Page 11 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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THE L I T E R A R Y HE R I T A G E OF
THE P E R S I A N S P E A K I N G J E W S
B y W a l t e r
J.
F i s c h e l
I
n a n a t t e m p t
to investigate the literary heritage of the Persian
speaking Jews in Persia and Central Asia, in Afghanistan, Tur­
kestan and Buchara during their many centuries of association
with Iran, we are confronted with the astonishing fact that the
vast Persian literature from the time of the Muslim rule over
Persia leaves us completely uninformed about any literary pro­
ductions composed by Persian Jews in the Persian language.
Had we to rely on these external sources, we would be led to
assume that the Jews in the Persian speaking diaspora were an
unproductive, uncreative, sterile minority, unable to make any
major contribution to culture and literature in the language of
their surroundings. Such an assumption would, however, be
erroneous.
The silence of the Persian-Muslim sources on this topic can
be attributed neither to wilful neglect or religious prejudice, nor
to the absence of any Judeo-Persian productivity. It is due rather
to a peculiar self-imposed graphical barrier whereby the Persian
Jews used the Hebrew alphabet exclusively in whatever they wrote
throughout the ages.
Like all Jews in Islamic lands, they regarded the Hebrew alpha­
bet as such an integral part of their religious and cultural heritage
that they refused tenaciously to substitute for it the Arabic or
Persian script, which, being the script of the Koran, the Holy
Book of another religious civilization, would have been considered
as a breach of their religious loyalty, as a sign of conversion, as
an act of betrayal.
It was due to this refusal to employ the Arabic alphabet that the
Persian Jews deliberately excluded their own writings from the
main body of Persian literature and turned the whole spectrum
of their literary articulation into a kind of literary ghetto. Their
literary productivity, therefore, remained a closed book to the
outside world.
Yet, when we turn from external Persian-Muslim sources to
internal Hebrew or Jewish sources, a new horizon opens up and
we are confronted with a tremendous literary productivity by
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