Matti Friedman, an Associated Press reporter, thought he’d found the perfect human interest story. Perhaps the most authoritative manuscript of the Jewish Bible, the Aleppo Codex, called the Crown, had been annotated by Maimonides himself and safeguarded by the Jewish diaspora for millennia. Nearly destroyed when rioting mobs set fire to the grand Aleppo synagogue in 1947, it was rescued and delivered to Israel a decade later, to be proudly displayed in the institute of then-president Itzhak Ben-Zvi for posterity. “I expected to write a heartening story about the rescue of this book,” writes Friedman, “but instead found myself like a person who innocently opens a cupboard and finds himself buried under a pile of forgotten things.” Thank goodness for that.
Friedman’s dogged journalistic curiosity forces him to re-examine every aspect of that shiny heroic narrative. His inquiry yielded “The Aleppo Codex,’’ a thrilling, step-by-step quest to discover what really happened to Judaism’s most important book: who rescued it from the synagogue, how it came to be held by Israel’s Ben-Zvi Institute, and why nearly half of its pages were missing by the time it got there. With the help of a motley crew of Codex enthusiasts, Friedman goes up against a campaign of silence so effective that it is only slightly cracking 50 years later, when all of the major players are dead.