Ben-Zvi Institute Calls for Return of Centuries-old Aleppo Codex Fragments

Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer
Anshel Pfeffer

Scholars at Yad Ben-Zvi research institute in Jerusalem have called on Jews around the world who originally come from Aleppo, Syria and may possess fragments of the ancient Aleppo Codex to turn them over to Israel.

The call came yesterday at an event marking the 60th anniversary of riots against the Jews in Aleppo during which most of the codex, the authoritative copy of the Hebrew Bible written in the 10th century, was lost.

The head of Yad Ben-Zvi's Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East, Prof. Yom Tov Asis, who witnessed the riots from the window of his Aleppo home when he was five years old, said yesterday: "We know for a fact that pages are being kept in various places in the world and we hope we can touch the hearts of those who are holding them."

The institute confirmed yesterday that talks are under way with former residents of Aleppo who are believed to be holding fragments of the texts, but declined to comment further so as not to jeopardize the negotiations. "This is the No. 1 asset of the Jewish people," Dr. Zvi Zameret, head of Yad Ben-Zvi said, "and I believe the Jewish people would do a great deal to have it back."

Zameret was speaking at a press conference at which was presented a fragment of the codex that was brought to Israel a few days ago. A report about the fragment was published a month ago in Haaretz. This is only the second such piece to come to Israel since the bulk of the codex arrived here mysteriously in 1958.

The Aleppo Codex was written in Tiberias almost 1,100 years ago, and is the most accepted version of the Hebrew Scriptures, also known as the Masoretic, or transmitted, text.

The codex was originally brought to Jerusalem in antiquity, then taken to Cairo, and eventually to Aleppo, where it remained for more than 600 years. When riots broke out in Aleppo in December 1947, following the declaration of the partition plan by the United Nations, Aleppo's synagogue was burned and the codex was thought to have been lost.

In 1958, about 60 percent of the pages of the codex were brought to Israel and brought to Yad Ben-Zvi. It is now on display at the Shrine of the Book in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The fragment shown yesterday, containing a portion of Exodus, had been held by the late businessman Sam Sabbagh, who immigrated to the United States. Sabbagh saw it as an amulet and would not part with it; however, his family agreed to donate it after his death.

Prof. Yossi Ofer of Bar-Ilan University said it was once believed that the 192 missing pages were mostly burned, but now it is thought that some were hidden in various places in Aleppo and others were taken by Jews who left Syria. Israel's second president, historian Yizhak Ben-Zvi, who founded the eponymous institute in 1947 (coincidently, Zameret told reporters, during the same week as the riots), mentions in his notes the names of those known to be in possession of the fragments, but all have denied it.



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