A New Hebrew Bible: the Aleppo Codex.
Companion Volume. Contributions by Menahem Ben-Sasson, Nahum Ben-Zvi, Mordechai Glatzer, Thomas J. Karger, Yosef Ofer. Edited by MORDECHAI GLATZER. Jerusalem: N. Ben-Zvi Printing Enterprises Ltd., 2002.
The Keter Yerushalayim was introduced to the public at the Jerusalem Book Fair two years ago. The Jerusalem Report ran a short and very positive review the next month. Beyond that, little has been said about this impressive new Tanakh in the English language press. Although the Keter can be found in nearly every bookstore in Israel, it is still hard to locate in the United States. This is unfortunate as this Tanakh is an outstanding achievement.
The Keter Yerushalayim is a Hebrew Tanakh without an English translation. What then would be the appeal to the English-speaking reader? The answer is two-fold.
Firstly, the Keter is an attractive book. The typography and page layout is open and inviting. It is an advance over the Koren Tanakh which appeared in the 1960s, and superceded the many different Tanakhim that used the same nineteenth-century version of the Biblia Hebraica typography--the Hertz Chumash, for instance. While the Koren's modern typography was a major improvement and the layout was pleasant, it has a certain blandness to it that Keter Yerushalayim has overcome. For the Keter an entirely new typeface was developed by Zvi Narkiss based on the calligraphic script used in the Aleppo Codex.
Instead of a single column of text on each page the Keter, using the Aleppo Codex as an inspiration, has three columns of text, except in a few special places where the content and tradition dictate special attention. The first of these exceptions is in the setting of the Shirat Ha-Yam. This poem usually runs from the middle of one page on into the middle of the next. In the Keter the page preceding the Shir is divided into one narrow column of text at the outer edge and a double-width column toward the center. Opposite that page the Shir runs from the top of the page to the bottom in one double-width inner column. A perfect fit. A single column of text then runs along the outer side. The typesetting of the entire Tanakh radiates out from this beautifully balanced two-page arrangement.
Ha'azinu (The Song of Moses) in Devarim presented another typographic challenge which yielded a solution less perfect but quite attractive. Here the text runs from the center of one page to the end of the next. There is one wide column and one narrow one, but here the narrow column is at the inner edge. The Ha'azinu begins about a third of the way from the bottom of the page. The column is divided into hemistichs (hemistich = half line of poetry) justified at the outer edges. On the verso where the poem concludes the page is divided into two columns with this hemistich division. The effect is a little bit like the scene in Fantasia where Mickey Mouse tries to destroy the broom that he has lost control of and finds each of the splinters turning into a broom of its own. It is not inappropriate to the content of the poem. Tehilim (Psalms), Mishle (Proverbs), and Iov (Job) are set in a single-column arrangement with the outer edges of the hemistichs justified. This is a very felicitous format for the strongly poetic text of these books.
Additional creative solutions are used in the presentation of the Song of Deborah and the Song of David. Throughout, a variety of elegant solutions are used to deal with the special issues related to vocalization, trope, chapter notations, verse notations, parshah divisions, and aliyot.
While the aesthetic aspect of the Keter is enough to warrant its popularity, the Keter is equally important for its other connection to the Aleppo Codex: the most essential aspect of the Aleppo Codex, its accuracy. The Aleppo Codex is the earliest and most important Masoretic manuscript. It was written by the greatest of the Masoretes, Asher ben Asher. The Masoretes, Tiberian grammatical experts, created nikkudim (vocalization signs) and te'amim (accents) that we still use today. Maimonides knew and referred to the Aleppo Codex. He considered it the most correct Tanakh in existence. The Codex had a colorful history and for most of the modern period was difficult to gain access to. Almost all of the pages of the Torah section of the manuscript have been missing since the anti-Jewish riots in Aleppo in 1947.
Because of the loss of part of the Codex it was necessary to refer to another early Masoretic manuscript, specifically the Leningrad Codex. The text of the Leningrad codex suffers from a much larger number of scribal errors than the Aleppo Codex, but is still the next best thing. Rabbi Mordechai Breuer based his Tanakhim of 1977 and 1996 on the Aleppo Codex. The Keter is an improvement on these two Tanakhim and was produced in collaboration with Rabbi Breuer using his methods. Rabbi Breuer and the creators of the Keter had to rely on the notes of the small number of scholars who had seen the Aleppo prior to the loss of 1947. Their observations on the Aleppo Codex's unique attributes were invaluable. The Keter benefited from a larger staff of human proofreaders and the additional assistance of computer collation which was able to detect many errors that even the very conscientious human team had failed to ferret out.
The accuracy of the text should make this Tanakh essential to students of the Hebrew Bible and to anyone who reads Torah, Haftorah, or any of the Megiloth in synagogue. It is more accurate than even the recent Tikkun Simanim (which was itself a tremendous improvement over the widely used Ktav tikkkun). It has been issued in three formats. There is a pocket edition and a trade-sized edition measuring 7" by 9". The larger of these two editions is sold in a slipcase alone or together with the Companion Volume in a slipcase. There is also a folio-sized deluxe edition which is similar in size to the Hebrew University facsimile of the Aleppo Codex. Each format has its own virtues, but the trade edition will be the best choice for most people.
The Companion Volume has all articles in both Hebrew and English starting from opposite ends of the volume with illustrations at the center. The articles describe the making of the Keter, the history of the Aleppo Codex, the editorial principles involved in the creation of the Keter, and an article on the physical aspects of medieval manuscripts. These articles are quite useful, but may tell the average reader a little more than they want to know. In the most interesting of the articles, "The Making of a Book: Producing the Jerusalem Keter," Nahum Ben-Zvi tells the story of how the Keter moved from his imagination into print. Ben-Zvi is the head of the N. Ben-Zvi Printing Enterprises and is the most prominent commercial printer in Israel. His father was the official printer of Mandate Palestine. In the 1970s when Hebrew University's Magnes Press published the Aleppo Codex facsimile he fed the sheets. He became fascinated with the Codex and developed a desire to produce a Tanakh that could communicate the same sensibility as the original but was complete and a fine work of printing. He made many attempts over the years, but found that the available technology was not up to his vision. It was not until the nineties that the necessary technology arrived. Ben-Zvi was able to use more automation in the creation of a Tanakh than had ever been used before. By employing Zvi Narkiss, Israel's foremost typographer, Ben-Zvi found a master designer and aesthetician in addition to typographer.
It is regrettable that the quality of the printing of the Companion Volume (at least in the copies that I have seen) is not as high as that of the Keter itself. The layout is also a little slack in the bibliographies in the English language portion of the book. Still, it is possible that the Companion Volume will make the Keter more accessible to the Jewish world outside of Israel and that would overcome the import of any faults it might have.
HENRY HOLLANDER is a bookseller and sometime publisher who lives in San Francisco.
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|Title Annotation:||Keter Yerushalayim/Jerusalem Crown: The Bible of the Hebrew|
|Publication:||Judaism: A Quarterly Journal of Jewish Life and Thought|
|Article Type:||Book Review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2002|
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