ALEPPO (Arabic, Haleb; Hebrew, , , but generally , or abbreviated or ):
By: Elkan N. Adler
Town of ancient and of modern Syria, and capital of a Turkish vilayet of the same name, between the Orontes and Euphrates rivers; situated on the banks of a little desert stream, Nahr-el-Haleb, seventy miles east of Alexandretta, its seaport on the Mediterranean. Formerly it derived its importance from being on the route to Bagdad and southern Persia; and it is said to have contained at one time as many as 200,000 souls. It can boast of sheltering one of the oldest Jewish communities, mentioned in Ps. lx. Though only ten days' journey north of Damascus, it was traditionally regarded, in letters of divorce (see
Though the synagogue in Aleppo has many modern additions, Abbé Chagnot is of opinion that portions of it were erected as early as the fourth century. It contains several inscriptions, some carved in its walls, others painted on them; one dating as early as 833, another as late as 1861; the former in a chapel () said to have been erected by Ali ben Nathan ben Mebasser ben . The date is furnished in the usual way by starring letters in a Biblical quotation. The chief peculiarity of the structure is a raised pulpit, known as Elijah's Seat. Several chapels surround the main building; the one on the extreme west, behind the Ark, and corresponding to the ladychapel of a European cathedral, is a damp shrine, with a stone sarcophagus, in which are preserved four Biblical manuscripts, the pride of the Aleppo Jews. The greatest superstitious reverence is attached to the codex now in Aleppo, which is ascribed to
The codex, from its accentuation and general character, can hardly be of earlier date than the twelfth century; nor can it be the original written in 922. The epigraphs must have been copied from another manuscript, itself perhaps not the first. The other three manuscripts are: (1) Pentateuch (text and Targum) with full Masoretic lists, finished (probably in Italy) on the 15th of Tammuz, 1101 (1341); (2) Pentateuch with the commentary of Rashi in the margin and sundry additions of Ibn Ezra, Naḥmanides, and Joseph Caro; (3) a huge but beautifully illuminated Masoretic Pentateuch with the Hafṭarot and the five Megillot. The synagogue is also the meeting-house of the congregants. On an upper floor is the rabbinical school with a fairly good Hebrew library. Stored near the roof of one of the chapels is a genizah, from which, in times of drought, the dust is removed and carried with much ceremony to the Jewish cemetery and there buried with fervent prayers for rain. There are said to be about 10,000 Jews in Aleppo, each of whom must pay a poll-tax. Besides the various primary schools, where Hebrew and Arabic are taught, there is a boys' school, founded by the Alliance Israélite Universelle in 1869, with 250 pupils, of whom 96 pay for tuition. There is also a school for girls, with 195 pupils, of whom 79 pay. The latter was founded in 1889.
In the matter of dress the Jewesses of Aleppo adopt a costume resembling that of their Mohammedan sisters—a long black cloak enveloping them from head to foot, the face alone being visible. The girls in the Alliance school wear European dress.
Books are very rare in the city, but manuscripts abound, fifteen Hebrew ones having been recently collected there in two days. One was a unique diwan of secular poetry by Eleazer ha-Bable probably composed in Aleppo ("Jew. Quart. Rev." xi. 682). A printing-press for Hebrew was set up in Aleppo in 1898. In a private library there a Masoretic Bible, finished in 1307, has been found; this library also contains a cabalistic work, , written in Cochin in 1497.Prominent Members of the Community.
Benjamin of Tudela visited Aleppo in 1173, when he found a Jewish community of 1,500 souls with three noteworthy rabbis attending to their spiritual needs: Moses Alconstantini, Israel, and Seth. Petahiah of Ratisbon was there between 1170 and 1180, and Al-Ḥarizi fifty years later. The former calls the citadel the palace of King Nour-ed-din, and says that there were 1,500 Jews in Aleppo, of whom the chief men were Rabbis Moses Alconstantini, Israel, and Seth. Al-Ḥarizi, author of the "Taḥkemoni," like Maimonides, has much to say of the Aleppo Jews (Makamat, Nos. 18, 46, 47, 50). In 1195 the leading Jew was Joseph ibn Aknin, who had migrated from Europe by way of Egypt, where he was the friend of Maimonides, who wrote for him the "Moreh Nebukim." Other men of learning were Azariah and his brother Samuel Nissim, the king's physician Eleazer, Jeshua, Jachin Hananiah, and Joseph ben Ḥisdai. Al-Ḥarizi thought very little of the Aleppo poets, of whom he mentions Moses Daniel and a certain Joseph; the best was Joseph ben Ẓemah, who had good qualities but wrote bad verse. Their piety must have been extreme, for Eleazer is held up to scorn for having traveled on the Sabbath, although at the sultan's command.
In 1401 the Jewish quarter was pillaged, with the rest of the city, by Tamerlane; and a Jewish saint died there after a fast of seven months. In the sixteenth century Samuel Laniado ben Abraham and in the seventeenth century Ḥayyim Cohen ben Abraham were representative authors. The "MeḲor Ḥayyim" of the latter was published at Constantinople in 1649, and at Amsterdam by Menasseh ben Israel in 1650. Other Aleppo worthies are Isaac Lopes in 1690, Isaac Berakah in the eighteenth century, and Isaac Athia about 1810.
For four centuries the Jews of Cochin (India) have been in close relation with those of Aleppo. Wessely, in his edition of Farrisol's travels, publishes as an appendix a letter by Ezekiel Rechabi to Tobias Boas, relating how his father came to Cochin in 1646.
Aleppo was in touch with Italy as well as with India. Many Aleppo books were published in Italy; notably the ritual of the Aleppo Jews, recently discovered by A. Berliner and described in his "Aus Meiner Bibliothek."