continuation from part II
It is interesting to note that all three turning points in the history of Ladino printing - the 1547 Polygot, the 1739 Alphabet of Rabbi Akiva and Schmidt's publications of 1811 - were brought about, not by the Sephardic Jews themsleves, but rather by Ashkenazic Jews, or in the case of Schmidt even a Western Europe Gentile. It should be realized that this is hardly a coincidence. Whereas Ladino books in the Ottoman empire as seem before, are full of apoligies and even expressions of guilt feelings for the use of a vernacular language, the Western Sephardic books are devoid of any kind of apology, while the only apology one will find in books written in Yiddish, the Ashkenazic vernacular, is for the fact that the authors address themselves to the ordinary people or to the women and children, not to the learned world. The fact that the Yiddish language itself was never an issue among the Ashkenazim, or at least that there was hardly ever a guilt feeling for using Yiddish, is illustrated nicely in the introduction to the Yiddish translation of the Targum Shir Hashirim, 1579 Cracow. There the translator, Isaac Sulkes, states that he is not capable of producing learned works on Biblical exegesis and Jewish law like many of his contemporaries, and he is glad enough that he at least knows the Grace After Meals. he continues, however, that people need more than that, and that "not everyone can go out and buy gold, silver and silk clothing in large and expensive stores. There happen to be more farmers than youngsters walking around in silk clothes, and therefore there is also a need for people with smaller purses. Even a wealthy man when he comes to buy there can buy something for his wife or child, but not so the poor man, when he enters an expensive store. That is why he took upon himself the task of translating the Targum Shir Hashirim, in order to open up his store to the ordinary men and women and let them enjoy his merchandise".
A very clear example of the different attitudes of Ashkenazim and Sepharadim towards the use of the vernacular language may be found in a comparison of two opinions on a problem dealt with medieval Ashkenazic ethical classic Sefer Chasidim. One was formulated by an Ashkenazic Scholar, Jehiel Michael Epstein of Prostitz, Moravia, in his work Derech Hayashar Leolam Haba, the other by a Sephardic scholar, David Meldola, a leading figure in Amsterdam in the first half of the 18th century, in his Tefillat Yesharim. In Sefer Chasidim it is argued, that in case someone does not understand Hebrew it is better for him to say his prayers in his vernacular language, so that he will at least understand his prayer. Meldola fiercely opposes this opinion by pointing out that the Zohar, the most important Kabbalistic work, stresses that the angels understand Hebrew only and not the vernacular and that on account of the holiness of the Hebrew language, the prayers should be said in Hebrew, even if a person does not understand it properly. Epstein, however, maintains that this argument is invalid. If a broken-hearted person would say a prayer in his vernacular language, such a prayer is addressed to the Holy One and will be understood by him, without the help of angels, as the holy one understands all languages.
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