On the evening of March 22nd the BBC News website published a report by David Gritten titled ‘Oldest most complete Hebrew Bible goes on display in Israel before sale’ on its ‘Middle East’ page.
The majority of that report about an ancient manuscript headed for auction is unremarkable but in one paragraph there is an omission of a kind all too frequently found in BBC content.
Referring to a different manuscript, the report tells readers: [emphasis added]
“The Aleppo Codex, which was assembled around 930, is considered the most authoritative Masoretic text. However, damage from a fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo in 1947 means that only 295 of the original 487 pages survive today.”
Gritten’s reference to a fire in Aleppo in 1947 is not inaccurate but it comes nowhere near to telling the whole story.
That fire – at the city’s Central Synagogue, where the Aleppo Codex was kept – was one of many organised attacks on Aleppo’s two-thousand-year-old Jewish community of around 10,000 people that took place immediately after the UN vote in favour of partition of Palestine. Some 75 members of the community were murdered during around three weeks of rioting, hundreds were injured and around half of the community then fled. As Matti Freidman wrote in 2012:
“On November 30, 1947, a day after the United Nations voted to partition Palestine into two states, one for Arabs and one for Jews, Aleppo erupted. Mobs stalked Jewish neighborhoods, looting houses and burning synagogues; one man I interviewed remembered fleeing his home, a barefoot nine-year-old, moments before it was set on fire. Abetted by the government, the rioters burned 50 Jewish shops, five schools, 18 synagogues and an unknown number of homes. The next day the Jewish community’s wealthiest families fled, and in the following months the rest began sneaking out in small groups, most of them headed to the new state of Israel. They forfeited their property, and faced imprisonment or torture if they were caught. Some disappeared en route. But the risk seemed worthwhile: in Damascus, the capital, rioters killed 13 Jews, including eight children, in August 1948, and there were similar events in other Arab cities.
At the time of the UN vote, there were about 10,000 Jews in Aleppo. By the mid-1950s there were 2,000, living in fear of the security forces and the mob. By the early 1990s no more than a handful remained, and today there are none. Similar scripts played out across the Islamic world. Some 850,000 Jews were forced from their homes.”
BBC portrayal of the history of Jews from Arab lands is all too often lacking and fails to fully inform the corporation’s audiences. As we see in this latest example, a state sanctioned pogrom that resulted in the decimation of an ancient Jewish community is reduced to “a fire in the Syrian city of Aleppo”.