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Judæo-Spanish is a dialect composed of a mixture of Spanish and Hebrew elements, which is still used as the vernacular and as a literary language by the Sephardim or "Spagnioli," descendants of the Jews expelled from Spain and now scattered throughout Turkey, Servia, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Palestine, and Morocco. The language to which it has the greatest similarity is the Old Spanish or Castilian of the fifteenth century; and it is frequently designated as "idioma Español," "lengua Castellana," or "lengua vulgar." Judæo-Spanish resembles the much more corrupted Judæo-German in that it includes many old Hebrew and Talmudic words, particularly such as have been transmitted from generation to generation or can not be exactly translated into another language; e.g., "ḥen," "raḥmonut," "ẓedaḳah." It differs from modern Spanish in that it contains many Old Spanish forms and words which were still current in Castile toward the end of the fifteenth century, at the time when the Jews were expelled from Spain, but which have entirely disappeared from the vocabulary of modern Spanish, or which are now very rarely used; e.g., "fruchiguar," "ermollecer," "escuentra," "muchiguar," "podestania," "pecilgo" (= Spanish "pellizco"), "espandir," etc.

One of the characteristics of Ladino is that it contains words taken from the Hebrew and Spaniolized; e.g., "meldar" (to read), "meldador" (the reader), "melda" (school), "darsar" (from the Hebrew root = "to investigate," "to instruct"), "chanufer" (from = "the flatterer")—words occurring frequently in Judæo-Spanish, but not found in Spanish proper. Some Spaniolized Hebrew words, however, have become current in Spain and Portugal; for example, "malshin" (= Spanish "malsin," Portuguese "malsim," accuser, slanderer), and its derivatives "malsinar" and "malsindad"; the rabbinical "geṭ" (Spanish "guet"), and others.

Old Spanish Phonetics.

In Judæo-Spanish, as in Old Spanish, "f" and "g" are each used instead of "h"; e.g., "fijo" instead of "hijo"; "fablar" instead of "hablar"; "fambre" instead of "hambre"; "fermosa" instead of "hermosa"; "agora" instead of "ahora." The letter "h," whether occurring at the beginning or in the middle of a word, is frequently omitted, as in "ermano" for "hermano," and in "conortar" for "conhortar." Often "m" changes into "n," as in "muestros" for "nuestros," "mos," "muevo," for "nos," "nuevo"; "m" and "n" are sometimes inserted, as "amvisar" for "avisar," "munchos" for "muchos." Metathesis of "d" before "r" takes place, as "vedrad," "vedre," "acodro," "pedrer," for "verdad," "verde," "acordo," "perder"; or of "r" before "o," as "probe" for "pobre," "proberia" (still used in Galicia) for "pobreria." "b" is not seldom used for "v," as "biuda," "bolar," instead of "viuda," "volar." For the study of Old Spanish, Ladino is a rich mine that has not yet been sufficiently explored. For the Turkish words which have entered the Ladino vocabulary, see Danon in "Keleti Szémle," iv. 215 et seq.

Ladino is written in the so-called Spanish cursive characters, and is printed generally in rabbinical, though sometimes in square, Hebrew characters, and not seldom in Latin letters. One of the phonetic characteristics of this dialect is the change of the Spanish "ll" to "y"; e.g., "cabayero" for "caballero," "estreya" for "estrella" (the same change takes place in the Spanish of Andalusia). In printing with Hebrew or rabbinical characters this sound is represented by a "lamed" and a double "yod" (); e.g., for "llamar"; for "llevar"; for "calle" (street). Instead of "q" preceding "e" and "i," is used, as for "que"; for "aqui"; for "quien"; "s" is used instead of "z" and "c," as in "sielo," "cabeson," for "cielo," "cabezon"; while ז, pronounced "j," is used instead of "y" and "g" before "e" and "i," as for "muger"; for "hijo." The letter "r" is not doubled in Ladino.

Ladino Literature; Bible.

A comparatively rich literature, which arose at the beginning of the sixteenth century and is still diligently cultivated, exists in Ladino. For several centuries this literature was confined to translations. The first work published in Judæo-Spanish, a translation of the ritual rules for slaughtering (Constantinople, 1510, and reprinted several times at Venice, Pisa, London, Amsterdam), was designed to meet immediate religious needs. The translation of the Pentateuch in Hebrew vocalized square characters (Constantinople, 1547) was the first larger work which the Sephardic Jews of Turkey published in the language "which the old Jews use." Twenty years later the entire Bible was published in several parts, the third of which included the Later Prophets. This translation, which agreed almost entirely with the one that appeared at Ferrara in Latin letters in 1553, was followed by another, in four parts (Constantinople, 1739-45), in Ladino ("entero bien Ladinado"); seventy years later Israelb. Ḥayyim of Belgrade issued a translation (Vienna, 1813-16); the Constantinople edition was reprinted at Smyrna in 1838 et seq., and again at Constantinople in 1873, all of these being in Rashi characters. New translations and reprints of single books of the Bible were frequently issued: the Pentateuch or "Humas de Parasioth y Aftharoth," generally in Latin letters, eight times at Amsterdam between 1627 and 1733; the Psalms at Salonica in 1582, several times at Amsterdam since 1628, at Vienna 1822 and often, at Constantinople 1836; the Megillot with Ladino translation, ib. 1813; and especially Canticles ("Cantares de Selomoh"), which was used in the liturgy, and printed with the Aramaic paraphrase about twenty times, beginning with 1619, at Venice, Amsterdam, Hamburg, Leghorn, and Vienna. A Judæo-Spanish translation of the apocryphal Ecclesiasticus (Sirach), after Ben Zeeb's Hebrew version, was first made by Israel b. Ḥayyim of Belgrade (Vienna, 1818).


Contemporaneously with the Judæo-Spanish translation of the Bible that of the prayers for the whole year and for Rosh ha-Shanah and Yom Kippur was issued by the same establishment at Ferrara (1553). The prayers, "Orden de Oraciones de Todo el Anno" or "De Oraciones de (del) Mes," and "Orden de las Oraciones Cotidianas," were printed and frequently reissued at Ferrara, at Venice, especially at Amsterdam, and later at Vienna, in various sizes, generally in Latin letters, occasionally in vocalized Hebrew square characters. Sometimes calendars for twenty years or more were added. In the course of time there appeared special translations of: the "seliḥot" or penitential prayers (Venice, 1552; Amsterdam, 1666; Vienna, 1865); the"ma'amadot" (Venice, 1609; Amsterdam, 1654, and frequently); the Pesaḥ Haggadah (Amsterdam, 1622; Venice, 1629, and frequently there as well as in Leghorn, Vienna, and London); the prayers for the vigils (Hamburg, 1662; Amsterdam, frequently); prayers for the fast-days (Venice, 1623; Amsterdam, 1630, and often); the various blessings, "Orden de las Bendiciones" (Amsterdam, 1640, 1650, and frequently); the "azharot," recited by the Sephardim at Shabu'ot (Venice, 1753; Leghorn, 1777); the Sephardic prayers and songs on the 15th of Shebaṭ, under the title "Peri 'Eẓ Hadar" = "Fruit of the Tree Hadar" (Venice, 1766; Belgrade, 1865); and others. Threnodies and prayers for special occasions, as those recited every year in memory of the earthquake at Leghorn (Jan., 1742), were also translated (Pisa, 1746). The "Peraḳim" or "Sayings of the Fathers," which also served for liturgical purposes, were often translated (first by Moses Belmonte, Amsterdam, 1644), sometimes together with the Book of Ruth or Canticles (Amsterdam and London), but generally alone, and always with the Hebrew text (Venice, Amsterdam, Pisa, Belgrade, and Salonica).

Extracts from Joseph Caro's Shulḥan 'Aruk were translated under the title " y en Ladino Mesa de el Alma," in order to enable the women and the men who did not know Hebrew to become acquainted with the religious rules and ceremonies (Salonica, 1568; Venice, 1602). In 1609 Moses Altaras issued a revised edition at Venice under the title "Libro de Mantenimiento de la Alma." Joseph de David Pardo compiled a "Compendio de Dinim que Tcdo Ysrael Deve Saber y Observar," which was published by his son David Pardo of London (Amsterdam, 1689). Isaac Nombrado translated the entire ritual code Oraḥ Ḥayyim under the title " Mesa del Rey, en Ladino Claro, con su " (Constantinople, 1744).

Apologetics and Homiletics.

An apologetic work, "Fuente Clara," which is now very rare, appeared anonymously at the end of the sixteenth century; and at the beginning of the seventeenth century Isaac Troki's "Ḥizzuḳ Emunah" was translated into Spanish by Isaac Athias. A Ladino translation of the latter work was published by Isaac Emaraji at Smyrna about 1840. Fifteen years later a refutation of McCaul's "Old Paths," made necessary by the efforts of the missionaries, was published at the same place by Raphael b. Elia Katsin.

Books of an ethico-religious nature were published in Ladino, partly as independent works, partly as translations of earlier ones. The initial work was the "Regimiento de la Vida" by Moses Almosnino, which "contains everything that it is necessary for man to know in order to travel the whole journey of life without neglecting his duties." This work was first printed in rabbinical script (Salonica, 1564), with a long treatise on dreams, in the form of a letter to Don Joseph Nasi, at whose request it was written; a revised edition in Latin letters was published at Amsterdam in 1729. Baḥya's, "Ḥobot ha-Lebabot," or "Obligacion de los Corazones," translated into Ladino by Ẓaddiḳ b. Joseph Formon before the end of the sixteenth century, and printed at Constantinople, was republished several times (Amsterdam, 1610; Venice, 1713; Vienna, 1822) and was also translated into Portuguese (Amsterdam, 1670). Jacob Ḥagiz translated Isaac Aboab's "Menorat ha-Ma'or" "en lengua bulgar," under the title "Almenara de la Luz," at Leghorn in 1656 (2d ed., Amsterdam, 1708). "Shebeṭ Musar" was translated at Constantinople about 1740 and at Smyrna in 1860, and the popular "Ḳab ha-Yashar" (as "Castigerio Hermoso con Mucho Consuelo") at Constantinople in 1857. Isaac de Moses de Pas issued a kind of religious manual, containing Maimonides' Thirteen Articles of Faith, an explanation of the feast- and fast-days and of the Ten Commandments, in Hebrew and Judæo-Spanish (Leghorn, 1764), and "Medicina de Lengua, Arbol de Vidas" (ib. 1734), a compendium in defense of the Hebrew language. The foremost work of Judæo-Spanish literature is "Me'am Lo'ez," an exegetic-midrashic-ethic-homiletic encyclopedia, to which Jacob Culi and several other scholars contributed, and which passed through several editions (see Culi).


One of the earliest poetic works in Ladino is the rimed story of Joseph, "Coplas de Joseph ha-Zaddik (el Justo)," by Abraham Toledo (Constantinople, 1732). Judæo-Spanish literature is comparatively rich in songs—"coplas," "cantares," "roscas"—for Purim, with carnival games composed for the occasion. The first "Coplas de Purim" appeared about 1700. J. Clava wrote "Cancio de Purim," consistingof 110 verses (Amsterdam, 1772); a "Compendio de la Alegria" appeared at Leghorn in 1782; another, at the same place in 1792 and 1875; "Roscas de Purim" was published at Vienna in 1866; and "Coplas Nuevas," at Salonica in 1868. Many other religious and secular poems in Ladino are still extant in manuscript. There are also many Judæo-Spanish proverbs, of which some have been collected and transcribed into Spanish in Kayserling's "Refranes ó Proverbios Españoles de los Judios Españoles" (Budapest, 1889); they have appeared amplified in R. Foulché-Delbosc's work "Proverbes Judéo-Espagnols" (Paris, 1895); and an additional collection has been published by A. Danon ("Recueil de Romances Jud.-Espan." in "R. E. J." xxxii. 102 et seq., xxxiii. 122 et seq.).

Philosophy and Grammar.

In the first decades of the eighteenth century a desire for culture and education was gradually awakened in the Judæo-Spanish-speaking Jews of the East; Judæo-Spanish literature was in consequence filled with new life, and many Judæo-Spanish works were published at Vienna, Belgrade, and especially at Constantinople, Salonica, and Smyrna. As the Cabala and mysticism are wide-spread in the East, mystical and cabalistic works were at first most largely published. Even most of the books on morals published more recently are mystical in character; e.g., the anonymous "Miḳra Ḳodesh" (Constantinople, 1818); Immanuel Salem's "Ṭobah Tokaḥah" (Salonica, 1850), containing passages from the Talmud, Midrash, and Zohar, arranged according to the pericopes; Ḥayyim Abraham Uzziel's " Meḳor Ḥayyim" (Salonica and Smyrna, 1859-61), in four parts; Isaac Farḥi's "Zekut u-Mishor" (Smyrna, 1850), "Imre Binah" (Constantinople, 1863); and the works of the pious Eliezer Papo, as "Dammeseḳ Eliezer" (Belgrade, 1850), and "Pele Yo'eẓ" (Vienna, 1870), translated in part by his son. Elia de Vidas' mystico-cabalistic work "Reshit Ḥokmah" was printed as early as 1703 (Constantinople); that on the death of Moses, in 1763 (ib.). The story of the birth and youth of the cabalist Isaac Luria appeared at Smyrna in 1765; and the biography of Israel Shem-Ṭob (Besht) at Belgrade in 1852. As the reading of the "holy" Zohar was regarded as conducive to salvation, an extract therefrom, "Leḳeṭ ha-Zohar," was translated into Ladino (Belgrade, 1859, 1861). It is characteristic of the cultural status of the Jews of the East that a small medical work containing recipes for charms appeared in Ladino (Smyrna, 1865).

Miscellaneous Works.

The first Hebrew grammar in Ladino was published at Vienna in 1823; it was followed by several others (Smyrna, 1852; Bucharest, 1860), and by a "Diccionario de la Lengua Santa" (Constantinople, 1855), the explanations of each word being given in "la lengua Sephardis." Juvenile and popular works also were issued; e.g., a Biblical history (ib. 1854), a compendium on astronomy (ib. 1850), one on astrology (ib. 1847), and an arithmetic (Belgrade, 1867). The Jewish chronicle "Shebeṭ Yehudah," which M. de Leon had translated into Spanish as early as 1640, was transcribed into Judæo-Spanish (Belgrade, 1859), and the "Libro de Acontecimientos de Sabbatai Zewi," on the experiences of Shabbethai Ẓebi, was also translated (Salonica, 1871). Eldad ha-Dani's legendary account of the Ten Tribes in farther Asia was translated into Ladino as early as 1806, a second edition being published at Salonica in 1860; and there also Kalonymus b. Kalonymus' treatise "Iggeret Ba'ale Ḥayyim" was published for the third time in a Judæo-Spanish translation. A short history of the Ottoman empire was issued for the instruction of the people (Salonica, 1860; Constantinople, 1873), and was edited by David Ḥazzan at Smyrna in 1887. Judah Nehama translated from the English a "Historia Universal" (i.e., of Asia; Salonica, 1861); a history of Alexander the Great was translated from the Hebrew (ib. 1857); one of Napoleon III., from the French (Belgrade, 1860); and S. Bloch's geography of Asia and Africa was translated by Isaac b. Amaragi (Salonica, 1853, 1857). Several biographies of famous men, as Moses Montefiore, Adolphe Crémieux, and Albert Cohn, whose philanthropies extended also over the East, were written in Judæo-Spanish.

In the last quarter of the nineteenth century novels, stories, and dramas (Racine's "Esther," Molière's "L'Avare") were translated from the French and Hebrew or were worked over independently. The "Historia de Mille y Una Noche" was translated about 1855. Works in Judæo-Spanish in rabbinical script were and still are issued for the conversion of the Jews by the Scotch Missionary Society, which has also published in Ladino "El Manadero," a partly scientific review dealing with Jews and Judaism (Constantinople, 1855, 1885). A number of periodicals are published in Ladino.

  • Kayserling, Bibl. Esp.-Port.-Jud. 1890;
  • idem, in Ersch and Gruber, Encyc. section ii., part 41, p. 150;
  • Grünbaum, Jüdisch-Spanische Chrestomathie, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1896;
  • Franco, Histoire des Israélites de l'Empire Ottoman, pp. 270 et seq.;
  • B. F. Dobranich, Los Poetas Judeo-Hispanos, Buenos Ayres, 1886;
  • Foulché-Delbosc, Revue Hispanique, i. 22.
G. M. K.
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