Home Page‎ > ‎Blog‎ > ‎

The Aleppo Codex

posted Oct 17, 2016, 7:27 AM by David Mitchell
We hear a lot of tragic news from Aleppo these days. Some of you will know, tho, that the most perfect of all Hebrew Bible manuscripts, called the Aleppo Codex, spent most of its 1100 year life there. It was completed in Tiberias around 920 by the master of Masoretes, the Karaite Rabbi Aharon ben Moshe ben Asher. It was then taken as booty at the end of the 11th century, either by the Seljuks in 1097 or by the Franks in 1099. It was taken to Cairo where it redeemed at great cost by the Jews of Fayyum. There it was consulted my Rambam (Maimonides) who declared it the most perfect of all Bible texts. From Cairo it went to the Karaite synagogue in Aleppo, where it stayed about six hundred years, as a master copy for all the Jewish Bible manuscripts and eventually printed Bibles (Soncino, Bomberg) in all the world. But, in 1947, at the partition of Palestine, there were anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo. The synagogue was ransacked and the codex disappeared. But, after many twists and turns it reappeared in the land of Israel, an operation headed by Israel's then president, Yitzchak Ben-Zvi. He consigned the priceless manuscript to a group dedicated to its oversight, the Ben-Zvi Institute. You can now see it online at www.aleppocodex.org.
    Now here is the interesting bit. What you see online is only about two-thirds of the codex. The rest, including most of the Torat Moshe, is missing. The Weizmann Institute always maintained that it was ripped off and stolen during the Aleppo riots, but virtually none of the stolen fragments were ever recovered, despite rewards offered. But, over the last few years the Karaite community have been firing lawsuits against the Weizmann Institute. They maintain they have eye-witness testimony that the codex was complete when it arrived in the land of Israel, and they maintain that the missing portions disappeared under the oversight of the Ben-Zvi Institute's director, Meir Benayahu. Well, if you want the whole story you'll find it here: http://www.tabletmag.com/jewish-arts-and-culture/books/176903/aleppo-codex. But the good news is that, if this is so, the chances of finding the missing portions do not depend on ravaged lost pages being returned, but on police investigation to track where stolen pages were sold. There is therefore a good chance of them being intact and recoverable.