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Short definition The Aleppo Codex is an old manuscript of the Bible, reflecting the Masora very exactly, written by the renowned Masorete, Aharon Ben Asher.


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Introduction

The Bible and its Transmission - Scrolls, Manuscripts, Printings

The Masoretes

The Aleppo Codex

The Vicissitudes of the Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex Today


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5.1 Its Location – the Shrine of the Book

5.2 The Custodial Committee and the Ben Zvi Institute

5.3 The Preservation of the Aleppo Codex


מוזיאון ישראל, ירושלים, היכל הספר תצוגת הכתר בהיכל הספר, ירושליםד

The Aleppo Codex Today


5.1 Its Location – the Shrine of the Book

The Aleppo Codex reached Israel in 1958 and was delivered to the President of the State of Israel, Izhak Ben Zvi. The judicial status of the Keter was established in 1962, when a writ of custody was drawn up and a committee of trustees for the Aleppo Codex was appointed. The writ of custody states that the two “Crowns” “will not be transferred to any other place, but will remain in the Ben-Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.” In 1975 the Aleppo Codex was transferred to the basement repository for rare manuscripts in the Jewish National and University Library in Jerusalem, because the board of trustees of the Ben Zvi Institute believed that this was the most appropriate place to keep it. The place where the Aleppo Codex was kept was leased to the Ben Zvi Institute, so that the conditions of the writ of custody were observed.

In 1976 a photographic edition of the Aleppo Codex was published, and two years later it was exhibited to the public for the first time in an exposition called “Writing, Scroll, and Book.” In 1986 it was decided to transfer the Aleppo Codex to the Israel Museum for restoration in the museum’s laboratory. In 1993 the restoration was completed, and the Aleppo Codex was exhibited in the Shrine of the Book, along with the Dead Sea Scrolls. In 2004 the exhibit in the Shrine of the Book was reorganized, and the Aleppo Codex was given a more central place. Visitors to the Shrine of the Book undertake a long journey in time, following the development of the Book of Books, from the most ancient Bible manuscripts on the face of the earth, which were found in the Judean Desert, through the members of the Qumran sect, who tried strictly to apply the precepts of the Bible in their daily life, to the story of the Aleppo Codex – the most precise Bible manuscript in the world, according to the Masoretic text, and the closest to that which we possess today. The lower floor of the Shrine of the Book is dedicated to the Aleppo Codex and other exhibits connected to it. Now we will tell a small secret connected to the exhibition of the Aleppo Codex. While the spectator may believe that the whole book is displayed before his or her eyes in the museum display window, this is not true. Only two (or four) pages are actually displayed, while behind them is cardboard modeled to look like the rest of the pages. Most of the pages of the Aleppo Codex are stored in a safe place in the museum

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5.2 The Custodial Committee and the Ben Zvi Institute

The body authorized to deal with the Aleppo Codex and to decide what to do with it is the Custodial Committee. This body was established in 1962 by the Jerusalem rabbinical court, and its members are the Rishon Le-Tsion (the Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel), the head of the Ben Zvi Institute, and several other trustees, including representatives of Aleppan Jewry. The establishment of a custodial committee was a compromise solution to a prolonged judicial negotiation between the President of the State of Israel, Izhak Ben Zvi, the Ben Zvi Institute, and representatives of the Aleppo community. Mordecai Faham, the man in whose hands the rabbis of Aleppo entrusted the Keter, so that he could smuggle it out to Israel, delivered it to representatives of the Jewish Agency, and, by means of them, to the President of the State of Israel, Izhak Ben Zvi. Some time later, several of the rabbis of the Aleppo community argued that he ought to have delivered the Keter to representatives of that community in Israel. The solution that was attained ensures joint action with regard to the Aleppo Codex on the part of representatives of the public, academic scholars, rabbinical scholars, and representatives of the Aleppo community. Thus the Aleppo Codex (as well as the “Small Keter”) “serves the purpose of study, research, and information for everyone who desires Torah and knowledge and to announce their nature to the world.” “The custodians will make certain that its sanctity will not be harmed, and they must preserve the religious value” of both of the codices.

Over the years, the committee has seen to the publication of the photographic edition of the Aleppo Codex, the preservation and restoration of the manuscript, and choosing the place for its public display. The writ of custody states that the most fitting place to preserve the two codices is the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem, and that they “shall not be transferred anywhere else, but remain in the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem.” After the Aleppo Codex reached Jerusalem and since the signing of the writ of custody, it has never been removed from Jerusalem. Over the years, the Aleppo Codex was preserved in the National Library in Jerusalem and then in the Israel Museum, and this was because the custodial committee became convinced that they were the most appropriate places for preserving the Aleppo Codex.

In 1986, it was decided to embark on a research project aimed at producing a book to tell the story of the Aleppo Codex. An extensive bibliography connected with the Aleppo Codex was assembled, and people and institutions that were connected to the Keter and its vicissitudes were examined. It was discovered that Professor Moshe David Cassuto’s family possessed the notes that he had taken when he examined the Aleppo Codex in 1943, when the manuscript was still complete. After obtaining permission from the family, these notes were photocopied, examined, and published. At the end of the project, the book by the author Amnon Shamosh was published: The Keter – the Story of the Aleppo Codex, Jerusalem: Ben Zvi Institute, 1987 (Hebrew). Today the board of trustees includes nine people: Rabbi Shlomo Moshe ‘Amar, the Chief Rabbi of Israel, the Rishon LeTsion; Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, the head of the Ben-Zvi Institute; Mr. David Bartov; Mr. Menahem Yadid; Rabbi Edmond Cohen; Rabbi Yehuda ‘Adas; Rabbi Ya’aqov ‘Atiya; Yosef Faham; Moshe Faham.

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5.3 The Preservation of the Aleppo Codex

In the 1980s, there was apprehension lest the conditions under which the Aleppo Codex was kept at the Ben Zvi Institute were not suitable, and for that reason the custodial committee decided to transfer it to the laboratory of the Israel Museum. In 1986, a permanent loan agreement was signed between the board of custodians of the Aleppo Codex, Yad Ben Zvi, and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem. The agreement emphasized that because of the grave situation of the manuscript, all possible steps would be taken to treat and preserve the Keter. As a first step, it was decided to transfer the Aleppo Codex to the laboratories of the restoration department of the Israel Museum.

The Aleppo Codex underwent restoration, in the course of which stains and dirt were removed from the pages, as well as paper tape and the like. The binding of the codex was removed. The stitching that joined the fascicles was undone, and since then the Keter has been preserved in separate fascicles in a special cabinet built for that purpose. The main problem was the instability of the ink. Holes were found in the Keter, and in many places the ink had corroded part of the parchment, or it had even fallen off because of the disappearance of the parchment beneath it. Processes for stabilizing the ink as well as the accepted methods for preserving old paintings were applied. After the ink was stabilized, the parchment pages of the Aleppo Codex were stretched after being moisturized to soften them. The pages of the Aleppo Codex were damaged about a hundred years ago, and in the lower left corner of every page a “reddish-violet rash” appeared, causing the smudging and erasing of some letters. In order to put an end to this bacteriological or mycological process, the manuscript was sterilized several times.

Bibliography David Shenhav, Mikha Magen, and Leah ‘Ofer-Pendaya, “The Aleppo Codex in the Laboratory of the Israel Museum,” In the Museum, 1, March 1989, pp. 20-21 (Hebrew)

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