A Jewel from the Crown

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

Jerusalem, Israel

Dates: Ongoing

It was celebrated as the “Crown of Aleppo.” The Aleppo Codex, a thousand- year-old copy of the Hebrew Bible, was created in about 930 C.E. and edited by Aharon Ben Asher, who was one of the Jewish sages in Tiberias known as the Masoretes.* With Ben Asher’s additions of vowel and vocalization markings, it became the textus receptus, or authoritative version of the Hebrew Bible—relied on by no less than Maimonides, the 12th-century expert on Jewish law and author of the Mishneh Torah.

After hundreds of years of tumultuous capture, ransom and travel, the codex somehow ended up in the Aleppo synagogue in Syria before the second half of the 15th century. There it acquired its name and remained until 1947, when the synagogue was attacked during anti-Jewish riots following the United Nations vote to create the modern State of Israel. The codex was literally slashed and burned, but some fragments were saved from the wreckage. The surviving 60 percent of the pages were eventually smuggled to Israel (all but a few pages of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, were lost). It is housed at the Shrine of the Book of the Israel Museum.

Visitors to Rescued from Fire: A Rare Remnant of the Aleppo Codex can now see another small fragment that was recently brought to light by a man named Shmuel Sabag, who lived in Aleppo and entered the synagogue right after the 1947 attack. He picked up a charred scrap of the codex and carried it with him in a plastic sleeve in his wallet (pictured above) until the day he died in 2003. His family then donated the fragment to the Ben-Zvi Institute (pictured post-conservation at right). The rare scrap contains text from Deuteronomy that describes the plagues in Egypt.




* See Yosef Ofer, “The Shattered Crown,” BAR, September/October 2008.

Posted in Exhibits/Events, Inscriptions.

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