"Learning the beautiful language of Homer:" Judeo-Spanish speaking Jews and the Greek language and culture between the Wars

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


The incorporation of Salonica into Greece following the Balkan Wars caused major changes in the lives of the local Jewish community. Once a religious minority in a multi-ethnic and multi-religious state, the Jews now found themselves a minority in a national state. Amidst this climate, the language question became a critical issue for Greek Jewry, particularly after the overwhelmingly Judeo-Spanish community of Salonica was required to adopt Greek. This article explores debates about language choice and acculturation that were published in Judeo-Spanish and consumed by readers, mainly in Salonica. It suggests that the community's educational system played a central role in the acculturation process. By dedicating a large share of the curricula to instruction of Greek and to teaching Greek history and geography, it was believed, the younger generation could be acquainted with Greek culture and thus able to participate fully in Greek public life. The older generation educated under Ottoman rule and fully ignorant of Greek language presented another challenge for those seeking linguistic assimilation. They had to be approached through Judeo-Spanish writing. The translations of Greek books and lectures given in Judeo-Spanish on Greek civilization were believed to enable them the absorption of Greek civilization. Even as sources such as this were published, the wide-spread use of Judeo-Spanish as a means of acculturation was believed to be temporary. As the language was not considered by anyone to serve as a national language, it was doomed to disappear even prior to the Holocaust, which eventually put an end to the thriving community of Salonica.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)235-262
Number of pages28
JournalJewish History
Issue number3
StatePublished - 2002

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
† In the preparation of this article I used the collection of the Yad Ben-Zvi library in Jerusalem . I would like to acknowledge m y gratitude to the library’s staff for assisting me with my research. I am especially indebted to Mr. Dov Hakohen, who is currently com piling a general annotated bibliography of all known Judeo-Spanish publications, for his invaluable help and advice. I would also like to thank the Harry S. Truman Research Institute for the Advancement of Peace, at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem , for providing m e with financial assistance in support of this research.


Dive into the research topics of '"Learning the beautiful language of Homer:" Judeo-Spanish speaking Jews and the Greek language and culture between the Wars'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this