Friday, September 14, 2012

Review of Friedman, The Aleppo Codex

MATTI FRIEDMAN'S THE ALEPPO CODEX is reviewed by Alex Joffe in Jewish Ideas Daily: The Aleppo Codex and the Ownership of Tradition. Excerpt:
The Aleppo Codex is a marvelously written international thriller, but the issues it raises are profound and current. Who is the legitimate heir to the property of dispersed or extinguished Jewish communities? Israel’s assuming this role even before a community is gone was initially characterized by obsessive self-interestedness, dismissiveness towards fellow Jews, and outright theft; its treatment of Holocaust survivors and their property was not dissimilar. Can Israel, or any state, be fully trusted with cultural property?

But cultural properties cannot simply be left in place. For example, the so-called Iraqi Jewish Archive, a disparate collection of letters, books, and other documents of an extinguished Jewish community, was found in the basement of a flooded secret police building in 2003 and removed to the United States for conservation. Since then, Iraq has angrily demanded their return. Perpetrators of dispersal and death rarely have the good taste to refrain from insisting on their right to cultural properties that will enable them to boast of a “multicultural society” they themselves destroyed.

But deeming Israel the repository for all Jewish objects, knowledge, and culture has its own problem—namely, that the country has a large target painted on it. Like returning all Jews to Zion, putting all the Jewish people’s cultural eggs in one basket seems ill-advised. It was precisely the dispersal of Jewish knowledge among countless communities that preserved the whole even as individuals faltered or fell; today, the task is made easier by digital technology.
For earlier reviews etc. of The Aleppo Codex, see here and links. Background on the Iraqi Jewish Archive is here and here and links