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500 Years Of Ladino Literature: An Overview

500 Years Of Ladino Literature: An Overview



Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish) is the literary language of the descendents of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Many of us are familiar with the Sephardic song tradition, but there is also a vast ...

Ladino (or Judeo-Spanish) is the literary language of the descendents of the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Many of us are familiar with the Sephardic song tradition, but there is also a vast literature in Ladino that ranges from medieval religious texts to modern novels. This literature was produced by diverse spectrum of Sephardic communities, from very assimilated converts writing in Italy and Holland who fled Spain to return to Judaism in the 1500s and 1600s, to Ottoman Jews who still preserved a sense of ‘Spanish-ness’ hundreds of years after the expulsion, to Sephardic immigrants to New York who published newspapers and humor magazines in Ladino between the wars. In this talk Wacks will give an overview of Ladino literature from 1492 to the twentieth century in light of its historical and social contexts.



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  • Es sidur de mugeres en Ladino para todo el anyo con su orden de berachot al-pin. Y el orden del lvar de las manos y otros muchos dinim los ke vaiguen a propozito en cada....

500 Years Of Ladino Literature: An Overview 500 Years Of Ladino Literature: An Overview Presentation Transcript

  • 500 Years of Ladino Literature: an overview David A. Wacks Associate Professor of Spanish University of Oregon http://rl.uoregon.edu/people/faculty/profiles/wacks/index.php
  • What is Ladino?
    • Castilian (ca. 1492)
    • Hebrew
    • Turkish, Arabic, French, Slavic, etc.
    • French influence: Alliance Isra é lit e
  • Sephardic languages
    • Hebrew
    • Ladino
    • Diasporic languages
    • Question of relative prestige
  • Pre-1492
    • Was there a Jewish Spanish before expulsion?
    • Literary or liturgic ladino
    • Context: how is the language used?
    • Calque: Hebrew meaning, Castilian words
  • Coplas de la muerte (16th c.)
    • ‘Couplets on the Death of his father’
    • Jorge Manrique (ca. 1440-1479)
    • Included in manuscript with philosophical and religious texts
    • Manscript from Salonika
  • Coplas de la muerte
    • Recuerde el alma dormida,
    • avive el seso y despierte
    • contemplando
    • cómo se pasa la vida,
    • cómo se viene la muerte
    • tan callando;
    • cuán presto se va el placer,
    • cómo después de acordado
    • da dolor,
    • cómo a nuestro parescer
    • cualquier tiempo pasado
    • fue mejor.
  • Ottoman diaspora
  • Ottoman diaspora
    • Sultan Bayazid II to Ferdinand
    • Jewish press 1493 >
    • Salonika
      • Majority Jewish
      • Concentration of merchants
      • Over 40 synagogues (turn of 20th c)
  • Seder Nashim (Salonika, 1550)
    • Prayer book for women
    • Preceded by handwritten version from Spain
    • Prayers and hand-washing times for all days of the year
  • Seder Nasim
    • “ Es sidur de mugeres en Ladino para todo el anyo con su orden de berakhot al fin. Y el orden del lavar de las manos y otros muchos dinim los que vienen a prop ósito en cada...”
  • Dialoghi de amore (1568)
    • Most important philosophical text of its time
    • First published in Italian
    • Original language?
    • Dialogues between Philo and Sophia on nature of love
    • Venice edition in Roman characters
    • 1568
  • Sabbateanism and the Donmeh
    • Shabbeti Tzvi (1626-1676)
    • False messiah
    • Converts to Islam
    • Donmeh sect of Islamic messianic Jews
  • Tzvi and Ladino
    • Lingua franca in Turkish Jewry
    • Avid singer of romansas (ballads)
    • Kabalistic interpretation of Ladino love songs
  • Romansa de Meliselda (17th c.)
    • Traditional Spanish ballad “Melisenda/Meliselda”
    • Extremely popular in 16th century collections of ballads printed in Spain
    • Used in Donmeh liturgy
    • This night my cavaliers
    • I slept with a maiden
    • whose equal I have never met
    • in the best years of my life.
    • Meliselda is her name,
    • Meliselda elegant and beautiful
    • along the course of a river
    • and the slope of a hill
    • I met Meliselda,
    • daughter of the Emperor
    • who came to bathe herself
    • in the waters of the sea
    • to bathe herself and refresh herself,
    • and to change her garment.
    • Thus she brings her body
    • pure as snow
    • with her rosy face,
    • like milk and blood;
    • her russet hair
    • like threads of gold
    • her gleaming forehead
    • like a mirror;
    • her nose uplifted
    • like the quill of a scribe;
    • her red lips,
    • like the coral;
    • and her little teeth,
    • like pearls.
  • Conversos and Western Diaspora
    • Communities in Italy and Amsterdam
    • Areas of Spanish influence
    • Populated by educated conversos fleeing Inquisition
    • Use of Latin characters
  • Biblia de Ferrara (1533)
    • Vernacular translation of Tanakh
    • Prepared for Italian and other Sephardim educated in Spanish, Portuguese, or Latin
    • Derived authority from high level of Spanish
    • Roman characters
  • Calque
    • Spanish that ‘sounds like Hebrew’: Song of Songs 1:2
    • Mejores tus querencias m ás que vino
    • Literally: Better your affections more than wine
    • Standard Spanish: Your affections are better than wine
  • Isaac (Fernando) Cardoso
    • 1603 (Portugal) - 1683 (Italy)
    • University at Salamanca
    • Court Physician to Phillip IV
    • Emigrated to Italy
    • Anti-Kabbalist
    • Brother Abraham Miguel Cardoso, major Sabbatean and Kabbalist
  • Las Excelencias de los Hebreos 1679
    • History of Jewish people
    • Catalog of outstanding traits
    • Refutation of common calumnies against Jews
    • Spanish or Ladino?
  • Zohar in Ladino (1876)
    • Vernacular translations of selections of the Zohar
    • Ottoman diaspora (Belgrade, Smyrna, etc)
    • Trans. Avraham Fintsi
  • Election of letter to begin creation
    • Para el prinsipiyo entro la letra de ת [taf] al prinsipiyo dišo: soy del mundo, gustas por krear kon mi el mundo ke leo su letra del seyo tuyo ke es אמת [emet] konviene a el rey por enpesar kon אמת [emet] y por krear kon mi el mundo.
  • La brigante (Jerusalem, 1911)
    • Modern novels adapted in Ladino
    • serialization in Ladino press
    • French influence
      • Alliance schools
      • Many novels originally French
  • Bella Starr
    • Belastar pasa por la m ás terivle de los brigantes que en todos los Estados Unidos de América. Ella nasió en el 3 fevrero 1884. Aedada de manco quinze años ella salió a la montaña como brigante.
  • USA
    • Major emigration following mandatory conscription in Turkey (1909)
    • Important centers in
      • New York
      • Seattle
      • Los Angeles
    • Active Ladino press in NY (1918-1944)
  • La vara (1922)
    • Published in NY (1922-1948)
    • Editorial offices on Rivington St. in L.E. Side
  • Bibliography
    • Balbuena, Monique. Sephardic Literary Identities in Diaspora. Palo Alto: Stanford University Press, 2010. (Literary study of modern Ladino literature by UO Professor).
    • Benbassa, Esther, and Aron Rodrigue. Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000. (General overview of Sephardic history)
    • Gerber, Jane S. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: The Free Press, 1992. (General overview of Sephardic history)
    • Díaz-Mas, Paloma. The Sephardim: The Jews from Spain . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. ( Overview of Sephardic history with special emphasis on language and literature)
    • Lazar, Moshe. The Sephardic tradition Ladino and Spanish-Jewish literature. 1st ed. New York: Norton, 1972. (Anthology of Ladino literature translated into English)
  • Bibliography, cont.
    • Muñiz-Huberman, Angelina. La Lengua florida: antología sefardí . 1st ed. México: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México; Fondo de Cultura Económica, 1989. (Spanish language anthology of Sephardic literature)
    • Koén-Sarano, Matilda. Folktales of Joha, Jewish trickster . 1st ed. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2003. (English translations of Ladino folktales collected by the author in Israel)
    • Koén-Sarano, Matilda. King Solomon and the golden fish : tales from the Sephardic tradition . Detroit Mich.: Wayne State University Press, 2004. (English translations of Ladino folktales collected by the author in Israel)
    • Ben-Ur, Aviva. Sephardic Jews in America: a diasporic history . New York: New York University Press, 2009. (History that draws heavily on Ladino press in US for source material)
    • Stein, Sarah Abrevaya. Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004. (Study of Ladino press from TBI’s own Sarah Stein, currently Amado Chair of Sephardic Studies at UCLA)