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Assa, Abraham Ben Isaac

(464 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Abraham Assa (Asa) was born around 1710 in Istanbul and died around 1780. He was one of the leading figures in the “ golden age” of Judeo-Spanish Literature in the eighteenth century. Together with Jacob Culi, the author of the encyclopedic Bible commentary Meʿam Loʿez , Assa belonged to a generation of authors who set out to create a popular rabbinic literature in the vernacular language of the Sephardim of the Ottoman Empire. Arguably Assa’s most significant contribution was his Judeo-Spanish translation of the Bible, beginning with the Pentateuch (1739), followed by the …

Azulay, Ḥayyim Joseph David

(825 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Ḥayyim Joseph David Azulay (1724–1806), known by the acronym Ḥida , was one of the most important rabbinic scholars of eighteenth-century Sephardic Jewry. Born in Jerusalem, Azulay was descended from a Spanish rabbinical family on his father’s side, whereas his mother was the daughter of an Ashkenazi pietist who had accompanied Judah Ḥasid to Palestine in 1710. Although he enjoyed great scholarly prestige as a halakhist and kabbalist, Azulay devoted much of his life to serving as an emissary (Heb. shadar or shaliaḥ) for the Jewish communities of Palestine. Between 1753 and 17…

Judeo-Spanish Literature

(2,608 words)

Author(s): Olga Borovaya | Matthias Lehmann
Judeo-Spanish, or Ladino, literature was born in the sixteenth century in the Ottoman Empire. The only corpus of texts shared by Castilian and Ladino literature is the romancero (ballad). Iberian exiles brought a significant number of ballads with them to the Ottoman domains, where they were preserved and developed, although not printed until the nineteenth century. The main pattern of their adaptation by Ottoman Jews can be described as “de-Christianization,” that is, the elimination of Christian terms, which was not alw…
Date: 2015-09-03

Meʿam Loʿez

(623 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Meʿam Loʿez (Heb. From a people of strange speech; see Psalm 114:1) is a multivolume comprehensive commentary on the Pentateuch and other books of the Bible in Judeo-Spanish. The concept originated with Jacob Culi, who was only able to complete the first volume, on Genesis, published in Istanbul in 1730, and part of Exodus before his death in 1732. It was continued by a dozen other authors in the following century and a half. Culi’s unfinished commentary on Exodus was completed by Isaac Magriso (1746), who also did the volumes on Leviticus (1753), and Numbers (1764). The Meʿam Loʿez, conside…

Sasportas, Jacob

(570 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Jacob Sasportas (ca. 1610–1698), born in Oran, Algeria, was one of the most outspoken opponents of the messianic movement around Shabbetay Ṣevi and his prophet, Nathan of Gaza. He is best known for his Ṣiṣat Novel Ṣevi (Heb. The Fading Flower  of Glorious Beauty [Ṣevi] - Isa. 28:1), an invaluable collection of letters and documents about the Sabbatean movement. An abridged version, Kiṣṣur Ṣiṣat Novel Ṣevi, was printed in Amsterdam in 1737 and again in Altona in 1757, but the full work was only published by Isaiah Tishby in 1954. Sasportas was by all accounts a divisive character invo…

Rabbinical Emissaries (Sheluḥe de-Rabbanan, Shadarim)

(1,914 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Rabbinical emissaries raised funds abroad for the Jewish communities of Palestine. They were most active between the seventeenth and nineteenth centuries. In their heyday, Istanbul was the main center from which fundraising missions were organized and overseen. Rabbinical emissaries visited Jewish communities throughout the world; the Ottoman Empire, Western Europe, and North Africa were the most frequent and important destinations. Rabbinical emissaries collecting funds in support of the Jews in the Holy Land, known as sheluḥe de-rabbanan (acronym:  shadarim), were a com…

Livorno (Leghorn)

(1,436 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Livorno (Leghorn), a port city in the Italian region of Tuscany, was home to one of the largest Sephardicommunities in Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries and a major crossroads linking Jewish communities in Europe with those in North Africa and the Ottoman Levant. In 1591 and 1593, Ferdinand I, the Medici grand duke of Tuscany, issued two charters (known as the livornine) granting ample privileges and religious freedom to attract foreign merchants and thus to develop the port of Livorno. Promising immunity from the Catholic Inquisition, among other things, this wa…

Ḥayon, Nehemiah Ḥiyya ben Moses

(381 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Nehemiah Ḥiyya b. Moses Ḥayon (Ḥayyūn) was an itinerant kabbalist whose neo-Sabbatean ideas generated one of the great rabbinical controversies of the eighteenth century. His family was originally from Sarajevo; Ḥayon, who was born around 1655, grew up in Nablus and Jerusalem. In the 1690s, he was for a short time rabbi of the Macedonian city of Skopje (Uskub) but then returned to Palestine. His extensive travels in subsequent years led him to Rosetta (Egypt), Izmir (Smyrna), Livorno (Leghorn), Venice, Prague, Berlin, and Amsterdam. He died around 1730.  It was in Amsterdam, where he …

Sephardi (Sephardim)

(1,277 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Sephardi (pl. Sephardim) refers either to the Jews of the Iberian Peninsula and their descendants after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 or, in juxtaposition to Ashkenazi (Ashkenazim), to one of the two major traditions of Jewish law and custom, with the Sephardim following Rabbi Joseph Caro’s sixteenth-century code, the Bet Yosef. In either case, the meaning of the term has varied over time and is best understood in changing historical contexts. It derives from the place-name Sepharad, which appears in the biblical book of Obadiah (1:20) and was identified as Spain in the Aramaic Targum …

Culi (Ḥulli), Jacob ben Meʾir

(554 words)

Author(s): Matthias Lehmann
Jacob ben Meʾir Culi (Ḥulli) (ca. 1689–1732) was the author of the Meʿam Loʿez (Heb. From a People of Strange Language - see Ps. 114:1), an encyclopedic anthology of Bible commentary in Judeo-Spanish that made Jewish tradition available in the vernacular to a broad audience of Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire. Culi was born in Ottoman Palestine around 1689 and went to Istanbul in order to publish some of the writings of his maternal grandfather, Moses ibn Ḥabib of Salonica. In Istanbul, he studied under Judah Rosanes, who appointed him a dayyan (judge) on the rabbinical court. On compl…