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Sunday, November 6, 2011

Codex of Aleppo

Crown of Aleppo
Hayim Tawil and Bernard Scheider, The Jewish Publication Society
May 12, 2010

The Crown of Aleppo the codex written in the Jewish town of Tiberias in the 10th century ad is considered the oldest surviving codex in existence. What exactly is a codex? A codex is written in book form and it has the entire biblical text along with pronunciation marks and how to sing the words. Such a codex is needed because the Torah used in synagogue is written on parchment in scroll form with now vowel or cantillation guides. The Codex was written by Aaron ben Asher and Scholar Ben Buya. Ben Buya wrote the text straight while Aaron wrote the vowel and cantillation marks. It was an interesting collusion as both were from different schools in Tiberias. Aaron came from the Ben Asher school as his name would suggest. Ben Buya came form another school and he was their star pupil. Tiberias at the time was the Jewish capital of Israel because the Romans and later Byzantine Christians would not allow them to live in Jerusalem. It was the Muslims who later allowed Jews back into Jerusalem.

Later persecutions and invasions by Mongolians and others would prompt the codex to be removed from Tiberias to Jerusalem, Ashkelon and later Fostat, Egypt. In Egypt the Codex was used by Rambam in his mishneh Torah. Later when he died and his son died, the grandson David Maimonides would move to Aleppo. It is believed that he brought the codex with him. How the Codex got to Aleppo is a mystery. Some people believe thieves brought it. In any case the Codex was there after 1492 definitely and was held in what was called "Elijah's Cave" behind an iron door and kept in a safe. Very few people were allowed to look at it and even then under guard and it was never allowed to leave the cave.

The Jews and the Codex lived safely in ALEPPO for many years. Political events and the Zionist enterprise in the Middle East lead to a deterioration the the Jewish position. This culminated in riots where in the entire Jewish quarter of Aleppo was destroyed. It is believed that people in authority collaborated with the rioters and assisted them in the endeavor. Fire truck came with benzene instead of water. Benzene is like gasoline. In this event the codex was believed to have been destroyed.

An interesting note about human relations, most Jews in Aleppo were non zionist and in fact many were anti Zionist. Why the Jews of Aleppo should suffer because of the Zionists is beyond me as they had nothing to do with it. Another interesting factor is that many Muslim neighbors risked their lives defending Jews or hiding Jews in order to protect them from the rioters. That speaks of a very noble character. Nazi thought and ideology was brought by a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, who wanted an Arab nationalism inclusive of Christians and Muslims but not Jews. This man brought over the antisemitic teachings and brown shirts.

Who and how the codex was speared total destruction is another mystery that has not been solved. There are seven different stories, however a man named Faham is central to all of them. He was also the one who brought the codex to Israel after 1957. After it's return to Israel where it is now housed in the "Shrine of the Book" More mystery and controversy were to follow. Most of the Aleppo community had been relocated to Israel at this point. Faham was told by Rabbi Tawil to bring the Codex to Israel and give it to someone who would properly care for it. It was given to Yitzhack Ben Tzvi. Members of the Aleppo community in Israel wanted it in their possession. Battle with the Bet Din raged.

Several pages were also missing. No one knows what happened. The codex was not damaged by fire and the pages were not carelessly ripped out as thieves of non Jews would do. It is believed for various reason members of the Aleppo Jewish community took them. Today the codex is housed in Jerusalem.

For a short book this one is really packed with great information. The authors give a great historical background to event that occur surrounding the codex. The author's also tell in detail the effort of the Jewish agency to remove with permission of the Aleppo community the codex to the safety of Jerusalem. Their arguments fell on deaf ears.

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