Reports of missing pages of the Aleppo Codex continue to trickle in. We follow the leads but are rarely successful. I will discuss one such search publicly for the first time here in the hope that some BAR reader will have the key to a successful conclusion.
The clue is a brief entry in one of the notebooks left by Israel’s President Yitzhak Ben-Zvi, who passed away in 1963. It reads, in its entirety, as follows: “Related by David Sassoon: Shamosh holds several parchment pages of the Aleppo Codex.”
I had no idea who “Shamosh” was. (This “Shamosh” was not the same as the “Shamosh” mentioned in the article who wrote a book on the Aleppo Codex.) Recently, I learned from Yehuda Dominitz, who had been head of the Immigration Department of the Jewish Agency, that in the 1950s he was, as he described himself, a junior clerk in the department and knew this Shamosh (referred to in Ben-Zvi’s notebook) very well. Shamosh had served as a go-between for the Jews of Aleppo trying to connect with the Jewish Agency.
Yaakov Shamosh had been born in Aleppo but moved to Turkey in the 1930s, where he managed a fabric store. He was also a shohet (ritual slaughterer). He was also known as a hakham (a sage). Shamosh maintained telephone contact with the Jews of Aleppo and knew the smugglers and drivers of secret Jewish emigrants from Syria. Shamosh would lead them over the border, arrange lodgings for them and pay the smugglers and drivers. He lived in a port city on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey named Iskenderun. The Syrian Jews would either board a ship to Israel directly from the port of Iskenderun or, when no direct sea voyage was available, Shamosh or one of his sons would accompany the Jews on the one-to-two-day bus ride to Istanbul, where more ships were available. The money for Shamosh’s activities came from the Jewish Agency. In my informant’s view, Shamosh was a reliable and dedicated man who was prepared to endanger himself and his family to help Jews fleeing from Syria get to Israel.
Apparently, Shamosh told someone who told David Sassoon who told President Ben-Zvi, as recorded in his notebook, that Shamosh “held several parchment pages of the Aleppo Codex.”
Shamosh died some years ago. I heard that one of his sons lives in Brooklyn, but I haven’t been able to locate him. Maybe this article will reach him. I have continued to investigate the matter, however, and I believe I have now established a contact between Shamosh and Mordechai Faham, who brought the 294 pages of the Aleppo Codex to Israel in 1957. I have learned that Faham passed through Iskenderun on his way to Israel with the codex. Two “insiders” confirmed this. Moreover, according to Dominitz, Shamosh was the first to notify Israel of the arrival of the codex. Finally, a cousin of Shamosh’s (Amnon Shamosh) who investigated the story of the codex for a novel, told me that Faham stayed with Shamosh for some time in Iskenderun, deliberating whether to continue on to Israel with the codex or to move to the United States.
The question is irresistible: Did Shamosh somehow obtain a few pages of the codex while Faham was staying with him on his way to Israel with the codex? Was this the expression of gratitude that Faham made to Shamosh? Do these precious parchment pages still exist?
Less charitable speculations: Did Shamosh simply take them from Faham without telling him? A few pages of the codex would ensure the family’s economic future. Or are these unjust and unfair conjectures about a wholly honorable man?
If any reader of these words has any information about surviving members of Yaakov Shamosh’s family, please let me know through BAR.—Yosef Ofer