Aleppo Codex

Aleppo Codex

The Aleppo Codex (Hebrew: כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא, IPA|kɛθɛɾ ʔăɾɔm sˁovɔʔ, Keter Aram Tsova) is a manuscript of the Hebrew Bible according to the Tiberian "masorah", produced and edited by the influential masorete Aaron ben Asher in the 10th Century CE. It was at one time the oldest complete manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, [There exist scrolls of individual books of the "Tanakh" which are much older: see Dead Sea scrolls.] however approximately one-third of it, including nearly all of the Torah, has been missing since 1947.

It is considered the most authoritative document in the "masorah" ("transmission"), the tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation. [M. H. Goshen-Gottstein, "The Aleppo Codex and the Rise of the Massoretic Bible Text" "The Biblical Archaeologist" 42.3 (Summer 1979), pp. 145-163.] Surviving examples of responsa literature show the Aleppo Codex to have been consulted by far-flung Jewish scholars throughout the Middle Ages, and modern studies have shown it to be the most accurate representation of Masoretic principles to be found in any extant manuscript, containing very few errors among the millions of orthographic details that make up the Masoretic text. Thus, the Aleppo Codex is seen as the most authoritative source document for both the original biblical text and its vocalization (cantillation) as it has been proven to have been the most faithful to the Masoretic principles. [See also Masoretic Text.]

After its creation in the 10th century, the codex was given to the Jewish community of Jerusalem during the mid-11th century. However, it was among the works held ransom by the Crusaders during the First Crusade. After being rescued by the elders of Ashkelon, it was transported to Egypt along with Jewish refugees. It later resurfaced in the Rabbanite synagogue in Cairo, where it was consulted by Maimonides, and Maimonides' descendants brought it to Aleppo, Syria, at the end of the 14th century. The Codex remained in Syria for five hundred years, until Muslim anti-Jewish riots desecrated the synagogue where it resided. The Codex disappeared, and re-emerged in 1958, when it was smuggled into Israel by Syrian Jew Murad Faham, and presented to the president of the state, Itzhak Ben-Zvi. On arrival, it was found that parts of the codex had been lost. The Aleppo Codex was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.


The consonants in the codex were copied by the scribe Shlomo ben Buya'a in Israel circa 920. The text was then verified, vocalized, and provided with Masoretic notes by Aaron ben Asher. Ben-Asher was the last and most prominent member of the Ben-Asher dynasty of grammarians from Tiberias, which shaped the most accurate version of the Masorah and, therefore, the Hebrew Bible.

The Leningrad Codex, which dates to approximately the same time as the Aleppo codex, has been claimed to be a product of the Ben-Asher scriptorium. However, its own colophon says only that it was corrected from manuscripts written by Ben-Asher; there is no evidence that Ben-Asher himself ever saw it.

The Aleppo Codex was the manuscript used by the rabbi and scholar Maimonides (1135-1204) when he set down the exact rules for writing scrolls of the Torah, "Hilkhot Sefer Torah" ("the Laws of the Torah Scroll") in his "Mishneh Torah". This "halachic" ruling gave the Aleppo Codex what is for Jews the seal of supreme textual authority, even though Maimonides only quoted it for paragraphing and other details of formatting, and not for the text itself (see "discussion"). "The codex which we used in these works is the codex known in Egypt, which includes 24 books, which was in Jerusalem," he wrote.


The beginning (nearly all of the Torah) and end of the manuscript are missing, as well as some pages in between.

When the Aleppo Codex was complete (until 1947), it followed the Tiberian textual tradition in the order of its books, similar to the Leningrad Codex, and which also matches the later tradition of Sephardic biblical manuscripts. Torah and Nevi'im appear in the same order found in most printed Hebrew bibles, but the order for the books for Ketuvim differs markedly. In the Aleppo Codex, the order of Ketuvim is: Chronicles, Psalms, Job, Proverbs, Ruth, Song of Songs, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah.

The current text is missing almost the entire Torah (Genesis through most of Deuteronomy). It begins with the last word of Deuteronomy 28:17 (ומשארתך, "and your kneading trough"). After that, the books of Nevi'im appear in their traditional order (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the twelve minor prophets). The Ketuvim follow as above, but currently end at the last leaf with בנות ציון in Song of Songs 3:11 ("daughters of Zion..."). Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, Esther, Daniel, and Ezra-Nehemiah are missing.


The Codex has had an eventful history. The Karaite Jewish community of Jerusalem received the book from Israel ben Simha of Basra sometime between 1040 and 1050.Olszowy-Schlanger, Judith. "Karaite marriage documents from the Cairo Geniza: legal tradition and community life in mediaeval Egypt and Palestine." Etudes sur le judaïsme médiéval, t. 20. Leiden: Brill, 1998 (ISBN 9004108866), pg. 148] It was cared for by the brothers Hizkiyahu and Joshya, Karaite religious leaders that eventually moved to Fustat in 1050. The codex, however, stayed in Jerusalem until the latter part of that century. After the fall of Jerusalem during the First Crusade, it and other holy works were held ransom (along with Jewish survivors) by the Crusaders.Olszowy: pp. 54-55 and footnote #86] [ The Vicissitudes of the Aleppo Codex] – See "4.4 The Crusades and the Ransoming of Books". Retrieved on 2008–03–04.] The official Aleppo Codex website refers to contemporary letters discovered among the Cairo Geniza that tell of how the inhabitants of Ashkelon borrowed money from Egypt to pay for the books. These Judeo-Arabic letters were discovered by noted Jewish historian S.D. Goitein in 1952. [Kedar, Benjamin Z. "The Jerusalem Massacre of July 1099 in the Western Historiography of the Crusades." in "The Crusades" (Vol. 3). ed. Benjamin Z. Kedar and Jonathan S.C. Riley-Smith. Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2004 (ISBN 075464099X), pg. 59] The Letter of the Karaite elders of Ascalon, the most descriptive of the two letters, states the money borrowed from Alexandria was used to “buy back two hundred and thirty Bible codices, a hundred other volumes, and eight Torah Scrolls." [Goitein, S.D. "A Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World as Portrayed in the Documents of the Cairo Geniza. Vol. V: The Individual: Portrait of a Mediterranean Personality of the High Middle Ages as Reflected in the Cairo Geniza". University of California Press, 1988 (ISBN 0520056477), pg. 376] It also mentions how the documents were transported to Egypt via a caravan led and funded by the prominent Alexandrian official Abu’l-Fadl Sahl b. Yūsha’ b. Sha‘yā that just happened to be in Ashkelon for his wedding in early 1100. [Goitein: pp. 375–376 and footnote #81 on pg. 612] Judeo-Arabic inscriptions on the first page of the Codex mention the book was then "transferred to the Jerusalemite synagogue in Fustat." [Olszowy: pp. 54-55 and footnote #86] The Aleppo codex website translates a large inscription that reveals how the book exchanged hands. It was

Transferred [...] according to the law of redemption from imprisonment [in which it had fallen] in Jerusalem, the Holy City, may it be rebuilt and reestablished, to the congregation in Egypt of Knisat Yerushalayim, may it be built and established in the life of Israel. Blessed be he who preserves it and cursed be he who steals it, and cursed be he who sells it, and cursed be he who pawns it. It may not be sold and it may not be defiled forever.

The website goes on to say that even though transferring ownership broke the rule against selling the codex, it was permissible because it had been held ransom by the Crusaders.

Years after Maimonides used the codex to write his "Laws of the Torah Scroll", his descendants brought it to Aleppo, Syria, at the end of the 14th century. The biblical name of this region in Syria is "Aram Tsova", whence the modern name for the codex in Hebrew. It remained there until 1947, when the Muslim anti-Jewish riots desecrated the synagogue and vandalized the holy books, where it resided. The Aleppo Codex was damaged and temporarily disappeared, but resurfaced in 1958 when it was smuggled into Israel and presented to the president of the state, Itzhak Ben-Zvi. On arrival, it was found that parts of the codex had been lost. The Aleppo Codex was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Attempts to recover its missing parts continue to this day. [ [ "Ben-Zvi Institute calls for return of Aleppo Codex fragments"] , "Haaretz", December 3, 2007.]

Later, after the university denied him access to the codex, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer began his own monumental reconstruction of the Masoretic text on the basis of other well-known ancient manuscripts. His results matched the Aleppo Codex almost exactly. Thus today, Breuer's version is used authoritatively for the reconstruction of the missing portions of the Aleppo Codex. The "Keter Yerushalayim" (כתר ירושלים, "Jerusalem Crown") is a modern version of the Tanakh, based on the Aleppo Codex and the work of Breuer, which is the [ official version] of the Bible of the State of Israel.


The Aleppo community guarded it zealously for some six hundred years. The community received queries from Jews around the world, who asked that various textual details be checked, correspondence which is preserved in the responsa literature, and which allows for the reconstruction of certain details in the parts that are missing today.

However, the community limited direct observation of the manuscript by outsiders, especially by scholars in modern times. Paul Kahle, when revising the text of the "Biblia Hebraica" in the 1920s, tried and failed to obtain a photographic copy. This forced him to use the Leningrad Codex instead for the third edition, which appeared in 1937.

The only modern scholar allowed to compare it with a standard printed Hebrew Bible and take notes on the differences was Umberto Cassuto. This secrecy made it impossible to confirm the authenticity of the Codex, and indeed Cassuto doubted that it was Maimonides' codex, though he agreed that it was 10th century.

During the riots against Jews and Jewish property in Aleppo in December 1947, the community's ancient synagogue was burned and the Codex was damaged, so that no more than 295 of the original 487 leaves survived. In particular, only the last few pages of the Torah are extant.

The missing leaves are a subject of fierce controversy. The Jews of Aleppo claim that they were burned. However, scholarly analysis has shown no evidence of fire having reached the codex itself (the dark marks on the pages are due to fungus). Some scholars instead accuse members of the Jewish community of having torn off the missing leaves and keeping them privately hidden. Two "missing" leaves have turned up-one in 1982 and the other in 2007, leaving open the possibility that even more may have survived the anti-Jewish riots in 1947.


on the few surviving pages of the Torah seems to have confirmed these claims beyond reasonable doubt. Goshen-Gottstein suggested (in the introduction to his facsimile reprint of the codex) that not only is it the oldest known Tanakh in one volume, it was the first time ever that a complete Tanakh had been produced by one or two people as a unified entity in a consistent style.

The Aleppo Codex is the source for several modern editions of the Hebrew Bible, including the two editions of Mordechai Breuer and "The Jerusalem Crown" (printed in Jerusalem in 2000, with a text based on Breuer's work and a newly-designed typeface based on the calligraphy of the Codex and based on its page-layout). The latter edition is used when the President of Israel is sworn into office.

Modern editions

Several complete or partial editions of the Tanakh based on the Aleppo Codex have been published over the past three decades in Israel, some of them under the academic auspices of Israeli universities. These editions incorporate reconstructions of the missing parts of the codex based on the methodology of Mordechai Breuer or similar systems, and by taking into account all available historical testimony about the contents of the codex.

Complete Tanakh:These are complete editions of the Tanakh, usually in one volume (but sometimes also sold in three volumes). They do "not" include the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex.
#Mossad Harav Kuk edition, Mordechai Breuer, ed. Torah (1977); Nevi'im (1979); Ketuvim (1982); full Tanakh in one volume 1989. This was the first edition to include a reconstruction of the letters, vowels, and cantillation marks in the missing parts of the Aleppo codex.
#Horev publishers, Jerusalem, 1996-98. Mordechai Breuer, ed. This was the first edition to incorporate newly discovered information on the parashah divisions of the Aleppo Codex for Nevi'im and Ketuvim. The text of the Horev Tanakh has been reprinted in several forms with various commentaries by the same publisher.In this edition, the masoretic text and symbols were encoded and graphic layout was enabled by the computer program "Taj", developed by Daniel Weissman.]
#"Jerusalem Crown: The Bible of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem", 2000. Edited according to the method of Mordechai Breuer under the supervision of Yosef Ofer, with additional proofreading and refinements since the Horev edition.
#Jerusalem Simanim Institute, Feldheim Publishers, 2004 (published in one-volume and three-volume editions). ["After consultation... with the greatest Torah scholars and grammarians, the biblical text in this edition was chosen to conform with the Aleppo Codex which as is well known was corrected by Ben-Asher... Where this manuscript is not extant we have relied on the Leningrad Codex... Similarly the open and closed sections that are missing in the Aleppo Codex have been completed according to the biblical list compiled by Rabbi Shalom Shachna Yelin that were published in the Jubilee volume for Rabbi Breuer... (translated from the Hebrew on p. 12 of the introduction).]

Complete online Tanakh:
*Mechon Mamre provides an online edition of the Tanakh according to the Aleppo Codex and other Tiberian manuscripts close to it, basing its reconstruction of the text on the methods of the Rav Mordechai Breuer (but claims to differ from the Rav Breuer's texts as published in some fine detailsFact|date=December 2007). The text is offered in four formats: (a) Masoretic letter-text, (b) "full" letter-text (unrelated to masoretic spelling), (c) masoretic text with vowels (niqqud), and (d) masoretic text with vowels and cantillation signs. See external links below.

Partial editions:
*Hebrew University Bible Project (Isaiah, Jeremiah). Includes the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex.
*Mikraot Gedolot Haketer, Bar-Ilan University (1992-present). A multi-volume critical edition of the Mikraot Gedolot, nine volumes published to date including Genesis (2 vols.), Joshua & Judges (1 vol.), Samuel, Kings, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Psalms (2 vols.). Includes the masoretic notes of the Aleppo Codex and a new commentary on them. Differs from the Breuer reconstruction and presentation for some masoretic details.

See also

*Codex Cairensis
*Tanakh at Qumran


External links

* [ The Aleppo Codex Website]
* [ The History and Authority of the Aleppo Codex] , by Yosef Ofer (pdf)
* [ Israel Museum shrine of the Book]
* [ Mechon Mamre] - Electronic text of the Hebrew Bible based on the Aleppo Codex
* [ History of the Aleppo Codex]
* [ Segal, The Crown of Aleppo]
*he icon [ Copies of the Aleppo Codex]
* [ Dina Kraft, From Maimonides to Brooklyn: The mystery of the Aleppo Codex]

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