Books of Moses—supposedly smuggled into the Holy Land by great-grandfather Shalom and hidden in the family home's ‘genizah,' or attic, for decades. In the present, Shulamit Sepher, a 40-year-old unmarried English lecturer in biblical studies, has returned to Jerusalem to say goodbye to her family home at Kiriat Shoshan, run by aged Uncle Saul, before the house is torn down in the name of progress. She has spent many memorable summers in that house (‘a visiting child, pale and alien in [her] English skin'), accompanied by her brother Reuben, now an echt Englishman who, unlike her, does look back. Uncle Saul, however, assumes Shulamit has come for the Codex, and soon she learns how precious it is—when she's followed by a persistent, religious, and not unattractive fanatic who claims he's from the tribe of Dan and commissioned with the task of returning the Codex to its rightful owner. Meanwhile, great-grandfather Shalom's ancient history unravels: a corrector of scrolls by profession, he first leaves his home (and wife) in Vilna for Jerusalem in 1861, starts a new family, then eventually sets off for Babylon on a long search for the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. His story, with the history of the Codex, makes for a fascinating, labyrinthine journey, joined to the modern-day suspense surrounding the treasure's mysterious whereabouts. In the end, it all encapsulates in one family the history of the Jews from Moses' reception of the Torah on Mt. Sinai on through the Diaspora, culminating in the forging of the Zionist state—all via the pious adherence to the holy books. Cohesively combines the epic and personal sense of sorrow and nostalgia rooted in home."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Tamar Yellin

  • Tamar Yellin received the Pusey and Ellerton Prize for Biblical Hebrew from Oxford University and has worked as a teacher and lecturer in Judaism. She lives in Yorkshire, England.

  • Tamar Yellin




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