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The Sephardic World

Sepharad is the medieval Hebrew term for the Iberian peninsula. The culture of Sephardic Jewry, whose "Golden Age" during the Muslim era produced such luminaries as Maimonides and Ibn Ezra, did not cease to exist with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, under the Christian Inquisition, in 1492. Sephardic culture and traditions, intellectual, liturgical, and linguistic, have been maintained by descendants of exiles from Spain and Portugal in many parts of the globe to this very day.

Although Hebrew presses operated in Spain and Portugal during the 15th century, due to persecutions and expulsions many incunables printed there did not survive in more than one copy or in complete copies; of those that did, fragments are extremely rare or unique (and it is assumed that some Iberian Hebrew incunables have been lost altogether). Printing was introduced to the Ottoman Empire and North Africa by Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal, and in the subsequent centuries books in Hebrew and other languages were printed throughout the "Sephardic diaspora," in Turkey, Greece, North Africa, the Orient, Western Europe (Italy, Holland, Germany), and elsewhere. The geographic range of the Sephardic world is manifest in the selection here. (In fact, nearly a third of the books in this exhibition are of Sephardic provenance, written or published by Sephardim.)

Humash 1490
Bible. Pentateuch. Hebrew
[ Hamishah humshei Torah ]
Híjar: Eliezer ibn Alantansi, for
Solomon b. Maimon Zalmati,
19 July - 17 August 1490.

The town of Híjar (Ixar) in Aragon was, after Guadalajara, the second center of Hebrew printing in Spain. This single parchment leaf is a fragment of the first Spanish edition of the Targum Onkelos and Rashi's commentary, which accompany the unpointed biblical text (vowels were later added by hand in this copy). The last dated book from the Híjar press, published less than two years before the expulsion, it is also the last dated Hebrew book known to be printed in Spain.

Mordecai b. David Guedj [ Ghez ],
of Tunisia, fl. late 19th cent.
[ Magen David ]
Algiers: Imprimerie Jacob Guedj,

Hebrew printing was introduced to Algiers in the middle of the 19th century. The author of this collection of responsa was a member of a Tunisian family of scholars, most of whose works were published in Leghorn.

Moses Alsheikh, of Safed,
ca. 1508-ca. 1594
[ Torat Mosheh ]
Belvedere: Joseph b. Isaac, of Ashkelon,
ca. 1593.

The commentary on the Pentateuch by Alsheikh, who was born in Adrianople and studied under Joseph Caro in Salonika, was based on his Sabbath sermons in Safed. This first edition, on Genesis alone, is one of seven books published by the short-lived Hebrew press at the palace of Belvedere in Ortaköy, a suburb of Constantinople. It was issued under the patronage of Reyna, duchess of Naxos, who was the daughter of Doña Gracia and widow of the statesman Joseph Nasi, both from a distinguished family of Portuguese Marranos.

Menasseh Ben Israel, of Amsterdam,
Conciliador o De la conveniencia de
los Lugares de la S. Escriptura que
repugnantes entre si parecen
Frankfurt (or Amsterdam): for the
author, 1632.

Born a Marrano in Madeira, the scholar Menasseh Ben Israel is renowned as the founder of Hebrew typography in Holland, a friend of Rembrandt, and the man who petitioned Cromwell for the readmission of the Jews to England. This is the first edition of the first part of his major work, a reconciliation of conflicting biblical passages, written in Spanish.

Hayim b. Jacob Palaggi [ Palache ],
of Izmir, 1788-1869
[ Derakav le-Moshe ]
Salonika: Saadiah ha-Levi Ashkenazi,

A description of the notorious anti-Semitic blood-libel in 1840 known as the Damascus Affair, this book is one of over 70 works written by Chief Rabbi Palaggi, the most prolific Sephardic author of the 19th century. It is dedicated to Sir Moses Montefiore, the Anglo-Jewish philanthropist who intervened on behalf of the Syrian Jews and later visited Palaggi in Izmir.

Joseph Bendahan, of Tetuán,
d. ca. 1820
[ Shufreih de-Yosef ]
Alexandria: Faraj Hayim Mizrahi
of Persia, 1897.

This collection of ethical sermons for the Days of Awe was published (with the approbation of Abraham b. Hayim Palaggi of Izmir) by the grandson of the author, Joseph Nissim Bendahan, who appended to it his own works. The book is a product of the first successful Hebrew press in Alexandria.

Mishnah 1492
Mishnah. With the commentary of
[ Mishnayot ]
Naples: Joshua Solomon Soncino
and Joseph ibn Piso, 8 May 1492.

The Naples edition is generally considered the editio princeps of the entire Mishnah, since only fragments of an earlier Spanish edition have survived. Illustrated with many diagrams, it includes Maimonides' commentary on the Mishnah, and his introduction on the development of the oral law.

Mishnah 1492

Liturgy and Ritual. Fastday Prayers
[ Seder Arba Ta'aniyot ]
Venice: Stamparia Bragadina, 1756.

This fastday liturgy according to the Sephardic rite, with supplementary prayers as recited in Istanbul and Izmir, also includes ritual laws in the Judezmo vernacular, and the archaic Ladino version of the passage from Jeremiah read on the Ninth of Av.

Go to Chap. 14 Go to Chap. 16


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