Matti Friedman, a Canadian author and journalist, was raised in Toronto and now lives and writes in Jerusalem. I spent much of the next four years writing the story of the object I found in the museum, a manuscript known as the Aleppo Codex -- a millennium-old bundle of animal skins that is the oldest and most accurate copy of the whole Hebrew Bible. In these years I was not cut off entirely from the march of technology. I acquired an iPod.
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Flushing Meadow The first limousines pulled up beside bare trees and a grove of flagpoles at Flushing Meadow, on the outskirts of New York City, discharging their passengers into a gray building that had once housed a skating rink. An auditorium inside was full of spectators and delegates. It was November 29, , a Saturday afternoon. Grainy footage filmed that day shows men in suits seated in rows before a raised podium where three officials had their backs to a giant painting of the globe.
Some had pencils ready to tally the votes. The vote followed months of desperate diplomacy and strong-arm politics influenced by the horror of recent events in Europe. For the Arabs of Palestine and of surrounding countries, it would mean the imposition of a foreign entity in the heart of the Middle East, an unbearable humiliation, and certain war.
In the grotto sat an iron safe with two locks, and in this safe was the book In the north of Syria, six thousand miles away from New York, it was evening. In the grotto sat an iron safe with two locks, and in this safe was the book. In Aleppo, the sexton of the great synagogue — Asher Baghdadi was his name — a thin man in a robe that fell to his ankles, would have been making his rounds at this time, after the Sabbath had ended and the last of the worshippers had left, walking through the rooms as he always did, through the courtyard where prayers were held in summertime, past the grotto known as the Cave of the Prophet Elijah, with the safe inside.
It rarely was. The sexton crossed a narrow alleyway and climbed the three flights of stairs to his home, where the windows looked down into the deserted courtyard of the building he had just left. Kerosene streetlamps flickered in the alleys. Among those who did understand the gravity of the events afoot was fifteen-year-old Rafi Sutton, the retired spy I would encounter six decades later.
He sat with his parents and sisters next to a Zenith radio housed in a wooden cabinet. In the broadcast from Flushing Meadow, a flat American voice replaced that of the Brazilian. The new voice began reading from a list. There were eight hundred thousand Jews in Arab countries, and another two hundred thousand in non-Arab Islamic states like Iran and Turkey.
The Suttons were not yet worried about themselves. When the voting ended, the Brazilian banged again with his gavel. Those present in the hall saw him put on his spectacles.
High above us we seemed to hear the beating of the wings of history. In British-ruled Jerusalem, crowds poured into the streets. Trucks with loudspeakers drove through the Jewish section of the city, waking people up to celebrate, and the staff of a winery rolled a barrel into the middle of downtown and began handing out free drinks In British-ruled Jerusalem, crowds poured into the streets.
Trucks with loudspeakers drove through the Jewish section of the city, waking people up to celebrate, and the staff of a winery rolled a barrel into the middle of downtown and began handing out free drinks. Now that it is here it is so great and wonderful that it surpasses human words. Let the consequences be on the heads of others, not on ours.
There was no sound from the streets outside. Nothing had changed. Not yet. In the ancient synagogue where the Crown had been kept for two hundred thousand nights, this night, which would be the last, seemed no different. The Jews of Aleppo swore oaths on the Crown, lit candles in its grotto, and prayed there for the welfare of the sick.
Each generation added to the protective web of stories that surrounded the treasure, though almost none of those who venerated it had ever set eyes on it. The moral of these stories was always the same. Once, long ago, one tale went, the elders took the Crown out of the synagogue, and plague swiftly struck the Jews, abating only when the Crown was returned.
In another, the Crown was similarly moved, only to reappear, miraculously, in its place. If ill befell the treasure, according to traditions of great age and import, or even if it ever left the synagogue, the community was doomed. This might have been fanciful, many admit now, long after the events in question, but then they invariably point out that in the end it did turn out to be true.
An inscription in the book read as follows: 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 delegates at Flushing Meadow had set in motion the events that would lead to a war in Palestine, a Jewish victory, and the birth of the state of Israel.
That is well known. But they also began a very different chain of events known to few: the story of the Crown of Aleppo, one that must be rescued from decades of neglect, myth, and deliberate deception.
The Aleppo Codex
Finalist, Religion Newswriters Association award for best religion book of A thousand years ago, the most perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible was written. It was kept safe through one upheaval after another in the Middle East. By the s it was housed in a dark grotto in Aleppo, Syria, and had become known around the world as the Aleppo Codex. What it reveals are uncomfortable truths about greed, state cover-ups, and the fascinating role of historical treasures in creating a national identity. Friedman also takes us back in time, revealing the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands. Epic in its sweep, The Aleppo Codex features a fascinating cast of characters—all of whom claim the codex as their own.
Jul 11, Rabbi rated it really liked it The book read well, like a novel. It had the feel of being well-researched but I always find real mysteries leaving me with more questions than answers. It was the history of a missing sacred text for Syrian Jews. If you have a penchant for Jewish history, this is definitely a must read. Nov 22, Judie rated it it was amazing We read of at least three victims as we follow Matti Friedmans quest to learn the facts behind the Crown of Aleppo, a version of the Hebrew Bible written before CE.