Following the expulsion decree issued in Spain in 1492, and fleeing persecutions by the Spanish and subsequently Portuguese Inquisitions, Sephardic Jews (Sepharad being the Hebrew term ascribed to the Iberian Peninsula since the Middle Ages) fled across the Mediterranean, where many settled in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Until the 20th century, Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire (and successor states such as Greece, Turkey, Bulgaria, etc.) kept their ancestral traditions and continued to speak a Spanish-based language—referred to as Judeo-Spanish, Judezmo, Spaniolit, and other names, serving as the primary vernacular of Sephardic Jews who trace their origins to the Iberian Peninsula in the 15th and 16th centuries—that incorporated linguistic elements not only from Hebrew, but also Turkish, Greek, and Arabic, as well as from the languages of European prestige, French and Italian. A wide-spanning oral culture as well as religious and secular literature (written in the Hebrew alphabet) developed in Ladino—declared by UNESCO an “endangered language” in 2002—and accompanied Sephardic Jews who left the crumbling Ottoman Empire during the 20th century and settled around the globe, notably in the United States and elsewhere in the Americas. There, they constituted a minority within the American Jewish community, encountered other Spanish-speaking populations, and increasingly adapted to American life. Today Ladino is a severely endangered language, spoken only by older generations. The multifaceted identities and experiences of Sephardic Jews challenge the boundaries of categories such as “Jewish,” “Latino,” and “Hispanic.” This article aims to direct the reader to key sources regarding the history, language, and culture of Ladino-speaking Jews. Since Sephardic history includes Conversos and Crypto-Jews, a heated controversy persists around who is a Jew and what methods were used to shape that identity from the 14th century to the present day, in Spain, the Americas (including the American Southwest), and elsewhere. The debates, including one rotating around Judith Neulamder, have been featured in ethnographic studies by scholars like Janet Jacobs and Seth Kunin, among others.
The following works offer broad surveys and introductions suitable for the undergraduate class. These works fall into two broad, overlapping categories: those works that view the experience of Ladino-speaking Jews as part of the Spanish world and those that see it crystalizing in the Eastern Mediterranean world of the Ottoman Empire. Gerber 1992 provides a broad introduction that explores the medieval Iberian Jewish experience and the trajectories of Jews after 1492 to the Eastern Mediterranean as well as to Europe and the Americas. Jacobs 2002 looks at Crypto-Jewish identity in the context of ethnic minorities. Díaz Más 1992 emphasizes the cultural continuities between Jews in medieval Spain and their descendants across the Mediterranean. Now a classic albeit dated study, Benardete 1952 also emphasizes the Hispanic connections within the Sephardic Jewish experience. Kunin 2009 builds a bridge between the Crypto-Jews in the American Southwest and their Spanish roots. Toledano 2010 looks at the roots of Sephardic Judaism. Benbassa and Rodrigue 2000 offers the most recent and comprehensive historical introduction regarding the Ladino cultural environment that flourished in the lands of the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to the 20th centuries. Cohen and Stein 2014 provide a rich collection of primary sources pertaining to the history and culture of Ladino-speaking Jews in the Ottoman Empire.
Benardete, Maír José. Hispanic Culture and Character of the Sephardic Jews. New York: Hispanic Institute in the United States, 1952.
A Ladino-speaking Jew born in the Ottoman Empire, Benardete came to the United States, became a professor of Spanish at Hunter College, and established a Sephardic Studies Section within the Hispanic Studies Institute at Columbia University in the 1930s. Here Benardete highlights Hispanic elements within the Sephardic experience.
Benbassa, Esther, and Aron Rodrigue. Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 14th-20th Centuries. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2000.
An essential introduction to the Ladino-speaking communities of the Eastern Mediterranean over five centuries, the book explores communal, social, economic, and cultural life; Westernization and modern political ideologies; the dissolution of this world through migrations to Europe and the Americas and the Holocaust.
Cohen, Julia Phillips, and Sarah Abrevaya Stein, eds. Sephardi Lives: A Documentary History, 1700–1950. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2014.
Contains translations of more than 150 primary sources from Ladino and more than a dozen other languages that deal with the daily lives, cultural worlds, and political transformations of Ladino centers in the Balkans and Middle East.
Díaz Más, Paloma. Sephardim: The Jews from Spain. Translated by George K. Zucker. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1992.
Introduction to Sephardic language and culture with special emphasis on the various kinds of Ladino oral traditions and folkways in addition to literature.
Gerber, Jane. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: The Free Press, 1992.
Overview of Sephardic Jewish history from medieval era to the 20th century. Themes include Jews in Muslim Spain; the reconquista, the expulsion, and the Inquisition; the creation of Sephardic diasporas; Jewish life in the lands of Islam in the Eastern Mediterranean; the Holocaust; and new Sephardic communities in the postwar period.
Jacobs, Janet Liebman. Hidden Heritage: The Legacy of the Crypto-Jews. Los Angeles: University of California Press, 2002.
Looks at secret religious practices and the persistence of Jewish identity among Crypto-Jews as it relates to the debate on ethnic minorities.
Kunin, Seth D. Juggling Identities: Identity and Authenticity among the Crypto-Jews. New York: Columbia University Press, 2009.
Kunin establishes a link between Crypto-Jews in the American Southwest and their Spanish ancestors, looking to put to rest the controversy about their origin.
Toledano, Haim Henry. The Sephardic Legacy: Unique Features and Achievements. Scranton, PA: University of Scranton Press, 2010.
Explores the historical roots of Sephardic Judaism, analyzing biblical exegesis and Hebrew philology, and studying Sephardic philosophy and poetry.
Zohar, Zion, ed. Sephardic and Mizrahi Jewry: From the Golden Age of Spain to Modern Times. New York: New York University Press, 2005.
A collection of introductory essays regarding the history, philosophy, biblical commentaries, kabbalistic approaches, languages, and musical customs of Sephardic Jews from medieval Spain until the 20th century, in the Ottoman Empire, North Africa, and the Middle East.
Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content on this page. Please subscribe or login.
- Abortion and Infanticide
- Agricultural Technologies
- Alcohol Use
- Ancient Andean Textiles
- Andean Contributions to Rethinking the State and the Natio...
- Andean Music
- Antislavery Narratives
- Arab Diaspora in Brazil, The
- Arab Diaspora in Latin America, The
- Argentina in the Era of Mass Immigration
- Argentina, Slavery in
- Argentine Literature
- Army of Chile in the 19th Century
- Asian Art and Its Impact in the Americas, 1565–1840
- Asian-Peruvian Literature
- Atlantic Creoles
- Baroque and Neo-baroque Literary Tradition
- Beauty in Latin America
- Bello, Andrés
- Black Experience in Colonial Latin America, The
- Black Experience in Modern Latin America, The
- Bolaño, Roberto
- Borderlands in Latin America, Conquest of
- Bourbon Reforms, The
- Brazilian Northeast, History of the
- Buenos Aires
- California Missions, The
- Caribbean Philosophical Association, The
- Caribbean, The Archaeology of the
- Cartagena de Indias
- Caste War of Yucatán, The
- Caudillos, 19th Century
- Cádiz Constitution and Liberalism, The
- Central America, The Archaeology of
- Chaco War
- Children, History of
- Chile's Struggle for Independence
- Chronicle, The
- Church in Colonial Latin America, The
- Chávez, Hugo, and the Bolivarian Revolution in Venezuela
- Cinema, Contemporary Brazilian
- Cinema, Latin American
- Colonial Central America
- Colonial Latin America, Crime and Punishment in
- Colonial Latin America, Pilgrimage in
- Colonial Legal History of Peru
- Colonial New Granada
- Colonial Portuguese Amazon Region, from the 17th to 18th C...
- Contemporary Indigenous Social and Political Thought
- Contemporary Maya, The
- Cortés, Hernán
- Costa Rica
- Cárdenas and Cardenismo
- Cuban Revolution, The
- de Alva Ixtlilxochitl, Fernando
- Dependency Theory in Latin American History
- Development of Architecture in New Spain, 1500–1810, The
- Development of Painting in Peru, 1520–1820, The
- Drug Trades in Latin America
- Dutch in South America and the Caribbean, The
- Early Colonial Forms of Native Expression in Mexico and Pe...
- Economies from Independence to Industrialization
- Ecuador, La Generación del 30 in
- Education in New Spain
- El Salvador
- Enlightenment and its Visual Manifestations in Spanish Ame...
- Environmental History
- Era of Porfirio Díaz, 1876–1911, The
- Family History
- Film, Science Fiction
- Football (Soccer) in Latin America
- Franciscans in Colonial Latin America
- From "National Culture" to the "National Popular" and the ...
- Gaucho Literature
- Gender and History in the Andes
- Gender during the Period of Latin American Independence
- Gender in Colonial Brazil
- Gender in Postcolonial Latin America
- Guaman Poma de Ayala, Felipe
- Guaraní and Their Legacy, The
- Guatemala and Yucatan, Conquest of
- Guatemala City
- Guatemala (Colonial Period)
- Guatemala (Modern & National Period)
- Haitian Revolution, The
- Health and Disease in Modern Latin America, History of
- History, Cultural
- History, Food
- History of Health and Disease in Latin America and the Car...
- Honor in Latin America to 1900
- Honor in Mexican Public Life
- Horror in Literature and Film in Latin America
- Human Rights in Latin America
- Immigration in Latin America
- Independence in Argentina
- Indigenous Elites in the Colonial Andes
- Indigenous Population and Justice System in Central Mexico...
- Indigenous Voices in Literature
- Japanese Presence in Latin America
- Jesuits in Colonial Latin America
- Jewish Presence in Latin America, The
- José María Arguedas and Early 21st Century Cultural and Po...
- Las Casas, Bartolomé de
- Latin American Independence
- Latin American Theater and Performance
- Latin American Urbanism, 1850-1950
- Law and Society in Latin America since 1800
- Legal History of New Spain, 16th-17th Centuries
- Legal History of the State and Church in 18th Century New ...
- Literature, Argentinian
- Machado de Assis
- Magical Realism
- Maroon Societies in Latin America
- Martí, José, and Cuba
- Menchú, Rigoberta
- Mesoamerica, The Archaeology of
- Mestizaje and the Legacy of José María Arguedas
- Mexican Nationalism
- Mexican Revolution, 1910–1940, The
- Mexican-US Relations
- Mexico, Conquest of
- Mexico, Education in
- Migration to the United States
- Military and Modern Latin America, The
- Military Government in Latin America, 1959–1990
- Military Institution in Colonial Latin America, The
- Modern Decorative Arts and Design, 1900–2000
- Modern Populism in Latin America
- Modernity and Decoloniality
- Musical Tradition in Latin America, The
- Native Presence in Postconquest Central Peru
- Natural Disasters in Early Modern Latin America
- New Conquest History and the New Philology in Colonial Mes...
- New Left in Latin America, The
- Novel, Chronology of the Venezuelan
- Novel of the Mexican Revolution, The
- Novel, 19th Century Haitian
- Novel, The Colombian
- Nuns and Convents in Colonial Latin America
- Oaxaca, Conquest and Colonial
- Painting in New Spain, 1521–1820
- Paraguayan War (War of the Triple Alliance)
- Pastoralism in the Andes
- Paz, Octavio
- Perón and Peronism
- Peru, Colonial
- Peru, Conquest of
- Peru, Slavery in
- Philippines Under Spanish Rule, 1571-1898
- Photography in the History of Race and Nation
- Political Exile in Latin America
- Ponce de León
- Popular Culture and Globalization
- Popular Movements in 19th-Century Latin America
- Post Conquest Aztecs
- Post-Conquest Demographic Collapse
- Poverty in Latin America
- Preconquest Incas
- Pre-conquest Mesoamerican States, The
- Pre-Revolutionary Mexico, State and Nation Formation in
- Printing and the Book
- Prints and the Circulation of Colonial Images
- Protestantism in Latin America
- Puerto Rican Literature
- Religions in Latin America
- Revolution and Reaction in Central America
- Rosas, Juan Manuel de
- Sandinista Revolution and the FSLN, The
- Santo Domingo
- Science and Empire in the Iberian Atlantic
- Science and Technology in Modern Latin America
- Sephardic Culture
- Sexualities in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Slavery in Brazil
- São Paulo
- South American Missions
- Spanish American Arab Literature
- Spanish and Portuguese Trade, 1500–1750
- Spanish Caribbean In The Colonial Period, The
- Spanish Colonial Decorative Arts, 1500-1825
- Spanish Florida
- Spiritual Conquest of Latin America, The
- Sports in Latin America and the Caribbean
- Telenovelas and Melodrama in Latin America
- Textile Traditions of the Andes
- 19th Century and Modernismo Poetry in Spanish America
- 20th-Century Mexico, Mass Media and Consumer Culture in
- 16th-Century New Spain
- Tourism in Modern Latin America
- Transculturation and Literature
- Trujillo, Rafael
- Tupac Amaru Rebellion, The
- United States and Castro's Cuba in the Cold War, The
- United States and the Guatemalan Revolution, The
- United States Invasion of the Dominican Republic, 1961–196...
- Urban History
- Urbanization in the 20th Century, Latin America’s
- US–Latin American Relations during the Cold War
- Vargas, Getúlio
- Venezuelan Literature
- Women and Labor in 20th-Century Latin America
- Women in Colonial Latin American History
- Women in Modern Latin American History
- Women's Property Rights, Asset Ownership, and Wealth in La...
- World War I in Latin America
- Zapatista Rebellion in Chiapas