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August 31, 2014 / 5 Elul, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Mishneh Torah’

Title: Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

Title: Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex

Author: Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider

Publisher: Jewish Publication Society



The Jewish people are known as the “people of the book,” and over the centuries it has sacrificed much not only to live by that book, the Torah, but to maintain the integrity of its text as well.


A Torah scroll, however, may not contain notations. Thus, Jews used to write codices (sing. codex) that contained, not only the Torah’s text, but punctuation (nekudos), musical signs (trop), and additional notes along the margins that assisted soferim who wished to write Torah scrolls (and other Biblical books) properly and accurately.


The oldest extant, and most authoritative, codex is the Aleppo Codex, or “Crown of Aleppo.” Many people believe that it is this codex that the Rambam refers to in his discussion of writing a sefer Torah in the Mishneh Torah.


This codex is also the subject of a new book,The Crown of Aleppo: The Mystery of the Oldest Hebrew Bible Codex, by Drs. Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schneider – both scholars of note (Tawil is a professor of Hebrew Language and Literature at Yeshiva University and Schneider is a highly-respected international lawyer with a special interest in the Bible). In it, the authors describe, in detail, the history and tribulations of this codex. “Who wrote it?” “How did it reach Aleppo, Syria?” are just some of the questions the book discusses.


The authors also describe, at some length, the events of 1947 that led up to an Arab pogrom against the Aleppo Jewish community and the destruction of the synagogue that housed the codex. Miraculously, most of the codex was saved and eventually made its way to Israel. When the codex resurfaced in Israel, however, most of the pages from the Torah were missing. The surviving portions were largely from Nevi’I’m and Kesuvim.


Were the other pages destroyed? Lost? Tawil and Schneider offer several different explanations, and hold out some hope that these pages may yet surface (being held, in the meantime, by members of the former Aleppo Jewish community).


All in all, Tawil and Schneider have managed to produce a book that, not only discusses the details of writing a Torah scroll and the history of the Aleppo Codex, but also presents a tale of mystery and intrigue that may yet be solved to the delight of scholars and the Jewish community.


Thus, the book, which includes wonderful photographs and interesting endnotes, appeals to readers of all sorts. As usual, the Jewish Publication Society has produced a truly fine work.


Hopefully, we will soon celebrate the resurfacing of the Aleppo’s Codex’s missing pages, and their relocation in Jerusalem.


Zalman Alpert is reference librarian at Yeshiva University’s Mendel Gottesman Library of Judaica.

A New Denial Of Traditional Judaism

Wednesday, February 17th, 2010

For thousands of years of Jewish history there wasn’t a unique nomenclature classifying Torah-deviant Jews. Denominations like Conservative, Reform and Orthodox were non-existent. One was either more observant, less observant, or, in highly atypical cases, nonobservant.

The reason for this is that history is immutable. Sinai was a historical fact that was irrefutable and unassailable.

I haven’t met a sane individual who doubts Julius Caesar existed or the Roman Empire fell. Yet I have encountered numerous people who cast aspersion on the world’s most momentous and epic occurrence: Revelation at Sinai. Such a blatant disregard and contempt for incontrovertible history has opened a Pandora box of other denials, such as the claim that the Holocaust never happened. Once we tolerate one perversion of history there’s no limit to other falsifications that ensue.

It’s been alleged that Judaism’s transmission is unreliable because it is no different from the game “telephone,” in which one person cites a word and the message moves down the line until it emerges a garbled version of the original. This comparison is wholly inaccurate.

The nature of the Jewish people is to be argumentative – but notwithstanding endless persecution and exile, the original message emerged unscathed. This may be attributed to the fact that the message wasn’t arbitrary or subjective but was God’s revered Word – hallowed and sacrosanct. Couple the tremendous import of the message with the fact that each Jew was a master pedagogue (“vishinantom livonecha,” Devarim 11:19) and it’s obvious how vital preservation of the accurate tradition was.

Perhaps no other nation has such an explicit and unequivocal historical chain. Rambam (in his introduction to Mishneh Torah) delineates a clear, incontestable chain of teachers from Moshe Rabbeinu until Rav Ashi, redactor of the Talmud. Conclusive studies have traced contemporary Torah leaders back to Rav Ashi, bringing the chain of tradition full circle.

Were Julius Caesar to visit Rome today, he would be at a total loss. He wouldn’t understand the lingua franca, the dress, or mannerisms. On the other hand were Moshe to visit Meah Shearim, he would, essentially, feel at home.

The Torah mandates that an ambiguous “pri etz hadar” be combined with other minim on Sukkos. “A beautiful fruit” can depend on individual taste and preference. One person may consider the mango to be the most beautiful fruit, while his peer may be partial to an apple.

If our mesorah were in any way diluted or adulterated, one would anticipate seeing an array of different fruits being used for this mitzvah. Historically, in direct fulfillment of the Oral Law, only the esrog has been used in fulfillment of this mitzvah.

In my years (before my early retirement) of supplying the community with arbah minim, I had the privilege of servicing an eclectic base – from leading chassidic rebbes to litvishe roshei yeshiva, as well as Conservative rabbis.

It seemed disingenuous for a Conservative rabbi – who professed no allegiance to and sometimes displayed vehemence against Oral tradition – to purchase an esrog. It is, however, an incredible testimony to the force and weight of our tradition that even those who tend to deny it end up corroborating it.

Until the early-mid 19th century no one challenged the universally accepted truth of Sinai. Then a neo-Jewish movement began in Berlin that sought to reconcile modernity with Judaism. For the sake of progressiveness and to facilitate assimilation, this movement claimed the Torah had not been God-given, and that it was not incumbent on Jews to follow it. They postulated that the Torah was man-made and subject to change – and in “modern times” obsolete.

In 1837, Abraham Geiger called the first Reform rabbinical conference in Wiesbaden, Germany, and declared: “The Talmud must go, the Bible, that collection of mostly so beautiful and exalted human books, as a divine work must also go.”

Samuel Holdheim headed the Reform congregation in Berlin. He disavowed many cardinal features of Judaism: circumcision, covered heads during worship, the tallis, blowing of the shofar, the use of the Hebrew language, and the mention of Zion, Jerusalem or the land of Israel in any service.

By the mid-19th century, Reform had dethroned Jerusalem in favor of Berlin. The Jewish Sabbath was changed from Saturday to the Christian Sunday. The synagogue began resembling the church in its aesthetics and services. German Reform also had the gall to abolish the “automatic assumption of solidarity with Jews everywhere.” Adherents of Reform described themselves as “Germans of the Mosaic persuasion,” rather than as Jews.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/a-new-denial-of-traditional-judaism/2010/02/17/

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