Thursday, March 22, 2007

Hoard your old books because you never know if you've got Yellin's Aleppo Codex Bible

Ari Kinsberg has a great post about the famed Bible of Rabbi Shalom Shachne Yellin (1790-1874) (via Ha'aretz.)

Rabbi Yellin was a Lithuanian expert in Tanakh (a "scroll checker") who emigrated to Israel in 1854 with the express purpose of traveling from there to Aleppo (Halab, Aram Soba), Syria in order to examine the Taj, the Crown, of Aleppo; the Aleppo Codex. His wish was to copy all the minute details of that famed text. He received for that purpose a letter of introduction from the prominent rabbanim of Jerusalem. And here it is (click to enlarge):

In any event, as fate would have it Rabbi Yellin was unable to make the trip due to ill health. Instead, ten years after the project was initiated, his son-in-law Yehoshua Kimchi made the trip, armed with a Tanakh belonging to his father-in-law and with detailed instructions he succeeded in noting all the notable details in the Keter. Evidently this Tanakh was consulted in Jerusalem until it disappeared in 1915.* It resurfaced in 1987 when Aleppo Codex scholar Yosef Opher learned that a house belonging to a family called Yellin was slated for demolition and that some old books from the attic could be purchased. A lightbulb went off in this keen Massoretic scholar's head, as the name "Yellin" should. He learned that, in fact, some books had been sold to a book store in Meah Shearim. At the book store he found his prize: Yellin's Tanakh with detailed notes!

Ofer returned the Tanakh to the family (who donated it the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem), who allowed him to study it and publish its readings.

Here is a page from this plain-looking but important Bible (click to enlarge):

The importance of this Tanakh is that most of the Pentateuch (and other portions) is presently missing in the Aleppo Codex. So a missing witness to the textual details (most importantly, the pesuchot and setummot) was recovered and was an added, much missed piece of the puzzle that is used to reconstruct the text of the Aleppo Codex as in, for example, the Keter Yerushalayim Bible.

As Ari says, never throw anything out!

(On the teacher of Yoseph Ofer, the late Massorete Rabbi Mordechai Breuer's acquisition of facsimiles of the Codex in a time when only insiders were given access, from Ha'aretz:

And then he managed to get hold of facsimiles of the Aleppo Codex. The circumstances are unclear even to his son and his student, Ofer. The son knows only that "the day Dad came home with a copy of the Aleppo Codex, he was acting like an accomplice to a crime." )

*A great article on this subject by a descendant, Tamar Yellin.

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