Jewish-Languages Mailing List

May 2001

Date: Thu, 10 May 2001 11:05
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: Sephardic-Mizrachi list

Hello, Jewish language list.

This is a message to inform you about the Association for Jewish Studies
Sephardi/Mizrahi Studies Caucus Discussion List, moderated by Aviva
Ben-Ur, University of Massachusetts (Amherst). There are often messages
about language, and the most recent edition included the message below,
which might be of interest to you.

If you'd like to be added to the list, you can contact Aviva Ben-Ur
aben-ur @


3. Ladino Lives on the Internet (Amado Bortnick)

From: Rachel Amado Bortnick, RABortnic @
Date: Tuesday, May 1, 2001

Ladino is alive and well in LADINOKOMUNITA, a virtual community made up of
Ladino-speakers from all over the world, (access through Since its inception in
January, 2000, this Internet list has grown steadily and has at present
over 300 members who discuss daily whatever is on their mind by writing
messages in Ladino (Judeo-espanyol) only. The number of messages
received daily varies, but is most often in the 8-15 range. Subjects are often on
recollections of Sephardic life or our language, on history and any other
matter of concern to the writer, or of Sephardic, Jewish or other interest
in general.

The Sephardic House-linked page indicated above also has many new
original stories and poems in Ladino.

Everyone who wishes to use, recall, or improve his Ladino is invited to
join the group. Membership is free, and is accomplished by either going
to: and clicking the "Abonarvos aki"
(Subscribe here) area, or by going to

Date: Sun, 13 May 2001 10:33
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: Languages of Jewish Texts (fwd)

This is from H-Judaic, the Jewish Studies list. You can get information
about it at


---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Sun, 13 May 2001 00:15:59 -0300
From: Automatic digest processor LISTSERV @ H-NET.MSU.EDU
Reply-To: H-NET Jewish Studies List H-JUDAIC @ H-NET.MSU.EDU
To: Recipients of H-JUDAIC digests H-JUDAIC @ H-NET.MSU.EDU
Subject: H-JUDAIC Digest - 10 May 2001 to 12 May 2001 (#2001-83)

There are 4 messages totalling 89 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

 1. Languages for Jewish Texts (Kaufman)


Date: Sat, 12 May 2001 21:53:35 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" hjmod @
Subject: Languages for Jewish Texts (Kaufman)

From: David Kaufmann kaufmann @
Subject: Languages

I have a general question: What languages, besides Hebrew of course, were
considered "worthy" to be used for critical (major) works of Jewish thought -
texts with kedushah (holiness), so to speak. For instance, Aramaic was so used
in the Talmudic period, but not afterward. At the same time period, although
there are many Greek loan words in the Talmud, as far as I know the only
"mainstream" work in Greek is Philo. (And it might well be argued that he
wasn't mainstream, at least for his time.) Arabic served as the language of
philosophy/theology (i.e., R. Saadya Gaon, Rambam, etc.) but not law or
literature (R. Yehuda HaLevi and company wrote their poetry in Hebrew). Can it
be said Arabic supplanted Aramaic for a certain type of work? As far as I
know, there was no comparable Ashkenazi use of the vernacular, at least until
the 19th century, when R. S.R. Hirsch used German and some (but not most) of
the Chassidic works were in Yiddish. Very few, if any, comparable works
written first in English come to mind. Perhaps Yiddish comes closest to the
role of "alternative" or "philosopher's" language. Neither German or English
seemed to have "taken over." (I wouldn't count thinkers such as Buber here,
simply because the philosophy is not specifically Jewish, although obviously
highly dependent on Jewish thought.)

So, is it only Aramaic in the Talmudic period and Arabic in the period
following (and perhaps Yiddish in the last couple hundred years)? Are there
any exceptions?


End of H-JUDAIC Digest - 10 May 2001 to 12 May 2001 (#2001-83)

Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 09:54
From: Sarah Bunin Benor <sbenor @>
Subject: more from H-JUDAIC

I thought you'd be interested in seeing the responses to the question
about Jewish languages, some of which were posted by members of our list:

---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Thu, 17 May 2001 00:25:15 -0300
From: Automatic digest processor <LISTSERV @ H-NET.MSU.EDU>
Reply-To: H-NET Jewish Studies List <H-JUDAIC @ H-NET.MSU.EDU>
To: Recipients of H-JUDAIC digests <H-JUDAIC @ H-NET.MSU.EDU>
Subject: H-JUDAIC Digest - 12 May 2001 to 16 May 2001 (#2001-84)

There are 8 messages totalling 303 lines in this issue.

Topics of the day:

 1. Languages for Jewish Texts (Cohen)
 2. Languages for Jewish Texts (Roth)
 3. Languages (Aronson)
 4. Languages (Sheynin)
 5. Languages (Lesses)
 6. Languages (Lesley)
 7. Languages (Student)
 8. Languages (Peterson)


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:29:34 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages for Jewish Texts (Cohen)

From: Aryeh Cohen <ARYEH @ UJ.EDU>
Subject: Re: languages

Well, its an open question as to what you mean by texts with Kedusha,
but the Zohar was written in a "dialect" of Aramaic; various Rishonim
wrote their commentaries in pretty straightforward Aramaic (i.e. Yad
Ramah, R. Meir Halevi Abulafiah 12-13th cent. Spain); Iggeret Rav
Sherira' Gaon was in Aramaic; Halakhot of Alfasi was in Aramaic; most
Rishonim wrote in a "rabbinic Hebrew" which was a mixture of Hebrew and

Dr. Aryeh Cohen
University of Judaism


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:31:28 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages for Jewish Texts (Roth)

Subject: languages

 In response to David Kaufmann's question about languages; first,
Aramaic did not entirely cease with the talmudic period. Commentaries on
the Talmud and even responsa and other legal works are often (one might say
usually) a mixture of Aramaic and Hebrew, and of course the Zohar
was written (by Moses de Leon in the thirteenth century) entirely in
Aramaic. Arabic was used not only for poetry, philosophical and scientific
writing but also for legal compositions. In fact, all of the responsa of the
geonim, as well as their legal works, were in Arabic and later translated
in Hebrew. Maimonides, of course, wrote everything in Arabic except for the
Mishneh Torah. Also in early medieval Spain a great deal of commentary,
responsa, etc. was in Arabic. As for Greek, it is true that no works are
known to have been written, but there are Greek glosses, etc. in later
writings, particularly from Sicily and the Byzantine empire. The same is
true for French and some Italian. There are some German poetic works, etc.
from the medieval period. Of course in the modern era not only
these languages but also Ladino (Spanish written in Hebrew letters), and
of course English.

Norman Roth
Univ. of Wisconsin, Madison (retired)


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:32:40 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages (Aronson)

From: hia5 @
Subject: languages

Actually, Arabic was used for halachic literature by the Karaites; e.g.,
al-Qirqisani's Kitab al-anwar wal-maraqib, the "Code of Karaite law." (I
should add that I read about this work; I don't know Arabic at all.)

Howard I. Aronson
University of Chicago


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:33:38 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" hjmod @
Subject: Languages (Sheynin)

From: Hayim Sheynin <USER @ GRATZ.CNCDSL.COM>
Subject: Languages for Jewish Texts

Yes, there were some exceptions. Besides a big number of translations of
the bible and Haggadah shel Pesah, there were a number of other important
works in many Jewish languages, just for example I can cite the works of
Flavius Josephus in Greek, the poem on Exodudus by a Greek poet Ezekiel
(Hellenistic period), a number of other Jewish historical works (which are
preserved mostly in fragments); the Aramaic works found among the Dead Sea
Scrolls, e.g. Genesis Apocryphon. In ca. 13th-14th cent. Rabbi Moshe de
Leon compiled Zohar in Aramaic (traditionally ascribed to Shimon bar
Yochai), there were prayers and piyutim in Eretz Israel compiled in
Aramaic. When liturgy turned to Hebrew versions, many of them were
forgotten, recently some of them were edited by Joseph Yahalom and Michael
Sokoloff. It is difficult to describe the wealth of Judeo-Arabic works on
religious and scholarly subjects. From Saadya Gaon in 10th cent. to 15th
century thousands scholarly works were written in this language. In
addition, I can mention such works as Tse'enah urenah in Yiddish (which
was the popular work mostly studied by women) and Me`am Loez in Ladino
that was studied by men in Judeo-Spanish society. Yemeni Jews possess a
number of works composed in Arabic, the same is possible to say on
Tunisian Jews. Iranian Jews have a number of important Torah study works
and poems in Judeo-Persian.

The folklore of the majority of Jewish ethnic groups was composed in
Jewish languages, from Iraqi proverbs and songs to Spanish romances and
Yiddish folk songs. So even most of the Jewish languages do not possess
such an elevated status as Hebrew, the works in many of these languages
are worthy of study. Moreover the process of formation and development of
these languages contributes a lot to the cultural history.

Dr. Hayim Y. Sheynin, Gratz College


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:34:23 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages (Lesses)

From: Rebecca Lesses <RLESSES @ BUCKNELL.EDU>
Subject: Languages for Jewish texts

Aramaic was used as a language for some halakhic works during the Geonic
period, and of course the Zohar was written in Aramaic in the 13th century.
The Rambam's commentary on the Mishnah was written in Arabic. Sa'adyah Gaon
also wrote an Arabic translation of the Tanakh and an Arabic commentary on

Rebecca Lesses
Bucknell University


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:36:33 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages (Lesley)

From: Arthur Lesley <LESLEY @ BHU.EDU>
Subject: languages

 David Kaufman raises large questions about Jewish languages and
 literatures, but some terms of the discussion and his tentative
 conclusions deserve further work. "Mainstream" and "major" are concepts
 that, not only for the long periods of isolated Jewish diasporas, need
 refinement. Later authorities decide what earlier was major--we
 investigate how. "Mainstream" is a historical evaluation that also
 depends greatly on the time and place, values and identity of the
 definer, even more than of the writer. It is hard to define a single
 mainstream of Judaism in any useful way, although some of us Ashkenazim
 have thought of ourselves as "the mainstream" for a while now. Others
 would substitute another word, "provincial." "Kedusha" also is not an
 adequate criterion, and not only when philosophy is considered.

Aramaic, sometimes called the "language of the Yerushalmi," was used for
the pseudepigraphic Zoharic writings--that is, for a different function and
audience-- many hundreds of years after Aramaic went out of use, for most
Jews, for purposes other than Talmud study.
 Arabic did not so much replace Aramaic for certain functions as it
necessitated and made possible the performance of new functions: being for
Jews, as for others, a language of new kinds of "science" and new kinds of
literature--such as the Kuzari and new kinds of poetry. Hebrew adopted
some of these new functions where Arabic was not dominant. Arabic remained
a learned language for Jews in many places outside of Europe for a long
time. There were prayers, poems, songs, stories, in Jewish texts, and
often distinct dialects of other languages, too: Greek, Persian, Provencal,
Italian, Spanish, Judeo-Spanish, Malayalam, Berber(?) et al.
 These questions have been discussed by experts on Jewish languages
and by experts on particular Jewish communities. Encyclopedia articles
could be good places to start, as would general histories of particular
diasporas. David Aberbach's recent book, Revolutionary Hebrew, Empire and
Crisis : Four Peaks in Hebrew Literature and Jewish Survival, grappled
with some of these questions over several periods and provoked more
thought, rather than settling matters. As on many topics, one can be sure
only of the need to refine the terms of our questions. Hope this helps the

Arthur Lesley
Baltimore Hebrew University


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:37:33 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages (Student)

From: gil.student @
Subject: Languages for Jewish Texts

Arabic was used for much more than just philosophy and theology. The Rambam
wrote a commentary on the Mishnah in Arabic as well as all of his responsa.

English has already become a language for new halakhic material. Indignant
judgementalism aside, Artscroll has been nurturing an Enligsh halakhic
literature that is starting to come of its own. There have been original and
quality works written in English for over a decade. Off the top of my head, R.
Simcha Bunim Cohen has written a number of original halakhic works for
Artscroll. There is a recently published book called The 39 Melachos by R.
David Ribiat that has become an instant classic. Also, the Artscroll gemara
commentary is currently being translated FROM English INTO Hebrew.

In terms of a "philosopher's language", you must take into account that in the
past two centuries we have added a category that did not exist in medieval times
- the academic scholar. Perhaps philosopher is the closest analogy. In
academic scholarship, German was at one time the main language and that has been
supplanted by both English and Hebrew. There is very little serious Jewish
academic scholarship that was not written in either German, English, or Hebrew.

Gil Student


Date: Wed, 16 May 2001 19:39:55 -0400
From: "Faydra L. Shapiro" <HJMOD @ OISE.UTORONTO.CA>
Subject: Languages (Peterson)

From: Sigrid Peterson <PETERSIG @ CCAT.SAS.UPENN.EDU>
Subject: Other Jewish Languages

Your general question raises many questions of its own. First, "considered
worthy" by whom? What are "critical (major) works of Jewish thought, and how are
they defined? And what does a text need to be, in order to have kedushah?

My own answers are related to definitions, assumptions, discoveries, and
questions arising from my dissertation research on a Syriac Jewish Rhymed
Liturgical Text of the Maccabean Martyrdoms. (The Introduction is online at ) Since this text presents
non-rabbinic Early Jewish thought regarding the life of the world to come, and
the necessity of following God's Law at the cost of one's life, it could be
described as a work of Jewish thought, though if only rabbinic discussion of the
Mishna (and perhaps the Tosefta) qualifies as Jewish thought in Early Judaism (by
definition) then of course it is not a work of Jewish thought.

That an annual celebration of the Maccabean martyrdoms required some textual
accompaniment seems fairly clear from the number of such texts that have survived
in a number of languages; is this not an occasion of kedusha (holiness)?. The
most obviously philosophical version is that of Fourth Maccabees, with its
numerous rhetorical interludes that propound a variant of Hellenistic Stoic
philosophy. It is included in three of the Codices of the LXX/OG. The Greek
Wisdom of Solomon is a philosophical treatise on the pursuit of Wisdom/wisdom, in
language somewhat similar to that of Fourth Maccabees, also in the LXX/OG
defining codices. They are both represented in the Syriac Peshitta, as well.

Returning to Syriac, while the Psalms of Solomon, with texts in Syriac and in
Greek, are not precisely philosophical or theological in tenor, a case can be
made for their adaptation to/ derivation from Jewish liturgical practice, and
thus their kedusha (holiness).

> (R. Yehuda HaLevi and company wrote their poetry in Hebrew).

But there was also Jewish poetry (piyyutim) written in Aramaic: see Michael
Sokoloff and Josef Yahalom, Shirat bene ma'arava: shirim Aramiyim shel
yehude Erets-Yi'sra'el ba-tekufah ha-Bisantit, (Jewish Palestinian
Aramaic Poetry of Late Antiquity) [Hebrew and Aramaic, with English summary],
Jerusalem, 1999. There is also the A. S. Rodriguez Pereira book, Studies in
Aramaic poetry (c. 100 B.C.E.-c.600 C.E.) : selected Jewish, Christian and
Samaritan poems (1997), Assen, NL: 1997.

> So, is it only Aramaic in the Talmudic period and Arabic in the period
> following (and perhaps Yiddish in the last couple hundred years)? Are there
> any exceptions?

Also, regarding more recent Jewish philosophy, I would expect you to find many
who valued as Jewish thought the German contributions of Moses Mendelssohn and
the Haskala, and found Yiddish material mostly of a less philosophical vein, as
one article's memorable title put it, "For Women and Men Who Are Like
Women"--taken from the title page of a Yiddish work, Tsena U Renna, as I recall.

Sigrid Peterson University of Pennsylvania petersig @


End of H-JUDAIC Digest - 12 May 2001 to 16 May 2001 (#2001-84)