The Aleppo Codex by Matti Friedman

This true-life detective story unveils the journey of a sacred text—the tenth-century annotated bible known as the Aleppo Codex—from its hiding place in a Syrian synagogue to the newly founded state of Israel. Based on Matti Friedman’s independent research, documents kept secret for fifty years, and personal interviews with key players, the book proposes a new theory of what happened when the codex left Aleppo, Syria, in the late 1940s and eventually surfaced in Jerusalem, mysteriously incomplete.

The codex provides vital keys to reading biblical texts. By recounting its history, Friedman explores the once vibrant Jewish communities in Islamic lands and follows the thread into the present, uncovering difficult truths about how the manuscript was taken to Israel and how its most important pages went missing. Along the way, he raises critical questions about who owns historical treasures and the role of myth and legend in the creation of a nation. Epic in its sweep, The Aleppo Codex features a fascinating cast of characters–all of whom claim the codex as their own.

Read the transcript from JBC and Jewcy's #JLit Twitter Book Club with Matti Friedman below.   Make sure to follow the Jewish Book Council ( @jewishbook) and Jewcy (@jewcymag), and search #JLit to follow next month's conversation!

@JewishBook: Welcome to #TwitterBookClub! @MattiFriedman, author of THE ALEPPO CODEX (@AlgonquinBooks 2012) & @TimesofIsrael reporter, is here. #JLit

@JewishBook: Hi @MattiFriedman! Thanks for joining us today. And shoutout to @jewcymag, our cosponsor of the #TwitterBookClub #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I am indeed. Fire away... #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Thanks for having me! #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I'm tweeting from Jerusalem, Israel, where live and report and do some other stuff as well. #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Love how we can tweet around the world. So now... ALEPPO CODEX. How’d you get wrapped up in the saga of the Crown? #JLit

@jewcymag: @MattiFriedman How's the weather in Jerusalem? Any more snow?#JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Also, what's this "other stuff" you do in Jerusalem? Black market book deals, per chance? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: It's all gone, sadly. We had the loveliest blizzard last week. It reminded me of my childhood in Toronto. But the Mideast has returned #JLit

@MattiFriedman: If I did do black market book deals, I wouldn't Tweet about 'em. (I probably also wouldn't have to work as a journalist) #JLit

@MattiFriedman: As for finding the "Crown," I stumbled upon it one day in the Israel Museum #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I was an AP reporter at the time, and was desperate to cover something that wasn't an airstrike or a press conference #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman How is it that someone--a journalist no less--could stumble upon a book wrapped up in so much mystery&intrigue? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Something about the book caught my imagination; I had no idea at the time what an amazing story it was or that it had never been told #JLit

@jewcymag: .@MattiFriedman Loved that first scene—our Birthright trip was totally that big group staring at the Dead Sea Scrolls #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I was surprised too. It honestly didn't occur to me that new and interesting things could be written about something that old #JLit

@MattiFriedman: The real story is downstairs! #JLit

@jewcymag: .@MattiFriedman How would you describe the codex + its enigma in one tweet? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: The Crown is in the gallery underneath the scrolls, which are like the Lady Gaga of ancient Hebrew manuscripts #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman What was the reaction when you finally TOLD the story? From various Syrian diaspora communities, Israeli gov't, etc.? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: In that analogy, the Crown is like an awesome indie band that only cool people know about #JLit

@MattiFriedman: As for reax, some people were unhappy, and still are. #JLit

@JewishBook: @MattiFriedman Can you give us anything more than "unhappy"? Or is that all you're willing to disclose on the record? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: There was a kind of charged exchange of letters in Haaretz with two academics involved in the story #JLit

@MattiFriedman: They were not pleased with the way I described Israel's 2nd president, Itzhak Ben-Zvi, or the institute he founded #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Gotcha. Do you have any regrets about the way you wrote about the president/the institution? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: In the Syrian community, some were unhappy with my portrayal of Murad Faham, the Aleppo cheese merchant who smuggled the book out #JLit

@MattiFriedman: ...in his washing machine. #JLit

@jewcymag: .@MattiFriedman What else do you think people should start storing in their washing machines? #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Was there any mistrust from the Syrian community because you're not Syrian (while reporting or afterwards)? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Nope. The book has been tackled by now from every angle -- it's solid. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Hmm. Anything you don't want Syrian border officials to find if you're smuggling contraband out of the country in 1957. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Yes. It was hard to make inroads, and it started happening only after I found a key ally inside the community #JLit

@MattiFriedman: That was Ezra Kassin, a kind of amateur Crown sleuth who had run an independent investigation for years out of his apartment #JLit

@stuffism: .@MattiFriedman What’s your favorite moment from reporting that didn’t make it into the book? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: A moment when I had just met a fairly creepy antiquities dealer, and someone told me that day there was a murder linked to the story #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman I was struck by the Yemeni immigration to Israel & their mistreatment. Why was it important to include it in the book? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I didn't know who had been murdered yet, and I was imagining it was a snoopy reporter who asked too many questions #JLit

@MattiFriedman: A few tense nights ensued. In the end it wasn't a reporter (it was a dealer) and I'm still alive. #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Baruch hashem! Otherwise we wouldn't have had a #TwitterBookClub today. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: The story of the Yemenites provided crucial context for everything else -- the clash between the immigrants and the government... #JLit

@MattiFriedman: ...and the thirst for old books. The idea that there was also an ingathering of exiled books. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: You could have had one, but I probably wouldn't be tweeting as much #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman And the idea that the books' owners didn't know how to take care of them after keeping them safe for 100s of years! #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Right. That was the idea that also lurked beneath the "nationalization" of the Crown. #JLit

@NaomiFirestone: .@MattiFriedman Any new updates on the case since the book’s publication? #JLit

@amandakaletsky: @MattiFriedman The bk reads like a mystery novel w/ u as the protagonist. Did it feel that way while you were researching? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Regarding the missing pages, no. As a reporter, that actually makes me breathe a sigh of relief, because it means I covered all bases #JLit

@WhyHoffman: @MattiFriedman I found that section fascinating. Books clearly were & continue to be a central part of Jewish Culture #PeopleOfTheBook #JLit

@jewcymag: .@MattiFriedman Had any of your friends never heard of the Crown? #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Do you think the missing pages will ever be found? Based on what you know? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Sometimes. But mystery novels never tell you how boring it is to sit in an archive for a week looking at letters that are 99% inane #JLit

@MattiFriedman: And I never had reason to use a magnifying glass, unfortunately #JLit

@amandakaletsky: @MattiFriedman That's so true, so just how many hrs were you sitting in archives as opposed to interviewing, etc? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Almost no one I know had heard of the Crown (including me), which is astonishing -- it's literally Judaism's most important manuscript #JLit

@BookGal102: .@MattiFriedman What do you usually report on with @TimesofIsrael? What was the difference between reporting and writing this book? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I do think they'll be found, or at least some of them. It's clear that they survived -- they're out there somewhere. #JLit

@jewcymag: @BookGal102 @MattiFriedman and were you still writing articles/reporting while working on the book? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Maybe in a library 5 minutes from my apartment here in Jerusalem...maybe in a safe somewhere in Manhattan #JLit

@MattiFriedman: More interviews than archives, thank God. I'm more of a people person! #JLit

@MattiFriedman: For most of the time I worked on the book I was reporting for the AP #JLit

@WhyHoffman: @MattiFriedman I've had the same experience. Why do you think that's the case? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I took a few blocs of time off to make progress, tho; being a news agency reporter didn't leave me a lot of free time (or brainpower) #JLit

@nycbook: .@MattiFriedman When did you realize you were totally sucked in by this mystery? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: @WhyHoffman Which experience? #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman If you can bear a touchy-feely Q: You say it's the most important manuscript. What does it mean to YOU now? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Originally it was just supposed to be a standard 1,300 word news feature for the AP... #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Afterward I started making more calls, and people wouldn't talk. That's when I was hooked. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I'm less moved by the actual manuscript than by its story. That's why the book is really about the Crown's travels #JLit

@MattiFriedman: So for me it's 1,100 years of incredible history, mystery, intrigue: The story of the collapse of the Jewish world in Arab lands... #JLit

@stuffism: @MattiFriedman You were unraveling a pretty big secret—were you ever spooked by the whole thing? #JLit

@WhyHoffman: @MattiFriedman "Almost no one I know had heard of the Crown (including me)" #JLit

@MattiFriedman: And of the birth of Israel. The perfecting of the Bible, the Crusades, Maimonides -- it's all there in this one stack of parchment. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I was spooked by the murder story, b/c I knew there was a murder before I knew who had been killed. But I wasn't really living in fear #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Did you have any connection to the Syrian Jewish community before the Crown? #JLit

@NaomiFirestone: .@MattiFriedman There were almost no women involved in the various layers of this mystery... why do you think that is? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Honestly, I think I only barely knew there was such a thing. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I kept hoping the next interview would be a brilliant, beautiful Belgian book expert; but it was always just another 80-yr-old dude #JLit

@MattiFriedman: The people obsessed with the Crown, collectors, etc -- all male. It's possible women have better things to do. #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman So what's next? Any other books in the works? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Although my favorite character from the book is a woman -- Bahiyeh, the Aleppo sexton's daughter #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I describe her childhood memories and her escape from Syria. She's lovely. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Yes. I'm in the (very) early stages of another project about something completely different #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman What a privilege to have access to those stories - and you gave the whole world access, really. #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman Any hints about the topic? #JLit

@MattiFriedman: No ancient manuscripts. Maimonides not involved this time. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: It was an amazing privilege to have stumbled on this story. #JLit

@jewcymag: @MattiFriedman also realistically only the men would be the ones with the keys, literally and figuratively, to the Crown #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman That really narrows it down! #JLit

@JewishBook: Last questions in for #TwitterBookClub with @MattiFriedman?? Ask now! #JLit

@JewishBook: @jewcymag Very true. #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I think that like lots of reporters I might have suspected there were no truly amazing stories left to find. The Crown proved me wrong #JLit

@JewishBook: .@MattiFriedman That's all the time we have for today's #TwitterBookClub. Thank you so very much for tweeting at us from #Jerusalem! #JLit

@MattiFriedman: I'll be vague -- it's an attempt to tell a story about Israelis of my generation... #JLit

@MattiFriedman: Thanks for having me! It was a pleasure -- good evening from Jerusalem... #JLit

@zahara3: @MattiFriedman what is one piece of advice you'd give a writer?

@MattiFriedman: @zahara3 Hey! Didn't see this without the #JLit tag. Practice, and believe there is a great story out there with your name on it.


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