Tuesday, November 06, 2007
Aleppo Codex news
An eight-centimeter-square piece of the 1087-year-old Aleppo Codex will be given to a representative of the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Thursday, following 18 years during which Israeli scholars tried to retrieve it from businessman Sam Sabbagh.
Sabbagh salvaged the fragment from a burning synagogue in Aleppo, Syria in 1947.
Inscribed on both sides, it is one of the lost fragments of the codex, a copy of the Bible written in 920 C.E. in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya'a. The fragment Sabbagh had bears verses of Exodus chapter 8, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me..."
Sabbagh believed the small piece of parchment was his good luck charm for six decades. He was convinced that thanks to the parchment, which he kept with him always in a transparent plastic container, he had been saved from riots in his hometown of Aleppo during Israel's War of Independence, and he had managed to immigrate from Syria to the United States in 1968 and start a new life in Brooklyn and make a living. The charm was with him when he underwent complicated surgery.
Just two years ago, it completed its task, when Sabbagh passed away.
In 1987 Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, then head of the Ben Zvi Institute and now chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, went to the U.S. to obtain funding from a wealthy member of the Aleppo community, Steve Shalom, for an urgent restoration of the codex.
"While I was meeting with him, another member of the community came in and said that the codex had burned but that his brother Sam had a page. I asked for the brother's phone number and called him right away. He told me 'I won't give it to you under any circumstances. It has saved me from disaster.' I asked if at least I could photograph it, and he agreed."
Ben-Sasson says that since he found the fragment Sabbagh had, whenever he would give a lecture to Jews of the Aleppo community, he would ask them to find the missing pieces of the codex. "They bring me all kinds of manuscripts and charms but it was never that. I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help. The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong."
Read the rest (I also only posted excerpts, so read the whole article).
I just have to say that in my opinion Ben-Sasson was played:
"I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help."
As he said, "The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong." The community rabbis are also Aleppo Jews. A herem wouldn't help? I'll believe it if they tried it.
That said, the connection between them and the codex is strong, and deservedly so: they were excellent custodians of a most valuable manuscript for 600 years. It just happens to be that the safest and best place for it today is in the custody of Israel, so the fragments, if they exist, do need to be reunited with the rest of the codex. But the community should be respected for its relationship with the codex, so the solution is probably to continue to make the case and hopefully persuasion will lead to the recovery of whatever else might exist.
Hat tip goes to Ari, who always scoops me on these things!