Sunday, November 20, 2011


This post is for Adam, who may never read it, and Felix, who probably will.
Part two of a piece inspired by mention of a rabbi who lived in Jerusalem.

[Part one may be found here: . ]

The Rabbi in question, Samuel Solomon Boyarski, moved to Jerusalem in 1857 with his second wife and the two sons of his deceased first wife.
He died in 1888 or afterwards.
Not much is known about him, and alas, I shall not contribute in any significant way to what little is available on the internet.

What we do know is that he was a prodigy, and spent most of his life studying. And it is in part because of his labours that the pool of our knowledge has increased. In Jerusalem, Rabbi Boyarski worked as a sofer, over his lifetime completing a set of scrolls for the entire Tanach. It was while writing the portions Tehilim ('psalms), Mishlei, ('proverbs'), and Iyov ('Job') that he studied the notations made by Moishe Yehoshue Kimchi in the margins of a printed Tanach belonging to Rav Solem Schachne Yellin - Kimchi having spent some considerable time in Aleppo carefully examining one of the oldest extant Hebrew bibles, known as the Aleppo Codex.

[Sofer: a scribe, more particularly a scribe who writes Toratos, Megillos, y otros. Tanach: standard acronym for the Bible - Torah, Neviim, Ketuvim.]


The Aleppo Codex was likely created by Shlomo ben Abuya and Aharon ben Asher in the tenth century C.E., and is considered the most accurate extant copy of the entire Bible. For a while it was in Jerusalem, then ended up in Cairo where the Rambam inspected it. The Rambam's descendants are reputed to have taken it to Aleppo in Syria by the end of the thirteen hundreds, where it remained for the next six centuries.
Along with the Codex Cairensis and the Leningrad Codex, it is one of the primary source-examples for the Biblical text, particularly as regards the correct pronunciation of Hebrew.

[Keter Aram Tzova: The Crown of Aleppo, that being the Hebrew name for the Aleppo Codex. Aram Tzova: Aleppo, which is part of the area anciently known as Aram, where the Akkadians dwelt. The kingdom of Tzova is at one end, the Yoke of Aram (Padan Aram) at the other. In between is Aram Naharain: Aram of the two rivers (the Euphrates and the Tigris). Aram Tzova is mentioned in psalm 60, as one of the enemies of King David. Shlomo ben Abuya, Aharon ben Asher: two masoretes (Baalei Mesora), of whom the latter is the most famous, being both a member of an esteemed Masoretic family as well as the redactor who added sound to the vowelless text enscribed by Shlomo ben Abuya. The Rambam: Rabbi Moses ben Maimon of Cordova (1135 - 1204), one of the most famous of scholars of mediaeval Jewry, and a source for much authoritative commentary on a vast wealth of subjects Talmudic, Biblical, and philosophical. The French monks burned copies of his books, considering such depth and breadth threatening to their primitive creed. Codex Cairensis: the oldest complete text of Neviim ('prophets'), vowelized by Moishe ben Asher of Tiberias (Tveriya, one of the four main cities of the Jewish population that had remained in the Holy Land continuously even since the Roman excesses) over eleven centuries ago. Leningrad Codex: the oldest complete manuscript of the Bible in Hebrew with the masoretic text and Tiberian nikkud.]

The Rambam was probably one of the first great scholars to hold it in high esteem, Rashash Boyarski based the paragraph and poetic breaks in his megillos upon it, and, in our century, Rabbi Mordechai Breuer indirectly based his work upon it.

[Megillos: Scrolls. Most commonly the five scrolls of the Torah (chomeish megillos) are meant, though all other books of the Bible are also im gonzen megillos.]

In the late sixties, a century after Rashash Boyarski had examined Moishe Kimchi's meticulous notes, Rav Breuer become an editor for Da'as Mikra, a project intended to provide a modern commentary that was true to tradition. Rabbi Breuer was tasked with assuring the accuracy of the text's spelling, vowelization, and cantilation. His relevant expertise for the task was that he was an acknowledged expert in his field, having carefully proofread an edition of the Bible a decade previously.

[Da'as Mikra: two words - da'as, meaning knowledge, and mikra, meaning that which is read. Hence knowledge of the correct reading as it relates to the Biblical text, which without the input of the Masoretes we would be in the dark about. Quite different from Da'as Toireh, which is the rather simple-minded faith that the rabbonim know everything better. Some do, by no means all, and those that do by no means everything. Unless they have the depth and breadth of a Rambam, than whom there are none.]

The stumbling block with which he was presented, however, was in some ways typical of the academic milieu: specifically, that although the Aleppo Codex would have been, should have been, a primary source for textual correctness, the Hebrew University's Mifal Ha Mikra project jealously guarded the document and refused research access. With that door closed, Rav Breuer availed himself of the only other sources available to him, namely other manuscripts of a lesser age and provenance, comparing these word by word and paragraph by paragraph, deciding between variants in the manuscripts on the assumption that they derived from the same original source document.

[Mifal ha Mikra: not, as you might expect , a serious competitor of Mifal Ha Payus (long suspected of having a monopoly on dreidlech), but 'The Work of What is Read'. Mifal in modern Hebrew means a manufactory, sometimes a workshop. Mikra often is applied specifically to the reading of scripture, and hence indicates in this context the correct pronunciation of Biblical Hebrew and deduction of meanings.]

Luck was with him. Despite being barred from the Crown of Northern Aram itself, he managed to get a hold of the Bible with Moishe Kimchi's marginal annotations, and also, both remarkably and inexplicably, photocopies of the Aleppo Codex. These confirmed (with only two exceptions) that his assumptions were correct.
In other words, there was a direct correlation between the other manuscripts and the Aleppo Codex.

Rav Breuer is rightly considered one of the greatest scholars of the modern era. But the field in which he labored coincides most marvelously with that of the scribe, whose attention to detail and correct materials mirrors, AND overlaps, his focus on the correct reading.

For some reason the tools and trade of soferim, scarce changed over centuries, always remind me of two other subjects - not the pitch black ink of text, but the sea snail exuded indigo blue of techeiles, of which the method of manufacture has reputedly been rediscovered (after an interval of over ten centuries), and the oak bug crimson used ritually, sheni tolaas, traded extensively throughout all the lands of the ancient near-east, at great price. Ink, like rare dyes, has always been precious. As witness the worth of the Keter Aram Tzova, as well as Rav Breuer's magnum opus, the Keter Aram Tzova ve ha Nusach Hamekubal Shel Mikra.
To name but two examples.

Tomorrow: an entirely irrelevant recipe for a dish that Eastern Europeans invented in the Holy City.
Somehow, I'll connect it to all of this. Not quite sure how.
Stay tuned. Everything at some point involves food.

[Boyarski: Part One, Part Two, and Part Three.]

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Felix said...

Excellent! Thanks again!

But what about the most interesting aspect of Boyarski's personality, his "Idiosyncratic attitude toward biblical scrolls", including "Scrolls of Nakh (Nevi'im and Kethuvim)" and "Private use of Torah scrolls, by individuals at home" (as Wikipedia puts it)?

e-kvetcher said...

I always spell the Rabbi's name as "Kimkhi" to alleviate any confusion with the Korean staple...

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