The story of the most famous book manuscript of the Tanach, the Keter Arom Tzova (the Allepo Codex), fascinates and ignites the imagination extraordinarily. This manuscript has not only an amazing story but is also of tremendous historic and academic importancetill today.
Despite its name pointing to Aleppo in Syria, the source of the manuscript is in Israel of the 10th century. This full version of the Tanach written in one book (instead of many separate scrolls) was written in Tiberias by the scribe Shlomo Ben-Boia’a and edited by Aaron Ben-Asher. The latter is really the critical part of the manuscript and what gives it its tremendous importance.
A century later the book began its wanderings. First of all it was purchased by a Kara’ite Jew who transferred it to Jerusalem. Later the Ottoman authorities became aware of the important manuscript, robbed it and transferred it to Cairo in Egypt. The local Jewish community raised a huge sum to redeem the book and kept it for several hundred years. At this stage, Maimonides became aware of the Keter and based on it his exact version of the Torah in his Halachic codex.
Maimonides extensively praised this manuscript. Several generations later, a descendant of Maimonides moved together with the Keter to Haleb (Allepo) where the community religiously kept it in the Aron HaKodesh of the Great Synagogue. Only very few people got to see the manuscript first hand. Even researchers who asked to review it were often rejected and were allowed to do so only indirectly by an intermediary.
During the 20th century the Jewish community faced increasing pressure from the Muslim population which reached its peak in the riots and the burning of a synagogue after the vote in the UN on the Partition Plan in 1947.
Dozens Torah scrolls were burned purposely by the rioters. The fear was that the Keter was destroyed too, but shortly afterwards word spread that the book was saved and that it was told that it had been he destroyed only to prevent further looting from the rioters. Many inquiries have been made by various parties to restitute it to Israel.
Over a decade later came a Syrian Jew arriving from Allepo named Mordechai Ben Ezra Faham presented the book to President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi after he received it received from the community leaders of Allepo, hiding it in his washing machine transported through Istanbul. But the book was missing large portions – only 294 pages out of 487 pages of the original that had arrived. Almost all the Pentateuch is missing as well as the last books. Many members of the community kept and apparently still retain, individual pages from the book. From time to time parts of the book reappear.
The Ben Zvi Institute gave the book to the Israeli Museum displaying it in Shrine of the Book.