Amid the many treasures of the Cairo Genizah—a repository for discarded manuscripts in the Ben Ezra synagogue—is a letter from a young Jewish student who came to the Egyptian capital to study medicine. Like many of the documents in the Genizah, it is written in Judeo-Arabic, that is, Arabic in Hebrew letters. In the letter, addressed to the writer’s mother, he tells her that “the whole world is covered in blackness because of my absence from you.” He then recounts fulfilling his dream of meeting with the great sage Moses Maimonides (1138–1204), who referred him to study with “the elder al-Muwaffaq.” The Princeton Geniza Lab summarizes the rest of the document, and provides pictures of the original:
[The writer] hasn’t started his studies yet, because he has to sort out some family issue involving his brother and maternal aunt and large debts. When he does finally meet his teacher (al-Muwaffaq), he takes advantage of the meeting to ask about “the heat” that has been afflicting him.
Al-Muwaffaq palpates his pulse and inspects his urine and says, “What you have is not a fever (ḥummā)—it is merely a dryness (yabs) in your body. You should take barley gruel (khashk shaʿīr).” A woman named Umm Abū l-Riḍā runs into him and insists that he stay with her till he gets better, and she prepares the barley gruel for him. He gets better!