Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Aleppo Codex - who stole it?

Boston Globe  Friedman’s dogged journalistic curiosity forces him to re-examine every aspect of that shiny heroic narrative. His inquiry yielded “The Aleppo Codex,’’ a thrilling, step-by-step quest to discover what really happened to Judaism’s most important book: who rescued it from the synagogue, how it came to be held by Israel’s Ben-Zvi Institute, and why nearly half of its pages were missing by the time it got there. With the help of a motley crew of Codex enthusiasts, Friedman goes up against a campaign of silence so effective that it is only slightly cracking 50 years later, when all of the major players are dead.

What is all this silence protecting? Nothing less than parts of the founding mythology of the state of Israel. Many of the book’s most astute and well-earned revelations are also its biggest surprises, and it would be unfair to reveal them here. But I will allow myself one spoiler: There was a protracted court battle for ownership of the Codex, between the Israeli state and the Aleppo refugees. In Friedman’s deft characterization: “Ben-Zvi and his comrades had willed a Jewish state into being against impossible odds, almost against the very logic of human events; they had glared at history and watched it bend to their will.” In their eyes, the diaspora Jewish communities had been in exile, and Israel, as the homeland of all Jews, was the rightful heir to their treasures. “The Aleppo Jews, on the other hand, had not subsumed themselves into the Zionist project and its version of history . . . [they] saw the Crown as the symbol of a place almost none of them had ever considered to be exile.’’

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