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Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex Hardcover – 15 Nov 2009

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21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
This is information people should know 7 Jun 2010
By Israel Drazin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Millions kiss the Torah scroll as it is taken around the synagogue during services, but do not know the history of the Torah text, why it is written in a scroll and not a book, why no vowels are allowed in the scroll, and are there scrolls that have some words with different spellings. This short well-written book answers many of these questions and dramatically tells the fascinating story of the composition of the earliest currently-existing copy of the Hebrew Bible, a volume composed as a book, called a codex, and not a scroll, in the ninth century.

The Torah was copied by hand and, because of human nature and despite careful examinations, errors crept into the text, mostly spelling differences. These small differences were noted and during the first millennium decisions had to be made which scrolls contain the correct wording and which had mistakes. A group of people called Masorites, a word meaning "traditionalists," worked on the Torah texts to determine the traditional or, more precisely, the correct wording.

The Masorites were biblical scholars and scribes who are generally thought to have lived in Israel between about the seventh and the early twelfth century. Masorites studied the wording and spelling of scriptural words and determined the correct Torah text. They also created vowel signs to facilitate the reading of the Torah and show how it should be read, vocalization signs to demonstrate how each term should be pronounced, and accentuation markings indicating how the text should be parsed and chanted. The Masorites also wrote thousands of notations concerning the proper spelling of biblical words, how frequently such spellings occurred and other characteristics of the text. Unfortunately, not all the Masorites agreed and their notations differ.

The most famous and most respected Masorite was Aharon ben Moshe ben Asher of the tenth century. He lived and worked in Tiberias in Israel. The city flourished until the arrival of the Crusaders in the early twelfth century, when it was destroyed.

Ben Asher is considered the creator of the Masoretic notes to the most authentic version of the Torah. Maimonides saw his codex - a codex is a book, in contrast to a scroll - and stated that it is the correct text of the Bible. Jewry accepted Maimonides' decision and the Ben Asher codex became the accepted version of the Torah. Other Torah manuscripts were compared with it to determine whether they were correct.

The manuscript was taken from Tiberias to Aleppo in Syria; therefore people named it the Aleppo Codex. Since the Jews of Aleppo called their city Aram Tzova, and since they considered the codex the "crown" of their city - crown is keter in Hebrew - they also called the Ben Asher codex Keter Aram Tzova. The Keter was placed in a box in the Aleppo synagogue for safekeeping.

Tragically, in 1947, because of the tensions leading up to the reestablishment of the State of Israel, which was founded in 1948, the Syrian government encouraged its citizens to destroy Jewish holy sites. The synagogue that housed the treasured Keter was burned and only parts of the codex were saved from destruction. The first and last parts of the Bible, as well as individual pages from the middle, including virtually all of the Pentateuch, were lost.

Scientists who examined the remains of the codex are convinced that the codex was not damaged by the fire. Thus it is possible that some people found the codex after the synagogue was destroyed and stole parts of it either to sell the fragments, because they felt that possession of parts of the codex would bring them luck, or for some other nefarious or foolish reason.

Tawil and Schneider describe the history of the codex from the time of its composition until now and tell many interesting additional facts in their book, such as the following. Was the scribe Shlomo ben Buya'a, who wrote the consonants in the Crown, and Aharon ben Asher, who added the Masoretic notes, Karaites and not rabbinically-minded Jews? What is the weird story of the involvement of the famous self-aggrandizing forger Abraham Firkovich, what are some of his adventures, and how was he involved with the Crown? How did the Aleppo community fail to preserve the codex properly during the more than 400 years (1478-1957) that it was in their possession and how did this negligence damage the book? Why was a famous Bible scholar mistakenly convinced that the Aleppo codex was not the one approved by Maimonides? Why did some misguided person change Maimonides' writing about the codex? How did Murad Faham rescue the codex while putting his life in danger by the Syrian government? How did the leaders of the Aleppo community persecute Faham, including instituting legal proceedings against him? What are the curious superstitions that surround the codex?

All in all, although the book is small, it contains a wealth of information that people kissing and otherwise extolling the Torah should know.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
Dramatic True Story of a Priceless Bible's Survival Will Interest All Readers 24 Jun 2010
By David Crumm - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This fascinating, illustrated book from the Jewish Publication Society will fascinate Jews and non-Jews as well. Illustrated with dozens of photos that bring this dramatic and mysterious history to life, "Crown of Aleppo" is a survival story about one of the world's most valuable Bibles.

This particular Bible was created more than 1,000 years ago and is widely believed to be the oldest Hebrew Bible in book form in the world. This particular Bible is called "Crown of Aleppo," because it was famous for centuries as a prized possession of the Jewish community in Aleppo, Syria. In the Medieval era, scholars from many parts of the world traveled to consult this book, which is often called the "Aleppo Codex," these days. The word "codex" is Latin for "book," a volume of bound pages as opposed to a scroll.

First, "Crown of Aleppo" is a dramatic story of cliff-hanger incidents as the priceless Bible nearly was lost in a tragic pogrom against Aleppo's Jewish community in late 1947. Families, businesses and the Great Synagogue all were targets of these deadly attacks. One report indicates the synagogue burned so intensely because it was assaulted by men spraying benzene, rather than water, on the flames. The blaze was so intense that it roared around the metal safe designed to protect the most valuable manuscripts. As news of the attacks spread around the world, most people assumed that the Crown was gone.

Miraculously, it seems, most of the Crown was saved. Hundreds of pages somehow survived the fire and were plucked from the debris. Many pages are gone. Some missing pages turned up later. The new book gives us various perspectives on what might have happened, including a number of first-hand accounts of what unfolded right after the fire.

In addition to the high drama, the book explains why the Crown was such a milestone in Hebrew Bible scholarship. Among other things, it is the earliest codex with a complex series of markings to show how the Hebrew should be pronounced and chanted. The famous Jewish teacher Maimonides may have personally studied this volume--but you'll have to read "Crown of Aleppo" to find out if that claim is true. The crossover interest among non-Jewish readers is pretty obvious. This new book not only shares a gripping story of survival and preservation, but it also explains a lot about how our modern Bibles were preserved through the millennia.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Recounts what scholarship, archaeology, and history have to say about the writing of The Crown 16 July 2010
By Midwest Book Review - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Hayim Tawil (professor of Hebrew Language and Literature, Yeshiva University) and lawyer and Biblical scholar Bernard Schneider present Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex, a scholarly study of the creation, history, and message of the Aleppo Codex, also known as "The Crown". Completed in the year 930, The Crown is the earliest known codex of the Hebrew Bible. Widely thought to be the one of the most accurate Masoretic biblical texts, The Crown is one of the most critical Biblical manuscripts of Jewish history. The Crown was thought lost when the Great Synagogue of Aleppo, Syria was burned in a 1947 pogrom, yet a notable portion of The Crown survived the pogrom fire and was transported to an unknown location, until it could eventually be moved to the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. "Crown of Aleppo" recounts what scholarship, archaeology, and history have to say about the writing of The Crown, who its authors must have been, how it has been passed down through the generations, and its (unfortunately incomplete) restoration after the 1947 catastrophe. A handful of black-and-white photographs as well as endnotes, a glossary, a bibliography and an index illustrate this thoughtful, methodical, and exhaustively researched analysis. "Crown of Aleppo" is an excellent supplement to Judaic Studies and college library shelves.
A Very Old Manuscript 6 Nov 2011
By S. Cranow - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
The Crown of Aleppo the codex written in the Jewish town of Tiberias in the 10th century ad is considered the oldest surviving codex in existence. What exactly is a codex? A codex is written in book form and it has the entire biblical text along with pronunciation marks and how to sing the words. Such a codex is needed because the Torah used in synagogue is written on parchment in scroll form with now vowel or cantillation guides. The Codex was written by Aaron ben Asher and Scholar Ben Buya. Ben Buya wrote the text straight while Aaron wrote the vowel and cantillation marks. It was an interesting collusion as both were from different schools in Tiberias. Aaron came from the Ben Asher school as his name would suggest. Ben Buya came form another school and he was their star pupil. Tiberias at the time was the Jewish capital of Israel because the Romans and later Byzantine Christians would not allow them to live in Jerusalem. It was the Muslims who later allowed Jews back into Jerusalem.

Later persecutions and invasions by Mongolians and others would prompt the codex to be removed from Tiberias to Jerusalem, Ashkelon and later Fostat, Egypt. In Egypt the Codex was used by Rambam in his mishneh Torah. Later when he died and his son died, the grandson David Maimonides would move to Aleppo. It is believed that he brought the codex with him. How the Codex got to Aleppo is a mystery. Some people believe thieves brought it. In any case the Codex was there after 1492 definitely and was held in what was called "Elijah's Cave" behind an iron door and kept in a safe. Very few people were allowed to look at it and even then under guard and it was never allowed to leave the cave.

The Jews and the Codex lived safely in ALEPPO for many years. Political events and the Zionist enterprise in the Middle East lead to a deterioration the the Jewish position. This culminated in riots where in the entire Jewish quarter of Aleppo was destroyed. It is believed that people in authority collaborated with the rioters and assisted them in the endeavor. Fire truck came with benzene instead of water. Benzene is like gasoline. In this event the codex was believed to have been destroyed.

An interesting note about human relations, most Jews in Aleppo were non zionist and in fact many were anti Zionist. Why the Jews of Aleppo should suffer because of the Zionists is beyond me as they had nothing to do with it. Another interesting factor is that many Muslim neighbors risked their lives defending Jews or hiding Jews in order to protect them from the rioters. That speaks of a very noble character. Nazi thought and ideology was brought by a member of the Greek Orthodox Church, who wanted an Arab nationalism inclusive of Christians and Muslims but not Jews. This man brought over the antisemitic teachings and brown shirts.

Who and how the codex was speared total destruction is another mystery that has not been solved. There are seven different stories, however a man named Faham is central to all of them. He was also the one who brought the codex to Israel after 1957. After it's return to Israel where it is now housed in the "Shrine of the Book" More mystery and controversy were to follow. Most of the Aleppo community had been relocated to Israel at this point. Faham was told by Rabbi Tawil to bring the Codex to Israel and give it to someone who would properly care for it. It was given to Yitzhack Ben Tzvi. Members of the Aleppo community in Israel wanted it in their possession. Battle with the Bet Din raged.

Several pages were also missing. No one knows what happened. The codex was not damaged by fire and the pages were not carelessly ripped out as thieves of non Jews would do. It is believed for various reason members of the Aleppo Jewish community took them. Today the codex is housed in Jerusalem.

For a short book this one is really packed with great information. The authors give a great historical background to event that occur surrounding the codex. The author's also tell in detail the effort of the Jewish agency to remove with permission of the Aleppo community the codex to the safety of Jerusalem. Their arguments fell on deaf ears.
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