- Aleppo: Aram Soba, Abraham and Halab

Throughout its long history, the city of Aleppo has had many names. These include Aram Soba and Halab al-Shahba’, which is generally shortened to Halab.

The name Aram Soba was used by the rabbis and hacha­mim of Aleppo to refer to the city in their documents and manuscripts. Rabbi Yehiel Heilprin, an eighteenth-century scholar, cites a tradition that provides the source of Aram Soba as the city’s name in his work Seder HaDorot.2 He ascribes the name of the city to Aram son of Soba. He adds that Soba was a son of Terah and thus a half-brother of the patriarch Abraham.

Aram Soba is mentioned in Tanach (Hebrew acronym for Torah, Nebi’im and Ketubim — the Five Books of Moses, Prophets and Writings) where it is recounted that King David waged war and conquered Aram Soba.

Seder HaDorot records that three sons were born to Soba when he was thirty years old: Aram (ort), Achliv (uhkft) and Marok (eurn). Aram, a prosperous man, had three wives, who bore him twelve sons and three daughters. Traveling with his brothers, Aram came upon a valley to the east, where they established a city he named Aram. This is the city of Aram Soba.

Although it is not known at what point the city’s Arabic name, Halab al-Shahba’, began to be used, it seems that the city has been called by this name since ancient times.

In the late twelfth century, Rabbi Petahyah of Regensburg (also called Ratisbon), Germany, traveled throughout the Middle East. As part of his expedition, he reached Halab, which he identified as Aram Soba. He added that it was called Halab on the basis of the following tradition:

“Halab” means “to milk” in Arabic. The tradition among the inhabitants of Aleppo was that when our forefather Abraham came to Aleppo, he herded his flock upon its mountain. Using steps that led down from the mountain, Abraham descended to the bottom and distributed the milk of his flock to the poor. Hence, the city was referred to in Arabic as Halab.

(Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.)

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