The Jews In The Balkans

The Baruh family – Višegrad, 1899. Standing first from the right Moric Levi, Kalmi's cousin. Sitting on the floor on the left is Kalmi and on the right, his brother Avram.

Kalmi Baruh:
The Jews in the Balkans and Their Language

The Jews in the Balkans represent a single ethnic group. On the one hand, they differ from their non-Jewish surroundings and on the other hand, they also differ from their fellow believers in other parts of Europe. Even though they are tied to the Jews of other European countries by their faith and beliefs, they differ from them in their culture and mentality, which was formed in the past in the course of centuries in the Balkan countries. This is the reason we believe that the examination of their culture belongs to the field of Balkan studies.

The nature of this article does not allow us to go too deep into history while researching testimonies about the first Jewish colonies founded in Balkan cities. We encounter Jews in the ports of the Mediterranean Sea even in the age when their national hearth was in Palestine; from there, economic interests directed them towards the interior of the Balkan Peninsula. During the Byzantine period they adopted the Greek language and customs. Around the middle of the 10th century we encounter one group of Jews called gregos settled in Serdica (Sofia), where they built their synagogue, named Kal de los gregos. Even today, we find among Jews in Bulgaria names such as Kaló, Parásko, Pizánti, which remind us of their Byzantine origin; Javaní, the name of a famous family of rabbis from the 16th century is only a Hebrew translation of the word “Greek” in the form that is a phonetic adaptation of the word Jonija.

The second migration strengthened the Jewish communities that were formed in big ports and cities situated on the main trading routes. These are the Jews known as Ashkenazi – Germans, since they came from the north, looking for shelter from constant persecutions in the age of the Crusades. Monographs that deal with the history of Jewish colonies in the Balkan centers claim that the influx of Jews from the north lasted until the middle of the 17th century. One synagogue that they built in Sofia in 1360 still exists today. Names like Tadžer (Deutscher) and Ashkenazi offer proof for this historical fact.

It is not necessary to repeat here what we know for certain about the Jews’ past in the Balkan Peninsula until the end of the 15th century. We do not want in any sense to lessen the scientific value of the facts – even if incomplete – that were already presented by those who deal with this epoch of Jewish history; however, we would prefer to commence a new chapter in the history of the Balkan Jews, starting with one event that profoundly changed the lives of this group of Jewish people. That event is the arrival of exiles from the Iberian Peninsula in the year 1492, when they were expelled from their centuries-old homeland.

The number of Jews who emigrated from Spain and Portugal has not been determined yet. In any case, that number was big enough for them to impose their mother tongue on their fellow believers whom they found in their new homeland. We do not even have documents showing the date of their arrival in the Ottoman Empire, where Sultan Beyazid [Bajazet] received them benevolently. It seems that they first settled in Constantinople [Istanbul], Thessaloniki [Salonika], and the cities of Asia Minor, immediately after their exodus from Spain. In a Thessaloniki cemetery, a tombstone was found with the Hebrew inscription that marks the grave of an “eminent scientist, doctor Rabbi Shelomo, the son of don Shemuel Hairo [Jairo], originally from the town of Castreza, in the Castilian kingdom, who died on 17 Elul 5264 (August 27, 1504)”. In the absence of other documents, we will present here what we were able to find in the State Archive in Dubrovnik. Among documents that refer to trade in this Adriatic town, there is one dating from VII juna 1502, that talks about Honorabilis vir Isaach Alfandari hebraeus de Hispania and honorabiles viri Isaach Latone habitator Paduae et Lope Mazardo habitator Venetiarum portugallenses. These two appeared in front of the notary to testify about the identity of the former. Another document, dated XX martii 1503 is entitled Stella hebraea uxor Solomonis hebraei de Hispania. As we can see, these Jews, inhabitants of Italian cities who were trading with Dubrovnik, were still well aware of their Iberian origin. We will not be mistaken if we take them as the first of those Jewish merchants of Spanish origin who after 1492 settled in various Italian ports and then came to Dubrovnik, from where they arranged their trade ties with Scopia (Skoplje) [Skopje], Sarajevo, and with all other cities in the interior of the Balkan Peninsula. A couple of hundreds of similar documents in the State Archive in Dubrovnik only confirm this supposition.

We said before that Sephardim – thus named after the word Sepharad, which in the Hebrew language means “Spain” – imposed their language on the Jewish colonies that already existed in the Balkan cities. As this is one of the most important processes and one of the most important facts that led to the final formation of Balkan Judaism as we see it today, we have to examine closer that language which, together with the Jewish faith, represents the principal characteristic of the ethnic individuality of Sephardim.

This was the Spanish language of the end of the 15th century, the pre-classic Spanish language, with all its phonetic elements, whose evolution in the course of the following century was to mark the borderline between the old and the modern Spanish language. From that point of view, we can say that Spanish Jews in the Balkans are the living guardians of the old Spanish language and that is a linguistic fact that was used by some specialists of Romanic languages. These refugees came from every province of the Iberian Peninsula and apparently brought with them all the characteristics of the dialects they spoke. Based on still living traditions, we know that these emigrants gathered around several synagogues, based on their provincial origin. So, for example Thessaloniki, which had the biggest Jewish community, had more than thirty synagogues, and tradition has preserved their names even today: Castile, Portugal, Europe, Lisbon, Saragossa; it is known that Rabbi Eliezer Asimeoni, who died in 1530 and was buried in the cemetery in Thessaloniki, compiled a prayer book “at the request of emigrants from Catalonia” (1527). In addition, the Jews in Bitolj [Bitola, Monastir] have a synagogue called “Aragonian” and another, “Portuguese”, and the Jews in Philipopolis speak about Kal kadóš Argón. Speaking about that, it is important to mention one linguistic fact that was established by the German specialist of Romanic language, M. L. Wagner, an excellent connoisseur and researcher of the Judeo-Spanish language in the East. According to him, some phonetic traits of the Judeo-Spanish language in Macedonia, Bosnia, Serbia, and Bulgaria are reminiscent of languages from northern Spain and to some extent of the language spoken in Catalonia. Those traits are the change of -o and -e at the end of the word into -u, -i (buenu, vredi); f at the beginning of the word, that originates from the Castilian language (hacer-fa-cere), and that was almost preserved in these Balkan provinces. The Jews from Constantinople and Asia Minor, on the other hand, pronounce -o, -e, and azer (hacer) without f-, which makes their pronunciation closer to the one in Castile.

If what we just presented reveals certain particularistic tendencies among the Jewish emigrants from Spain, tendencies deriving from their conservative spirit, it is also true that the conditions of life in their chosen homeland drove them to form their own communities quickly. The same economic interests, above all, brought together different groups; and then, the same religion in particular formed the most solid foundation for their social and spiritual organizing. We should add that the Jews who were emigrants from Spain were on a much higher cultural level than their fellow believers who had settled in their new homeland before them. Thanks to the protection they enjoyed under the sultan in the 16th century, they managed to establish thriving communities in Constantinople and Thessaloniki that were considered in Europe as centers of Jewish spiritual culture. With an excellent knowledge of Arabic and Latin, besides rabbinical learning, the rabbis fostered secular sciences in their academies as well: astronomy, medicine and philosophy. In the year 1515, Don Jehuda Gedalija [Yehuda Gedaliah] from Lisbon founded a printing shop in Thessaloniki. From that period, we have works of vast erudition, both Jewish and secular. Furthermore, these works were written in the purest Castilian dialect. In order to confirm this assumption, it is sufficient just to glance at the book by Mojsije [Moses] Almosnino Regimiento de la vida published in 1564.

Two very important dates in the history of the spiritual life of the Spanish Jews are those of the translation of the Five Books of Moses (1547) in Constantinople and the translation of the Old Testament in Ferrara (1553). These two translations of the Bible into Spanish served as an example for all others that were done later in the Balkan centers. They were the main source for religious education in the Sephardic schools. The language used in these translations called Ladino (enladinar – to translate from the Hebrew language to Spanish), differs from the language spoken by Sephardim using pure Spanish vocabulary and many influences of Hebrew syntax. Ladino can be considered as a literary language of the Jews in the Balkans to this very day. It served for more than four centuries as a spiritual link between Jews from the most remote centers of the peninsula. Moreover, this language, which from the 16th century could not be nourished from the country of its origin, represents a linguistic phenomenon, in its essence archaic and frozen; with time it has adopted elements borrowed from the speech of the countries to which it was brought. The decline of the literary language is just a consequence of a completely apparent decadence of the spiritual culture of the Sephardic Jews. Starting from the 18th century, we no longer encounter the rabbis with the universal erudition of their ancestors from Spain. The overall activity of spiritual leaders was reduced to the copying of Talmudic works, commentaries, and “books of consolations” that had as their goal only the strengthening of religious feelings among the members of synagogues and their strict adherence to all letters of the law.

If this rabbinical literature can reveal the intellectual life of the Balkan Jews to us, the language spoken by the masses can give us more information about their everyday life and especially about their relations with other ethnic groups among which they lived. This symbiosis was very lengthy and profound, and it left significant traces in the Judeo-Spanish language. It is impossible to encompass in this essay all of the material and the elements in the Judeo-Spanish language borrowed from the Balkan languages. In general, we can say that these borrowings mostly refer to vocabulary. On the other hand, we should differentiate between those words used only in particular cases by the Jews who also spoke the language of their surroundings and those that comprise the substantive part of the Judeo-Spanish vocabulary and which pushed out the corresponding Spanish words.

Like other Balkan languages, as far as its vocabulary is concerned the Judeo-Spanish language owes much to the Turkish language as well. The Turkish elements, which are numerous, also serve as an eloquent testimony to the assimilation of the Spanish Jews into an Oriental environment. All areas of their external life adopted the colors of their surroundings, which are faithfully reflected in Turkish expressions of the spoken language: malé (quarter), ćoše (corner), avlí (yard), ahír (barn), mindér (sofa), kavé (coffee), tutún (tobacco), rakí (brandy), burék, lukum (kinds of cake), antiré (type of long sleeved robe), kušák (belt) čakšír (pants), tendjeré (pot), tepsí (tray), ćumur (coals). Then, we have the whole series of Turkish verbs to which the Spanish ending –ear is added: engleneár (to talk); or verbs that get the Spanish prefix en: embatakár (to dirty), embineár (to ride), etc. We can see that we noted here only an insignificant number of Turkish expressions used in all variants of the Judeo-Spanish language. Besides, there is nothing strange in the fact that provinces in which Turkish was the spoken language adopted many more Turkish words than those provinces in which the Turkish language was used only in administration. According to what we can conclude from the monographs dealing with the Judeo-Spanish languages, it seems that the language that was spoken in Constantinople had much more Turkish elements than, for instance, the language spoken in Bosnia.

The Greek elements in the Judeo-Spanish language are not as numerous as the Turkish, even though contact between the Jews and the Greek speaking world were frequent over the centuries. Primarily, there is a certain small number of words of Greek origin that entered the Hebrew Talmudic language very early, such as words avér (άήρ) [air] and some others that are rarely heard in conversation. Of a later date are words such as: na (να - here), ma (μά - but), makári (ήακάρι - God provide), then maná (μάννα - mother), espágo (σπάγγο - ribbon). Mr. Wagner was right when he claimed that most of the Greek borrowings came into the Judeo-Spanish language from Constantinople through the Turkish language; otherwise we could not explain their small number in the Slavic language centers. Even in the Judeo-Spanish colony in Bitolj, the Greek elements are not that numerous.

While speaking of foreign elements in the language of the Jews in the Balkans, we should not forget the Slavic elements that were unavoidable in the language they used. It is impossible to conduct the whole list of the Serbo-Croatian [Serbian] words in the Judeo-Spanish language, because in Bosnia, for instance, the use of the Slavic elements was optional, as was the case with a part of the Turkish elements in the Judeo-Spanish language used in Constantinople. However, there are some Serbo-Croatian words in the language of the Jews in Bosnia that do not have corresponding words in Spanish. For example: slaáma (slama) (Spanish word páža is used, meaning “hay”) gúzga [goose], kúbila [mare]; there is also some mixing of the Spanish and Serbo-Croatian words: lúča (S-C. luč, Sp. leña) [wood of the pine tree], ráka (S-C. rak, Sp. rana). Other Serbo-Croatian words received Spanish suffixes: grahíta (grašak) [peas], kupiár (kopati) [to dig]. In the same way, due to the influences of the Yugoslav surroundings, it so happened that the Spanish Jews from Bosnia pronounce pre-palatal Turkish k as ć (ćoše) [corner].

Finally, we should add that the Italian language also gave a considerable number of expressions to the Spanish Jews who, from the time of their expulsion from Spain, maintained active trading relations with several Italian cities, especially with Ancona and Venice. However, the Italian elements are not distributed equally in all of the Judeo-Spanish centers either.

At the end of this brief overview of the language of Balkan Jews, it is necessary to add a couple of words about their folklore. We are here primarily referring to narratives (konsežas), romances, and proverbs. There are many publications that deal with these literary forms. Many narratives were published with phonetic transcription in the monographs that we mentioned in this article; the remains of the romances of Spanish origin that were preserved among Spanish Jews and the proverbs have great value, especially for experts of Hispanic studies.

In addition, we can assume with confidence that all these elements of oral tradition were mixed and enriched with eastern elements. It would be worthwhile analyzing narratives, collections of proverbs, and romances already published in order to separate what is of Spanish origin in them from what came in through the Balkan world. But this work is yet to be started.

The Sephardic world, whose centers were connected for more than four centuries by the same religion and the same language, has completely changed its appearance in our age. Its entire life was inspired by religious spirit, which was preserved by the identical way of organizing their communities. There was nothing secular about their spiritual life, except for the oral tradition in the Spanish language mentioned earlier. However, this world was too weak to resist the influences of the West, which started to be visible in the second half of the 19th century. Alliance Israélite Universelle in Paris set themselves the task of introducing the French language and system of education to the Balkan Jews. The first school of the Alliance was founded in Thessaloniki in 1848. This activity was continued with excellent results in various centers in the East. However, the revival of national life among the Balkan nations opened up new paths for the Jews in those countries. Already enjoying all civil rights for more than half a century, they gained free access to all areas of social and cultural life of the Balkan nations. It is clear that this meant the beginning of a new assimilation of Balkan Jews – a consequence of the slow but sure falling apart of the world that we partially presented in this article.

• Prologue by Alexander Nikolić, Advisor to the Director of the Balkan Countries Region Dpt. at the Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. English language editors - Nada Miljković and Prof. Hezy Mutzafi;
• Kalmi Baruh - The Jews in the Balkans and Their Language, translated from the Serbian by Tatjana Jovićević, English language editor - Beverly Katz.

Basic bibliography:

Аndrić, Ivo: Sećanje na Kalmija Baruha, Život, I, 3, pp. 215-217, Sarajevo, 1952;

Armistead, Samuel G. and Silverman, Joseph H. with the collaboration of Biljana Šljivić-Šimšić: Judeo-Spanish Ballads from Bosnia, The Jewish Quarterly Review, University of Pennsylvania Press, 65, No. 4, pp. 254-255, Philadelphia, Pa, 1975;

Baruh, Kalmi:
- Gaon M.D.: Jerusalim, Poesias, Jevrejski život, 77, 24, II, Sarajevo, 1925;
- Književni rad pok. Kapona, Jevrejski glas, 3, X, Sarajevo, 1930;
- Eseji i članci iz španske književnosti, prologue by Josip Tabak, Svjetlost, Sarajevo,
- Izabrana djela, ed. and prologue by Vojislav Maksimović, Svjetlost, Sarajevo, 1972;
- Selected Works on Sephardic and Other Jewish Topics, eds. Krinka Vidaković Petrov and Alexander Nikolić, Shefer Publishers, Jerusalem and The Moshe David
Gaon Center for Ladino Culture at the Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Be'er Sheva, 2nd and extended
ed., 2007;

Gotovac, Vedrana: Kalmi Baruh, Muzej Grada Sarajeva, 1985;

Katan Ben-Zion, Dina: Kalmi Baruh, Nohahut ve-healmut, Magnes, pp. 19-21, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2002
קטן בן-ציון, דינה: קאלמי ברוך, נוכחות והיעלמות, מאגנס, האוניברסיטה העברית בירושלים, עמ' 19-21, תשס"ב;

Kolonomos, Jamila:
- Poslovice, izreke i priče sefardskih Jevreja Makedonije, SJOJ, Belgrade, 1978;
- 500 години од еврејско-шпанскиот јазик во Македонија, Sefardski odglasi, EZM,
Skopje, 1995;

Lebel, Jennie: Dr. Kalmi Baruh, Blessed Be His Memory, Be'maarakha, 307, p. 31, Jerusalem, 1986
לבל, ג'ני: קאלמי ברוך ז"ל, במערכה, 307, עמ' 31, ירושלים, תשמ"ז;

Levi, Moric: El mundo sefadi, Židovska svijest, V, pp. 2-3, Sarajevo, 1923;

Loker, Zvi:
-Kalmi Baruh – Investigador del patrimonio djudeo-espanyol de Yugoslavia, Aki Yerushalayim, Kol Israel, Jerusalem, 1984;
-Sarajevski spor i sefardski pokret u Jugoslaviji, Jewish Historical Museum, 7, pp. 72-79, Belgrade, 1997;

Nikolić, Alexander: Kalmi Baruh, Dmuyot, Pe'amim, 130, pp.: 161-174, Jerusalem, 2012
ניקוליץ', אלכסנדר: קאלמי ברוך, דמויות, פעמים, 130, עמ' 174-161, ירושלים, תשע"ב;

Ninić, Ivan and Nikolić, Alexander: Широки поглед на свет, Mali Nemo, Sveske, 75, pp. 260-266, Pančevo, 2005;

Papo, Eliezer: Lashon etnit be-idan ha'leumiyut: Ha'Sfaradit-Ha'Yehudit Ha'Bosnit be-et ha'hadasha, Pe'amim, 113, pp.: 11-51, Jerusalem, 2008
פאפו, אליעזר: לשון אתנית בעידן הלאומיות: הספרדית-היהודית הבוסנית בעת החדשה, פעמים, 113 עמ' 51-11, ירושלים, תשס"ח;

Šomlo, Ana: Alexander Nikolić motzi la'or et kitvei savo Kalmi Baruh, Dimui, 28, Bet Morasha, pp. 85-86, Jerusalem, 2006
שומלו, אנה: אלכסנדר ניקוליץ' מוציא לאור את כתבי סבו קאלמי ברוך, דימוי, 28, בית מורשה בירושלים, תשס"ו;

Vidaković Petrov, Krinka:
- Kalmi Baruh o Sefardima, Izraz, V, Sarajevo, 1976;
- La Gaceta Literaria, Zbornik Matice srpske za književnost i jezik, XXXVII/2, pp. 321-330, Novi Sad, 1989;
- Kultura španskih Jevreja na jugoslovenskom tlu, Narodna knjiga and Alfa, 3rd and extended ed., Belgrade, 2001

On the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the death of Dr. Kalmi Baruh, may his memory be blessed! The text was elaborated at the International Scientific Conference – Jews in Macedonia: History, Tradition, Culture, Language and Religion (Macedonian Academy of Sciences and Arts & Jewish Community in the Republic of Macedonia, Skopje, December 2014.

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