Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Fragment of ancient parchment from Bible given to Jerusalem scholars
By Anshel Pfeffer (Haaretz)
tags: Aleppo Codex

An eight-centimeter-square piece of the 1087-year-old Aleppo Codex will be given to a representative of the Ben Zvi Institute in Jerusalem on Thursday, following 18 years during which Israeli scholars tried to retrieve it from businessman Sam Sabbagh.

Sabbagh salvaged the fragment from a burning synagogue in Aleppo in 1947.

Inscribed on both sides, it is one of the lost fragments of the codex, a copy of the Bible written in 920 C.E. in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben Buya'a. The fragment Sabbagh had bears verses of Exodus chapter 8, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh: "Let my people go, that they may serve me..."
Sabbagh believed the small piece of parchment was his good luck charm for six decades. He was convinced that thanks to the parchment, which he kept with him always in a transparent plastic container, he had been saved from riots in his hometown of Aleppo during Israel's War of Independence, and he had managed to immigrate from Syria to the United States in 1968 and start a new life in Brooklyn and make a living. The charm was with him when he underwent complicated surgery.

Just two years ago, it completed its task, when Sabbagh passed away.


In 1987 Professor Menahem Ben-Sasson, then head of the Ben Zvi Institute and now chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, went to the U.S. to obtain funding from a wealthy member of the Aleppo community, Steve Shalom, for an urgent restoration of the codex.

"While I was meeting with him, another member of the community came in and said that the codex had burned but that his brother Sam had a page. I asked for the brother's phone number and called him right away. He told me 'I won't give it to you under any circumstances. It has saved me from disaster.' I asked if at least I could photograph it, and he agreed."

Michael Glatzer, the academic secretary of the Ben Zvi Institute confirmed that the shape of the letters the vowels and the cantillation marks left no room for doubt: it was part of the codex.

Glatzer documented Sabbagh's testimony about finding the page on the day of the fire. "I saw the pages scattered on the floor and damaged by the fire. I could have taken the whole remaining part but my hands shook with fear and the horror of what I had seen. I thought they were going to butcher us all like the Turks massacred the Armenians. I only took the little piece that was separate."

It is now believed that other Jews came in and took pieces of the legendary codex and subsequently refused to part with them. Although Sabbagh agreed to bestow the fragment posthumously, Ben Zvi Institute Director Dr. Zvi Zameret says negotiations with the family took time. "In the end we paid the small sum of a few thousand shekels so they would feel good and we had a little ceremony in New York with Sabbagh's widow."


Ben-Sasson says that since he found the fragment Sabbagh had, whenever he would give a lecture to Jews of the Aleppo community, he would ask them to find the missing pieces of the codex. "They bring me all kinds of manuscripts and charms but it was never that. I've even asked the community's rabbis to place a ban on anyone holding parts of the codex, but they told me it wouldn't help. The connection between the Aleppo Jews and the codex is just too strong."

More please.