Women’s Siddur in Ladino, Salonica, 1550
A siddur (prayer book) written in the Ladino language including prayers, blessings, and commandments to be observed by women. The siddur was probably printed in Salonica around 1550 and was edited by Rabbi Meir Benvenisti. The siddur includes an introduction in Hebrew.
The title page mentions that the siddur includes “the [Hebrew] alphabet with vowel points,” and a table explaining how to read Ladino using the Hebrew alphabet. The copy on display—probably the only one in existence—is, however, missing the final page with this table.
In the Hebrew introduction, the anonymous author complains about the neglect of the education of Jewish women: “No one demands or seeks to guide and teach them – neither the father his daughter nor the husband his wife.”
What is Ladino?
Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, Spaniolish, and Judezmo, is a dialect of Spanish that was spoken by Sephardic Jews. Just as Yiddish (the language of Ashkenazi Jewry) is an amalgam of Hebrew and the local language (German), so too Ladino is a mixture of the local Spanish dialects and Hebrew. Ladino developed throughout the Mediterranean region after the Jews’ expulsion from Spain in 1492. As the descendants of the Spanish exile spread throughout the region over the course of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Ladino expanded to include elements of Arabic, Turkish, Greek, French, and Italian. Traditionally written in Hebrew characters, today Ladino later adapted to the Latin alphabet.
This source is recommended for use by teachers of Jewish Culture and Heritage when discussing the subject of prayer and the siddur. It could also be presented in History classes when studying medieval Jewry in general and the role of Jewish women in particular. It is especially important to show this Sephardic siddur since it is often only Ashkenazi siddurim that are presented in educational contexts. Foreign Language teachers could use this source to discuss the ways in which language can influence culture.
What language is this siddur written in?
This siddur was printed in Salonica.
Search for information about the city of Salonica (also known as Thessaloniki) and about its Jewish community.
The Ladino language is very similar to Spanish.
What is the connection between Jews in Greece and Spain?
How did Ladino come to be spoken in Greece?
This siddur was produced specially for women.
Why do you think this was necessary?
What do you know about Ladino?
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Why do you think there was a need for Jewish languages such as Ladino and Yiddish?
If you were preparing a women’s siddur today, what items would be you want to include in it?
What other specific groups do you think need their own siddur? Explain your answer.
What do you think this siddur tells us about the role of women in the medieval Jewish community of Salonica?
Do you think that all the Jewish women in Salonica at that time had their own personal siddur?
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