"Lucky" ancient Hebrew parchment returns to Israel

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JERUSALEM, Nov 11 (Reuters) Treasured for six decades as one man's lucky charm, a 1,000-year-old parchment from a Hebrew bible manuscript that bears Moses's plea for Egypt to ''Let my people go'' will arrive in Jerusalem this week.

Jerusalem's Yad Ben-Zvi institute said today the scrap of paper, the size of a credit card, forms part of the 10th century Aleppo Codex, viewed by scholars as one of the most authoritative manuscripts of the Hebrew bible.

The parchment was kept as a lucky charm by Sam Sabbagh, a Syrian Jew who in 1947 plucked it from the floor of an Aleppo synagogue that was torched after a United Nations decision to partition Palestine, paving the way for the creation of Israel.

Convinced it would save his life, Sabbagh moved to New York and kept the fragment in his wallet as an amulet, refusing to give it to scholars. His family decided to donate it to the Jerusalem institute after his death.

The parchment is due to arrive in Israel and will eventually be sent to the Israel Museum for restoration.

''This parchment is from the most important Hebrew manuscript of the bible,'' Yad Ben-Zvi Academic Secretary Michael Glatzer said.

''We hope that other pieces may also be out there.'' The fragment includes a portion from the biblical book of Exodus, which tells how God rescued the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt by sending a series of plagues and ordering Pharoah -- via Moses -- to ''let my people go''.

''There's the frog plague on one side of the parchment and the wild beasts on the other,'' Glatzer said.

The find is particularly significant because although Jerusalem's Israel Museum has already restored about two-thirds of the Aleppo manuscript, this is one of the first pieces from the Torah, or first five books of the Old Testament.

The Aleppo Codex is one of the most accurate renderings of the Hebrew bible and provides insight into Hebrew grammar and pronunciation, said Michael Maggen, head of paper conservation at the Israel Museum.

Maggen said he hoped the new fragment would join other parts of the manuscript -- which he has spent six years restoring -- on show at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem.

The manuscript was initially written near Galilee. It was taken to Cairo, then to Syria, where it was kept in the Aleppo synagogue.

The parts on show in Jerusalem were smuggled out of Syria to Turkey in a young bride's washing machine, Maggen said. They were brought to Israel in 1957.

Reuters SBC DB2114

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