Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Aleppo Codex and the Ownership of Tradition

The Torah belongs to all Jews and, indeed, to anyone who cares to learn and live its ways. But it is not transparent.  Copyists make errors.  Torah scrolls lack vowels, making pronunciation and meaning uncertain.

Matti Friedman’s new book The Aleppo Codex tells the story of the oldest and most authoritative text of the Bible from its origins in Tiberias around 930 to its present home in the Shrine in the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.  Its travails are those of the Jewish people—the striving for unity, uncertain life in exile, and the return to Zion that left unhealed wounds.

A thousand years ago, a newly invented system fixed vocalization and meaning for the Jewish people.  The scholars and grammarians of Tiberias, above all the Ben-Asher family, built on hundreds of years of scholarship to create a singular edition of all the books of the Bible.  One bound book of some 500 leaves stood above all the others, as if a crown.  Its value is beyond money.

The book was written in Tiberias, sojourned in Jerusalem until its capture by Crusaders, was ransomed, and went down to Egypt, where Maimonides consulted it when writing his Mishneh Torah.  From there it went to Aleppo, Syria, where it stayed for 600 years. There, Jews called it the Keter Aram Zova, the Crown of Aleppo.  The book reposed in the Great Synagogue in a safe under lock and key, becoming an object of veneration, invested with magical properties.  Outsiders were forbidden to gaze upon it. -- Alex Joffe, Jewish Ideas Daily

To read more, click here.

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