Homeless Tongues
Poetry and Languages of the Sephardic Diaspora
Monique R. Balbuena



In order for the wheel to turn, for life to be lived, impurities are needed, and the impurities of impurities in the soil, too, as is known, if it is to be fertile. Dissension, diversity, the grain of salt and mustard are needed.

—Primo Levi, Il sistema periodico*

In October 1978, a bilingual book of poems appeared in a run of 300 copies from a small press in France. This event in principle wouldn’t be surprising, but the genre and the languages of the volume were. Although published in France by the author of several French novels, this was a volume presenting poems side by side in vernacular Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, and English. Its title was Lus ojus las manus la boca, or Eyes Hands Mouth, followed on the title page by the informative subtitle “Sephardic poems by CLARISSE NICOÏDSKI with translations by KEVIN POWER.” The poems presented images and metaphors not seen before in Judeo-Spanish poetry. Allusions to modern poets, chief among them Federico García Lorca, announced that a new kind of poetry was making its way into Sephardic writing. The publication of this small volume proved to be an important moment in the literary life of the Sephardic language; it announced the presence of Judeo-Spanish in contemporary world literature. Revealing exchanges and connections with literatures in other languages, it showcased the poetic possibilities of the vernacular, and opened the door for a series of writers and composers around the world who would follow suit, writing original texts in Ladino. Despite the small edition, this bilingual volume of poetry can be seen as the founding moment of a literary revitalization of Ladino: it led both speakers and non-speakers to recognize the potential locked in the Sephardic language for a serious and important poetic contribution to the literary world. And the fact that this work appeared in the form of poetry is also telling of the role and relevance of the genre in Sephardic culture.

The Sephardic Franco-Bosnian novelist Clarisse Nicoïdski, née Abinoun (1938–96), was an accomplished writer, the author of more than fifteen novels, two biographies of painters, an opera libretto, and a volume on women painters.1 All of her novels were written in French, and with the exception of a few poems published in a Spanish journal, the only poetry collection she released during her lifetime was Lus ojus las manus la boca.2

Nicoïdski learned Ladino as a little girl during World War II, while hiding with her family in Lyon during the Nazi occupation under the Vichy government.3 Following the end of the war, she and her family moved to Morocco, where they lived in Casablanca between 1954 and 1959. Nicoïdski’s decision to revert to her childhood sounds and to write in the language of her parents and grandparents, what they called el spaniol muestro (our Spanish) was prompted by the death of her mother.4 Nicoïdski took to writing one poem in Ladino for each novel she had written in French. Once she began, the shame she had long associated with the Judeo-Spanish language, for its “lack of noblesse [nobility], grammar, and literature,”5 was overshadowed, and eventually transformed, by the realization that the language was dying along with her mother, who, in her mind, metonymically stood for its speakers. The language “‘of the family,’ of ‘secrecy,’ of fright and—perhaps—of shame”6 became the “lost language” in which Nicoïdski could now offer her mother a literary kaddish.7 As she said in an interview published in 1999, “I understood that [with my mother] a bit of this language from my childhood was disappearing and that for our generation, the death of our parents meant the death of a language.”8 Ladino resurfaces here in its feminine trappings, as the mother language and the language of the mother: “My mother’s love, our complicity and our laughter were all found in this language.”9 Ladino irrupts both as the site of memory and as that which can save memory, and as the mother’s language it marks and is marked by affection and pain. Ladino is, in Nicoïdski’s work, a language to recover the past, to claim an ethnic identity, and to reaffirm the links she maintains with the Sephardic Diaspora. And when Ladino forces its way out in Nicoïdski’s creation, it is in the form of a new genre: for the first time, she writes poetry.

In her fiction—especially in the novel Couvre-feux (Curfews)—she had already treated autobiographical elements and developed themes of isolation, memory, and exile. Now, faced with the death of her mother, longing, memory, and displacement become ever more acute. Nicoïdski eventually combines her individual, personal severance and pain with the larger, communal loss and separation experienced by Sephardic exiles who see the marks of their culture gradually disappear. To speak of her mother’s death, she turned to poetry, and in changing genres, she also changed languages: in other words, when her text becomes poetry, her language turns into Ladino. There is no causation or chronology that can readily be identified here, but poetry and Ladino appear simultaneously, as though they were the ideal means with which to speak of death and combat death.

Nicoïdski turns to poetry and to Ladino in order to speak of death—a personal, a collective, and a linguistic death—and of the impossibility of speaking. Her speaker’s aphasia finds a parallel in the general loss of language by Ladino speakers. And yet, even as she recognizes the disappearance of Ladino as a vehicle of oral communication and transmission, mourning its present condition as “silent writing,” Nicoïdski insists on writing. In so doing, she in some way holds off death, for not only does she create—and creation combats death—but by creating in Ladino she consciously claims a Sephardic identity, on the one hand, and gives Judeo-Spanish a renewed élan—an afterlife—on the other. Such a movement defines much of the recent writing in Ladino, which for the most part has appeared in the form of poetry or songs.

I take Nicoïdski’s example as a point of departure because her trajectory as a novelist, then a poet, and as a French and then a Ladino writer, is representative of multilingual Sephardic writers who move from one language to another either to engage with their personal, familial, or people’s past, to question a present sociopolitical condition, or to claim a hybrid identity defined or expressed by language. In this process many of such writers end up calling into question notions of a homogeneous or monolingual national identity.10

Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s concept of minor literatures, which became so pervasive in cultural and literary theory, privileges the “minor,” treating it, not only as a positive value, but as an achievement. “There is nothing that is major or revolutionary except the minor,”11 they claim in their study Kafka (1975, trans. 1986). The two main characteristics Deleuze and Guattari assign to “minor literature” are that in it “language is affected with a high coefficient of deterritorialization,”12 and writers employ a “collective assemblage of enunciation.” “Deterritorialized writing” in their view corresponds, perhaps exclusively, to “oppositional writing” in a major language. “[A] minor literature doesn’t come from a minor language; it is rather that which a minority constructs within a major language,” they assert.13

In Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation, multilingualism figures only as a metaphor, for multiple languages are never taken into full account, and the definition of the minor revolves around only one language, “one’s own language.” Chana Kronfeld has already pointed out that Deleuze and Guattari’s “monolingual construction of the minor-within-the-major” has a significant exclusionary effect, since it does not acknowledge the possibility of any “oppositional literature” written in non-major languages.14 It excludes, from the position of “minor,” literatures in languages that are not at the center of the Western world or the now mainstream modern canon, effectively defending an “Imperial monolingualism.”15

With this discussion in the background, having informed my initial thoughts on the poets I discuss here, I offer two counterarguments to Deleuze and Guattari’s position: first, I argue that minor literatures can emerge from multilingual contexts and social conditions, and second, that minor languages have the capacity to challenge and reinscribe dominant languages. My readings are guided by my own recognition of the role of minor languages in the makeup of major languages, and of the power that minor languages have in revitalizing major languages. The poets I read here—the Algerian Sadia Lévy, the Israeli Margalit Matitiahu, and the Argentine Juan Gelman—are significant on their own, and much more compelling as creators than as “an answer” to any theory. Indeed, together, Lévy, Matitiahu, and Gelman challenge the usual canons of Jewish literature and the general consensus on Jewish languages. But, in addition, they constitute counterexamples that effectively undermine Deleuze and Guattari’s formulation of the minor, each a multicultural and multilingual poet who writes from an oppositional or marginal position, and uses a threatened and minor language.

This book is the first to offer a sustained literary analysis of contemporary Sephardic poetry. Although poetry has had a long life in Jewish writing, it has not received adequate attention from scholars of Jewish or cultural studies, who have mostly favored narrative to investigate nationalism and processes of identity formation. In studies of Jewish poetry and Jewish languages in general, little attention has been paid to the Sephardic contribution; when it has, it typically looks at the past, as if Sephardic literature (and general culture) were only a relic. Against this trend, I decided to focus on Sephardic literature. But my focus is not on the traditional Sephardic genres that were developed in Ladino, such as the midrashim in the Me’am Lo’ez, the coplas, the romances, proverbs, and tales. Instead, I would like to run à rebours, a contra-pelo, against the grain, and turn my attention to Sephardic poetry—contemporary, multilingual, transnational Sephardic poetry. Unlike other scholars of Sephardic literature—linguists and philologists who provide descriptions, lists, and encyclopedic catalogs, or historians, for whom literary (or cultural) texts are only interesting to the extent that they serve as historical sources, I am actually concerned with the aesthetic and literary value of the works. It was this literary concern, this interest in the degree of aesthetic information of a text, that guided both the definition of my corpus and my approach to it. In Homeless Tongues I thus

• Focus on contemporary poetry

• Emphasize multilingual creative production, also acknowledging the role of other vernacular languages in addition to Ladino

• Privilege critical tools of literary analysis above the philological, historical, and ethnographic discourse that dominates the current understanding of Sephardic literature

I read Jewish multilingual poets who are themselves positioned amid different languages—each language with a particular political and social status—and who engage in a more or less conscious process of construction of identity through the negotiation of languages and texts. I am not working within the domain of national literatures, but rather in a transnational context that integrates several of the so-called national literatures, and that crosses linguistic boundaries and textual practices. One could say that this is traditionally the context of “Jewish literature.” But I am also looking specifically at Sephardic literature, or rather, at textual constructions of different expressions of a Sephardic identity. The result is to integrate the study of Sephardic poetry into general discussions of poetics, minority languages, minor literatures, Diaspora and nationalism, in attempt to help bridge the gap that still exists between the current critical and theoretical discourse on these issues and the field of Jewish Studies.

Homeless Tongues focuses on three little-known multilingual and multicultural Jewish poets who write from an oppositional or marginal position, using minor or threatened languages—Lévy, Matitiahu, and Gelman. Here and in my reading of Gelman I also introduce Nicoïdski. Each of these poets writes in more than one language, and uses at least a second language in opposition to her or his territorial or dominant language. In Lévy’s case, the dominant language is a colonial one, since he writes in French and Hebrew in Algeria. For the others, it is a national language: Matitiahu writes in Hebrew and Ladino in Israel, and Gelman writes in Spanish and Ladino in his exile from Argentina (Nicoïdski writes in French and Ladino). We come to see that it is through these very strategic choices of languages and intertexts that each poet expresses a Sephardic hybrid identity. In the process, their work challenges established notions of ethnic, literary, and linguistic identity.

Each of the poets treated here is engaged in his or her own unique circumstances, and as such is exemplary. Each writes from a specific place, historical condition, and cultural tradition, shaped by the specific literary and extraliterary norms of the system of languages he or she uses. In order to respect the poets’ individual differences and better approach my object of study, I draw upon several theoretical grids, among them neoformalist readings, Benjamin Harshav’s concept of “frames of reference,” Joshua Fishman’s ethnolinguistics and his work on threatened languages, contemporary theories of translation and intertextuality, and accounts of nationalism and Diaspora. Since a cross-cultural perspective is essential for understanding these artists, I combine stylistic analysis and cultural theory; I believe that a stylistic analysis that is sociologically and historically informed is the best approach to a body of text that is not only multilingual, but also thematizes the problem of language choice.

These poets are examples of writers who present an underlying, unifying Jewish intertextuality, represented by the Hebrew Bible and its commentaries, combined with the diverse literary traditions that inform the linguistic systems within which they write: French literature, modern lyric poetry, Spanish literature. As they reveal cultural and literary affiliations when they manipulate languages and intertexts, these poets construct their identity as Jews in complex or ambivalent positions, where multiple identities overlap and forces of influence follow several directions. Their work and the identities they negotiate are the result of the interaction with Jewish and broader non-Jewish cultural systems. Ultimately, their voices emerge in multiple accents, accents that I want to hear and cherish.

Poetic Detour

Part of my project is recognizing the Sephardic contribution to Jewish culture in general, and to its literary expression in particular. Poetry is perhaps the most important genre of literary expression in the Sephardic tradition. The most recognized genres are oral, such as ballads, songs, proverbs, and stories. The most traditional are poetic—coplas, romansas, cantigas. Many, such as the ballads, are Sephardic expressions of a characteristically Spanish popular genre. Several genres, however, developed in Ladino. The modernization and Westernization of Sephardic communities brought new genres that eventually became part of the Sephardic repertoire. Iacob Hassán calls these “adopted genres.”16

Here is a brief historical overview of the Sephardic literary genres: the famous and traditional orally transmitted romancero and cancionero developed from the sixteenth to the twentieth centuries; in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Judeo-Spanish was mostly used in translations of the Bible and other Hebrew rabbinical and medieval literatures.17 The eighteenth century saw a surge in literary creation—much of it in the form of coplas, traditionally described as narrative poems written in stanzas with rhyme and rhythm. Coplas are the most characteristic genre of Sephardic literature, and their authors generally belonged to the intellectual elite. Initially used to preserve religious knowledge, the coplas are typically associated with men, even though, eventually, they were transmitted orally by women. The eighteenth century is also marked by the appearance of the Me’am Lo’ez, an ambitious series of rabbinical commentaries on the Bible in “a foreign language,” that is, in Ladino, so that the masses could have access to biblical and religious texts. With the Me’am Lo’ez Ladino matured as a language for literary creation and also established itself as no longer “foreign,” but a recognized Jewish language. What is called poesía de autor (“autograph poetry”) appeared in late nineteenth and twentieth centuries with the spread of Westernization. In the words of Paloma Díaz-Mas, it is “characterized by greater consciousness of authorship, abandonment of traditional metrical forms, Westernization of the language, and the appearance of new themes unusual in the old coplas.”18 Other genres also appeared as a result of the same modernizing impetus, such as plays, historical essays, narratives (romansos), predominantly adaptations and translations, and journalism. The latter became very important in the Sephardic world. The language of journalism, Díaz-Mas observes, “shows the evolution of Judeo-Spanish from the end of the nineteenth century to the present.”19

Poetry still retains its prominent place in this varied literary tradition. In Sephardic poetry, piyut (liturgy), shir (song and poem), and mizmor (chant, or melody) coexist, often breaking traditional dichotomies between lowbrow and highbrow, secular and sacred, oral and written, popular and erudite, mundane and spiritual. It is also via poetry that a resurgence of literature in Ladino can be observed, it being the genre of choice for those who create in Ladino today.20 Continuing this tradition, I have chosen to write about poets, observing their aesthetic value and their significance to the literatures in the languages in which they write, as well as their relevance to Jewish and cultural studies.

Sephardim and Ladino

Ladino plays a significant role in this book, inasmuch as it is a language used by two of the poets discussed in it, Margalit Matitiahu and Juan Gelman. It is still spoken by over 200,000 people in Israel, Greece, Turkey, the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Egypt, and North Africa, and by smaller numbers in the United States and Latin America. Marginal in relation to Yiddish, and even more so to Hebrew, Ladino is not generally well known. Here is a brief introduction.

After the fall of Granada, which marked the end of the Reconquista, Catholic Spain’s seven-century-long struggle to wrest the Iberian Peninsula from Muslim control, the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella expelled all Jews who refused to convert to Catholicism from Spain. On March 31, 1492, nearly 200,000 Spanish Jews went into exile, leaving for Portugal, northern Europe, and countries around the Mediterranean basin. It was the end of a vibrant multicultural medieval kingdom, home to the Christian, Muslim and Jewish faiths, as evidenced by the trilingual inscription, in Castilian, Arabic, and Hebrew, on Ferdinand III’s tomb in the cathedral of Seville.

The exiles became known as Sepharades or Sephardim, from the Hebrew name Sepharad, meaning Spain. They took with them their fifteenth-century Spanish, which included linguistic varieties such as Leonese, Aragonese and, principally, courtly Castilian. Laura Minervini explains that Judeo-Spanish is a koinē, or “common dialect,” arising from a sixteenth-century dialectal convergence in which Castilian is the basis. It “is seen not as the direct descendant of the language of the 1492 exiles, but as the result of long-term contact accommodations between speakers of different but mutually intelligible regional varieties,” she writes.21

The year 1492 also saw the publication of Europe’s first scientific grammar of a vernacular language, Antonio de Nebrija’s famous Gramática de la lengua castellana (Grammar of the Castilian Language). This work not only helped to consolidate and standardize Castilian usage, but also provides current-day linguists with a description of the characteristics that Spanish presented then, hence a basis with which to compare the various threads of Judeo-Spanish with fifteenth-century Spanish and thereby identify the changes that occurred following exile.

There are conflicting theories as to whether there was a specific Jewish language in Spain before the expulsion, and there is an ongoing controversy about the name of the Judeo-Spanish language. What is certain is that Judeo-Spanish has traditionally been written with the Hebrew alphabet, with eastern Sephardim (those who settled in various places in the Ottoman Empire) using a typeface called ketivad raši, or letraz de ezkritura, known in English as “Rashi script,” for printed material, and a cursive script named solitreo for handwritten texts. Very few people read or write solitreo today, and most of the few Judeo-Spanish publications use the Latin alphabet, which—along with Cyrillic, in the case of Bulgaria—replaced the Hebrew alphabet in the early twentieth century. In Salonika, Jews used Rashi script until World War II, but in Turkey, Mustapha Kemal Pasha, better known as Atatürk, decreed in 1928 that the Latin alphabet should replace all others in his new republic. Difficulties of transliteration persist today, with three dominant spellings vying for an increasingly smaller readership: those of the Israel-based journal Akí Yerushalayim; of Vidas Largas, based in France and Belgium; and of Şalom and its supplement El amaneser, published in Turkey. Akí Yerushalayim’s tends to be the most usual transliteration system nowadays.

The consecutive migrations of Spanish Jews—to Portugal, North Africa, and the Middle East, across the Ottoman Empire and into other Mediterranean regions—definitively shaped the language they carried with them from Spain. If regionalisms and Hispanic Arabicisms had colored Judeo-Spanish before the expulsion from Spain, after 1492 this language grew to incorporate Moroccan Arabicisms, Turkisms, Italianisms, Hellenisms, and Slavisms from the various host countries, reinforcing its character as a language of fusion. Haïm Vidal Sephiha says of modern Judeo-Spanish that “4 per cent of its loan words come from Hebrew, 15 per cent from Turkish, 20 per cent from French, 2 per cent from Ladino, etc., with all of these built on the foundation of the 15th-century Spanish substratum.”22 This motley composition takes into particular account the pervasive presence of French, aided by the broad currents of modernization and Westernization under the influence of the press (journalism) and, in particular, the Alliance Israélite Universelle, which filled the Ottoman Empire in the late nineteenth century with schools seeking to “civilize” the “backward Jews” of the region. One of the results was a new version of this evolving language, what Sephiha calls “Judéo-Fragnol,” or Judeo-Franco-Spanish.

There is still much disagreement as to which name should be used when referring to the Jewish Spanish language. Among the many possible names of Judeo-Spanish are: espanyol,23 muestro espanyol (“our Spanish,” in opposition to espanyol halis, or “true Spanish,” from the Turkish), espanyolit (as used by Elias Canetti, a calque of the German Spaniolisch), espanyoliko (a variation of the former, but with the affectionate connotations provided by the diminutive Spanish suffix -iko), djudyo and djidyo (literally “Jewish,” a translation of the Turkish yahudice, a name given by the Turks to the only Spanish they knew), djudezmo (with a Spanish ending that usually marks nouns), jargon, a derogatory term used by the speakers themselves, haketía (the arabicized Moroccan variant of the language, but now practically recastilianized), and tetuani (the Algerian variety from the city of Oran, where the speakers originally came from Morocco). Finally, there is the option, now favored by academics, of Judeo-Spanish (djudyo-espanyol), which, in its dynamic evolution and contact with other languages has bred not only Sephiha’s “Judeo-Fragnol” (djudyo-franyol), referring to the Judeo-Spanish–French hybrid, but also his suggestion for the variety of Judeo-Spanish developing in interaction with Israeli Hebrew, “Judeo-Isragnol” (djudyo-isranyol).

The bevy of terms here reveals the complexities of characterizing this language. Though it is inexact, I use “Ladino” most often in this book to refer to both the formal and the vernacular incarnations of the language. I chose “Ladino” because of its broad, popular use and because it is now widely recognizable. It is also the form acknowledged by the Library of Congress. Before we proceed, however, two caveats, in the hopes of warding off some of the confusion that has long plagued discussions of this language. The first caveat is that our term should not be mistaken for the other Ladino, a Rhaeto-Romance language still spoken in and around northern Italy, more specifically in the Swiss Canton of the Grisons, as well as in the Italian regions of Friuli and Molise.24 The second caveat is that at some points, as we shall see later, more specific terms are necessary.

As the linguist Sephiha, a native speaker of what he terms Judeo-Spanish, reminds us, a single term may not suffice. He insists on multiple terms because he believes that Ladino is not a language that can be spoken. He defines “Ladino” as a “Judeo-Spanish calque,” that is, a liturgical and pedagogical language into which rabbis translated the Hebrew Bible in a literal manner, and which is a fusion of Hebrew syntax and Spanish vocabulary.25 In his words, “Ladino is only Hebrew clothed in Spanish, or Spanish with Hebrew syntax.”26 In the Middle Ages, “Ladino” referred to a “romance language,” that is, languages derived from Latin, specifically, Spanish(es), as opposed to the “Arab language (arábigo),” according to the Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico.27 Denah Lida writes that “during the thirteenth century it designated a Moor who knew that language, that is, Romance.”28 “Ladinar,” the correspondent verb, meant “to translate into a Romance language.” And Sephiha adds that, “because one needed to distrust this moro ladino, who could understand everything, ‘ladino’ gained the meaning of astute and sly, which remains until today amid the hispanophones.”

According to Sephiha, Ladino predates vernacular Judeo-Spanish, which would only have come into existence around 1620, as a koinē form of the many varieties of Spanish (from Aragón, León, Cataluña, Galicia, and, of course, Castile) brought with them by Jewish exiles following the 1492 expulsion.29 Because it was not influenced by the ongoing phonetic changes that occurred on the peninsula, it retained more archaic features, and began to be identified by Christian Spanish travelers as a characteristically Jewish language. The Judeo-Spanish language, or even the “Judeo-Spanish ethnicity,”30 according to Sephiha, only takes shape in the Ottoman Empire and in northern Morocco, and is therefore an exilic phenomenon.

“Ladino” remains to linguists and philologists the calque language used for translation of Hebrew and Aramaic texts, but it has acquired a broader and more popular sense among its active speakers around the world. “The widespread view that the term ‘Ladino’ is only applicable to the ‘sacred’ language of the Bible translations and prayers, whereas the other names are reserved solely for the spoken language, seems hardly tenable,” Moshe Lazar remarks.31 In interviews with contemporary speakers, Tracy Harris and Arlene Malinowski found that 75 percent of their informants referred to their language as “Espanyol,” and 23 percent used “Ladino.”32

The interchangeability of the terms “Ladino” and “Judeo-Spanish” is also apparent online and in writing about the language. For example, the web site of the diasporic Internet chat group Ladinokomunita proclaims itself to be “Un Sito Ande El Djudeo-Espanyol Bive” (“A site where Judeo-Spanish is alive”).33 Interchangeable use of the two names can also be seen in scholarly articles.34

Even these variations do not exhaust the possibilities of categorization. To further complicate matters, modern Spanish speakers bring other denominations into the pool. In Central America, the term “Ladino” refers to a specific ethnic group, characterized by Guatemala’s Ministry of Education as “a heterogeneous population that expresses itself in the Spanish language as a maternal language, which possesses specific cultural traits of Hispanic origin mixed with indigenous cultural elements and dresses in a style commonly considered as Western.”35 The Oxford English Dictionary defines a Ladino [person] as “In Central America, a mestizo or a white person.”

Spanish speakers tend to avoid the terms ladino and judío.36 Although Sephiha writes in French of the discipline of judéo-hispanologie (Judeo-Hispanology), it is unusual to hear Spanish speakers referring to the Spanish language of the Jews as judío-español or español judío. Rather, they will say sefardí or español sefardí. Juan Gelman, for one, refers to Ladino as sefardí, a name that can be confused with the Sefardí (Sephardic) ethnic group. The avoidance is because ladino is a common Spanish word, and for all practical purposes an unflattering one, having the sense of “cunning, shrewd, wily,”37 a development of the sixteenth-century “astute, clever, wise,” which we find among the Real Academia Española’s definitions. Denah Lida and Vidal Sephiha, as noted earlier, allude to this, and warn of the possible antisemitic overtones that the use of ladino might convey among Hispanophones. These meanings in fact seem to coincide with the perception many Ladino speakers have of the term’s understanding and usage by Spanish speakers, a problem that Jews who speak Ladino and live in Hispanic countries must confront.

The poets I am examining here, Gelman and Matitiahu in particular (and Nicoïdski similarly), have nevertheless embraced the Ladino language for its maternal, nurturing, homey qualities. Eliezer Papo Yachanin calls it the “pedestal of the true mother language” (piedestal de lingua materna verdadera), “spoken by all as the language of the home.” It absorbed new elements from other languages, turned them into Spanish (eshpanyolizava), and “embraced all of them as a mother,” he writes.38 With its endearing sounds, its tendency toward vocal sounds and preference for diminutive forms, expressed by the suffixes –iko and –ika; its feminine endings that contrast with the masculine modern Spanish (nouns ending in –or or beginning with an unaccented -a, for example); and its speakers’ tendency to employ images and proverbs, Ladino offers an escape from the normative and normalized state language to a more delicate, affectionate, and yet oppositional language.

Multilingualism and Jewish Languages

The multilingual experience of Jews living in the Diaspora is the main impulse for the formation of Jewish languages.39 The many migrations in the history of the Jews are inseparable from the many languages that form the linguistic repertoire of Jewish communities—languages that contact and mingle, languages that are major, shared by the dominant group of that particular realm, and languages that are minor, deviating from whatever is spoken by non-Jews. Each language along this spectrum has a specific role. Over time, the new languages of fusion, birthed from the mingling of tongues, acquire their own symbolic values. A very important one is that the Jewish language of any given time and place becomes an identity marker.

The existence of Jewish languages cannot be dissociated from the non-Jewish environment in which Jews lived. Such languages appeared in contact with non-Jewish languages, in addition and in opposition to them. It is therefore crucial to highlight the multilingual situation of Jews in the Diaspora, observing the productive, creative tensions between a Jewish minority and a non-Jewish majority, with its dominant language. In rare cases Jews did constitute the majority group in a given territory, and those few instances saw change in the dynamics among languages and the visibility and influence of their speakers. One such case is the enormous population growth of Jews in the Russian empire in the nineteenth century, where they formed a highly active and culturally productive majority across a network of small towns. Another is the unusual Jewish majority in the multi-ethnic, cosmopolitan city of Salonika—known as “the Jerusalem of the Balkans,” or “Mother of Israel”—at the turn of the twentieth century, and the ensuing position of Ladino as the dominant language in business and commerce. But whether the Jewish language is major or minor, multilingualism is prominent, shaping the existence of Jews across the Diaspora, looming large in their history, their texts, and their self-identity.

The Israeli literary and cultural critic Benjamin Harshav narrates the history of what he calls “the modern Jewish revolution,” the radical transformation of Jewish existence as “shtetl Jews” in eastern Europe adopted European secular culture in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Together with the establishment of a network of Jewish social and cultural institutions, and the emergence of different political parties, Harshav identifies a thriving multilingual literature written in Yiddish, Hebrew, and the various languages of state and culture as fundamental factors in the process of Jewish nation-building.40

Harshav thus places multilingualism—and literature—at the center of his discussion of the modern Jewish experience. Tracing the history of multilingualism among Jews, he writes that it was “an essential multilingualism,” developed by Jews in the many places of their Diaspora, that “enabled [their] functioning . . . in a bifurcated existential situation.”41 Harshav’s “exuberant multilingualism” was also embodied by the Sephardic Jews of Salonika, who, living and operating in an industrious and cosmopolitan port city, were highly fluent in languages such as Greek, French, Turkish, Italian, and German, along with Hebrew and Ladino.

“Modern Jewish culture speaks with many voices,”42 Harshav writes, seeking to emphasize the plurality of the experiences lived by Jews now in a secular world, and the various ways in which Jewishness can be expressed. He is of course referring to eastern Europe, Yiddish, the historical situation, and the cultural systems created and maintained by Ashkenazi Jews, which are the focus of his work. Harshav offers a simple explanation—statistics—to justify the standard identification of “the modern Jewish revolution” with the fate of the Ashkenazi Jews:

We must keep in mind that by 1900, about 6 percent of world Jewry were Sephardic or Oriental Jews, while the overwhelming majority were Ashkenazim. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the majority of world Jewry lived in Russia and in other areas formerly belonging to Poland (Silesia, Posen, Galicia). The new Jewish communities in Central and Western Europe, including most of the so-called “German” Jews, consisted largely of East-European immigrants or their descendants. It is only when those masses joined the trend that a general change in the historical situation of the Jews occurred.43

But modernity also affected other Jews, and transformed their lives in ways broad and deep.44 Modernity, of course, had different meanings and manifested itself differently across geographies and political and economic contexts, and thus provoked different responses as well. The strikingly disparate numbers of Yiddish and Ladino speakers—between five and six million Yiddish speakers in the Russian Empire at the turn of the twentieth century, compared to a quarter of a million Ladino speakers in the Ottoman Empire—did affect the future of these two languages. Besides being a much smaller number to begin with, the Ladino speakers of the Ottoman Empire suffered a significant setback in their social and economic position after the dissolution of the empire (roughly 1908–23) and the ensuing creation of nation-states. These Sephardim had no central organization or linguistic authority for their language, supplied fewer speakers, consumers or cultural activists for Ladino, tended to deride their own language, and as a group were older than the Yiddish speakers.45

But the modern experience of living in a changed world, in which the options afforded to Jews expanded beyond the religious framework, was just as much a part of the Sephardic experience. Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire also embraced western Europe and its secular culture, and tried to create new forms of cultural identification, producing, according to Sarah A. Stein, “a modernizing Ladino culture: albeit one that advocated the renunciation of this Jewish vernacular.”46 Such a culture was engendered in a multilingual society, in which French progressively gained favor, but many other languages interacted. Stein draws a comparison between Yiddish and Ladino newspaper readers, focusing on their equally multilingual situation, which defined and shaped so much of their identity and their response to modernity.

In the extremely multilingual settings of eastern and southeastern Europe, it was not only unnecessary but also impractical to favor one language at the expense of others, especially before state-sponsored language policies were introduced in the wake of World War I. Thus many Jews in Russia read newspapers in Hebrew, Yiddish, and Russian. Similarly, many Jews in Ottoman Europe read newspapers in French, Hebrew, and Ladino (among other languages).47

If “modern Jewish culture speaks with many voices,” the voices of Sephardic Jews participate in the plurivocality of the modern Jewish experience, even if heard less. At the start of the twentieth century, Sephardic Jews, who carried with them their own texts and cultural practices in their multilingual journey in the Diaspora, would soon confront the monolingual forces that marked the building of the Jewish nation-state.

The Hallmarks of Diaspora: Multilingualism and Translation

The term “diaspora” has become more inclusive and is now applied to a growing number of experiences of deterritorialization; but to many scholars the Jewish Diaspora is still the paradigmatic example.48 There are strong voices that rise up against any “notion of the uniqueness of the Jewish diaspora,”49 among them Robin Cohen’s,50 whose comparative treatment of the Jewish Diaspora and other diasporic formations has been answered with a fierce critique by William Safran.51 Others, including Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin, stress the relevance of the Jewish Diaspora for contemporary theoretical discussions. Jonathan Boyarin criticizes theoreticians like James Clifford who are “wary of centering the term around its specifically Jewish associations, wary of ‘running the risk of making Jewish experience again the normative model,’” and, most forcefully, Stuart Hall, whose “hybridity . . . must be purified . . . of Jews,” since Hall publishes a statement that is “explicitly exclusive and dismissive of the Jewish experience of the diaspora.”52 Pointing to “how far ‘diaspora’ has been displaced from Jewish references”53 in recent critical discourse, Boyarin urges that “it is important to insist not on the centrality of Jewish diaspora nor on its logical priority within comparative diaspora studies, but on the need to refer to, and better understand, Jewish diaspora history within the contemporary diasporic rubric.”54

Recognizing the importance of the Jewish Diaspora model in critical discourses on the subject, I want to highlight that because of their cultural situation—in large part shaped by the Diaspora—Jews have long been an important focus for multilingualism, and Jewish writing has also consistently been marked by the manipulation of multiple languages. I look to stress the links between Jewish diasporic existence, cultural pluralism, and linguistic diversity. Jews have negotiated their identities, to a greater or lesser degree, amid major dominant groups occupying the same territory, since they have lived for two thousand years among different peoples, languages, and cultural traditions. The internal diglossic reality experienced by most Jews—in which Hebrew was the sacred language, used in study and liturgy, and another, vernacular language was the mother tongue, serving for family and communal communication, favored the acquisition of yet another linguistic system, used to relate to neighboring groups.55 The issue of language choice has been regularly present in Jewish life, since Jews had to select among the languages at their disposal, according to the contexts and demands of their surroundings.56 As historical conditions changed, and with them the social and political circumstances of the Jews, so did the statuses and roles of each of the languages the latter used. In the wandering of the languages themselves, the relationships established among them and their users are restructured, pointing to the historicity of the categories of “minor” or “major.” Such evolutions explain how Hebrew, in the case of the Algerian Sadia Lévy, can be dissonant, oppositional, the mark of the other, inscribing itself against the dominant colonial French. In Margalit Matitiahu’s case, more than three decades later and this time in Israel, it is the sanctioned, state-sponsored language that represents order and authority, in contrast to the diasporic, feminized, and orientalized Ladino.

Historically speaking, Jews and their literatures and languages, in large part shaped by the Diaspora, have been as diverse as the places where they have lived and the cultures with which they have interacted. If we can discern any unity amid the plurality of Jewish literatures, it is precisely in multiplicity. Across the Diaspora, another practice developed in tandem with Jewish multilingualism, also as a matter of both survival and cultural experimentation and creativity: the practice of translation. Since antiquity Jews have translated their main texts, the Septuagint and the Targum Onkelos being the classic examples.57 Interacting dynamically with neighboring peoples, Jews built a tradition of translation that remains uninterrupted. They continued writing in many languages, making use of intertextual references and allusions to classical Jewish works, and establishing a dialogue among many of the newly created texts. Writing about Sephardic Jews in fifteenth- and sixteenth-century Italy, Howard Sachar observes: “No Jewish talent was more valued, however, than the little people’s historic vocation of translation.”58 In Sephardic history, translation was a fundamental way of studying the Torah and transmitting religious knowledge. The importance of multilingualism and translation among Sephardic exiles is confirmed, in part, by the vitality of the Sephardic press in several centers, producing works such as the 1547 Constantinople Pentateuch: a trilingual calque (or literal, word-by-word) translation of the Bible, with the Hebrew, Castilian, and Judeo-Greek texts printed side by side in three parallel columns. The value of translation itself, in the interrelation of different cultures, cannot be overstated. As Anthony Pym writes: “The simple fact of translation presupposes contact between at least two cultures, and does so in relation to language use, the social activity that perhaps most effectively and insidiously weaves relations of cultural identity.”59

Translation and intertextuality figure as central operations in the works of the poets treated here. Lévy translated the Psalms, and this work contributed to his understanding of rhythm and voice in poetry, besides providing several of the motifs of his own poetry. He also engaged in serious dialogue with French literary tradition, especially the Renaissance poets, and with classical Greek poetry. Matitiahu performs different types of translation in seeking to translate her mother’s memories into poetry and recurrently translates herself, in operations of autotranslation, since she writes bilingually (she usually offers two different versions of the “same” poem, one in Hebrew and one in Ladino). Gelman was a professional journalist and translator. His intense concern with language is marked by the echoes and resonances left by other languages (and earlier stages of the Spanish language) in his Castellano (i.e., Castilian), as modern Argentine Spanish is called. His work is filled with invented poetic personae and fictitious “translated authors,” and he unabashedly rewrites and translates other poets from a broad diachronic and geographical range. These three poets, we shall see, reveal language as a site of creation and contestation, a site that brings together texts, memory, trauma, and identity.

My work is ultimately shaped not only by the understanding that multilingualism offers cognitive flexibility and creative and poetic possibilities, but also by the conviction, so urgent in the present political moment, that linguistic diversity is good for people and for democracy. This book is marked by plurality and diversity, for I believe that these two words, even as they begin to be overused and lose their meaning, truly represent Judaism, Jewishness, and Jewish literatures. Here I choose to confront and celebrate the multilingual complexity of Jewish writing. In this spirit, I look to address the position of Sephardic literature in the greater Jewish canon, inasmuch as I also present this study as a step toward correcting the failure to acknowledge the Sephardic contribution to Jewish cultural production.

We need to rethink the canonicity of Jewish literature, or, to use a term I now prefer, we need to reexamine the Jewish literary repertoire: to observe its contours, mine its depths, fill in the missing spots. I have no desire to erase important voices that have already been recognized. But those voices are not enough. I know that only by embracing forgotten and marginalized voices will the canon reflect somewhat more accurately the cultural richness afforded by intra-Jewish differences. Only then will we do justice to the multiplicity of Jewish writing.


*Epigraph: Primo Levi, Il sistema periodico (Turin: Einaudi, 1975), 33.

1. Nicoïdski’s novels include Le désespoir tout blanc (1968), Couvre-feux (1981) and Guerres civiles (1989). Among her other works are Amedeo Modigliani: Autobiographie imaginaire (1989), Les cerceaux de feu: Livret d’opéra (1990), Soutine ou la profanation: Biographie 1893–1943 (1993), and Une histoire des femmes peintres: Des origines à nos jours (1994). See Dictionnaire littéraire des femmes de langue française, ed. Christiane Makward and Madeleine Cottenet-Hage (Paris: Karthala, 1996), “Nicoïdski Clarisse.” Las ínsulas extrañas: Antología de poesía en lengua española, 1950–2000, ed. Eduardo Milán et al. (Barcelona: Galaxia Gutenberg, 2002), includes work by Nicoïdski.

2. The renowned scholar of Jewish languages Haïm Vidal Sephiha is Nicoïdski’s literary executor. Lus ojus and Caminus di palavras have been published, with the Ladino in both Rashi script and Roman type and a facing Hebrew translation, by the Ladino poet Avner Perez under the title Cara boz i locura (Maaleh Adumim: Maaleh Adumim Institute, 2006).

3. Following the end of World War II, Nicoïdski and her parents—her father from Sarajevo and her mother from Trieste—moved to Morocco, where they lived in Casablanca from 1954 to 1959. She subsequently studied linguistics and English in Paris and married the painter Robert Nicoïdski, with whom she had a son, Elie Robert. Her early childhood in Lyon is recounted in her autobiographical novel Couvre-feux (Curfews) and mentioned in works by her personal friend Haïm Vidal Sephiha.

4. Haïm Vidal Sephiha, “Clarisse Nicoïdski, la dernière poétesse judéo-espagnole,” in Homenaje a Mathilde Pomès: Estudio sobre la literatura del siglo XX, Revista de la Universidad Complutense 26 (1977): 293–301.

5. Nicoïdski quoted in Una manu tumó l’otra (Madrid: El Europeo, 1999; Buenos Aires: Acqua, 2004), the booklet accompanying the Argentine singer Dina Rot’s CD setting poems by her and by Juan Gelman to music.

6. Ibid.

7. Nicoïdski writes (and I use her spelling), “quisiera que estas palabras en la lingua perdida sean para ella, mi madre, como un kadish, repetido a menudo [I would like these words in the lost language to be for her, my mother, as a kaddish, often repeated]” (ibid.).

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. For an analysis of Nicoïdski’s poetry, and Gelman’s dialogue with it, see Monique Balbuena, “Dibaxu: A Comparative Analysis of Clarisse Nicoïdski’s and Juan Gelman’s Bilingual Poetry,” Romance Studies 27, no. 4 (2009): 296–310.

11. Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, trans. Dona Polan (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1986), 26.

12. Ibid., 16. Deleuze and Guattari write: “The second characteristic of minor literatures is that everything in them is political. . . . The third characteristic of minor literature is that in it everything takes on a collective value” (17).

13. Ibid., 16.

14. Chana Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism: Decentering Literary Dynamics (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 10.

15. Chana Kronfeld, “Jewish Literatures Beyond Deleuze and Guattari, Take II” (2004 Association for Jewish Studies Annual Meeting paper in panel organized by Avi Matalon and Monique Balbuena, “What’s So Minor about Jewish Literature?”).

16. Iacob M. Hassán, “Hacia una visión panorámica de la literature sefardí,” in Actas de las jornadas de estudios sefardíes, ed. Antonio Viudas Camarasa (Cáceres, Spain: Universidad de Extremadura, Instituto de Ciencias de la Educación, 1980), 51–68.

17. On the rabbinical translation of musar (Jewish ethics) literature for the masses in the eighteenth-century Ottoman Empire, see Matthias B. Lehmann, Ladino Rabbinic Literature and Ottoman Sephardic Culture. (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2005.)

18. Paloma Díaz-Mas, Sephardim: The Jews from Spain, trans. George K. Zucker (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), 145. See also Paloma Díaz-Mas, Poesía oral sefardí (Ferrol, Spain: Esquío, 1994); Manuel Alvar, Poesía tradicional de los judíos españoles (Mexico City: Porrúa, 1966); Elena Romero, La creación literaria en lengua sefardí (Madrid: MAPFRE, 1992); Michael Molho, Literatura sefardita de Oriente (Madrid: Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Cientificas and Instituto Arias Montano, 1960); and Moshe Lazar, The Sephardic Tradition: Ladino and Spanish-Jewish Literature. (New York: Norton, 1972).

19. Díaz-Mas, Sephardim, 136.

20. See Moshe ha-Elion, Be-Machanot ha-mavet / En los kampos de la muerte (Ma’aleh Adumin: Ma’aleh Adumin Institute, 2000), and authors such as Clarisse Nicoïdski, Margalit Matitiahu, Henriette Besso, Itzhak Levy, Avner Perez, and David Uziel.

21. Laura Minervini, “The Formation of the Judeo-Spanish Koiné: Dialect Convergence in the Sixteenth Century,” in Proceedings of the Tenth British Conference on Judeo-Spanish Studies: 29 June–1 July 1997, ed. Annette Benaïm (London: Queen Mary and Westfield College, Dept. of Hispanic Studies, 1999), 44.

22. Haïm Vidal Sephiha, “Judeo-Spanish: Birth, Death and Re-Birth,” in Yiddish and Judeo-Spanish: A European Heritage (Brussels: European Bureau for Lesser Used Languages, 1997), 3

23. It appears alternatively as “Espanyol” or “Spanyol.”

24. Possible confusion with this Ladino is indeed one of the reasons why Karen Gerson Sarhon, director of the Research Center for Ottoman-Turkish Sephardic Culture, prefers to use “Judeo-Spanish.”

25. See Haïm Vidal Sephiha, Le Ladino, judéo-espagnol calque: Deutéronome, versions de Constantinople (1547) et de Ferrare (1553) (Paris: Institut d’études hispaniques, 1973).

26. Sephiha, “Judeo-Spanish,” 3.

27. Joan Coromines and José Antonio Pascual, Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico (Madrid: Gredos, 1997).

28. Denah Lida, “Ladino Language and Literature,” in Jewish Languages: Themes and Variations, ed. Herbert H. Paper (Cambridge, MA: Association for Jewish Studies, 1978), 79.

29. See also Minervini, “Formation of the Judeo-Spanish Koiné,” 41–52.

30. Sephiha calls the Sephardim “Judéo-Espagnols.” See Haïm Vidal Sephiha, L’agonie des judéo-espagnoles (Paris: Entente, 1977).

31. Moshe Lazar, “Ladino,” in Encyclopaedia Judaica, CD-Rom ed. (Jerusalem: Judaica Multimedia, 1997).

32. Tracy Harris, The Death of the Language: The History of Judeo-Spanish (Newark: University of Delaware Press; London: Associated University Presses, 1994), 25–29; Arlene Malinowski, “A Report on the Status of Judeo-Spanish in Turkey,” International Journal of the Sociology of Language 37 (1982): 7–23.

33. Ladinokomunita: www.sephardicstudies.org/komunita.html.

34. See, e.g., Iacob M. Hassán, “El español sefardí (judeoespañol, ladino),” in La lengua española, hoy (Madrid: Fundación Juan March, 1995), 117–40.

35. Guatemala, Ministerio de Educación (MINEDUC), “Reflexiones sobre el mestizaje y la identidad nacional en Centroamérica: de la colonia a las Repúblicas liberales” (PDF, 2008).

36. The term judío (Jew) was euphemistically replaced by israelita (Israelite), a name later embraced by the Jews themselves, who preferred its less religious tone during the Emancipation period.

37. See Corominas and Pascual, Diccionario crítico etimológico castellano e hispánico, s.v.

38. Eliezer Papo Yachanin, “Novidedes del pasado” (News from the Past), www.sefarad.org/publication/lm/010/eliezer.html (accessed May 7, 2015).

39. See Jean Baumgarten, “Langues juives ou langues des juifs: Esquisse d’une définition” (15–42), in Linguistique des langues juives et linguistique générale, ed. Frank Alvarez-Péreyre and Jean Baumgarten (Paris: CNRS, 2003).

40. Benjamin Harshav, The Polyphony of Jewish Culture (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2007), 4, and id., Language in Time of Revolution (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1999).

41. Harshav, Polyphony, 35.

42. Ibid., vii; and see esp. chap. 2, “Multilingualism.”

43. Ibid., 5. Explaining the role and magnitude of Yiddish among Eastern European Jews, especially Polish Jewry, Harshav writes: “It unified Jewish existence, codified a unique Jewish discourse, and preserved the Jews as a distinct nation. For the first time in Jewish history, a Jewish language lived on for more than one generation in the territory of a different language group.” Preemptively responding to those who might be surprised at this claim and the omission of Ladino, which has survived for five hundred years in the territory of a different language group, Harshav adds in a parenthesis: “(Yes, there is the case of Ladino, but there is no comparison to the multifunctional, ever-developing Yiddish)” (20).

44. See Sarah A. Stein, Making Jews Modern: The Yiddish and Ladino Press in the Russian and Ottoman Empires (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2004).

45. “. . . at precisely the same moment that the Ladino cultural area of Southeastern Europe was greying, the Yiddish cultural area of Eastern Europe was retaining—and replenishing—its youth” (ibid., 208).

46. Ibid., 16. Stein discusses the flourishing of a modern Ladino press in which editors and readers discuss the need to use a different language in Ladino.

47. Ibid., 17.

48. See Gérard Chaliand and Jean-Pierre Rageau, The Penguin Atlas of Diasporas (New York: Penguin Books, 1997); Hugh Seton-Watson, Nations and States (Boulder, CO: Westview Publishers, 1977); E. P. Skinner, “The Dialectic Between Diasporas and Homelands,” in Global Dimensions of the African Diaspora, ed. J. E. Harris (Washington, DC: Howard University Press, 1982), 11–40.

49. See William Safran, “Comparing Diasporas and Conceptions of Diaspora,” Diaspora 8, no. 3 (1999): 270.

50. See Robin Cohen, Global Diasporas: An Introduction (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1997).

51. Safran, “Comparing Diasporas and Conceptions of Diaspora,” 255–91.

52. Jonathan Boyarin and Daniel Boyarin, “Introduction,” Powers of Diaspora: Two Essays on the Relevance of Jewish Culture (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2002), 12–13. The “Preface” identifies the author of the “Introduction” as Jonathan Boyarin (viii).

53. Ibid., 12.

54. Ibid., 11.

55. Charles Ferguson’s original definition of “diglossia” was “a relatively stable language situation in which, in addition to the primary dialects of the language (which may include a standard or regional standards), there is a very divergent, highly codified (often grammatically more complex) superposed variety, the vehicle of a large and respected body of written literature, either of an earlier period or in another speech community, which is learned largely by formal education and is used for most written and formal spoken purposes but is not used by any section of the community for ordinary conversation.” Charles F. Ferguson, “Diglossia,” WORD 15, no. 2 (1959): 325–40.Cited in Dell Hymes, Language in Culture and Society (New York: Harper & Row, 1964), 429–39. In 1991, Ferguson presented a “refined” version of this definition, since he admitted the original one was not meant to account fully for all instances of multilingualism or functional differentiation of the languages. See Charles F. Ferguson, “Diglossia Revisited,” in “Studies in Diglossia,” ed. Alan Hudson, Southwest Journal of Linguistics 10, no. 1 (1991). Fishman contributes with an extended formulation of diglossia, including situations where the two languages fulfilling very different roles—one, a literate prestigious language, the other, informal and spoken—are genetically unrelated or historically distant. Joshua Fishman, “Bilingualism With and Without Diglossia; Diglossia With and Without Bilingualism,” Journal of Social Issues 23, no. 2 (1967): 29–38; revised as “Societal Bilingualism: Stable and Transitional,” in Sociolinguistics: A Brief Introduction (Rowley, MA: Newbury House, 1970), 78–89.

56. For a diachronic and generic study of language choice in medieval Spain, covering the domains of education, translation and science, literary composition, and nonfictional prose, see Elaine R. Miller, Jewish Multiglossia: Hebrew, Arabic, and Castilian in Medieval Spain (Newark, DE: Juan de la Cuesta, 2000). For other treatments of Jewish multilingualism, see María Rosa Menocal, “Visions of al-Andalus,” in The Literature of Al-Andalus, ed. id. et al. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 1–24; Eugenia Prokop-Janiec, “Living in Languages, Jewish Multilingualism as Reflected in the Polish and Polish-Jewish Literature of the 20th century” Studia Judaica 5, no. 1 (2002): 109–17; and Barbara Vigil, “The Jewish Communities,” in Multilingualism in Spain, ed. M. Teresa Turell (Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters, 2001), chap. 8.

57. The Septuagint is the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, supposedly by a group of seventy-two translators in Alexandria, Egypt, in the third century BCE. Onkelos was the translator of the Hebrew Bible into Aramaic, then the Jewish vernacular in Babylon. His second-century BCE text is known as the Targum [translation] Onkelos.

58. Howard M. Sachar, Farewell España (New York: Vintage Books, 1994), 218.

59. Anthony Pym, Negotiating the Frontier: Translators and Intercultures in Hispanic History (Manchester, UK: St. Jerome Publishing, 2000), 2. Rabbi Moses Arragel’s translation into medieval Castilian, the illuminated Alba Bible, commissioned by the grand master of the Christian military Order of Calatrava, is discussed by Pym in his chap. 5. Pym calls this fascinating example of early fifteenth-century textual negotiation “a profoundly Rabbinic bible . . . effectively concealed beneath a Christianized surface” (vii).