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Sephardi Halakhic Literature and Ladino Rabbinic Language

Periodic Report Summary 1 - SEPHARAB (Sephardi Halakhic Literature and Ladino Rabbinic Language)

The goal of this project has been the study of practical halakhic guides for religious observance written by Sephardi rabbis in Judeo-Spanish between the 16th and 20th centuries, in their social and religious contexts. The Ladino rabbinic texts under discussion were printed in Rashi Hebrew letters and include elements of diverse linguistic origins, among them, elements from Hebrew and Aramaic, and borrowings from local contact languages. Researchers dealing with these texts need to have an interdisciplinary background combining both Jewish, Hispanic and Balkan studies, in addition to other fields.
The project description has three foci: 1) the intensive complementary training program of the researcher, who already had a solid foundation of scholarly experience in the field of Ladino rabbinic language and literature; 2) the nature of the cooperation between the research trainee and the local authority in Jewish languages (Ladino, Yiddish), and the means the latter used to supervise the trainee’s work; 3) the framework in which the training took place, at the highest-level Ladino studies program in Israel, in its most prestigious faculty of humanities.
The principal objectives for the researcher’s training, which were intended to have a significant impact on the furtherance of her scholarly career, have been: bibliographical data gathering at the richest libraries of Ladino literature in Israel (the National Library of Israel on the Edmond J. Safra Campus at Givat Ram, and the Ben Zvi Institute for the Study of Jewish Communities in the East in Jerusalem); a fine-tuning of the researcher’s training in Ladino linguistics and literature at the Ladino program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem; the undertaking of a comparative Jewish interlinguistic study of Ladino and Yiddish rabbinical texts; the organization of an international conference on Ladino and Yiddish rabbinical writings at the host university, the proceedings of which the researcher expects to edit and publish in cooperation with the local scientific expert (Prof. David Bunis) and another of the conference organizers (Prof. Chava Turniansky); the assuming by the trainee of teaching responsibilities at the host institution; and the improvement of the researcher’s knowledge of Hebrew, as well as her acquisition of Yiddish linguistic skills and familiarity with Yiddish rabbinical literature.
The main results include a survey of the most representative authors and works of halakhic literature in Ladino and Yiddish; a formulation of the salient characteristics and subgenres of these works; an analysis of the purposes the halakhic works were meant to serve; a study of their contents (laws, prayers and religious practices; moral teachings, rabbinic tales, folklore, popular culture; and private and public life of the Sephardic Jews scattered thorough the Mediterranean basin); an analysis of the linguistic varieties of Ladino in which the works were written; presentations of the initial findings resulting from the research, at international conferences in Sarajevo, Wroclaw, Jerusalem and Belgrade, and publication of some of the results in scholarly journals.
All the research and training objectives outlined in the original proposal of the project have been achieved through the researcher’s publications, her participation at international conferences, and her teaching activities at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The knowledge and academic experience which the researcher gained during this project in new fields of research, and the additional linguistic skills she acquired, will undoubtedly have a long-term outcome and impact on the researcher’s personal career development. On the level of the host institution, the main activities of this project reached and involved students and professors in the program in Ladino and other Jewish languages and strengthened this field of Jewish studies there. Among the most visible final results of the project were the outreach activities implemented by the researcher and the scientist in charge such as the organization of the international conference on “Ladino and Yiddish Rabbinic Writings” at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in March 2016, in which some thirty prestigious scholars discussed Ladino and Yiddish rabbinic themes, and which concluded with a closing session and exhibit of twenty Ladino and Yiddish rabbinic books from the 16th to the 20th century at the National Library of Israel, open for academicians and the general public. This event was the first attempt to bring together experts from diverse fields to exchange ideas and insights on this little-explored area of Jewish-language literature, and has been of great importance to the promotion and encouragement of research on the rabbinic cultural legacy in Ladino and Yiddish.