Living a Virtuous Life

Friday, November 18, 2022

In addition to a large collection of materials in Hebrew and Yiddish, the Klau Library in Cincinnati includes over 400 books, manuscripts, and musical recordings in Ladino. Ladino, also known as Judeo-Spanish, is based on Old Spanish. It was formally recognized by the Royal Spanish Academy only five years ago; however, Ladino’s history as a uniquely Jewish language goes back to the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Before the expulsion, Jews spoke the same Spanish as their neighbors; upon leaving Spain, they took their language with them, and it evolved to include vocabulary from Hebrew and from the languages of the Jews’ new homes (most settled in the Ottoman Empire). Much like Yiddish, various dialects of Ladino emerged in communities from the Balkans to North Africa.

Living a virtuous Life image

Ladino was originally written with Hebrew letters, but now it is usually written using the Latin alphabet. The number of Ladino speakers declined rapidly in the twentieth century, largely due to the Holocaust and the adoption of national languages by younger generations. In recent years, though, programs of Ladino studies are gaining traction, along with a new interest in the Ladino language. Fortunately, a sizeable corpus of literature exists in Ladino, including poetry, ballads known as romancero, plays, novels, and of course, religious works. Important subdivisions of religious literature are books of biblical interpretation, prayer books and manuals, and books of ethics. Regimiento dela Vida (Hanhagat ha-ḥayim), is the first such book of ethics.

Written by Moses Almosnino the Regimiento was published in Salonica in 1564 and is addressed to Almosnino’s nephew. The treatise is a guide for living a virtuous life and is divided into three parts: a section about ten matters of importance in Torah and divine service, a section regarding the ten middot (ethical values), and a section that covers such topics as righteousness and love, wisdom and knowledge, and reason and understanding. The 1564 edition also includes a chapter on dreams, written at the request of Don Joseph Nasi, Duke of Naxos.

Living a virtuous life

The main portions of text are written in Ladino using Rashi script. However, the title page and introduction are offered in Hebrew and Ladino, and there is a glossary of “difficult” Ladino words translated into Hebrew. The Regimiento was tremendously popular and was reprinted several times, including a transliterated edition printed in Amsterdam in 1729.

The HUC-JIR libraries own three copies of the original 1564 edition, one in New York and two in Cincinnati. We are pleased to collect and preserve Ladino texts and make them available to scholars of Ladino and other interested members of the community.

Contributed by Alice Finkelstein, Head of Technical Services, Klau Library, Cincinnati