Q&A with The Jewish Journal

‘A window onto 1,000 turbulent years crucial to understanding today’s Mideast’

Journalist and author Matti Friedman discusses his new book, the Aleppo Codex, and the significance today for this often overlooked chapter in Jewish history.

Shmuel Rosner

We should first provide some explanation for those who haven’t yet read the ‎book: What is the Codex and why is it important?‎ ‎  ‎

The Aleppo Codex is arguably Judaism’s most important book, and one of the ‎world’s most important and valuable manuscripts. It is revered in Judaism as the ‎perfect version of the Hebrew Bible. It is also the oldest version of the entire Bible ‎‎- or at least it was until the mid-20th century, when a large section went missing, a ‎mystery that plays an important part in this story.‎ ‎The codex was written in the 10th century, but to understand why it is so ‎important we need to go back about 900 years before that, to the destruction of ‎the Temple in Jerusalem by Rome. Until then, most Jews lived in the same ‎country, spoke the same language, and were bound by geography and politics and ‎their ritual center in Jerusalem. Afterwards, Jews were scattered and moved ‎farther and farther apart from each other, and none of those ties applied. What ‎emerged was the revolutionary idea that a people could be held together by words ‎‎– by a book that they all would read. For this to work, though, everyone had to be ‎reading precisely the same book. So there had to be an agreed-upon version of the ‎text, a key to reading the Bible. That key is the Aleppo Codex. It was never ‎photographed and there were no known copies, making the original priceless and ‎irreplaceable.‎ ‎

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