Aaron ben Moses ben Asher

Aaron ben Moses ben Asher

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Aaron ben Moses ben Asher (in Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 אהרון בן משה בן אשר; in Tiberian Hebrew
Tiberian Hebrew
Tiberian Hebrew is the extinct canonical pronunciation of the Hebrew Bible or Tanakh and related documents in the Roman Empire. This traditional medieval pronunciation was committed to writing by Masoretic scholars based in the Jewish community of Tiberias , in the form of the Tiberian vocalization...

 ʾAhărôn ben Mōšeh benʾĀšēr) (10th century, died circa 960) was a Jewish
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 scribe who refined the Tiberian system
Tiberian vocalization
The Tiberian vocalization is a system of diacritics devised by the Masoretes to add to the consonantal Masoretic text of the Hebrew Bible; this system soon became used to vocalize other texts as well...

 for writing down vowel sounds in Hebrew
Hebrew alphabet
The Hebrew alphabet , known variously by scholars as the Jewish script, square script, block script, or more historically, the Assyrian script, is used in the writing of the Hebrew language, as well as other Jewish languages, most notably Yiddish, Ladino, and Judeo-Arabic. There have been two...

, which is still in use today, and serves as the basis for grammatical analysis. For over a thousand years he has been regarded by Jews of all streams around the world as having produced the most accurate version of the masoretic text
Masoretic Text
The Masoretic Text is the authoritative Hebrew text of the Jewish Bible and is regarded as Judaism's official version of the Tanakh. While the Masoretic Text defines the books of the Jewish canon, it also defines the precise letter-text of these biblical books, with their vocalization and...

. Since his day, both handwritten manuscripts of the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 and printed versions strove to emulate his achievement and continue to do so. He lived and worked in the city of Tiberias (Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 טבריה) on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee
Sea of Galilee
The Sea of Galilee, also Kinneret, Lake of Gennesaret, or Lake Tiberias , is the largest freshwater lake in Israel, and it is approximately in circumference, about long, and wide. The lake has a total area of , and a maximum depth of approximately 43 m...

 (Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 ים כנרת).

He was descended from a long line of Masoretes, starting with someone called Asher, but nothing is known about them other than their names. His father, Moses ben Asher, is credited with writing the Cairo Codex of the Prophets
Codex Cairensis
The Codex Cairensis is believed to be the oldest extant Hebrew manuscript containing the complete text of the Old Testament Nevi'im .- History :...

 (895CE); if authentic, it is among the oldest manuscripts containing a large proportion of the Hebrew Bible
Hebrew Bible
The Hebrew Bible is a term used by biblical scholars outside of Judaism to refer to the Tanakh , a canonical collection of Jewish texts, and the common textual antecedent of the several canonical editions of the Christian Old Testament...

. Umberto Cassuto
Umberto Cassuto
Umberto Cassuto, also known as Moshe David Cassuto, , was a rabbi and Biblical scholar born in Florence, Italy. -Early life and career:...

 used this manuscript as the basis of his edition of the Hebrew Bible. Aaron ben Asher himself added vowelization and cantillation notes, and mesorah to the Aleppo Codex
Aleppo Codex
The Aleppo Codex is a medieval bound manuscript of the Hebrew Bible. The codex was written in the 10th century A.D.The codex has long been considered to be the most authoritative document in the masorah , the tradition by which the Hebrew Scriptures have been preserved from generation to generation...

, correcting its letter-text according to the masorah.

Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, by accepting the views of Ben-Asher (though only in regard to open and closed sections), helped establish and spread his authority. Referring to a Bible manuscript then in Egypt, he wrote: "All relied on it, since it was corrected by Ben-Asher and was worked on and analyzed by him for many years, and was proofread many times in accordance with the masorah, and I based myself on this manuscript in the Sefer Torah that I wrote".

Aaron ben Moses ben Asher was the first to take Hebrew grammar seriously. He was the first systematic Hebrew grammarian. His Sefer Dikdukei ha-Te'amim (Grammar or Analysis of the Accents) was an original collection of grammatical rules and masoretic information. Grammatical principles were not at that time considered worthy of independent study. The value of this work is that the grammatical rules presented by Ben-Asher reveal the linguistic background of vocalization for the first time. He had a tremendous influence on the world of Biblical grammar and scholarship.

A rival system of note was that developed by the school of Ben Naphtali
Ben Naphtali
ben Naphtali was a rabbi and Masorete who flourished about 890-940 C.E., probably in Tiberias. Of his life little is known. His first name is in dispute. Some medieval authorities called him "Jacob"; two Tchufut-Kalè manuscripts have "Moses b...

.

Was Ben Asher a Karaite?


Most of the secular scholars conclude that Aaron ben Asher was indeed a Karaite
Karaite Judaism
Karaite Judaism or Karaism is a Jewish movement characterized by the recognition of the Tanakh alone as its supreme legal authority in Halakhah, as well as in theology...

 though there is evidence against this view (see suggestions for further reading). One of the strongest arguments against it is that it would be astonishing if Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, famously opposed to the Karaites, had followed the authority of a Karaite, even in the matter of open and closed sections.

In his critiques of Karaites, Saadia Gaon
Saadia Gaon
Saʻadiah ben Yosef Gaon was a prominent rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and exegete of the Geonic period.The first important rabbinic figure to write extensively in Arabic, he is considered the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature...

 mentioned a "Ben-Asher." Until recently, it never occurred to scholars to associate this "Ben-Asher" with the famous Aaron ben Asher of Tiberias. Recent research indicates, however, that it is probable. This may explain why he preferred the "Ben Naphtali" system.

In his work Sefer Dikdukei ha Te'amim, Aaron ben Asher wrote, "The prophets... complete the Torah, are as the Torah, and we decide Law from them as we do from the Torah." This belief is known to have been held by Karaites. Documents found in the Cairo Geniza
Cairo Geniza
The Cairo Geniza is a collection of almost 280,000 Jewish manuscript fragments found in the Genizah or storeroom of the Ben Ezra Synagogue in Fustat, presently Old Cairo, Egypt. Some additional fragments were found in the Basatin cemetery east of Old Cairo, and the collection includes a number of...

 also indicate that ben Asher was a Karaite.

If Aaron ben Asher was indeed a Karaite, it may be argued that he was the most influential Karaite in world history.

Further reading

  • Aaron Dotan, "Was Aharon Ben Asher Indeed a Karaite?" (Hebrew), in S.Z. Leiman, The Canon and Masorah of the Hebrew Bible: An Introductory Reader (New York: Ktav, 1974).
  • Aaron Dotan, "Ben Asher's Creed" (Missoula, Montana: Scholars Press, 1977).
  • Rafael Zer, "Was the Masorete of the Keter a Rabbanite or Karaite?", Sefunot 23 (2003) Pages 573-587 (Hebrew)

External links