Friday, September 28, 2018

The premier Judeo-Arabic expert just turned 99

PHILOLOGY IS GOOD FOR YOU: The Little-known Language Spoken by Jews Across the Medieval Arab World. Less known than Yiddish or Ladino, Judeo-Arabic was spoken by Jews from Iran to Spain, from Yemen to Syria. The 99-year-old doyen of Maimonides' tongue, says that during Golden Age of Islam, Jewish culture in Arab lands was 10 times greater than that of Ashkenazi Jewry (Smadar Reisfeld, Haaretz premium).

Review for new readers: Judeo-Arabic is Arabic written in Hebrew letters. It was commonly used in literate Jewish circles in the medieval Middle East. The Cairo Geniza is full of fragments written in Judeo-Arabic.

This is a marvelous article. The wide-ranging interview with Joshua Blau deals with his childhood in Hungary, his escape from the Nazis in Austria, his career in Israel, and his seven-decades-long-and-counting marriage. And Judeo-Arabic. Lots on Judeo-Arabic. A survey of the subject with sidetracks into its nooks and crannies from the world's expert on the subject.

There is so much in this article that any excerpting is misleading. But I can't resist just this one:
When you started to teach at the Hebrew University, you specialized in Judeo-Arabic grammar. Why in the world grammar?

“When I was 6, my father asked me whether I wanted to go to kindergarten or school. ‘School,’ I said. When I got home, he asked, ‘How was it?’ ‘Very interesting,’ I said. He asked, ‘What did you have?’ I said, ‘Grammar.’ My father, being a normal person, turned pale, and said, ‘Derangement.’ And here, all my life I have made a living from that derangement. I simply love it.”
That derangement has treated me well too.

If you have any interest in Judeo-Arabic, and you probably do or you wouldn't be here, get your free registration at Haaretz and read this premium article.

Regular readers know of my interest in the subject. For past posts, start with this one from two days ago and just keep following those links. And for additional evidence that philology is good for you, see here, here and here

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