See the deposition given by Rabbi Tawwil in 1958, after his immigration to Israel, and the 1976 interview of Mordecai Fahham, in Amnon Shamosh, Ha-Keter: The Story of the Aleppo Codex (Jerusalem: Machon Ben Zvi, 1986), pp. 161–162 and 39–41 (in Hebrew).


Hebrew words generally contain two components, root and a grammatical portion. The root, typically three consonants (X-X-X), establishes the semantic field: l-m-d “studying,” g-z-l “stealing,” d-r-sû “searching.” The grammatical portion is a pattern of vowels and certain consonants that fits into the root; for example, XaXXan “one who does,” XaXaX “third-person- masculine, simple past tense.”

Thus, lamdan “scholar,” gazlan “thief,” darsûan “preacher,” lamad “he studied,” gazal “he stole,” darasû “he searched.”

Other patterns give melamed “teacher,” talmid “student,” derasûah “exegesis,” midrasû “commentary.” Analyzing words in an advertisement, Geoffrey Sampson (Writing Systems: A Linguistic Introduction [Stanford, CA: Stanford Univ. Press, 1985], pp. 89–92) finds that only 30 percent have more than one possible reading in isolation; in context none is ambiguous.


Writing in France during the 11th century, Solomon ben Isaac (“Rashi”) says in his commentary to this passage in the Talmud that the reader “moves his hand according to the melody. I have seen among readers who come from the land of Israel.” For illustration of the modern Italian style, as well as convincing arguments that the “melody” is actually a chant, see Avigdor Herzog, “Masoretic Accents,” Encyclopaedia Judaica (Jerusalem: Keter, 1971), vol. 11, cols. 1098–1111.


Even after a thousand years, the Masoretic undertaking is a subject of considerable controversy and polemic, both Jewish/Christian and Catholic/ Protestant. For various evaluations of the Masorah, see Aron Dotan, “Masorah,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 16, 1401–1482; Moshe Goshen-Gottstein, “Hebrew Biblical Manuscripts: Their History and Their Place in the HUBP Edition,” Biblica 48 (1967), pp. 243–289, “The Aleppo Codex and the Rise of the Massoretic Text,” Biblical Archeologist 42:3 (Summer 1979), 145–163; J. D. Eisenstein, “Massoret,” in Ozar Yisrael (New York: Pardes, 1951), vol. 6, pp. 255–256 (in Hebrew); Shemaryahu Talmon, “The Old Testament Text” in The Cambridge History of the Bible, vol. 1, ed. P.R. Ackroyd and C. F. Evans (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 159–198; Bleddyn J. Roberts, “The Old Testament: Manuscripts, Text and Versions,” in Cambridge History, vol. 2, ed. G.W.H. Lampe, 1–26; John Reumann, “The Transmission of the Biblical Text,” in The Interpreter’s One-Volume Commentary the Bible, ed. Charles M. Layman (Nashville, TN: Abingdon, 1971, 1982), pp. 1225–1236; Otto Eissfeldt, The Old Testament: An Introduction, transl. Ackroyd (New York: Harper & Row, 3rd ed., 1965), pp. 678–693; Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature (South Brunswick, NJ: Thomas Yoseloff, 2nd ed., 1960), vol. 1, pp. 153–166.


See Dotan, “Masorah,” col. 1405; and Eisenstein, “Soferim,” in Ozar Yisrael (in Hebrew).


Soferim 1:10, 12:8–12. See also The Minor Tractates the Talmud, ed. A. Cohen (London: Soncino, 1971), vol. 1, p. 215, n. 44.


The Hebrew word dikduk has come to mean grammar. In Ben Asher’s day it probably still had a denotation closer to that of its root DWK, “examine, detail.”


English Preface to the Facsimile Edition of Keter Aram Zova (Jerusalem: Magnes Press, 1976).


Quoted in Yitzchak Ben-Zvi, “Ben Asher’s ‘Keter Torah’—A Brand Plucked from the Fire,” Sinai 43 (1958), p. 9 (in Hebrew).


Details for the following historical survey were from many sources. The general history of Aleppo owes much to Abraham Marcus, The Middle East on the Eve of Modernity: Aleppo in the Eighteenth Century (New York: Columbia Univ. Press, 1989). For the picture of Jewish life, see also Raphael Patai, The Vanished Worlds of Jewry (New York, Macmillan, 1980), pp. 138–141; Elkan Nathan Adler, “Aleppo” Universal Jewish Encyclopedia (New York, 1939), vol 1, pp. 167–168; Eliyahu Ashtor, “Aleppo,” Encyclopaedia Judaica, vol. 2, cols. 562–564; Azriel Eisenberg, Jewish Historical Treasures (New York: Bloch, 1968), pp.78–79; Norman A. Stillman, The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1979), pp. 105–107, 318–321.


Marcus, The Middle East, pp. 27–36.


See Marcus, The Middle East, chap. 2, “The People: a Groups, Classes, and Social Contrasts,” and chap.9, “The Urban Experience: Neighborhood Life and Personal Identity”; and Adler, “Aleppo,” p. 168.


E.g. Ben-Zvi, “The Codex of Ben Asher,” Textus 1and (1960), pp. 1–16; D.S. Loewinger, “The Aleppo Codex and the Ben Asher Tradition,” Textus 1 (1960), pp. 59–111; Lazar Lipschutz, “Mishael Ben Uzziel’s Treatise on the Differences between Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali,” part 1 (text), Textus 2 (1962), pp. 1–58; part 2 (analysis), Textus 4 (1964), pp. 1–29; Israel Yeivin, The Aleppo Codex: A Study of Its Vocalization and Accentuation (Jerusalem: Magnes, 1968), and “The New Edition of the Biblia Hebraica: Its Text and Massorah,” Textus (1969), pp. 114–123; Mordecai Breuer, “Review CA: Yeivin’s Aleppo Codex,” Leshonenu 35 (1970/1), pp. 85–98, 175–191, and The Aleppo Codex and the Accepted Text of the Bible (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1976); Dotan, “The Aleppo Codex and Dikdukei ha-Te‘amim,” Leshonenu 2 (1972), pp. 167–185; Goshen-Gottstein, “The Aleppo Codex and the Rise of the Massoretic Text”; Jordan S. Penkower, “Maimonides and this Aleppo Codex,” Textus 9 (1981), pp. 39–128.


Goshen-Gottstein, “The Textual Criticism of the Old Testament Rise, Decline, Rebirth,” Journal of Biblical Literature 102:3 (Sept 1983), p. 396.