Matti Friedman – The Aleppo Codex – כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא

True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible

Published in 2012

פּירוש בּעל הטורים על התורה לרבּינו יעקב ב”ר אשר זלה”ה

Rabbi Yakov Koppel Reinitz

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The timeline and thread of this post is as follows:

November 6, 2021 –  Matti Friedman is a Scholar in Residence at Anshei Shalom

November 7, 2021 –  Spoke to Rabbi David Wolkenfeld

November 15, 2021 – I purchase Matti Friedman’s book – The Aleppo Codex

April 15 – 23, 2022 –   I read the Aleppo Codex

April 25, 2022 –          I am at the BAYT in Toronto and discover the Sefer authored by Rabbi

                                   Yakov Koppel Reinitz   פּירוש בּעל הטורים על התורה לרבּינו יעקב ב”ר אשר זלה”ה   

April 26, 2022 –         Baruch Kelman tracks down Yakov Kopel Reinitz’s phone number

April 27 2022 –          I call and speak to Rabbi Yakov Kopel Reinitz

May 5, 2022 –            I research and put together this blog post

Matti Friedman

The Aleppo Codex – כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא

Book written by Matti Friedman titled The Aleppo Codex

Last November Matti Friedman was a Scholar in Residence at Anshei Sholem.   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Matti_Friedman

VISITING SCHOLAR MATTI FRIEDMAN

Saturday, November 6, 2021 • 2 Kislev 5782

12:00 PM – 1:00 PM

Join us after Kiddush on November 6 to hear from guest speaker Matti Friedman – journalist, contributor to the New York Times Op-Ed Section, and the author of three award-winning books.

“The Aleppo Codex”

The perfect copy of the Hebrew Bible was written 1,100 years ago. It was kept in Jerusalem, stolen by Crusaders, ransomed by the Jews of Cairo, used by Maimonides, and hidden in a vault in Aleppo for six centuries. Around the time of Israel’s founding in 1948, it vanished. The story of the Aleppo Codex, Judaism’s most important book, is not only a true mystery involving theft, murder, and a government cover-up – it also allows us to look at Jewish history in the Islamic world, the creation of Israel, and the role of the Bible in the unlikely survival of the Jews in exile.

After Shabbos, I called Rabbi Wolkenfeld of Anshei Sholom and told him that I was sorry I missed attending.  Rabbi Wolkenfeld told me how they had a wonderful Shabbos and told me that I should read The Aleppo Codex.  He was excited about the book and infected me with his excitement.  

I purchased the book from Half Price Books.  I started reading the book and the opening chapter was a difficult read. I put the book aside for a while, but went back and read it during Pesach..  Once I got through the first chapter and understood what was happening I was able to read this magnificent book.

Background of the Aleppo Codex:

The Aleppo Codex in Hebrew is titled  כֶּתֶר אֲרָם צוֹבָא and means “The Crown of Aram Tzova”. Aram Tzova is Aleppo.   The Aleppo Codex was written in the city of Tiberias in the 10th century CE (circa 920).   The Aleppo codex and the other Codex’s are companions to Tanach.  Whereas a Sefer Torah and the prophets are written on a scroll and have no vowels or cantillation notes – Trup, the codex contains the vowels and cantillation notes.  It also contains notes that hint to connections to other parts of the Torah. This is what the Ba’al Haturim means when he says ב’ במסורת , there is a letter ב’ in the codex by this word and that there are two times in Tanach that this word or combination of words are used.  The other difference between the Codex and the Sifrei Tanah they had was that the codex was written in manuscript form and not in scroll form.  This made it easier to use than a Sefer Torah as to move around and read different parts of Tanach you can flip pages vs.  having to roll a scroll.   The word codex itself  means “a manuscript book especially of Scripture, classics, or ancient annals.”   Tradition has it that the Rambam used the Aleppo Codex when he learned.    Together with the Leningrad Codex, it contains the Ben-Asher masoretic tradition.

This time period in which the Torah codices were written were towards the end of the Geonic period.  The period of the Geonim began in 589 CE  after the period of the Sevora’im, and ended in 1038. The first gaon of Sura, according to Sherira Gaon, was Mar Rab Mar, who assumed office in 609. The last gaon of Sura was Samuel ben Ḥofni, who died in 1034 CE; the last gaon of Pumbedita was Hezekiah Gaon, who was tortured to death by fanatics of the Buyid dynasty in 1040; hence the activity of the Geonim covers a period of nearly 450 years.  There were two major Geonic academies, one in Sura and the other in Pumbedita. The Sura Academy was originally dominant, but its authority waned towards the end of the Geonic period and the Pumbedita Gaonate gained ascendancy (Louis Ginzberg in Geonica).

The Aleppo Codex was kept for five centuries in the Central Synagogue of Aleppo, until the synagogue was torched during anti-Jewish riots in 1947. The fate of the codex during the subsequent decade is unclear.  When it resurfaced in Israel in 1958, roughly 40% of the manuscript—including the majority of the Torah section—was missing, and only one additional leaf and a small scrap have been recovered since then.[3] The original supposition was that the missing pages were destroyed in the synagogue fire has increasingly been challenged, fueling speculation that they survive in private hands. This Is from Wikipedia.  Matti Friedman in his book clearly says they were not burnt, and strongly believes that they were stolen, and sold on the black market.   The portion of the codex that is accounted for is housed in the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum.

Matti Friedman Efforts

Matti Friedman traces how and why the codex was transferred to Israel In 1957, how it ended up with the government and his speculation as to what happened to the missing parts of the codex. Missing is half of Bereshis, all of Exodus, VaYikra, and Bamidber.  He found a transcript of the Din Torah starting on March 18, 1958 to decide where the codex belongs; to the state of Israel or to the exiled of the Aleppo community living in Israel and other parts of the world.  Matti Friedman said the Din Torah lasted on and off for four years.  Page 110 states about the trial, “It was charged and, at times, ugly.  Most of the characters in the story appeared in court.  Not all of them told the truth.”  Unfortunately when Matti Friedman was researching this story  most were dead and the rest  who were still alive were well into their 80s and 90s and had faulty memories.  It seems clear that Murad Fahem, the envoy who brought the codex from Aleppo to Israel, did not tell the  truth of how the codex ended up with Yitzchok Ben Zvi, the second president of Israel. 

As Matti Friedman dug deeper into the mystery of how the State of Israel obtained the Codex and what happened to nearly 200 missing pages, the story became fascinating.  

Matti Friedman concluded:

  1. The Codex was to go to the Aleppo community to be kept by their Rabbis
  2. Murad Fahem, the envoy who brought the Codex from Aleppo to Israel in 1957, lied about his instructions from  the Rabbis in Aleppo in 1957
  3. There was a Din Torah starting on March 18, 1957 as to who should be the keepers of the Aleppo Codex and safeguard it.
  4. The State of Israel in effect stole the Aleppo Codex from the Aleppo community
  5.  The missing pages were stolen from the Ben Zvi Institute which was the place where the Aleppo Codex was to be safeguarded for the Jews of Israel.
  6. Matti Friedman touched upon the theft of the Israeli government and others of historical  treasures that the Yemenite Jews brought when the community left Yemen.  Clearly there was anti-Sephardic and anti-religious bias on the part of the Israelis

The person who brought the codex from Aleppo to Israel was Murad Fahim at the direction of Rabbi Moshe Tawil who was the Chief Rabbi of Aleppo and Rabbi Shlomo Zaafrani.  Upon arriving in Israel Murad Fahem gave it to Shlomo Zalman Shraga (1) who was Orthodox and was the director of Israel’s immigration network in the 1950s.  Shlomo Zalman Shraga then gave it to President Yitzhok Ben Tzvi, the second President of Israel, the first one being Chaim Weitzman. 

In Matti Friedman’s book, Yitzchok Ben Tzvi seems to come off as a villain, although Matti Friedman never said this outright.  I found this interesting tidbit on Yitzchok Ben Tzvi that sheds light on his character.  Yitzchok Ben Tzvi in 1924 ordered the first political murder in Israel.  tps://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yitzhak_Ben-Zvi .  What the leaders of the Yishuv lws by Ben Gurion tried to do is silence debate on the entire issue with how the Yishuv deals with the existing Arab population.  If someone has an opposing view and seems to have a voice, he must be silenced by whatever means.  Killing anyone, let alone a Jew who doesn’t present harm to people is corruption at its highest form. Once you do this, you can justify anything.  This is what Reb Chaim Brisker said about the Zionists, that they are murderers.  I found this on Wikipedia and the allegation about Yitzchok Ben-Tzvi was written by Shimon Nakidimon, an Israeli journalist.

Yitzchok Ben-Zvi served in the Jewish Legion (1st Judean battalion ‘KADIMAH’) together with Ben-Gurion. He helped found the Ahdut HaAvoda party in 1919, and became increasingly active in the Haganah. According to Avraham Tehomi, Ben-Zvi ordered the 1924 murder of Jacob Israël de Haan.[22] De Haan had come to Palestine as an ardent Zionist, but he had become increasingly critical of the Zionist organizations, preferring a negotiated solution to the armed struggle between the Jews and Arabs. This is how Tehomi acknowledged his own part in the murder over sixty years later, in an Israeli television interview in 1985: “I have done what the Haganah decided had to be done. And nothing was done without the order of Yitzhak Ben-Zvi. I have no regrets because he [de Haan] wanted to destroy our whole idea of Zionism.”

As I understood the Aleppo Codex and got deeper in the book, I realized that the Ba’al Haturim is partly an explanation of the Codex and had a codex when he wrote his Perush on Chumash.  Until now I  never understood what the Ba’al Haturim meant when is said  ב’ במסורת .   

“וְחֹשֶׁךְ עַל פְּנֵי תְהוֹם” – ב’ במסורת. הכא, ואידך: “וְחֹשֶׁךְ אֵי זֶה מְקֹמוֹ” (איוב לח יט). זה הוא שאמרו (חגיגה יא ב), שאין לשאול: “מה לפנים? מה לאחור?” “וְחֹשֶׁךְ אֵי זֶה מְקֹמוֹ”, פירוש, שאין לשאול אי זה היה מקום החושך תחילה.

The  ב’ במסורת means that in the codex which is the מסורת the letter Bais appears before these words.  It is code telling us that there are only two times in Tanach that these words appear.  The Ba’al Haturim then goes on to explain the connection.  Artscroll never explained this properly.  

I found on the internet this 2010 book written by Hayim Tawil and Bernard Schnieder.  I have not read it and I do not know if Matti Friedman read this book or spoke to the authors.  Hayim Tawil must be the son of Rabbi Tawil who authorized the transfer from Aleppo to Israel in 1957.

  פּירוש בּעל הטורים על התורה לרבּינו יעקב ב”ר אשר זלה”ה

Rabbi Yakov Koppel Reinitz

I was davening at the BAYT in Toronto on Monday April 24th, right after Pesach  and I came upon the below Sefer –

Title Page:

As can be seen from the title page, the author is Yakov Kopel Reinitz and was printed in 1996.  I saw somewhere that he is from Bnei Brak.  I was amazed at the fact that someone spent the time and wrote a commentary on the Ba’al Haturim.  What scholarship!  I love people who have great knowledge.

I asked my good friend, Boruch Kelman, from Har Nof to track down Rabbi Yakov Kopel Reinitz. Boruch Kelman is amazing.  He adds a sense of American fair play into israel.

Boruch obtained his phone number and I called Rabbi Yakov Kopel Reinitz.  Rabbi Reinitz and his wife know little English and I know little Hebrew and Yiddush.  I spoke to him and I think he understood that I am calling from Chicago to thank him for producing a book of great scholarship.  It seemed because we could not communicate properly, he struggled to understand why someone was calling him from America to thank him. It does seem a little odd.  Afterwards his wife’s friend got on the phone who had a better English.  She did a better job of explaining why I called and I could hear the joy in his voice.  He told me that he will be 89 in two days.   He lives in Neve Daniel.  Neve Daniel is  located next to Alon Shavut in the Gush.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neve_Daniel.    I was taken aback because I thought Reb Yakov Kopel Reinitz lived in Bnei Brak and would have nothing to do with the Gush.  Just to be sure I understood, I asked him if he ever spoke to Reb Aaron Lichtenstein TZL and he said, Yes, many times.  I told him that in the summer, I should be in Israel and will visit.  He told me he looks forward to my visit. I could hear the joy in his voice.

Kuntris Atoros AD”R – Rabbi Eliyahu Dov Rabinwwitz-Toemim known as the Aderes 

I received a major bonus looking at the Sefer.  Rabbi Reintiz included a Sefer written by the Aderes on the Ba’al Haturim by  Rabbi Eliyahu Dov Rabinwwitz-Toemim, Rav Avrhom Yitzchok HaCohen Kook’s father-in-law..  I know that the Aderes was a major Torah scholar and authored Seform.  But this is the first time I have seen one of his Seforim.  I have a Blog post on Rav Kook and the Aderes.  This is very exciting for me.   https://kotzk.com/2014/04/14/in-tribute-to-rav-avrohom-yitzchok-kook/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eliyahu_David_Rabinowitz-Teomim

Rabinowitz-Teomim was born on 11 June 1843 in the town of Pikeln.[1] At the age of five his mother died and from then on, his father, Rabbi Benjamin Rabinowitz, raised him and his brother, Tzvi-Yehudah, alone. He studied Talmud and rabbinics under the tutelage of his father and by the age of fifteen he had acquired a substantial knowledge of Talmudic and rabbinic literature. Rabinowitz-Teomim was married to Feige Minna, with whom he had seven children. His daughter Batsheva married Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook in 1886; however she died a few years later, whereupon Rabinowitz-Teomim encouraged Rabbi Kook to marry his niece (the daughter of his brother Tzvi-Yehudah). He encouraged Rabbi Kook to become the Chief Rabbi of Jaffa.  He died on 3 Adar 5665 (10 March 1905). He is buried on the Mount of Olives.

(1) May 25, 2022: I just found this piece of information on Shlomo Zalman Shragai from his grandson, Nadav Shragai.

(May 24, 2022 / Israel Hayom) Some 77 years ago, the Chief Rabbi of the Jews of the Land of Israel, Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog—Israeli President Isaac Herzog’s grandfather—entered one of Europe’s convents and categorically demanded that the mother superior release Jewish children who were hidden there during the Holocaust.

“There are no Jewish children here,” she said innocently, but the rabbi insisted, and the children of the Christian institution were brought into the courtyard and arranged in rows before the rabbi and his entourage.

According to the testimony of my grandfather, Shlomo Zalman Shragai, who accompanied Rav Herzog on this trip—as mentioned in Rabbi Haim Sabato’s book Be-Shafrir Chevyon—the rabbi asked, “Who here is Jewish?” several times, but was met with total silence. His entourage encouraged him to leave for the next convent in order to search for more Jewish children; but then, a moment before they left, Rabbi Herzog suddenly wandered amongst the rows of children and shouted out loud: “Shema Yisrael, Hashem Eloheinu, Hashem Ehad” (“Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is One”). The small hands of seven children rose of their own accord in order to cover their eyes, and the rabbi shouted in excitement: “They’re Jews, this is how their mothers taught them.”