World Jewish News
Ladino, the language spoken by the Jews expelled from Spain, to have its Institute in Israel
More than 500 years after King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella expelled Sephardic Jews, Spain has decided to invest in its heritage.
The Spanish Royal Academy (RAE) announced that it plans to establish in Israel an institute for the study of the Ladino language, the language of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492.
Originated in Spain, Ladino started to spread throughout Europe, the Ottoman Empire, and eventually beyond in 1492. From the 16th until the 19th century, almost all of the estimated 200,000 Jews in the Ottoman Empire spoke Ladino.
Dario Villanova, Director of the RAE, described the Spanish-Jewish language as an exceptionally important cultural and historical phenomenon worthy of preservation.
"The Jews expelled in 1492 dispersed throughout Europe and America, taking with them the Spanish language as it was spoken during their deportation," Villanova told The Guardian newspaper.
"All this has been miraculously preserved for centuries, there are literature, folklore, translations of the Bible and even modern newspapers written in Ladino."
According to him, not only did the Ladino language retain many Spanish words, it was also influenced by the languages of the countries where the deportees settled.
The biggest Jewish community where Ladino is still a spoken language is the one of Istanbul where Jews arrived directly from Spain 500 years ago .
The community publish a weekly newspaper in ladino, named " Shalom" and most of the Jews still speaks the language.
Villanova said nine Ladino experts had been appointed to establish the new institution in Israel, which would form part of the Spanish National Academy of Languages.
"Through these nine academics we can now lay the foundations for a Jewish-Spanish academy that will be established in Israel, as we did in the 19th century with the academies in Latin America," he said. He added: "The idea is not to absorb Ladino into modern Spanish, but rather to preserve it."
Yitzhak Karov, president of the Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain, welcomed the move to recognize what he called the "rich and profound cultural heritage" of the ladino.
"This is the language mothers used to put their babies to sleep for more than five hundred years," he said. "It's the language that brought down the recipes and the ones that talk about the intimacy of the house, even after all those centuries, it's still in use."
Shmuel Raphael, director of the Salty Center for Ladino Studies at Bar-Ilan University, estimates that there are about 400,000 people in Israel with some knowledge of this language. "It depends what you consider '’language speakers’’ - someone who knows a few words, or who can read and write in Ladino," he says.
In the meantime, also neighboring Portugal decided to cherish the heritage of Jews expelled from the country. In isbon, will soon be opened The Museum of the Heritage of the Jews of Portugal.
"The Jewish Museum of Lisbon will be a showcase for Portuguese Jewish life, both for the people and for the Diaspora," says Ester Mochenik, an historian and director of the museum.
"Much of what people think about the Jews of Portugal and Spain focuses on the Inquisition," says Mocnik. "What is less known is the contribution of Jews before and after the Inquisition."
After the expulsion, a number of Portuguese Jewish communities were established in the Netherlands, England, the United States, and other countries .
Today in Portugal there is a community of about 4,000 Jews, both Sephardim and Ashkenazim, most of them living in Lisbon.
Like Spain, the Portuguese government has passed a law that allows anyone who can prove his or her Portuguese-Jewish origin to apply for citizenship. To date, approximately 700 Jews, most of them from Israel and Turkey , have received Portuguese citizenship.