The Aleppo Codex

Written by Matti Friedman
Review by Ann Chamberlin

A codex called the Crown begins life in 930 AD Tiberius at the hand of a rabbinical scribe. It is masoretic, meaning it includes all the points and vowels that indicate exactly how the usually unpointed text of a Torah scroll is meant to be read. The Crown escapes the Crusaders’ siege of Jerusalem, spends time in Cairo where Maimonides uses it as a research tool, then finds its way to a crypt in the ancient synagogue of Aleppo, Syria. Here it stays, treasure and talisman of the Aleppene community, until the birth of the new state of Israel triggers Arab-on-Jewish riots. The Crown manages to survive the burning of the synagogue, but now comes the real mystery and then tragedy. An aggressive policy of Ashkenazi and western-educated Jewish prejudice disinherits immigrant Sephardic communities of their dignity and ancient manuscripts in the name of the modern state and “scholarship”.

This tale is not faith promoting, either in scholarship or in the Israeli state, so I wouldn’t recommend it to people who come to tales of vanished manuscripts for those purposes. Nor is the codex something as earth-shattering as, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls which can command a broader audience–although the tale certainly deserves to be known.