16 Dec

REVIEW: THE ALEPPO CODEX : Matti Friedman (AP Journalist based in Jerusalem)

[ Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill ]


Treasures have a way of being discovered amidst chaos of marketplaces even literary marketplaces held in the Javitts Center NYC where I found Matti Friedman’s THE ALEPPO CODEX having given up waiting 1 hour for Lemony Snicketts giveaway suede like folio. Which is how I found myself accidentally on line for Matti’s book, a short line albeit, one of many unanticipated journeys my God project, GOD IN THE TEMPLES OF GOVERNMENT, takes me on that I have learned to embrace. Score. Matti Friedman’s THE ALEPPO CODEX is one such journey giving me color, a journalist’s word for ‘something I can use to bring readers on board with me on my writing journey to share with in my words, their imagined enriched with my crafted imagery.


With little said about himself the reader learns Matti is of my same much maligned career- media. Matti describes his book as “A True Story of Obsesion, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible.” Fellow journos understand. Though Matti shares little about his personal faith, much is gleaned as he steps the reader with him into the world of the Codex including teaching that Torah’s are not just written but they are written in a tradition handed out not just b’aal peh, by mouth, by in writing, as with the Codex, treasured and guarded until the worst of mankind took over- avarice & greed. One could not imagine a book as holy as the handbook for writing the Torah, the life guide for Jews, would suffer at the whim of holy men seduced by money and suffer at the hands of men trusted to establish the State of Israel, Jewish legacy, less expected after the ballyhoo over the Dead Sea Scrolls.


The Aleppo Codex was tucked away, safely, in AleppoSyria until the climate against Jews worsened in and around the late 1940’s. As the social climate for Jews in Syria deteriorated, so did the threat to the Codex’s existence increase. Jews and Christians alike knew the Codex existed even though few had seen the book under double lock and concrete. Carefully, detailed, methodically, Matti brings to life the stories of escape of Jews from Syria, something I learned of a few years back covering a hearing on Capitol Hill on the legacy of Jews chased for their lives from Arab lands, risking life and limb on the journey itself, if they were lucky enough to make it alive out of their towns. Some Jews who left were found murdered before their escape began. Children were not exempt from assault, rape and worse, after all money only goes so far as a bribery in a trade without honor, knowing the true worth of a bribe is in the hand and honesty of the person accepting the bribe, an oxymoron at test.


Soon after the Aleppo Codex left being under double lock and stone, rumor was it was burned, some claiming the rumor was created to throw thieves off the scent of the priceless icon until it was safe in Israel. Which is where the real mystery begins in Matti’s attempt  to bring either resolution to finding it or culpability to those who may have set forth fm the Pandora box the curse that continues to befall Israel. It appears the Codex reached the new State of Israel’s shores. Some say it arrived intact. Others, well, fact speaks for itself- hundreds of pages of the Codex are missing after the box was given a per instruction- to a religious man- in this case, in Israel’s government. Matti turned up   torn pieces and pages of the Codex putting together the sad truth profiteers chose dollars over the new state of Israel’s salvation-  ignoring the health of Judaism’s legacy lies in the Otiyot, the letters of the Aleph Bet, that Mesorah, the spoken traditions were committed to in book, not scroll, format, intended to be handed down.


I have many questions I want to ask of Matti. I want to thank him, too, for giving me an unlikely answer I’ve since passed forth to Christian friends puzzled at how and why Jews are so willing to stand for those who want Israel split in two and infidels, as Jews are seen by Muslims, put to death.


ALEPPO CODEX, the bible, three columns across, edited by Aaron Ben-Asher was used by Maimonides himself. After Maimonides died in 1204, the Codex traveled from Tiberias to Jerusalem to Cairo. Maimonides great great great grandson brought the bible to Aleppo in the 14th Century. The Codex survived the Ottoman Turks, the murderous earthquake of 1882 and the destruction of Jews by Islam. Several antiquities survived in the Magic Carpet exodus to Israel. The Codex did not survice intact. Matti’s doggedness to learn the truth of the Codex fate, led him to the Ministry of Antiquities and the Ben-Zvi Institute where, Matti confirmed, his paper trail led him to men who forgot how to be the Chosen people- the then President  of Israel’s office and to Meir Benayahu, seemingly responsible for the disappearance of dozens of antiquities including the violation of the Codex and the disappearance of the Silvera Codex, too,


There is a blessing out there for Matti, bringing this story of theft of morality to light. Reading The ALEPPO CODEX, I could only hold Matti Friedman’s book and wonder of the Promised Land’s struggle to survive, physically and politically. The inscription in the Codex was as follows:

“Blessed be he who preserves it

And cursed be he who steals it

And cursed be he who sells it

And cursed be he who pawns it.

It may not be sold and it may not be defiled forever.”


 Is the pillaging of the CODEX, betrayed by men within people who guarded the ALEPPO CODEX for thousands of years, an explanation for Israel’s political demise?  I can only wonder, hoping Matti’s search plays a positive role in Israel finding its moral compass in our even more morally challenging times…..

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