Monday, August 24, 2015

The Aleppo Codex

The story of the Jewish people is one of wandering, exile and redemption. It is therefore not surprising that many items precious to Jewish life have followed similar paths. An excellent example is the Aleppo Codex.

The Aleppo Codex, which is also known as Keter Aram Soba (The Crown of Aleppo), was written in the 10th century. This reference tome contains both proper vowelling (a Torah scroll has no vowels) as well as the Masoretic cantillation marks of Aaron ben Asher, for the Tanach (Pentateuch, Prophets and Writings).

In the 11th century, the Codex was purchased by the Karaite community of Jerusalem. When the Crusaders conquered Jerusalem (1099) however, they held the holy works they had seized for ransom. Among these was the Aleppo Codex, the ransom for which was paid for by the Karaite community of Cairo. In Egypt, many respected scholars, including Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Rambam/Maimonides), consulted the Codex. It remained in Cairo until the 14th century, when it was brought to Aleppo, Syria and kept in a special cabinet in Aleppo’s Central Synagogue, where it remained for over 500 years.

Sadly, in 1947, rioters burned down the synagogue in protest of the United Nations agreement to partition Palestine. Ten years later, due to the great heroism of a Syrian Jewish cheese maker named Murad Faham, the Codex (which had mostly survived the fire) was smuggled to Jerusalem. In the holy city, it became the possession of the Ben Tzvi Institute. In the 1980s, it was put on display in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

While the Codex is now safe, its arrival in Israel was not without controversy. Some say that the Codex was never meant to go to the Institute but to the Syrian Jewish community in Jerusalem. Additionally, the Aleppo Codex is no longer complete. The Israel Museum has only 294 of the 487 pages (most of the Pentateuch is missing). While it was believed that the missing pages were destroyed in the fire, a few (very few) of the missing pages have since reappeared.

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