History of LADINO Printing, Books & Publishing
The Western Sephardim of France, and late of other parts of Europe like Northern Germany, Holland and England, did not read their Spanish in Hebrew characters, but rather in Spanish characters. It should be realized therefore that Ladino printing in Hebrew characters was done for and by the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire and not for the Western Sepharadim. The history of Hebrew printing in Ladino is generally divided into three main periods:
1. The publication of the 1547 Polygot Bible.
2. The publication as of 1730 of the works of Abraham Assa and of Jacob ui's Me-am Loez.
3. The Ladino publications of Vienna as of 1811.
1. The First Period of Ladino PrintingThe First period of Ladino printing starts off with the publication by the originally Ashkenazic Soncino family in 1547 of the Polygot Bible in Constantinople (although one Ladino pamphlet on ritual slaughtering has already been published in 1510). this edition presented the Biblical text as it was commonly used by the Sephardic Jews of the Ottoman Empire, or, as it is stated explicitly on the title page, "in the Turkish Lands". In a way, however, it is sad to see that this promising beginning of Ladino printing would never be followed by a long row of other works of practical religious use. Surely two very important Ladino books, Hanghagot Ha'hayyim by Moshe Almosnini, published in 1564 and Shulchan Hapanim, the 1569 Ladino translation of Karo's Shulhan Arukh appeared in Salonika and between 1571 and 1600 several Ladino editions of parts of the Prophets and Hagiographa appeared as well. But from the year 1600-1729 an almost total eclipse occurred in the history of Ladino publishing, no more than 3 Ladino books were published in Constantinople, and Salonika's presses were not active at all. Also in Venice very few books were published, Heshek Shelomoh of 1617, Nekkudot Hakesef of 1619 and a few Haggadot.
This is in sharp contrast with the huge production of several hundreds of Spanish editions in Latin characters that were published in the same era for the Western Sepharadim. This started off with the Ferrara daily prayerbook of 1552 and the Ferrara Bible and Festival Prayerbook of 1553 and continued in 17th century Amsterdam. There the Sephardic rabbi, printer and diplomat, Menasseh Ben Israel (himslef born a Marrano in Madeira, baptized as Manuel Dias Soeiro, and living in Holland for the rest of his life after having lived in France as well) did see the necessity of offering Eastern Sephardic Jewry instructions to liturgy in their vernacular language, as his very first publication, in 1627, was a Seder Tefillot with Ladino instructions. After that, he did not print and Ladino books and started to print for the Western Sephardim in Latin characters and not in Ladino. These works included the entire range of religious works necessary for Jewish daily life, such as Bibles, festival and daily prayerbooks and Halakhic works, as well as works on philosophy and literary works.
At the same time in the Ashkenazic world, many Yiddish editions of mainly Biblical works appeared from teh 16th century onward. Pioneer Yiddish translations of the Pentateuch were published at the initiative of converts in Konstanz in 1544 and in Augsburg around the same year. From 1560, when the first Yiddish translation by a Jew appeared in Cremona, until the late 18th century countless Yiddish editions would follow, which covered all areas of Jewish literature; Bible translations, Biblical Exegesis, Halakha, liturgy, ethical works, poetry, stage plays, folk stories, humor etc.
It is clear, that Yiddish and Spanish were flourishing languages among the Ashkenazim and Western Sepharadim. this was reflected in the prodigious number of books published in these languages. But in the Ottoman Empire Ladino was flourishing even more.
From the very moment that they arroved from Spain until the Nazi era, the Castillian dialect that the Sephardic refugees in the Ottoman empire had spoken in Spain remained their everyday language. In the course of the centuries even the Balkan and Ashkenazic Jews started to use the Spanish of the Sephardim, while non-Jewish Spaniards who wanted to learn the pure Castillian dialect even traveled from Spain to the Ottoman empire to learn it from the Jews in the streets of Salonika. While walking these streets, some people even forgot that they were in Greece and though they were in Spain. Even as late as 1841, we see an appeal by the Chief Rabbi of Turkey to the Jewish community to learn Turkish, the language of the land. Why then was the production of books so meagre in these days? In other words, why did the Ottoman Jews reject Ladino printing so strongly?
photos of some Ladino books available in our ebay store
The answer can be found in the second Ladino book published in Salonika, the 1569 Shulhan Hapanim mentioned before. There the anonymous translator discusses the problematic nature of translating Jewish texts into Ladino and summarizes it as follows. (1) Many believe that translating into Ladino might have the very negative effect that readers will disregard or even forget the Hebrew language more then they did already. (2) The strongest argument put forwards by opponents of the publication of Ladino translations was that the Holy Bible, written in the Holy tongue should not appear in any profane language whatsoever, wince there should always be a clear distinction between the Kodesh, Holiness and Hol, profaneness. Even the renowned 18th century author of the Me-am Loez commentary Jacob Culi, who will be dealt with later, was bothered by the same dilemma, and interestingly enough, both authors, came up with the same answers to the 2 questions formulated here. They both point out that Moses Maimonides, the greatest of Sephardic Jews that ever lived, wrote most of his works in Arabic, without having a problem of using the vernacular language at all, and that did not lead to a total lack of understanding of the Hebrew language, so why should modern authors have problems with it? Furthermore they say that the publicatins of Ladino wworks, may very well lead to a more thorough understanding of the Jewish sources, and potentially may therefore even lead people back to the original Hebrew & Aramaic sources. They both conclude, that even if they would, perhaps, be something wrong with using the vernacular, it would still do more good then harm. The Biblical verse which is often used in Talmudic literature to illustrate the principle that a transgression of the law is permitted if, in the end, it will lead to something postive is used here to reinforce this: " It is time to act for the Lord, They have broken thy law". Even as late as 1877, 3 books were published in Izmir, in which again, the authors apologize for using the Ladino language. This dilemma is unique in the history of Jewish printing in the vernacular and does not occur anywhere else but in the Ottoman empire with regard to Ladino printing.
It must be assumed, in the light of the foregoing, that Menasseh ben Israel, judging from the fact that his Ladino venture was also his last, will also have experienced the Eastern Sephardic Intellectual establishment's proverbial aversion against the printing for Ladino.
see parts II & III for the next periods in Ladino printing.