The Aleppo Codex
The Aleppo Codex is the earliest known manuscript comprising the full text of the Bible. In all probability, it is also the most authoritative, accurate and sacred source document, both for the biblical text and for its vocalization, cantillation and “Massorah”. As such it has achieved a position of pre-eminence among Hebraic and Judaic manuscripts and has greater religious and scholarly import than any other manuscript of the Bible. The Codex was copies by the scribe Shlomo Ben-Buya’a over one thousand years ago. The text was then verified, vocalized and provided with the “Massorah”” by Aaron Ben-Asher the last and most prominent member of the Ben-Asher dynasty, which shaped the Hebrew “textus receptus” of the Bible. A time-honored tradition invests the Codex with a unique aura of authority, reverence and Holiness. The tradition maintains that this was the manuscript consulted by Maimonides when he set down the exact rules for writing scrolls of the Torah (Deduced from his comment: “I used it as a basis for the copy of the “Sefer Torah” which I wrote according to the Law” (Mishneh Torah, Book II, “Ahavah, Hilkhot Sefer Torah, viii, 4).
Recent research bears out the traditional account of the manuscript’s origins and establishes the likelihood that Maimonides indeed sanctified and codified everything that he found in the Aleppo Codex for future generations. Furthermore it is widely believed that the Codex represents the first complete manuscript of the Bible ever written. This explains why it is termed a “crown” and elucidates the adage that “crowns are holier to the people than are Scrolls of the Law”.
^The Codex was written in Eretz Israel in the early tenth century, looted and transferred to Egypt at the end of the eleventh century and deposited with the Aleppo community at the end of the fourteenth century, perhaps by the great-great-great grandson of Maimonides.
The rabbis and elders of the community guarded it jealously for some six hundred years. During the riots against Jews and Jewish property in Aleppo in December 1947, which followed in the wake of the United Nations’ resolution to establish a Jewish state in Palestine, the community’s ancient synagogue was put to the torch and the Codex, which was kept in the synagogue’s “Cave of Elijah”, suffered damage.
Members of the community managed to save most of it and concealed the salvaged sections for about ten years in several hiding places. In 1957, two elders of the community entrusted the surviving portions of the Codex in the hands of Mordechai Faham, who smuggled it out of Syria into Turkey.
On January 23, 1958, the Aleppo Codex was brought to Jerusalem and entrusted to President Ben-Zvi.
Unfortunately, the manuscript in our possession today contains no more than 295 of the original 487 leaves. Only the last six chapters of the Pentatech have survived.
The manuscript was entrusted to the Ben-Zvi Institute and is exhibited in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.
The stamp shows an open book. The words “Keter Aram Zova” written in the same lettering as in the original Codex are emphasized on the stamp. Characters that appear at the beginning of each chapter of the Bible as well as characters and letters from the Massorrah can be found on the stamp, its tab and on the first day cover.
A sketch of the east wing of the Aleppo Great Synagogue is depicted on the top left side of the stamp. Underneath are names of people connected with the Codex: Shlomo Ben-Buya’s, Aron Ben-Asher, Rambam and names of places where the Codex was written and discovered: Tiberias, Haleb and Jerusalem.
An illustration of the reader’s desk (tebah) in the Aleppo Great Synagogue in Syria is shown on the first day cover. The illustration is taken from the Jewish traveler’s diary “Casale Pilgrim”, Italy, 16th century in which is written, “in Aleppo there is a large and beautiful synagogue”. The diary is housed in the University of Leeds, Brotherton Library, Cecil Roth Collection.