Thursday, 26 July 2012

The Smuggling and then Theft of the Aleppo Codex

There is an interesting article in the New York Times (Ronn Bergman, 'A High Holy Whodunit' 25th July 2012) in effect summarising the conclusions of Matti Friedman's book, “The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible,” published in May. The Codex survived the trip from Fustat (Cairo) to Jerusalem, the Crusaders' sack of Jerusalem, the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Second World War and (despite rumours about its destruction) the riots that broke out in Aleppo in 1948. The article discusses the manner in which pressure was put on the Aleppo community to surrender it to cultural property nationalists in Israel:
"Ben-Zvi asked them to help sway the rabbis who remained in Syria, and he appealed to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee (an organization whose financial aid was necessary for the survival of the remaining community in Aleppo), to cut the flow of funds if the codex was not transferred to Israel". 
Bergman then discusses (the several versions of), how it was eventually smuggled out of Syria. In the course of this some nefarious double-dealing was done so the Israeli state took it from the people it was intended to give it to. More shockingly it also recounts how - apparently while under the stewardship of Meir Benayahu, at the Ben-Zvi Institute - 200 pages went missing. This constitutes about 40 percent of the codex and whose value is estimated to be in the many millions of dollars. The article recounts a story wherein in the mid-1980s they were allegedly offered to collector Shlomo Moussaieff,  in the Jerusalem Hilton by dealer Chaim Schneebalg, who soon afterwards was found dead in another Jerusalem hotel room in suspicious circumstances. Allegedly the missing pages were bought by an unnamed 'Ultra-Orthodox' London collector of Judaica.    

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