10 November 2007

What's in your wallet?

Some of us carry surprising things in our wallets: old pictures, old scraps of paper or expired credit cards. However, this AP story might just win the award for oldest scrap carried in a wallet - if such an honor existed.

For six decades, Sam Sabbagh carried a good luck charm — a parchment he found on the floor of a burned synagogue.

Turns out that parchment likely is more than 1,000 years old, a fragment of the most authoritative manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. His family plans to present it to a Jerusalem institute next week, officials said Thursday.

The parchment, about "the size of a credit card," is believed to be part of the Aleppo Codex manuscript of the Hebrew Bible, said Michael Glatzer, academic secretary of the Yad Ben Zvi institute.

It contains verses from the Book of Exodus describing the plagues in Egypt, including the words of Moses to Pharaoh, "Let my people go, that they may serve me."

When Sabbagh was 17 in 1947, he picked up the piece from the floor of an Aleppo, Syria synagogue that had been burned the previous day in riots following the UN Palestine partition vote that led to the creation of Israel.

He immigrated to Brooklyn and carried the fragment in a plastic pouch in his wallet, used it as a good luck charm and brought it with him during heart surgery. Two decades ago a Jerusalem institute learned of its existence but Sabbagh wouldn't give up the piece.

Sabbagh died two years ago and his family will donate it to the Institute next week in a Jerusalem ceremony.

The Israel Museum's Shrine of the Book in Jerusalem has other pieces of the Aleppo Codex, and Sabbagh's will join them. Only about 60% of the codex is extant, so every small fragment is important.

Written in Tiberias, on the shores of the sea of Galilee, the 10th century Masoretic Text was brought to Jerusalem, traveled to Cairo and legend has it that Maimonides' grandson brought it to Syria.

Yad Ben Zvi's Glatzer believes other people did the same thing as Sabbagh and encourages other Syrian Jews to check their wallets, safe deposit boxes, attics and other locations for additional parchment fragments.

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