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HomeLanguagesSpanishSpain Honors Ladino in Israel

Spain Honors Ladino in Israel

Interior of Santa Maria la Blanca Synagogue in Toledo, Spain. Erected in 1190 and considered the oldest synagogue building in Europe still standing. It was consecrated as a church upon the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in the 15th century, but no major renovations were done.

Spain’s Real Academia Española (RAE), the leading authority on the Spanish language, is to establish a special institute in Israel to preserve Ladino—the Judeo-Spanish language of Jewish communities who thrived in Spain before their expulsion in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabela, in whose name Columbus claimed the New World of the Americas that same year.

Ladino combines old Spanish with elements of Hebrew and other languages, among them Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Aramaic and some of the Balkan languages, depending on where it was spoken in the intervening centuries.

Exiles from Spain, known as Sephardim (the Hebrew word for people of Spain), moved to North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, and Latin America after their expulsion.

While Ladino is still spoken by small numbers of people all over the world, about 400,000 speakers live in Israel, making it the world’s largest Ladino community.

Darío Villanueva, the academy’s director, said that Judeo-Spanish was “an extraordinarily important cultural and historical phenomenon.”

“The Jews who were expelled in 1492 dispersed around Europe and the Americas, taking with them the Spanish language as it was spoken at the time of their expulsion,” he told the Guardian newspaper.

“All of this has been miraculously preserved over the centuries. There’s literature, folklore, translations of the Bible and even modern newspapers written in Ladino.”

Five years ago, Spain began to offer nationality to the descendants of expelled Jews, in an attempt to compensate for what the Spanish government called an “historical wrong.”

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