The Keter Aram Tzova has been digitized in very high quality at www.aleppocodex. org. There is a zoom feature that allows for high definition reading.

Summarized correspondence from Rabbi Doctor Professor Penkower,

(1) In his article: "maimonides and the aleppo codex," in textus (a journal

from the hebrew university) 9 (1981), and in his book: "nusah hatorah" etc.

(from bar-ilan university press, ramat gan 1992), Professor Penkower proves conclusively

that Maimondes relied on the Aleppo Codex when writing his hilkhot Sefer

Torah, and when writing his own Sefer Torah (i.e. concerning the

paragraphing = petuhot usetumot; the songs, and the text).

Concerning the songs: he proved it concerning Exodus 15 (see his book), and

Prof. M Goshen-Gottstein showed it concerning Deut 32 (see textus, vol. 1).

in his above writings, he showed that the problems raised by Cassuto were in

fact --no problems at all.

(2) Academic books are printed in limited numbers; the books are not always

reprinted. His book has sold out. .

(3) In his book, he shows conclusively that Breuer's conjecture that the

Yemenites follow the Aleppo Codex in the Torah is correct. (based on this

conjecture Breuer edited the Torah in his Bible edition [mossad harav kook,

e.g. jerusalem 1993, 3rd edition] based on the Yemenite tradition -

vis-a-vis the text, paragraphing and the songs).

Similarly in his other bible edition published by horev, jerusalem ca.1997.

(4) Thus, if you want to see what the Aleppo codex looked like in the torah

(concerning text, paragraphing and songs), you can simply look at Yemenite

Torah scrolls, or alternately at the torah in Breuer's bible editions. (the

question of vowels and accents is another story). On the handful of minor

variants between Breuer and the Aleppo codex, see Professor Penkower's book (the chapter on

the yemenite mss).

(5) Professor Menachem Cohen --in mikraot gedolot haketer-- mostly follows Breuer concerning

text, paragraphing and sections; however he differs in certain details

concerning vowels and accents. Cohen has written about this in his

introduction to the volumes of Joshua and Kings.

As to the torah, Cohen so far has published Genesis; Exodus is in press.

(he has published several other volumes in the series: Josh-Kings; Isaiah;

Ezekiel. Psalms is in the press).

that's it in a nutshell. for the rest you'll have to read the literature!

He pointed out that we should realize that the differences between the Yemenite torah scrolls

and the Ashkenazi torah scrolls are really minimal - almost all are but a

handful or two of plene-defective variants (usually whether to spell with

a yod/waw or without). there is also the variant of the layout of ex 15:19,

and 2 differences concerning the paragraphs (lev 7:22,28).

It is doubtful that the Ashkenazim would change the details in their current scrolls

(which themselves have undergone changes already, but that's another long

discussion which you'll be able to read in my his next book!).

In any case, the Yemenites are faithfully following Maimonides in their

Torah scrolls (except for minor variants that I mentioned in my book), who

reflects the aleppo codex.


(1) m.d. cassuto was the well-known bible professor (of italian origin)

from hebrew university. he went to aleppo, syria in 1943 to check the

aleppo codex (he wanted to bring it back to jerusalem, but the community

wouldn't agree to that).

(2) cassuto was able to see the codex for about 4 days. he wrote down

various notes based on his inspection of the codex; mostly about details

of the vocalization in the pentateuch (which no longer survives). ofer

edited these lists (and published them in the breuer jubilee volume). they

are currently the only witness to these details (=of vocalization) in the

codex (which has not survived in the pentateuch, except the last few

chapters in deuteronomy).

(3) concerning other details, e.g. the paragraphing and the layout of the

songs, cassuto thought he found contradictions between the aleppo codex and

maimonides hilkhot sefer torah. therefore, he concluded that maimonides did

not repy on the aleppo codex.

(3) however, as goshen-gottstein and as penkower have shown (see textus 1,

textus 9, and penkower's book), cassuto was mistaken. there are no

contradictions at all. the reason cassuto erred was that he used the

printed text of maimonides' code - which it turns out does NOT reflect the

orginal text of maimonides' code! the original text of maimonides' code is

found in MS oxford, bodleian 577 (which has a note at the end by maimonides

himself: corrected from my own copy, moses ben maimon).

the original text of maimonides' hilkhot sefer torah, as found in the

oxford MS (edited by N Rabinovitch, in his edition of maimonides' code) -

as well as in the yemenite MSS of maimonides' code (edited by Y. Kapah, in

his edition of the code), show conclusively that there are no

contradictions between maimonides and

the aleppo codex.

on the contrary, penkower has shown that there is a unique correspondence

between maimonides and the aleppo codex in the sections, and goshen has

shown the same concerning the song in deut 32. penkower has also shown that

maimonides and the aleppo codex agree in the song of exodus 15 (even

though the prevelant printed editions have the wrong text of maimonides

here, too!).

(4) all of the above show that maimonides relied on the aleppo codex when

writing his hilkhot sefer torah and writing his torah scroll.

for more details see the article by goshen-gottstein, and the article and

book by penkower.

that's it.



Site Admin. Comments: It appears that the Saadia Gaon was 100% in favor of the Ben Naftali text over the Ben Asher text (Lipschutz, Textus, 4 , 1964, 9)--although I am unable to verify this at the current time. RMb"M (Maimonides) relied upon the Ben Asher text and mentioned it by name. The Ramifications of his endorsement should not be understated. And as Ginsburg says in his 'Intro To The Massoretico-Critical Edition of the Hebrew Bible': " BA (the Ben Asher Text) received greater recognition.... the final decision in favor of BA came only at the end of the 12th century." Although I think Ginsburg's point here was to minimize the authority of the BA by pointing out its so-called late acceptance, it (in fact) does the opposite. But the endorsement of Maimonides is strong enough for me.

---------------------------------------------------------------------- Date: Thu, 13 Jan 1994 15:37:47 EST From: (Mechy Frankel) Subject: Ben Asher, Marc, and Masora. As a sometime Baal Korei with an overfondness for chataf patachs (I slavishly follow Koren, which intermittently occasions some amusing scenes when I lein), I appreciated Marc Shapiro's posting in Vol 10 #99 on the Differences between Yemenite and other Sifrei Torah, (as a completely objective observer, I also liked very much and recommend highly the posting on same subject in Vol 10 #52 by Shlomit and Benjamin Edinger) and would like to thank him for raising this interesting topic. In his letter Marc asserts, inter alia, a) that Jordan Penkower has made an "amazing discovery" which b) now allows us to "know without any doubt" what RMb"M's Sefer Torah looked like. c) that Ben Asher's text was the "most perfect" example of what the Tiberians were trying to achieve and that all subsequent Torah texts were attempts to recreate this perfection, and d) when word of this scientific advance ultimately seeps onto the playing field of poskim, the halachic consequences are clear, they should fortwith correct all Sifrei Torah in accordance with this new appreciation (though Marc expresses pessimism that they will act on it). Since I believe that not one of the above assertions is true, I offer the following remarks, dealing with each point, seriatim. 1) First some background. The RMb"M (Hilchot Sefer Torah, Ch. 8) indeed cites the Torah text of Ben Asher, then located in Egypt and previously in Jerusalem, as being particularly reliable ("hacol somchin alav") and one which he, RMb"M, used as a template to correct other Sifrei Torah (not that a codex is a Torah scroll). This reliability stems from the fact that Ben Asher - not further identified, but clearly a Masorete of high repute - went over it and corrected it many times. (hmm - what if he'd gone over it one more time?) More background, important for discussion in some of the following: a) There are very early, yet differing in important details, manuscript versions of the RMb"M's MishneTorah extant. b) The original Keter is no longer completely extant. 2) Unless Marc is referring to something more recent, the Penkower work I've seen is summarized in a lengthy article "Maimonides and the Aleppo Codex" (Textus, 1981) where Penkower does indeed make the argument that the Aleppo Codex (or "Keter Aram Tsovah") is the very same document that RMb"M used to correct Sifrei Torah and which the RMb"M attributed to Ben Asher. 3) Penkower's discovery, or"proof", is as follows. In Hilchot Sefer Torah, the RMb"M provides a sufficient level of description in two separate areas which allow detailed comparisons between his text and others to be made. One area is the detailed Maimonidian list in Ch. 8 of pesuchos and sesumos ("open" or "closed" sections, i.e. Torah sections preceeded by a blank space starting at beginning or middle of lines), the other is in the arrangement of the "Shira" portions (especially parshas Ha'azinu) on the klaph (e.g. the number of lines, how to handle the preceeding and following narrative words). Penkower provides a demonstration that ONLY the Keter Aram Tzovah, of all available codices, conforms uniquely to the full list and pattern of pesuchos and sesumos as enumerated in the Mishne Torah, Ch. 8, H.4. 4) My first problem is with the assertion that Penkower has made an amazing new discovery. As Penkower himself notes, he is only supplying the second part of a proof already developed by an earlier researcher, Prof. Moshe Goshen-Gottstein (GG) (Textus, 1960). GG had already demonstrated the unique conformance of the Keter Aram Tsovah with RMb"M's description of the Ben Asher arrangement of shirim (Textus, 1960). Thus pride of precedence (which is a blood sport, or at least a fighting issue, in academic circles) ought be given to GG, as Penkower himself is always careful to aknowledge. 5) To be sure, not everyone accepted G-G's proof from arrangements of the Shira portions, but then neither is Penkower's proof free from all objections. a) In the most four critical points of comparison between Ben Asher and the RMb"M's list, the Keter Aram Tsovah is no longer extant, forcing Penkower to rely on secondary (and contradictory) source descriptions to reconstruct the original text. The potential for scholarly dispute here is self-evident. Some detailed examples/possibilities are provided in the following. b)There are certain ambiguities in the RMb"M's formulation of open and closed sections due to the RMb"M's custom of only listing the lead word of each section, causing confusion when there were two similar words in close proximity, and leading to variants in manuscripts of the RMb"M's Code. There are at least four such sections where Penkower is forced to make choices in ancient machlokesim (e.g. between Rabainu HaMeiri and Hagahot Maimuniot on one hand and R. Y. Karo (Keseph Mishna) on the other, re the RMb"M's original girsah concerning a section start at Vayikra 22:7), to choose between differing manuscript versions of the Mishne Torah, and to pick and choose between ancient Torah scrolls, which had all been accorded a reputation for precision in antiquity yet differ from each other. Sometimes the same source (e.g. Ramah's (R. Aboulafia) early Torah scroll) is cited as a positive validation of a Penkower choice or ignored when in disagreement. c) While Penkower adduces scholarly arguments to support his choices others may find room to differ. e.g. Penkower dismisses the Tikkun Soferim of Cracow as a non-Ben Asher style text because he found two spelling differences (extra "yud" or "vav") and because it contains two different sectional arrangements. However these sectional differences are precisely amongst the four under dispute which Penkower is endeavouring to prove on the basis of other manuscripts. Absent the wo minor spelling differences (scribal error?) and we would have an additional documentery anti-proof to Penkower's thesis. Moreover, Penkower's assessment leaves us with no decent explanation for the appendage of the Ben Asher colophon to this Tikkun, which naively would indicate that SOMEBODY(s) back when thought it was a Ben Asher text. d) I'm not knocking any of this - it seems like a fine piece of scholarship, but I would bet my socks (o.k., your socks) that somebody else will, or has, that being the nature of the academic enterprise and the leave-no-random-thought-fragment-unpublished pursuit of tenure. Thus Marc's claim of proof "beyond any doubt" is highly subjective and, it seems to me, much too heavy a load for the evidence to bear. Again, I'm not actually disputing Penkower's thesis, just pointing out the potential for doing so. 5) My next problems are with Marc's repeated references to THE Tiberian masoretic text in its most perfect form, which he identifies as the Ben Asher text. While it is undoubtedtly true that the Ben Asher text was and is highly revered (the RMb"M's plug didn't hurt here), there was NEVER a single perfect Tiberian masoretic text, of which Ben Asher recorded the most precise copy - rather there were many people engaged in the masoretic enterprise, who produced different texts which might disagree here and there with Ben Asher, not because they didn't "achieve" what Ben Asher did manage to achieve, or because they weren't as "exact" or careful, but because they had a variant shita. (The Rema's comment on Yoreh Deah 275 is highly relevant here.) The immediate primacy of any Ben Asher version over all others was also, despite the RMb"M's clear position, not a universal given (see below). 6) The suggestion that the halachic consequences of a definite reconstruction of the RMb"M's text are clear, is also not self-evident. While the RMb"M relied on this single authoritative volume, there were, and are, other halachic approaches, most notably the dependance on "Rove" (majority). Thus R. Meier Abulafia in Massoret Seyag LaTorah decided variant Pentateuchal spellings on the basis of "Rove" of reliable (in his assessment) manuscripts. So too the Rasba in a responsum quoted by Penkower. There is no evidence at all to indicate that these were "bideved" pasaqs, fallbacks necessitated in the absence of having the one "real thing" (i.e the Ben Asher version). On the contrary, this approach has venerable roots, as the tradition of the three (differing) Torah scrolls in the Bais Mikdash (Soferim 6) providing the basis for a majority decision. In this regard the Tshuva of the MaHari Mintz, (Simon 8) (partially quoted by the Shach in Yoreh Deah 275) indicating that not only the Ben Asher version was considered authentic by Halakha is particularly relevant. 7) The situation is yet further complicated if one wishes to adduce other "modern" scholarly perspectives to the debate. e.g. Z. Site Admin.'s claim that even the RMb"M didn't follow the ben Asher text for everything, but ONLY for the pattern of pesuchos and sesumos. Of course, you don't have to accept this notion (I don't), but it does indicate how still muddy are the "scientific" waters. It should also be mentioned that there are/were modern scholars who disputed the identification of the Aleppo Codex with the RMb"M's ben Asher text. Cassutto (who travelled to Aleppo to personally examine the Codex) was one prominent example. (Penkower dismisses Cassutto's opposition by his claim that the mss. Cassutto relied on were defective. This is, of course, debatable.) 8) I believe that Marc's suggestion is moot in any event, since, biavanoseinu harabim, after surviving for a millenium, the complete Aleppo Codex is no longer extant. Any reconstruction, is just that - a reconstruction and thus potentially fraught with all the scholarly machlokesim endemic to that contentious class. 9) For completeness it should also be mentioned that the current "scientific" appreciation of the Aleppo Codex as being the actual Ben Asher text of the RMb"M has in fact been the accepted kabbalah amongst most Chachamim who have involved themselves in such matters for a very long time now. Thus Penkower's work is not something that might be expected to catch them as a bolt from the blue. In fact, many Chachamim over the centuries have visited and inspected the Aleppo Codex in Aleppo (other names - Aram Tzovah, Cheleb), e.g. In the last century R. Shmuel Salant is supposed to have maintained custody of just such an Aleppo corrected copy (commissioned by the Rabbaney Yerushalaim from a Sofer sent to Aleppo) while a copy of this copy was then sent to Brisk. It is thus not self-evident that we have achieved "that which the "Remah was unable to achieve" It is also unclear that poskim would give greater weight to a modern scholar's deductions than to received and venerated traditions. Thus, in this instance, there may be no incremental value - from a posek's perspective - to Penkower's "revelations". 10) Finally, scholarship can be a multi-edged sword, and just to muddy the waters yet further, I will close with a hypothetical question for Marc. What if our modern scholars "definitively prove" that Ben Asher was a Karaite? (This is a serious question There is in fact "al mah lismoch" strong evidence to support such an assertion). How should/would such "scholarly" testimony be weighed against the accepted tradition that Ben Asher was a great (jewish) sage? While some poskim might regard this (hypothetical) datum tidbit as irrelevant, others could be expected to take it seriously indeed, - as they have in other situations where ne'emanus is a significant factor. Would you, by the very same arguments, expect these poskim henceforth REJECT any ben Asher related textual decisions in favor of variants, since the ben Asher decisions are the tainted fruit of a poisoned tree? Might we expect an MJ posting urging correction of Torah texts in a manner exactly opposed to the original suggestion? Of course nobody expects any such thing to happen but it does illustrate that in pasaq things are rarely black and white, which is why we tend to leave it to the pros, while kibitzing full speed from the sidelines. Mechy Frankel W: (703) 325-1277


JPOST: The True Torah?
By Robby Berman
(January 19) - The 1,000-year-old Aleppo Codex raises questions about what is the most accurate version of the Hebrew Scriptures.

Excommunication. It is rare. And although British-born Dovid Yitzchaki wasn't subjected to the bell, book and candle, he came closer to it than he would have liked. Rabbi Yitzchaki's sole occupation is the study of Torah. He has 10 children, dresses in black garb, and lives in Bnei Brak.

Yet for some people he's not kosher and to understand why requires a little patience.

The story starts 1,100 years ago, but we will begin in 1958. That was the year a Jew risked his life to smuggle an ancient Hebrew manuscript out of Aleppo, Syria, into Turkey. He made his way to Israel where he delivered it to Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, the president of the young state. Ben-Zvi noticed that whole sections of the ancient book were missing and ordered the Mossad to retrieve them. The Mossad was unsuccessful, but where they failed, Bible scholars succeeded.

That ancient manuscript was the Bible. Not just any hand-written copy of the Bible, but - according to many - the most accurate version of the Hebrew scriptures in existence. "The Aleppo Codex is one of the most important documents in Jewish history," says Prof. Menachem Cohen, head of the Aleppo Codex restoration project at Bar-Ilan University.

This fall, Bar-Ilan published a new edition of Genesis according to the Aleppo manuscript (also known as Keter Aram Tsova), and not everyone is happy about the achievement. While there are no significant differences between the 24 canonized books of the Hebrew Bible and those of the Aleppo manuscript (the narration and the commandments are the same), there are differences of thousands of silent letters, musical cantillations, vowels and page layout. Enough to ruffle the hairs under more than a few kippot in the Orthodox Jewish community which traditionally believes that every letter, jot and tittle of the Torah we read today is identical to those that were transmitted to Moses at Mount Sinai.

But where does the Aleppo Codex draw its authority? The codex (Latin for book), written in 910 in Tiberias, was produced under the direct supervision of the famous scholar Aaron ben Moses Ben-Asher. Ben-Asher came from a long line of scholarly scribes world-renowned for their diligence in counting and cross-checking every letter of the scriptures to ensure accuracy.

Until the codex, Bible books were written separately; this manuscript contained all 24 books of the Hebrew Bible. The Ben-Asher text was used by scribes who wanted to write a copy of a Torah scroll. For practical reasons, it is much easier to copy from a book than a scroll: The former allows a scribe to quickly flip to a desired page, with the latter he has to roll it. Books are also cheaper to make because both sides of the page are used.

This Ben-Asher book eventually made its way to Cairo, where the great theologian Maimonides copied from it when he wrote his own Torah scroll. (It is a biblical injunction for every Jew to write a Torah.) And, in Maimonides' magnum opus of Jewish legal writings, he attests that this book is the most authentically accurate manuscript of the Bible.

It is believed that sometime in the 13th century, the great-great-grandson of Maimonides brought the book to Aleppo, where it remained in the main synagogue under lock and key.

In December 1947, after the United Nations voted for partition and to create Israel, the Arabs of Aleppo rioted, destroying the synagogue where the codex was kept. Two thirds of the book survived (there are at least nine different accounts as to who salvaged it) and it remained hidden in the Jewish community until 1958. Mordechai Facham then smuggled it into Israel, where it can be seen on exhibit in the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The codex reached Israel sans the first four and a half books of the Pentateuch, as well as a few books of Writings, the third section of the Bible. The surviving pages were not singed, making it unlikely that the missing pages were burned. It remains a mystery whether the missing sections were destroyed in the rioting or subsequently stolen. And if it was stolen, by whom? Arabs or Jews?

Indeed, in 1981, an Aleppo-born Jew living in Brooklyn died; among her possessions was a page from the Aleppo Codex.

In 1994, with the codex in hand and books of the Prophets intact, Yitzchaki, with the help of a scribe, printed a new addition of the Prophets. Rabbi Avraham Yitzchok Hoffman, an American-born haredi residing in Mea She'arim, was outraged. He claims that changing even one letter of the canonized text is heresy. Hoffman galvanized haredi leaders to condemn Yitzchaki and he plastered broadsides throughout Jerusalem denouncing the publication and its editor.

Yitzchaki claims that although Hoffman lives in Mea She'arim he does not speak ex cathedra and, he asserts, Hoffman had misled rabbinic leaders about the importance of the codex. "When I explain to these rabbis the context in which the codex was created, they back down and even support my work," says Yitzchaki

Hoffman disparagingly refers to the Aleppo Codex as a "new archaeological find" and insists that Jews must adhere to the 13 principles of faith as dictated by Maimonides. He is referring specifically to the eighth principle, commonly understood to mean that every letter and dot, no matter how small, is of Divine origin. Indeed, in Orthodox synagogues, if a reader of the Torah makes the most minor of mistakes (which is easy to do since Torah scrolls contain no vowels), the congregants shout the correct version at him until he reads it correctly.

The irony is that Maimonides himself gave currency to the codex. It is, in fact, the Bible of today that differs from Maimonides' edition a millennium ago.

Although there exist various biblical codices containing textual variations, Orthodox Jews are typically exposed to only one unified text. The reason is simple: with the invention of movable type in the 15th century, printed Bibles became uniform.

In Venice, circa 1524, a Tunisian scholar named Ya'acov Ben-Hhaim used the printing press to produce an edition of all 24 books of the canonized Bible, the first of its kind. With its inclusion of famous Bible commentators such as RaShY and Ibn Ezra, the Mikraot Gedolot Edition, as it became to be known, was accepted as the definitive and authoritative Torah text. After another printing in Warsaw, it became the standard for Orthodox communities.

There is just one problem: the Mikraot Gedolot is highly inaccurate. Of that edition, the Five Books of Moses, the Prophets and the Writings together contain several thousands of errors. Not just of musical cantillations and vowels, but letters as well.

Ya'acov Ben-Hhaim carried out his manuscript comparisons on texts that were within his geographical reach, but they were not accurate themselves. (It is interesting to note that the printing of the Mikraot Gedolot was executed under the aegis of a Christian printer, Daniel Bomberg, and Ben-Hhaim, who converted to Christianity. It is not clear, however, whether Ben-Hhaim's conversion was before or after 1524.)

The textual inaccuracies are the impetus for the Bar-Ilan project.

"There is nothing similar known to history as to what the Masoretic scholars did to preserve the biblical tradition, from letters all the way down to minuscule marks," says Prof. Cohen, referring to the cross-references and orthographic notes. He and his team of 13 researchers at Bar-Ilan, most of them Orthodox men, have spent the last eight years working on the codex restoration project. To date, the project has published seven out of the 24 books.

This effort, spearheaded by an Orthodox institution, is important to non-Jews as well: All extant Bibles, from the Septuagint and Vulgate to the King James edition, ultimately rest upon a translation from the Hebrew.

So how did researchers recreate a 1,000-year-old, 300,000-letter text?

One method was to compile internal cross-references found in the manuscript itself. In the 10th century, when the codex was written, Bible chapter divisions were not yet created; to refer to another verse one had to quote the verse itself. Inside the margins of the books of prophets of the codex, for example, are masoretic notes that quote whole verses from the Five Books of Moses. The researchers compiled and organized these quotes, much like a jigsaw puzzle, to reconstruct the text.

For parts of the Bible lacking cross-references Cohen took a more modern approach: "Bar-Ilan invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in developing special software and a unique search engine... the computer has saved us years and years of research."

Typically, search engines are built to look for letters. But since Hebrew vowels are dots and dashes under the consonants, Bar-Ilan's software was designed to find letters, dots, and dashes, as well as musical cantillations both above and below letters. "Our computer program tracks and studies patterns of syntax and vowel usage in the existing codex to recreate these patterns for the missing sections," says Cohen.

Bar-Ilan's Prof. Jordan Penkower took a different route. While "innocently browsing" through early printed editions of the Bible in the rare-books room of the Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan, he came across an incunabulum - a book printed before 1501. Written on the inside cover was a note saying that the book was corrected according to the Aleppo Codex. "I almost fell off my chair," says Penkower. "I spent the next half a year researching that claim and verifying that indeed it was corrected according to the Aleppo Codex and not some other manuscript."

In 1994, Penkower published a book of his research, Nusah Ha-Torah Be-Keter Aram Tsovah (New Evidence for the Pentateuch Text in the Aleppo Codex), offering yet another source to recreate the Aleppo Codex.

A handful of academic scholars who are also Orthodox Jews have made attempts to educate the Orthodox masses concerning textual inaccuracies, but they have met with resistance.

For years, rabbi, scholar and Israel Prize-laureate Mordechai Breuer has been trying to change the custom in synagogues on the Shabbat preceding Purim.

On that day's Torah reading, Orthodox communities read, and then reread with a slightly different pronunciation, a word from the Torah. Interestingly, this is the only instance where textual accuracy is publicly called into question.

With the reconstruction of the Aleppo Codex, it is now known which version is more likely accurate, rendering the double reading superfluous. But with tradition the powerful juggernaut that it is, synagogues continue the double reading.

Recently, a modern Orthodox rabbi from New York, who declined to be identified, refused to permit a lecture in his synagogue about the Aleppo Codex. "I don't want to expose my congregants to the existence of various codices... to textual variations," explains the rabbi. "I don't know what they would do with that information."

"You can put on blinders and cower from codices or you can look at it straight-on and decide how you're going to deal with it," says Penkower, who is Orthodox. "I don't think Judaism ever intended for people to avoid the truth in order to preserve their conception of Judaism and Jewish history. I guess it depends upon how strong you are religiously... there are some people out there whose way of dealing with new information is by not dealing with it."

Why do certain Orthodox Jews and communities resist accepting the Aleppo Codex? Is it inertia or intransigence? Perhaps the fear that admitting to large-scale textual inaccuracies will cause a chink in their armor of faith? Or is it something more tangible?

Halakha unequivocally states that if the layout of the Torah text is incorrect, or a single letter is missing, the entire scroll is not kosher and may not be read from in a synagogue. If the reconstruction of the Aleppo Codex means that the most accurate text of the Torah is now available, then Torah scrolls need to be rewritten. (A new scroll costs about $35,000.)

And what does acknowledgement of textual variations do to the "Codes Theory," which claims that divinely created codes exist in the Torah?

Over the past few years, the Codes Theory has come under increasing criticism from cryptologists and mathematicians who claim the codes are statistically insignificant. Since the "codes" were found in a less faithful edition, doesn't that tilt the argument in favor of those mathematicians who say the coded words are random occurrences?

Rabbi Dovid Lichtman, senior lecturer in the Discovery seminar where the codes are taught, thinks not. "It's a klutz kasha [ridiculous question]... If you see a bumblebee that flies and the laws of aerodynamics dictate that the bee's wingspan is too small to lift the bee, your question is not on the bee itself but rather on your understanding of flight... the codes exist. Period."

A codes researcher at Aish Hatorah Yeshiva, Rabbi Moshe Zeldman, adds, "...The variant text would only ruin a code if the code runs through that area of text that has a different spelling. The existence of the Aleppo Codex could affect [the validity of the] codes but it wouldn't destroy them and render them insignificant. Besides, since the Mikraot Gedolot edition has been halachicly accepted by the Jewish People it therefore, by definition, is the most authoritative text. It's the one Hashem [God] wants us to have."

Many years of painstakingly slow research performed amidst the solemn silence of libraries around the world is causing a ruckus and possibly a rift in the Jewish community at large. But only history will bear witness to which edition of the Bible becomes, or remains, "authentic."


The Crown of Aleppo

News Item:

Shepherdstown, West Virginia December 1999 ≠ January 2000. Prime Minister Barak of Israel and Foreign Minister Farouk a-Shara of Syria enter into ill-fated peace negotiations under American auspices.

The negotiations between Israel and Syria, which are currently proceeding with great intensity, have concentrated on borders, armies and diplomacy. To the best of my knowledge, little attention has been directed to the religious and cultural treasures of Syria's Jewish community. Though that community has been all but eliminated over the last generation, we should not forget that it was one of the most ancient in the world.

In this article I wish to describe one of the most extraordinary exploits of that beleaguered community, the tale of its custodianship over the Aleppo Bible Codex.

An aura of legend has always radiated from the "Crown" of Aleppo, which was believed to be the oldest existing manuscript the entire Hebrew Bible containing all the vowels and cantillation signs. In thousands of instances the Aleppo codex exhibits readings that are superior to those of any other manuscript or printed edition of the Biblical text.

Although the codex has generated some extravagant legends concerning its antiquity, such as the one that ascribes its writing to Ezra the Scribe, it was probably written closer to the year 900 c.e. in the Land of Israel, near the birthplace of the Tiberian vocalization system of which it is the most faithful representative.

The scholar who added the vowels and accents was Rabbi Aaron Bar Asher, one of the most illustrious experts in the specialized science of the Biblical text that goes by the name "Masorah." The Masoretes developed elaborate systems for maintaining the accuracy of the written, consonantal text of the Bible, as well as for recording the vowels and accents, which had previously been handed down through oral memorization. Though several such systems were devised during the early medieval era, in the end the one from Tiberias achieved dominance; and Aaron Bar Asher was perhaps the most distinguished exponent of the Tiberian school of Masorah.

It is now clear that this was the very same manuscript that was used by Maimonides when he formulated his regulations for writing Torah scrolls, in spite of many doubts that were once cast on the authenticity of the claim. Modern scholars were initially misled by some apparent discrepancies between the codex and Maimonides' rulings. However, it was eventually established that the fault lay with the printed editions of Maimonides' code, which had been tampered with in order to bring them into conformity with the current conventions. When reliable manuscripts of Maimonides were consulted, they revealed his consistent agreement with the distinctive readings in the Aleppo Codex.

In the sixteenth century, the Keter was stolen from Cairo by bandits. Eventually it found its way to Aleppo, where the local Jewish community held on to it tenaciously, refusing to lend it out to scholars, let alone to consider selling it. A local tradition declared that if the codex were to leave Aleppo, the community would cease to exist.

In a profound sense, the prophecy turned out to be true.

With the rise of Arab nationalism in the early years of the twentieth century, Biblical researchers began to worry about the safety of the Keter. Scholars from Jerusalem's Hebrew University began investigating whether there might be some way to preserve its invaluable contents. The leaders of Aleppo's Jewish community staunchly dismissed invitations to remove it from their town for safekeeping. What was worse, they would not even allow it to be photographed. With great reluctance, they permitted a visit from the renowned Biblical scholar Prof. M. D. Cassuto, and then did all they could to heap obstacles in the way on his examinations of the codex.

In 1947, following the United Nations resolution to partition Palestine, the worst fears were realized. Anti-Jewish rioters, with help from the army, set fire to the Jewish quarter of Aleppo, including all its synagogues and Torah scrolls (though they were careful not to hurt the Jews themselves). The report was soon circulated that its precious treasure was irretrievably lost.

As Jewish refugees from Aleppo began to trickle into Israel, they told a different story: The details are still not clear, and at least four different Aleppo Jews (and one larcenous Syrian politician) have been credited with returning to the synagogue and rescuing the burning Keter. Many of the details are not yet being published in order to protect individuals who still reside in Syria. The story of the manuscript's destruction had evidently been disseminated for the benefit of the Syrian authorities.

A similar confusion obscures the story of how the Keter was kept in strictest secrecy from 1947 to 1958 by members of the Aleppo Jewish community, apparently after a detour to Beirut. At length, it was hidden among the personal effects of a Jew of Persian nationality who had recently been expelled from the country. At grave peril to his life, he succeeded in evading the customs inspection, and was able to smuggle his priceless cargo to Turkey, and from there to Jerusalem.

Even now, the Aleppo Jews would not acquiesce to give up the Keter to outsiders. A concerted campaign of pressure and persuasion was directed at the Aleppo community leaders, by the Israeli government, scholarly institutions, Jewish organization, and by members of the Aleppo Jewish diaspora, culminating in an official letter, issued in 1953, by Sepharadic Chief Rabbi Ouziel.

The most relentless of the manuscript-hunters was Yitzhak ben-Zvi, the learned authority on Middle-Eastern Jewry who became Israel's second President. He had a life-long obsession with the Keter, which he had been allowed to view in 1935. As President, he tried to conscript to the cause the Israeli diplomatic and Intelligence services.

In 1958, President ben-Zvi was able to announce officially that most of the Aleppo codex had found its way to safety in Jerusalem. It remains there, under expert preservation, today.

However, one third of the Aleppo codex has never yet been found. Unfortunately, that third includes most of the Torah, until Deuteronomy 28:17. Scholars have been reluctant to abandon hope for the recovery of at least some of those lost pages.

There are some grounds for optimism. Stories are in circulation that some pages were misappropriated while still in Aleppo. None of the surviving sections exhibits signs of fire damage, so the story of its burning was probably untrue. A very auspicious development involved a single leaf of the Keter that was turned over to the Jewish National Library in Jerusalem in December 1982, thirty years after it had been brought to Brooklyn by a family of Jewish refugees from Aleppo. More recently, a researcher at Bar-Ilan University identified, in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York, a printed Bible from 1490 with handwritten notes in its margins by a sixteenth-century savant who had systematically recorded the readings of the Aleppo codex.

The ultimate fate of this priceless treasure might ultimately be linked to the future of Israel-Syrian political relations. If true peace does emerge between the two warring nations, then the complete recovery of the Aleppo Bible might be one of the crowning achievement to that accord.


Reprinted from The Jewish Free Press, Calgary
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There is an excellent but expensive (over $500) facsimile edition that was issued, I believe, by the Magnes Press (Hebrew University) and the Ben Zvi Institute.
And to make it clear: What has survived only _BEGINS_ with Deuteronomy 28:17. Everything before that--including the "four and a half books" that you mention-- is currently lost.