On Karaites in Medieval Hevron and a Tantalizing Clue about the Famous Tiberian Masoretes
המאות ה8 ה9 וה10 אמנם לוטות בערפל בדרך כלל ואין בידינו עדויות הקובעת כי היישוב היהודי בחברון עזב את שערי מערת המכפלה במקום שהיה לו בי"כ ובית קברות. נראה כי עדה קטנה של קראים התגוררה בחברון. בשנת תשסב 1002 אנו מוצאים כי סופר קראי אחד ששמו צדקה ב"ר שמרון ב"ר מוחה ב"ר משה הסופר ב"ר מורנו ורבנו הרב מוחה רי"ת הטברייני מכרמי
1002 כתב שם בחברון ספר נביאים ביום א ב' חשון ד'תשס"ב
(הורוביץ עמוד 250)
The gist of this quote (from an article by Horowitz) is that a small Karaite community is attested to in Hevron at the beginning of the 11th century and in that period we find that a certain scribe in Hevron by the name of Sedaka ben Shimron ben Muha ben Moses The Tiberian rit (?) from Crimea, authored a Book of Prophets in the year 1002, if I am reading it correctly. Unfortunately I don't have access to mentioned article by Horowitz at the moment). I am also assuming that this colophon was discovered among the Cairo Genizah and contains this colophon.
The name and description is very interesting to say the least. Sedaka and Shimron don't seem like common Karaite or Rabbanite names (and even sound vaguely Samaritan...). However 'Moshe Hasopher' already sounds familiar. According to the scanty information that we have on the Tiberian Masoretes, one of the early members of the Ben Asher family was named Moshe. What's more is that he is clearly identified as a scribe and of Tiberian provenance! (although he is also described as stemming from Crimea UPDATE: I don't know why I missed this but Crimea is referred to in classical sources as 'tauris' or 'taurica'. One could perhaps see why this phoentic similarity could have confused Crimean with Tiberias). This definitely deserves a closer examination! (כתב שם בחברון may convey the fact that he wrote this book while visiting The Cave and not necessarily that he was a resident of the city). If this is indeed Moshe ben Asher of Masorete fame then we learn that: 1. The Ben Asher family were indeed Karaites (a vociferous debate that continues to this day) and 2. The Ben Asher family ascended to Eretz Israel from Crimea (which would fit perfectly well as Crimea was host to a large Karaite and Rabbanite ['krymchak'] community dating back to antiquity).
On Moshe b. Asher, Aharon Maman:
Moses ben Asher lived and worked in Tiberias in the second half of the ninth century C.E. He was a member of the fifth generation of the Ben Asher family, which had earned a reputation for raising famous masoretes. The first member of the dynasty was Asher the Elder, who lived in the eighth century, as recorded in an ancient masoretic work: “Asher, the greatest elder of blessed memory, followed by his son Nehemiah, may his soul rest in peace, followed by [his son] Moses ben Nehemiah, followed by his son Asher, followed by his son Moses, i.e., Moses ben Asher, followed by Aaron, i.e., son of Moses. Be aware that this Aaron ben Moses ben Asher ben Moses ben Nehemiah ben Asher the greatest elder of blessed memory, was the close of the dynasty.” Moses ben Asher, then, was the father of the last masorete, Aaron ben Asher. He is mostly known from the Cairo codex of the Prophets, whose colophon ascribes to him the copying of the codex and the addition of the Masora in Tiberias in the year 896.
The codex is beautifully written in three columns and decorated with drawings and illuminations. The text, the vocalization, and the Masora are as accurate as in the famous Aleppo codex, but its Masora magna is shorter. However, the study of the codex tradition vis-à-vis Mishael ben Uzziel’s Kitāb al-Khilāf alladhī bayn al-Muʿallimayn Ben Asher wa-Ben Naftalī (Book of Differences between the Two Masters Ben Asher and Ben Naphtali) reveals that it only fits Aaron ben Asher’s Masora in 33 percent of the disputed cases, whereas in 64 percent it fits the tradition of his opponent, Ben Naphtali. For instance, the pointing of liysra’el with a quiescent yod fits the Ben Naphtali reading of words beginning in yod when preceded by the particle lamed with a shewa (as against Aaron ben Asher’s reading le-yisrael). On the other hand, in vocalizing the word Yissakhar, it doubles the first sin and omits the second, according to the Ben Asher reading, against Ben Naphtali’s reading Yish-sakhar. The codex also fits the Ben Asher–Ben Naphtali list of agreements only in 75 percent of the cases and thus does not follow either the Ben Asher tradition or the Ben Naphtali one in its entirety.
The idea that a father and son of the same family would hold different masoretic views seems implausible. Indeed, in the 1980s some scholars doubted the authenticity of the colophon, claiming that it was added to the manuscript in the eleventh century, which indeed was proved by a chemical test (Carbon 14) in 1996. If one assumes that the Ben Asher family held the same Masora tradition for generations, one can accept Aron Dotan’s view that Moses ben Asher only copied the text of the Cairo codex, whereas the vocalization and Masora marks were added by a different scribe. A facsimile edition of this codex (Jerusalem, 1971) and a critical edition (Madrid, 1979–88) have been published.
Another work of Moses ben Asher is the famous piyyuṭ “The Song of the Vine,” marked by the acrostic Moshe ben Ash . . ., of which the last letter has been lost. The vine in this song (as in biblical poetry) symbolizes the people of Israel and its roots—the patriarchs, from whom came forth the prophets and the sages. The song relates to Masora notions, accents, and to the masoretes. The views expressed in the song are regarded by some as Karaite, whereas A. Dotan regards them as Rabbanite.
Cohen, M. “Ha-Omnam Katav Moshe ben Asher et Ketav Yad Qahir?” Alei Sefer (1982): 5–12.
Penkower, Jordan S.“A Tenth-Century Pentateuchal MS from Jerusalem (MS C3), Corrected by Mishael ben Uzziel,” Tarbiz 58 (1988): 49–74 [Hebrew]
Perez Castro, F., et al. (eds.). El Codice de Profetas de el Cairo, 8 vols. (Madrid: Instituto Arias Montana, 1979–92).
Yeivin, Israel. The Biblical Masora (= Studies in Languages 3), (Jerusalem, 2003) [Hebrew].
THE HEREM ON THE MOUNT OF OLIVES
I've mentioned the custom of the Gaonim of EY to institute a Herem (excommunication) against all schismatics on the Mt. of Olives. According to legend, Rav Hai Gaon himself would ascend from Babylonia in order to lead this procedure. I also noted that 'aliyah l'regel' to Jerusalem during the thrice- yearly biblical festivals continued to be practiced well into the Geonic period (see Goitien, Mann and others) and when Jerusalem was off limits (due to intermittent Islamic-Christian wars or inter-Islamic wars or anti-Jewish persecution), Gaza was seen as an alternative destination for the Jews of the surrounding countries of the Near East.
What is interesting is that Hevron and its holy site: The Cave of The Patriarchs seems to have also been used as a platform from which to proclaim similar bans (it may have been used, as Gaza was at one point, as an alternative site--or there may have been simultaneous bans taking place at several different places at the same time).
Avisar in Sepher Hevron:
...לפי מכתבו של ר' שלמה בן יהודה בסעדיינה (ספר היישוב ח"ב8) מסתבר כי בתקופת הגאונים היו נוהגים להתכנס במערה ובשעת הצורך היו אף מנדים אנשים שהיו גורמים מחלוקת בישראל
1. On ancient Jewish settlement on the Crimean Peninsula, Michael Zand writes:
Hellenized Greek-speaking Jews first settled in Crimea in Panticapaeum (today’s Kerch) in the first century BCE. Their presence in Panticapaeum as well in the Bosporan towns of Phanagoria and Gorgippa in the first through fifth centuries CE is well documented archaeologically. Hebrew names on amphorae dating to the third century were found during excavations of the Bosporan town of Tanais, and may be seen as evidence either of Jews residing in that town or of their involvement in trade there. Archaeological findings attest to the presence of Jews in Chersonesus as early as the first century CE and to the existence there of an organized Jewish community in the late fourth through early fifth centuries. Inscriptions testify to the merging with the Jewish community of non-Jewish slaves released by Jews. Another group that may have merged, albeit partially, with Jewish community was the Sebomenoi ton Theon (God-fearers), whose profession of the Most High God (Theos Hypsistos) was strongly influenced by Judaism. In the early 630s, the Jewish population increased with the arrival of Byzantine Jews fleeing forced conversion in areas of Crimea bordering Byzantium.