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Recalling the Past

Linguistic and Cultural Images of the Kurtijo Sephardic Courtyard

Agnieszka August-Zarębska and Zuzanna Bułat Silva

The present article investigates the concept of kurtijo, roughly ‘courtyard’, ‘home’, in Judeo-Spanish (known also as Ladino, Djudezmo or Sephardi), the language of Sephardic Jews, currently under threat of extinction (Harris 1994, 2011). It argues that after the Holocaust kurtijo became a culturally salient word and it may be regarded as a cultural key word in Ladino. Dictionaries and texts of contemporary Ladino poets will be used as the main source of data. The meaning of kurtijo will be expressed in the form of an NSM explication (Goddard and Wierzbicka 2002, 2014).

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Michael Alpert

Among the descendants of the Jews who had been exiled from Spain in 1492 and had reached the Ottoman Empire, the tradition of writing and reading serious religious material in their spoken language, often known as Ladino, began in the eighteenth century with the massive scriptural commentary Me'am Lo'ez. In the later nineteenth century there was a surge in the publication of newspapers in Ladino, accompanied by the serialization of novels in the press or their weekly publication in parts. The Ladino novel and novelette, mostly of adventure or family conflict, reached its peak in the first decade of the twentieth century and again in the 1920s, after which it began to decline. The estimated 300 to 500 novels were translations and adaptations of foreign, largely French, originals, but there were also many original works, of which the two best known authors were Elia Karmona and Alexandre Ben-Ghiat.

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Ladino in Turkey

The Situation Today as Reflected by the Ladino Database Project

Karen Gerson Sarhon

Judeo-Spanish is today considered to be an endangered language even though there has been much research into it. The Ladino Database Project, which has been set up and conducted by the Sephardic Center in Istanbul (, aims at documenting the spoken Judeo-Spanish of the last native speakers in Istanbul. The data, which will soon be available on the internet, will be invaluable for all researchers of the language and culture.

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Tracy K. Harris

This paper examines the current state of Ladino as a spoken everyday language of communication. Research has shown that there are very few competent speakers of the language under the age of sixty throughout the world. Negative language attitudes as well as assimilation into the dominant cultures and choice of the dominant language(s) are contributing factors to this decline. However, this decline in linguistic skills does not reflect the promotional efforts on behalf of Ladino and Sephardic culture which are discussed at length in the paper. The end result is that language loss does not mean the decline of Sephardic ethnicity and culture, which are presently thriving.

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The Detective Novel in Ladino

Clues to a Little Known Genre

Julie Scolnik

The end of the nineteenth century and beginning of the twentieth saw the emergence of the detective novel in Europe and in the United States and it soon became a social phenomenon. In the countries pertaining to the Ottoman Empire the Sephardim were no exception; they, too, were avid readers of these detective novels. As was true of much of the literature published in Ladino at this time, these novels were translated from other languages. They were aljamiados, that is to say written in Hebrew script and published in Salonica. In most cases each novel was about forty pages long and generally published as a separate book, although some novels were published in instalments in the Ladino newspapers of the time.

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The Emergence of the Ladino Press

The First Attempt at Westernization of Ottoman Jews (1842–1846)

Olga Borovaya

This article discusses the emergence of the first Ladino periodical in the Ottoman Empire, Sha'arei Mizrach (Gates of the Orient), which came out in Izmir in 1845-1846. Based on the analysis of this newspaper and the contemporaneous European Jewish press, the essay clarifies the common misconception about the name and the background of the periodical's editor, and claims that it was published by a Jew of Italian extraction and a resident of Izmir in association with two Italian Jews from Trieste connected with Moses Montefiore. Sha'arei Mizrach lasted only a few months because it failed to receive enough subscriptions.

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Yitzhak Navon

On 17 March 1996 the Knesset (Israeli parliament) passed a law to set up two national authorities, one for Yiddish culture and the other for Ladino culture. Yiddish is a 1,000– year old language based on German with words and idioms from Hebrew, Aramaic and additional European languages. Ladino is approximately 500 years old and is based on Spanish, with words and idioms from Hebrew, Aramaic, Northern African languages, as well as Balkan languages and from other countries once under the domination of the Ottoman Empire.

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Ora (Rodrigue) Schwarzwald

Two Ladino prayer books for women dating from the sixteenth century are compared in this article. The first of these (S1) is a manuscript and the second one (S2) is a printed book from Thessalonica. The comparison shows that although both include daily prayers as well as prayers for the Jewish year cycle, S1 includes many psalms that S2 lacks, whereas S2 includes the Passover Haggadah, Birkhot Hanehenim, and many other prayers that pertain to woman's Jewish life that are missing in S1. S1 might have been used at home as well as in the synagogue, whereas S2 has been restricted to domestic use. S2 is very informative and instructs the woman in detail how to perform Jewish law, whereas S1 has very few instructions and they all relate to the prayers. It is clear that S1 has been written by a non-professional writer in a non-standard way, whereas S2 has been written by a learned rabbi who followed the Jewish law about requirements women need to fulfil. These prayer books had no continuation in Sephardi tradition in spite of their importance.

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Hilary Pomeroy

Readers of the autumn 2010 issue of European Judaism, devoted mainly to literature written in Ladino, the most usual term today to denote the vernacular language of Sephardi Jews (Judezmo, Hakitía or the neutral academic term Judeo-Spanish are also used), will be well aware of the perilous position of this once flourishing language, for it is on the verge of extinction. Sadly, many of the articles in this issue reinforce that depiction of Ladino’s precariousness today, for despite the growing interest in Ladino language and literature it is no longer a language of daily communication.

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Jonathan Magonet

This issue completes the two devoted to the current state of Ladino studies. The Editorial Board is deeply indebted to Hilary Pomeroy for the scholarship, devotion, and, if she will forgive the lapse into another Jewish language, the sitzfleisch needed to complete the task. None of us anticipated quite how complex the editorial task would be, down to ensuring the correct detailed transliteration of so many Ladino texts. Hilary’s editorial follows showing the broader context within which the articles are located. The issue also contains her own important contribution to the range of studies. Together the two issues form a comprehensive overview of the field.