The Leningrad Codex: Rabbanites are Awesome (too)!

Carpet Page from Leningrad CodexSo it turns out that many medieval Rabbanites from the Land of Israel and the surrounding environs deserve a badge of interdenominational awesomeness as well.

And traces of this awesomeness run from Cairo in the early 11th century all the way to the Rabbanites of Egypt in the years following the birth of the State of Israel. Again, don’t take my word for it.

The oldest (known) complete copy of the Hebrew Bible surviving today is the Leningrad Codex, which is widely regarded as the second most important text in the Jewish biblical tradition. The Leningrad Codex was written in the year 1008 (or 1009), most likely in Cairo.

I had always thought that the Leningrad Codex was a Karaite manuscript; but over the last few weeks, I’ve increasingly come to believe that the Leningrad Codex was, in fact, a Rabbanite manuscript. [1]

What is remarkable about the Leningrad Codex is that the entire text (consonants, vowels, and masoretic notes) were the work of one man: Samuel ben Jacob. The Aleppo Codex, by contrast, was the work of two individuals (both Karaites): Shlomo ben Buya’a and Aaron ben Asher.

As if that were not awesome enough, the 11th century Rabbanites, like their Karaite counterparts, also supported members of opposing groups. A handful of Karaites “distinguished as such” appear on the “[c]harity lists drawn up the by the Palestinian Rabbanite community in Fustat . . . as recipients of food and money.” [2]

But in perhaps the hardest-to-believe display of open-mindedness, in the ninth century, descendents of Anan ben David (who is often considered the founder of modern Karaism) headed the famous Rabbanite yeshiva in Tiberias. WHAT!?! [3]

And in the 1950s, when the Aliyah Department of the Jewish Agency was pressured to cease Karaite aliyah from Egypt, Orthodox Egyptian Rabbanites halted all Egyptian aliyah activity for one month in 1950, “until instructions were received permitting Karaites to come to Israel.” [4]

Rami Mangoubi, an Egyptian Karaite Jew, first learned of this incident in France while under the care of a refugee organization after fleeing Egypt. Years later, in 1979, Mr. Mangoubi happened to meet some Egyptian Rabbanites in Israel, and they started exchanging memories of Egypt. According to one of these Egyptian Rabbanites, the organizers of aliyah activities in Egypt made sure that the restriction on Karaite aliyah remain unbeknownst to the general community, “parce que c’est une honte, nous sommes des freres” (“because it is a shame, we are brothers”).

That display of unity is truly awesome. And if descendents of Anan ben David could become head of the Rabbanite yeshiva in Tiberias, maybe one day a Karaite can head the Rabbanut.

*   *   *

[1] Perhaps, I’ll detail in a different post why the Leningrad Codex is believed to be a Rabbanite manuscript.

[2] See Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, p. 256.

[3] See Gil, A History of Palestine: 634-1099, p. 658; see also Rustow, Heresy and the Politics of Community: Jews of the Fatimid Caliphate, pp. 33-34.

[4] See Beinin, The Dispersion of Egyptian Jewry, pp. 183-184.


Filed under Aleppo Codex, Karaite Rabbanite Relations, Samuel ben Jacob, Zionism

3 Responses to The Leningrad Codex: Rabbanites are Awesome (too)!

  1. Shawn,

    If you would like an example of Rabbinic awesomeness try the Havadalah ceremony which is a Rabbinic tradition that Karaite Judaism has adopted!

    But before you give our birthright away to the Rabbanites, please know this: It was Karaite scholarship that produced the Aleppo Codex. The Colophon to the Aleppo Codex itself says so…which I have reproduced below:

    The Masorah of Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia: Introduction and Annotated By Page H. 19 notes: Two important manuscripts are associated with Aaron ben Asher. According to its colophon, the Lenigrad Codex (L) was prepared in 1008 C.E. by Samuel ben Jacob from exemplars written by Aaron ben Asher. Many erasures are present in the manuscript, probably resulting from corrections intended to bring the Codex closer to the tradition of Aaron ben Asher. The reliability of L has been questioned, but it is usually considered a good representative of the Ben Asher tradition. Although this Codex was not written by Aaron ben Asher himself, it is probably the most famous of the ben Asher codices because it was chosen as the text for BHK and BHS. Two facimile editions of L are available.

    The colophon of the Aleppo Codex claims that the text was written by Solomn ben Buya’a, but the vowels, accents, and Masorah were written by Aaron ben Asher himself. Subsequent research has decided that this codex is the best representative of Ben Asher tradition available. Most scholars agree that A dates from the first half of the ninth century. The codex originally contained the whole Hebrew Bible, but portions were lost during the 1947 riot at the synagogue in Aleppo where the codex was kept. Subsequently, it was brought to Jerusalem, where it forms the basis for the Hebrew University Bible Project. There is a tradition that A was the codex cited by Jewish scholar Maimondes (1135 -1204) as exemplary when he was discussing certain matters related to the writing of scrolls. This tradition has be laboriously scrutinized by Goshen-Gottstein. A facsimile edition of the A is available. (Footnotes omitted).

    In “The story of the Aleppo Codex”, Jerusalem 1987 pp.56-57 and p.164 (Hebrew). Cassuto’s copy of the colophon of the Aleppo Codex reads as follows:
    This is the complete codex of twenty-four books written by master Rabbi
    Solomon known as Ben-Buya‘a the proficientscribe (may the spirit of the Lord bring him rest). It was pointed and given Masoretic notes with extreme clarity by the great teacher, the wise sage, master of the scribes, father of the sages, head of the teachers, proficient in his deeds, expert in his craft, unique in his generation, master Rabbi Aaron son of master Rabbi Asher, may his soul be bound up in the bundle of life with the prophets, the righteous, and the sages. It was donated by the great vizier, the mighty, valiant, master Rabbi Israel (the beauty of all Israel,
    the wise, the sagacious, the righteous, the honest, the generous, may the Lord raise his flag, cause his head to flourish, and increase his might) from the city of Basra, son of master Rabbi Simchah son of master Rabbi Sa‘adiah son of master Rabbi Ephraim (may the spirit of the Lordbring them rest). [It was donated] to Jerusalem the holy city for the seed of Israel the assembly of Jacob, the congregation of Yeshurun, the Keepers of Scripture, the treasure of the Karaites who dwell in Mt. Zion, may God establish it forever, Selah. It is holy to YHWH. It shall not be sold or redeemed. [It was donated] on condition that it not leave the control of the two greatprinces (the honorable, great and holy, glory of the generation) Prince Josiah and Prince Hezekiah, the sons of the honorable, great and holy Prince Solomon, son of Prince David, son of Prince Boaz (may their souls be bound up in the bundle of life in the Garden of Eden under the Tree of Life). [It was donated] for them to bring it out to the neighborhoods and congregations of the holy city on the three pilgrimages,the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths, for anyone who they desire
    and choose, to read it, to look in it, and to learn from it. If these two great princes, master Rabbi Josiah and Hezekiah (may their Rock bring them life by way of success) should see fit to deposit it with two righteous men (who are wise and well-known men who fear God, men of truth who hate ill-gotten gain) they shall do so according to their discretion and accepted practice. If any man from among the descendants of Israel, whether from the Keepers of Scripture or from the Rabbanites, desires on any of the days of the year to see in it matters of spelling,division of sections, openand closed paragraphs, or accent marks, for these
    purposes they shall bring it out to him to see, to gain wisdom, and to understand, but not to read or to study. Afterwards they shall return it to its place and guard it. A man who lacks faith shall not be left alone with it. May YHWH make it a good sign, a sign of blessing upon him [the donor] and upon his children and upon all Israel. May the verse be fulfilled in him that says, ‘[3] Even as I pour water on thirsty soil, And rain upon dry ground, So will I pour My spirit on your offspring, My blessing upon your posterity. [4] And they shall sprout like grass, Like willows by watercourses. [5] One shall say, “I am YHWH’s,” Another shall use the name of “Jacob,” Another shall mark his arm “of YHWH” And adopt the
    name of “Israel.”‘ [Isa 44.3-5] May all the blessings mentioned in it happen and come to pass, gathering upon him, upon his seed, upon all those who join him, and upon anyone who hears, listen, and obeysin accordance with all these things, not changing or modifying them for ever and ever. Blessed be YHWH forever!
    Amen and Amen!
    The Karaite Jews gave the world the Aleppo Codex!

    • I just did an entire post on the Aleppo Codex and the fact that Karaites wrote it. (But I have now clarified that in this post.) This post is about the Leningrad Codex, an entirely different work.

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