Thursday, September 15, 2011

A new course on Zoharic Aramaic at U. Manitoba

Aramaic getting new life

Written by Rebeca Kuropatwa (Jewish Tribune)
Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Winnipeg – This fall, the University of Manitoba’s Judaic Studies program will be offering, not only Hebrew and Yiddish language classes, but also Arabic – and, for the first time, Aramaic.
In ancient times, Aramaic was the common language spoken by many Jews in Israel and Babylonia. The Talmud is mainly in Aramaic, as is one of the most widely known Jewish prayers, Kaddish.

Justin Jaron Lewis, assistant professor in the Judaic Studies program, moved to Winnipeg in July 2008. He will be teaching the Aramaic course, The Aramaic of The Zohar.

“The idea of teaching a beginner’s course on the Aramaic of the Zohar has been with me for years,” said Lewis, who has been studying The Zohar for about 25 years and is the author of an online Zohar course zohar/map.html.

“Like many other people, I’m fascinated by The Zohar – not only because it’s the cornerstone of Kabbalah, a rich spiritual tradition, but also because it’s a unique work of imaginative literature.”


Due to the particularly literary dialect that The Zohar’s Aramaic is written in, it encompasses a minimal vocabulary. That is why Lewis thinks it will be possible to teach it to beginner students, noting that “studying Aramaic in this fairly simple form can be an introduction to Semitic languages for students who don’t know Hebrew or Arabic. When I mentioned it to some students here at the U of M, they were very interested and I decided to actually try it out.”

I am mind-blown at the thought of teaching Zoharic Aramaic as an introductory Aramaic course to students who don't even have Hebrew. But I hope the course is very successful and I also hope there is a follow-up report on it later on.

If you happen to be interested in trying out some Zoharic Aramaic, the critical text behind Daniel Matt's (still in-progress) translation of the Zohar can be downloaded from The Zohar: Pritzker Edition web page from Stanford University Press. Click on the Aramaic Texts link for the PDF files. More on Matt's translation of the Zohar here and links.