Monday, July 30, 2012

Aleppo Codex - who stole it? II

NY Times  The story of what happened next — how the codex came to Israel and where the missing pages might have gone — is a murky and often contradictory one, told by many self-serving or unreliable narrators. In his book, “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible,” published in May by Algonquin Books, the Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman presents a compelling and thoroughly researched account of the story, some of which served as the catalyst for additional reporting here. [...]

“The official version of the story, the one I knew at the outset, states that the Aleppo Codex was given willingly to the State of Israel,” Friedman told me. “But that never happened. It was taken. The state authorities believed they were representatives of the entire Jewish people and that they were thus the book’s rightful owners, and also, perhaps, that they could care for it better. But those considerations don’t change the mechanics of the true story — government officials engineered a sophisticated, international maneuver in which the codex was seized from the Jews of Aleppo, and then arranged a remarkably successful cover-up of the fascinating and unpleasant details of the affair.” [...]

During the course of the work, which took six years, Maggen, the head of the museum’s paper-conservation lab, discovered something of major significance: Until then, the story that had been officially told was that the missing pages were destroyed in the blaze at the Aleppo synagogue, a theory supported by the purple signs of charring that existed on the edges of the rescued pages. But Maggen found that the purple markings were not caused by fire at all, but rather by a mold that discolored the pages. If these pages weren’t damaged by fire, then how could the others have been destroyed?[...]

In an interview shown in 1993 on Israel national TV, Moussaieff recalled: “They put the suitcase on the bed, opened it, opened a silky paper that was covering it. All of a sudden, my eyes popped out. I saw between 70 and 100 parchment pages lying on top of each other, inscribed with black ink that because of time had reddened slightly. In large letters, about double the size of a Torah scroll’s letters, with vowels. The handwriting was a little like a dancing handwriting. . . . I have no doubt that what I saw was part of the Aleppo Codex.”

The two argued over the price, and Moussaieff finally offered to buy only part of the manuscript, to which Schneebalg replied that it was all or nothing. In retrospect, Moussaieff would admit that he made a huge mistake. As he told a reporter from an Israeli newspaper in 1993: “I was greedy. I tried to make a lower offer, thinking perhaps they would agree to take less. The price they were asking wasn’t sky-high, but I tried to bargain with them. That’s how I lost the codex. Another buyer paid $100,000 more than I was ready to pay. . . . It’s with an ultra-Orthodox Jew in London. I have no intention of revealing his name.”


  1. The zionist Israeli government stole it from the Aleppo community.

  2. I rather the manuscript reside in an Israeli museum than in some basement in Stamford Hill.

    1. What you'd rather is rather irrelevant.

  3. What you'd rather is rather irrelevant.

    When it is in the museum it can be accessed by scholars and be preserved for future generations. When it is Stamford Hill who knows.

  4. I presume the Schneebalg referred to is the late Chaim Schneebalg,
    who dealt in old sefarim. His sole surviving brother, R' Menachem
    Mendel (in his late 80s) is the Rav of the Machzikei Hadass Community
    in Manchester. The Schneebalgs are Viznitzer Chassidim. I wonder
    if any member of the family knows more.

    Perhaps a Londoner could ask Chaim's nephew who is a Rav in Edgware?

    Chovev Seforim


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