Enroll: Reading Ladino/Judezmo (Summer Skills Seminar: 8-11 August: Remote)

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June 15, 2022
United States
Subject Fields: 
Spanish and Portuguese History / Studies, Jewish History / Studies, Literature, Modern European History / Studies, Medieval and Byzantine History / Studies



The Mediterranean Seminar invites you to enroll in the “Reading Ladino/Judezmo” Summer Skills Seminar, with Prof. David Buns, held via zoom from 8-11 August 2022.


Course overview

The Jews of medieval Iberia wrote their somewhat unique varieties of Ibero-Romance in the Hebrew alphabet; a significant number of original texts predating 1492 are still extant, including commercial and legal documents, communal regulations, and passages in the responsa literature of the medieval Sephardic rabbis. There are also Hebrew-letter manuscript versions of texts by non-Jewish authors.
         With the expulsions from Castile and Aragon (1492) and Portugal (1497) most of the Iberian Jews who preferred exile to religious conversion immigrated to the Ottoman Empire, parts of North Africa, and Italy. In the Sephardic population centers they established in the Ottoman regions – particularly in Istanbul, Salonika, Izmir – and in numerous cities of Italy – Venice, Pisa, Livorno – they cultivated rich literatures in what they called Ladino and, later, Judezmo (Jewish language). Customarily they wrote their vernacular in Hebrew Square and Rashi printed letters and a distinctive cursive script known today as soletreo until the 1930s, when they switched to unique Romanizations and, in the South Slavic lands, Cyrillic letters.
          During the first three centuries of literary creativity in the Ottoman Empire and Italy the Sephardim produced Ladino/Judezmo literature and manuscripts devoted almost entirely to the religious sphere: translations of the Bible, prayer books, Passover haggadah, and Ethics of the Fathers, and guides to everyday living in accordance with Jewish law; as well as original works on Jewish philosophy, history and mysticism; communal regulations; encyclopedic Bible commentaries; and collections of poetry connected with Jewish holidays and morality. Passages representing the oral and written testimony of witnesses appearing before the rabbinical courts of the Ottoman regions made their way into rabbinic responsa volumes. Manuscripts include everyday commercial and communal correspondence; song collections, including compositions dedicated to the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi; and amulets and talismans meant to protect their users from all sorts of evils. 
          The Sephardim of the Ottoman regions and North Africa may be said to have entered the modern era at the end of the eighteenth century, corresponding to a period of heightened interest among Western European colonialists in the Ottoman Empire and North Africa, the emancipation of the Jews in much of Western Europe, and the spread of the ideas and written materials produced by advocates of the emerging Haskalah or Jewish Enlightenment Movement. The start of the new, westernizing and modernizing era in the history of the Judezmo speech communities is reflected in the cultivation by Judezmo speakers of new literary genres, previously unknown among the group such as the periodical press, drama, and satirical writing attempting to capture the characteristics of the everyday spoken language in its diverse regional varieties. Very prominent in much of the new writing is the influence of Italian and French, the two Western European languages that had the greatest linguistic impact on Modern Judezmo. In the United States the immigrant Judezmo press continued to appear in the Hebrew alphabet into World War II; but as a result of their increasing education in local state schools and the French-language schools established by the Alliance Israélite Universelle, and especially following the official adoption of Romanization for Turkish in 1928, Judezmo speakers today tend to write their language in unique varieties of Romanization, particularly the highly phonemic system advocated today by the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino and La Akademia del Ladino en Israel.
           Rich collections of Judezmo/Ladino materials, both in printed and manuscript form, mostly in Hebrew letters but also in Latin and Cyrillic, are to be found today in libraries and archives in Israel, the United States, Spain and other European countries, and many other parts of the world. 
          This four-day intensive skills seminar will provide participants with an overview of the types of materials created in Judezmo/Ladino from the fifteenth through twenty-first centuries, and will enable those with a background in Spanish to utilize these materials for research in diverse fields – history, linguistics, sociology, folklore, ethnomusicology and others – as well as for personal reading pleasure. Attention will be paid to the types of materials available and the major Judezmo/Ladino collections in which they are held. The goal is to provide participants with a solid foundation for working with Judezmo/Ladino materials in all of the alphabets used by the speakers, by means of systematic introductions to the alphabets and writing system, and in-class reading of brief texts illustrating the major historical and stylistic written varieties of Judezmo/Ladino. Applicants should have at least an intermediate level of reading Spanish, but no prior knowledge of the Hebrew alphabet is required. Those wishing to prepare for text reading are advised to familiarize themselves with the Hebrew alphabet in Square and especially Rashi letters. 

The course builds on the experience of earlier editions, which participants signaled as “transformative” in terms of their research, and which provided them with an opportunity to network and lay the foundations for future collaborations. For information and participant reviews of our former Skills Seminars.


The course will be conducted by David M. Bunis (PhD., Columbia University, 1981), a professor at the Center for Jewish Languages and Literatures and the Department of Hebrew Language, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He is also an advisor to the Israel National Authority for Ladino Language and Culture and a member of the Ladino Academy of Israel. He is the author of A Lexicon of Judezmo Language (in Hebrew, Jerusalem, 1999), Voices from Jewish Salonika (Jerusalem-Salonika, 1999), and numerous articles on the Judezmo (Ladino, Judeo-Spanish) language and its literature and on Jewish languages as a field of scholarly inquiry. For his contributions to the study of Judezmo and Jewish languages, in 2006 he was awarded the Yitzhak Ben-Zvi Prize for Research on Jewish Communities in the East, and in 2013 he received the EMET Prize. In 2015 he became an Académico Correspondiente Extranjero of the Real Academia Española (Madrid). His current research focuses on topics in the Judezmo language in its historical, regional, stylistic and social variation, and on the foundations of ‘Judezmism’ as a language-centered ethno-ideology.



The cost of the course is: $1000 for Full Professors, Librarians,  Professionals, Independent Scholars; $750 for tenured Associates; $500 for non-tenured Associates and Assistants & Graduate and Undergraduate students; $350 for Adjuncts, Lecturers & Contingent faculty. Members of supporting University of Colorado departments may be eligible for a discount. The cost may be tax deductible. Faculty and students from low per capita-GDP countries can apply for a partial or full remission of fees. 


Application & Information

Applicants should have at least an intermediate level of reading Spanish. Knowledge of Arabic is advantageous but not required, although participants should familiarize themselves with the basics of Arabic script beforehand. 

Please note: sessions will not be recorded; synchronous attendance is required. 


Important dates:

Non-refundable deposit ($50) is due three days after applying (you will receive a confirmation email).

Application deadline: 15 June 2022

Tuition deposit (50%): 21 June 2022

Tuition balance: 7 July 2022

Late applications may be accepted if there is room in the workshop; an administrative fee of $50 will be added.

NOTE: Students are encouraged to apply early; if the minimum is not met the course will not be held (in which case, deposits will be returned).



Monday, 8 August 2022

9am-11am; noon-2pm

1.     Judezmo in Square Hebrew Letters

2.     Reading and analysis of brief representative texts in Old Judezmo, Middle Judezmo, Modern Judezmo


Tuesday, 9 August 2022

9am-11am; noon-2pm

1.     Reading and analysis of representative texts in Old Judezmo, Middle Judezmo, Modern Judezmo

2.     Grapheme identification and writing exercise


Wednesday, 10 August 2022

9am-11am; noon-2pm

1.     Formal Rashí manuscript style: Grapheme identification and writing exercise

2.     Reading and analysis of representative text in Modern Judezmo


Thursday, 11 August 2022

9am-11am; noon-2pm

1.     Grapheme identification and writing exercise

2.     Reading and analysis of representative texts in Old Judezmo, Middle Judezmo, Modern Judezmo


Sample documents and transcriptions 

1)  19th-century children’s text in Merubá (Square) Hebrew letters
2)  Proverbs and Sayings from the Oral Tradition, in Rashí letters

Contact Info: 

Brian Catlos
Co-Director, The Mediterrranean Seminar

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