The Aleppo Codex: Proof that Karaites are Awesome

Only part of my proof that Karaites are awesome.

Only part of my proof that Karaites are awesome.

My law school classmates know that I’m not one to throw around a highly-technical term like “proof” willy-nilly. And I certainly would never use a phrase like “beyond a reasonable doubt” without good reason.

So, when I say that the Aleppo Codex is “proof beyond a reasonable doubt” that Karaites are awesome, I mean it in the most legalistic way possible. But you don’t have to take my word for it. In fact, as a Karaite, I have to tell you not to rely on my opinion.

I recently came across a passage in The Aleppo Codex, the Matti Friedman book (not the actual Codex), that attests to Karaite awesomeness. For those who don’t know, the actual Aleppo Codex (not the Friedman book) is a bound copy of the Hebrew Bible and has long been considered to be the most authoritative document in the Jewish biblical tradition.

And the coolest part is that the Hebrew consonants of the actual Aleppo Codex were written by the Karaite Shlomo Ben Buya’a and the vowels were added by the Karaite Aaron Ben Asher.

What proves that Karaites are awesome, though, is something I learned from The Aleppo Codex (the book, not the actual Codex). As explained by Matti Friedman, in the 11th century, the actual Aleppo Codex was donated to the Karaite synagogue of Jerusalem, where, according to the Codex’s inscription, it was to be kept by the “great leaders” of the Karaite Jewish community.* And three times a year (apparently corresponding to Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot), the Karaite leaders were to take the Codex out and show it to the “communities of the city.”

Friedman notes that “surprisingly” the “communities of the city” appears to have included Rabbanites, even though Karaites and Rabbanites were deeply divided at the time.

But that’s exactly what makes Karaites awesome. As we’ve discussed previously, Karaites of that time-period also donated money to a Rabbanite yeshiva in Jerusalem, even though Karaites had their own Jerusalemite learning institution to support.

I guess it’s true: “[t]he Qaraite leadership shared bonds of loyalty to other Jews that operated separately from questions of theological or legal differences.”**

Oh, and this transcends awesome, but none other than Maimonides himself relied on the (actual) Aleppo Codex for his magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah. 

And for the (American) football fans out there, according to the Karaite Korner Newsletter, the late Hall of Famer Reggie White was so moved by seeing the actual Aleppo Codex and certain Christian manuscripts in the autumn of 2003 that he declared it the best day of his life.***

Now if only some of this Karaite awesomeness would rub off on the Rabbanut. . . .

*   *   *

* See Matti Friedman, The Aleppo Codex: In Pursuit of one of the World’s most Coveted, Sacred, and Mysterious Books, pp. 57-58.
** See Marina Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: The Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, p. 199.
*** Karaite Korner Newsletter #445: Better Than the Super Bowl, February 7, 2010.


Filed under Aleppo Codex, ben Asher, Books, Jerusalem

36 Responses to The Aleppo Codex: Proof that Karaites are Awesome

  1. Zvi

    Sorry… you may consider me grumpy and not charming since I disagree with counting the misguided “suicidal” financial generosity toward a Rabbanite yeshiva in Jerusalem into the Qaraite score of awesomeness.
    All I can hope is that future Qaraites will learn this lesson and avoid repeating what I believe was a blunder.

    • Victor Allen

      Sorry- You are attacking anybody who disagree with the Rabbanite thoughts. There are many positive, good things and some disputable things about the Karaite and some incorrect things about the Rabbanites. Find and speak the truth and not just attack the Karaites . The more you study the Karaite the more you find the true meaing of the Karaite. Do not tell me that everything about the Rabbanites are the true meaning to be a jew ,You are foolish if you can not find some positive things about the Karaite, We should be free to decide what we should do and live as Jews, and not just to agree with evey Rabbi. Every Jew should do his best according to his situation and condition.

      • Zvi

        Victor, you completely misunderstood me and then attacked me based on your shoddy comprehension of my comment, and the end result is you have made a joke of yourself. I am not at all pro-Rabbanite and in fact I am far more closer to being anti-Rabbanite than you imagined.
        Perhaps your real problem is difficulties with English as a second or third language. From now onward think twice before responding and don’t be an imbecile; if Google Translate does not work properly for you, you will better off not responding at all.

    • Natalie

      Zvi is right, trusting Rabbis is like trusting Roman Catholics of Muslims, they’ll stab you in the back. Ok, ok, I’m exaggerating here to make my point, but really, it should be clear by now that the Pharisees’ leadership over the last two thousand years hasn’t brought us anything but disaster.

  2. S.

    Have you ever read Aron Dotan’s study on whether Ben Asher was a Karaite? Here’s the English translation, published as “Ben Asher’s Creed.”

    As for the Rabbanut’s future awesomeness, I wouldn’t bet on it.

    • Yes; thank you for posting. Of course, everyone should investigate this for him/herself, but I think the great weight of the evidence is on the fact that ben Asher was a Karaite. Matti Friedman even says that most scholars believe that ben Asher was a Karaite. See the link below for some more discussion. And, by the way, I am hoping to do a story on the Cairo Codex of the Prophets, another ben Asher manuscript, which was maintained in a Karaite synagogue in Egypt.

  3. Art Phillips

    Shaun My opinion about the rabbinates is this …they are screwed up…..the last time I encountered one she laughed at me because my conversion was done outside of the orthodox movement…but since I have been looking at my jewish life with the precepts that the karaites teach…i look at the rabbinates and think…man they are really LOST.. shalom

    • Hi Art,
      Thank you for always visiting and commenting. Please, though, I really work hard to avoid turning this into an anti-Rabbanite blog. I’m trying to keep things light, fun, informative, and – every once in a while – a little controversial. I know the lack of recognition can be frustrating for you, because you converted to Judaism through a non-orthodox Rabbinic movement. But let’s try to keep things positive here.

      Thank you,


      • Art Phillips

        Sorry Shaun !

        • Art Phillips

          On a second note..yes what I said was politically incorrect…but my intentions were not anti rabbanite…they were anti humiliation and ridicule imposed by the other person …i wouldnt disrespect any one like that… nor do I believe that is how the Tanach tells us to behave.

          • Zvi

            Shalom Art!
            Akhi, you have my support on this! You should never be expected to just sock up the humiliations you undergo at the mouths of Rabbanites.

          • Art Phillips

            Thanks zvi !

          • I don’t think I was suggesting anything of the sort. I was just asking to keep the blog on a positive note. As I said, I work very hard to keep the blog positive and I’d like the support of the commenters in that regard.

    • A really good answer, full of raioynalitt!

  4. Mark Ginzberg

    Great article Shawn! It came at a good time, when I’m having a conversation with Catholic friends about the Massoretic Text and the Septuagint.
    Mark Ginzberg

  5. Mike

    YHWH loves ALL who seek HIM !

  6. Hi Shawn, this is an interesting juxtaposition of two topics, the masoretic text and interdenominational cooperation. I have a couple comments.

    the actual Aleppo Codex… has long been considered to be the most authoritative document in the Jewish biblical tradition.

    As Biblical texts go, Aleppo is a lot newer than, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls, which have different versions of the Bible than the masoretic text. So its authoritative-ness is a matter of opinion, not scholarly consensus. Emanuel Tov’s book is a good resource on this, if you don’t already have it.

    Now if only some of this Karaite awesomeness would rub off on the Rabbanut. . .

    Have you looked at non-Orthodox Jewish movements, such as Conservative or Reform Judaism? They also have ruling bodies which might be more in line with your way of thinking.

    • Hi Beno,

      As to the authoritativeness, all such topics are a matter of opinion – this isn’t a natural/pure science. But having said that, I think it is fair to say that the Aleppo Codex is *considered* to be the most authoritative text of the Bible. (That is not meant to imply that everyone agrees, but its close. Ha.) I’ve skimmed Emanuel Tov’s book, but perhaps I’ll give it a more thorough read soon.

      And yes, the conservative and reform communities have been great to Karaites. The Karaite Jews of America used to pray in a conservative synagogue. But the conservatives and reforms don’t have the desire/influence to fine Karaite butchers, etc. So I think it is fair to call attention to the Rabbanut.

  7. I think it is fair to say that the Aleppo Codex is *considered* to be the most authoritative text of the Bible.

    “Considered by some,” perhaps, but not by the scholarly consensus.

    • Hi Beno, my guess is that we are using terms such as “authoritative” that might mean different things to each of us. I mean to convey that “Jews go to this version of the book to figure out what the Bible says.” (That’s not to say there aren’t scribal errors in it.)

      Do you believe there is a more authoritative text than the Aleppo Codex? Or are you suggesting that because it is older than, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls, we should defer to the Dead Sea Scrolls where there are differences?

      I guess I’m trying to peel the layers of the onion and figure out what your objection is to the fact that I said the Aleppo Codex is considered to be the most authoritative.

      • Hi Shawn, happy to peel back the onion.

        my guess is that we are using terms such as “authoritative” that might mean different things to each of us. I mean to convey that “Jews go to this version of the book to figure out what the Bible says.”

        I agree that a lot hinges on what the word “authoritative” might mean. For me it means the most authentic text – the oldest text. Perhaps it’s best if both of us use more descriptive terminology.

        Some folks believe that the masoretic tradition is essentially unchanged from Moses at Sinai down to the Aleppo codex. Perhaps I whiffed a hint of such dogma in your post (or perhaps I am projecting). I would be interested to hear your thoughts about how old the texts in Aleppo really go back, perhaps in a follow-up post.

        Do you believe there is a more authoritative text than the Aleppo Codex? Or are you suggesting that because it is older than, say, the Dead Sea Scrolls, we should defer to the Dead Sea Scrolls where there are differences?

        I consider Aleppo as one piece of evidence within a particular written tradition. We don’t quite know yet how old some of those passages are and how they’ve changed over the centuries. But there are ways of figuring this out, one of which is comparing it to older texts (the DSS are but one example).

        For the most part, I find that even what is written explicitly in modern versions of the Bible such as Aleppo has been misunderstood. One can only dream about the secrets to be discovered in the dark matter.

  8. Zvi,

    It is no blunder for Karaite Jews to support other Jewish institutions. When the Karaite Yeshiva burned to the ground, the Sephardi Chief Rabbi admitted Karaite children to their school. Since the days of Karaite Sage Danyi’el al Kumisi (Zichrono Livracha), Karaite Jews have always been fervent Zionists. To live in Zion is to support Zionist institutions like Haddassah Hospital and Israeli institutions of higher learning whether or not they have an orthodox affiliation.

    As for the Aleppo Codex being awesome, I much prefer the awesomeness of the Cairo Codex of the Prophets whom the late Professor Emeritus of Karaite Jewish University Mourad el Kodsi wrote about in his treatise “A History of Two of Ben Asher’s Codices”

    The Cairo Codex of the Prophets took 25 years to complete and is amongst the earliest having been completed in year 894 of the Common Era. It was in the possession of the Karaite Jews for many years. In 1947 Dr. Paul Ernst Kahle (January 21, 1875, Hohenstein – September 24, 1964, Düsseldorf) was a German orientalist and scholar and the holder of three doctoral degrees, two of which were from Oxford University examined the Cairo Codex of the prophets at the Karaite Synagogue in
    Abbasiya, Cairo and then wrote to Zeki Daud Lisha, Esq in part thanking him for granting access to the codex and stated:

    “IT was given to the Synagogue of the Karaites in Jerusalem where it was held in high veneration until the Crusaders seized the Codex with other valuable manuscripts when they took Jerusalem in 1099. It was returned to the Karaite Community by David b. Yephet..”

    Professor Kahle held that the Masorete Scribes were Karaites. See pages 56 and 57 of this article on the Cairo Geniza.

    My dear brother Mourad was of the opinion that the Cairo Codex of the Prophets was being held hostage by some investor in Long Island, and before he died I pledged to him that if I could find it I would buy it and return it ‘home’ to the Anan Ben David Synagogue of the Karaite Jews in Jerusalem.

    • Zvi


      The Sephardi Chief Rabbi did not admit Qaraite children to his school in order to ensure they would continue receiving proper Qaraite education, but inculcated them with Rabbanite teachings. You do not appear to have much regard for the intelligence of non-Rabbanites, but such is life.
      That the Qaraites in Yerushalayim in the 11th century supported a Rabbanite Yeshiva was a spectacular blunder. You do not have to agree with me, whereas I will not deny you your privilege to thing the opposite.
      The comparison you made to the last 100 years or so does not really stand since the overall Rabbinic treatment of Qaraites and their Judaism had worsened.

      Good day sir.

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