ASCAMA(; plural Ascamot):
The name given by Spanish and Portuguese Jewish communities to the laws governing their internal administration. These laws, approved and accepted as binding by the members, called in general "YeḦidim," were, for the most part, framed upon ancient models. They are a survival, to a certain extent, of the old internal administration of the Jewries of Spain and Portugal. Originally written in Spanish or Portuguese, they have been translated into the respective vernaculars of the countries in which these communities now exist. The ascamot of the English communities, framed in 1664, were translated from the original Portuguese into English in the year 1819. They correspond somewhat to the "teḳanot" of the Ashkenazic communities, though the latter are more limited in their scope, and more like "decisions in council" on certain affairs of communal interest.
Among the Ashkenazim the word "haskamah" (correct form of "Ascama") is used exclusively in the sense of approbation, and is chiefly employed as the name of a permit for the publication of a book. This haskamah or license had to be signed by at least three rabbis. The first instance of this kind of censorship seems to have occurred in 1554 in Italy (see I. Abraham's "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages," pp. 69 et seq.), not for the purpose of stamping the book with any special religious character, but to prevent the publication of any work that was likely afterward to be destroyed by the censor appointed by the Inquisition. It would also serve the purpose of safeguarding the author's copyright. In later times the license was transformed into a recommendation.
Formerly the Mahamad—that is, the governing body of the Sephardic communities—also claimed a similar right to grant the license for any book published under its jurisdiction. Ḥakam David Nieto published his "Maṭṭeh Dan" in London (1714) without any haskamah, but "con licencia de los Señores del Mahamad" (with the license of the Mahamad). In the same manner every local authority claimed the right to grant or to refuse such a license. See
- W. Popper, The Censorship of Hebrew Books, 1899, pp. 39, 44, 94, 106.