Dr. Gerhard Falk

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk



One People-Three Languages -  Ladino


   In 1492, the years best known to history as the year in which the Jews were expelled from Spain, Ladino was distributed by the refugees all over the Mediterranean world. The word “Ladino” is of course the same as Latin. Latin, the language of the Romans was so called because southern Italy was called Latium by the Etruscans before the founding of Rome in 509 B.C.E.

   The Jews, speaking medieval Spanish mixed with some Hebrew used that language in all the  Balkans and Turkey where they settled after 1492. Ladino, like all languages, has a verbal tradition and like some, but not all languages, it also has a literature. This includes Me’am Lo’ez a vast work of biblical commentary begun  in the early 18th century by Rabbi Yaakov Culi and finished 150 years later and with the collaboration of six additional authors.

   Today, Ladino is spoken by fewer than 80,000 people living in Israel. There is also a small Ladiono community in Istanbul, Turkey where a Ladino newspaper is still published. Evidently, then, Ladino is nearly extinct. For that reason an Institute of Ladino has been established in Maale Adumim, a Jerusalem suburb . The director is Avner Peretz has collected over 300 volumes written in Ladino and, in some cases, translated into Judeo-Arabic, another language used by Jews.  The Instiute also houses letters and hand written “manuscripts” (literally hand writing) and Bar Mitzvah speeches all written in Ladino. 

   There is a high school in Yerusholayim which has a Ladino program and thirty high school teachers spent a year learning Ladino. Nevertheless, the future of Ladino is not encouraging although Israel radio still broadcast in Ladino. There are also some tapes of Ladino music.

   Unlike Yiddish, however, Ladino has had a minor role to play in the Jewish drama. Therefore we need to learn something about that great and still living language next.


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