Latest news
Most popular
Main menu
IOM Journals
PhD Program
Videos (rus)
Buy books (rus)
Library (rus)
IOM (rus)
What's most interesting for you?


Iakerson Sh. Ozar Sepharad: Sephardic Treasury. Sephardic Books from the Tenth to the Fifteenth Century. From Manuscripts to Printed Books. Manual for the Students of Hebrew Studies. St. Petersburg : St. Petersburg State University Faculty of Philology, 2015. 128 p., ill. ISBN 978-5-8465-1461-4.


A unique Jewish culture had appeared, flourished and perished on the Iberian Peninsula. Its many artifacts are still considered to be unsurpassed works of Jewish art. It is unknown when exactly the Jewish people settled in these lands, but it was certain prior to Visigothic rule, which began in 414. When the Arabs conquered the region in 711, the Jews acted as their allies. One thousand years of Jewish civilization on the Iberian peninsula ended with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and Portugal in 1497.

The cornerstone of Jewish Iberian civilization are the books created by Sephardic Jews, characterized by extraordinary craftsmanship. However, the writing styles developed in this region may be utterly unreadable to an unprepared reader. Even professional paleographers often offer different interpretations of particular letters, ligatures and words.

Sephardic Jews preserved their distinctive culture for the future generations, which was of crucial importance for Jewish literature, as well as for development of handwriting and, later, for the standardization of Hebrew scripts.

The terms “Sephardic tradition of writing” and “Sephardic writing” are not limited to Spain or the Iberian Peninsula in general. Instead, they broadly refer to the considerable territories, which the members of this culture, i.e. Sephardic Jews, inhabited. When talking about the Middle Ages, scholars include the following regions into the Sepharad geo-cultural area: Spain, Portugal, Provence, Lower Languedoc, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

The earliest dated Sephardic manuscripts belong to the tenth and eleventh centuries. They are preserved in Saint Petersburg in the collection of the National Library of Russia (Codices, 1997, N 14, Idem, 1999, N 29).

Perhaps if one were to strive for absolute academic precision in definitions, Sephardic writing should be called “Andalusian,” according to the place of its origin - Andalusia. However, the exceptional geographic scope of this type of writing does not allow us to narrow its terminological characteristic to the term “Andalusian.” The expansion of Hebrew writing from Islamic to Christian territories is exceptionally interesting from a common cultural point of view. The lands taken during the Reconquista slowly “returned” to Catholic culture (or “Latin-written” culture in the context of these studies). Yet not only did Andalusian Hebrew writing not give way to “Latinizing” writing, but it, on the contrary, supplanted the styles that developed in the native lands of the conquerors under the influence of Latin and Ashkenazi style Hebrew writing. As a result, a certain cultural paradox had appeared. On one hand, in the macroworld of Iberia, the Arabic language was gradually replaced by the languages of the Christian world. On the other hand, in the microworld of the Jewish community, Sephardic writing, which was created under the direct or indirect influence of the Arabic calligraphy, triumphed completely.

Three types of writing had gradually developed in the Sephardic geo-cultural region: square writing, semi-cursive and cursive writing. Cursive writing is far more common in Sephardic manuscripts than in the manuscripts that were copied in other geo-cultural zones. From all of the variety of the types and subtypes of the Hebrew writing available, Sephardic cursive writing differs the most from the current accepted norms of hand¬writing; it is also objectively the most difficult for deciphering, since in order to read it, one must have a special training in paleography.

The choice of a particular type of writing mostly depends on the form and content of a copied text. Starting from the thirteenth century, usage of square and semi-cursive writing considerably converged. Moreover, many works, the context of which would be fit for square writing, were re-written with the semi-cursive script.

Sephardic printing appeared during the time when all of the types of Sephardic scripts had finally developed. The Sephardic incunabula were being printed in four countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal and Turkey), eight cities and 11 typographies (including the anonymous ones). It could be noted that in the fifteenth century 27 settings of fonts, which copy different versions of the square and semi-cursive types of writing, were used by Sephardic printing presses.

The most important period in the history of the Sephardic writing (both square and semi-cursive) is its transformation into the dominant and, in the future, unique type of Hebrew font. This period is largely associated with the activity of the “Sons of Soncino” group of printers in Italy. The fonts of Soncino were developed on the basis of Sephardic scripts that were popular in Italy.

The transformation of the Sephardic family of fonts into national ones at the end of the fifteenth century is a step that is no less important in the context of the Jewish civilization than the adoption of the Sephardic phonetical norms as a basis for the standard pronunciation in modem Hebrew.

The present work is dedicated to the history of the Sephardic literary culture as well as to the reading and understanding (in the paleographical and book lore sense) of the Sephardic books of Middle Ages. The additional parts of this book are the “Paleographical Reading Book,” which shows the variants of Sephardic scripts and fonts, and the “List of Sephardic Incunabula”.


Annotation, Введение, Исторический обзор, Summary, Contents


Sephardic literary culture

IOM's page contains
Random news: Announcements
43rd Zograph Readings “Interpreting traditional Indian texts” will be held at the IOM RAS on May 17–20, 2022. The program of the conference is now available.

Programming© N.Shchupak; Design© M.Romanov

beacon typebeacon type