Page 12 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 27

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6
J
e w i s h
B
o o k
A
n n u a l
Persian Jews which encompassed almost every aspect of Jewish
and Persian literature.
When we define as Judeo-Persian literature those literary works
composed by Jews in the Persian language but in Hebrew charac­
ters, then the first fruits of such literary endeavors could have
emerged only when the Persian language had penetrated deeply
enough into the life of Persian Jews to become a vehicle for their
literary expression.
This condition for the birth and growth of a genuine Judeo-
Persian literature seemed to have been fulfilled during the Il-Khan
dynasty over Persia from the end of the 13th century on. It was
in the rather tolerant climate of the Il-Khan ruler, when Jews
could rise to political prominence and influence as physicians
and viziers such as Sa‘d ad-Daula or Rashid ad-Daula that the long
dormant talents among the intellectual elite of the Persian Jews
began to be awakened. There arose then Jewish scholars, translators
and poets who began to create Jewish literary values through the
medium of the Persian language in their own vernacular, in the
Hebrew script.
This Judeo-Persian literature, which was developed in many
Jewish communities in the Persian speaking diaspora, encompassed
three major fields: the translation of the Hebrew Bible into Judeo-
Persian and lexicographical treatises connected with it; the com­
position of original Judeo-Persian poetry; and the transliteration
of classical Persian poetry into Hebrew characters.
The Hebrew Bible in Judeo-Persian Translation
There can be no doubt that Persian Jews were steadily engaged
in the study and interpretation of the Hebrew Bible. Fragments
of biblical books written or copied as early as the 9th century in
Hebrew—not in Judeo-Persian—among them a manuscript of the
later prophets in Hebrew with Massoretic notes from Yezd, would
attest to this. The first Judeo-Persian translation of the Pentateuch
in Hebrew characters became known, however, as late as 1556 and
is attributed to Jacob b. Joseph Tavus, a Jewish scholar from
Persia.
It was long believed that until then this Judeo-Persian Penta­
teuch translation was not only the oldest, but also the sole literary
achievement produced by Persian Jews. It became evident, how­
ever, that this Tavus Pentateuch translation actually represents
the culmination of Judeo-Persian Bible studies which had been
going on for many centuries before Tavus completed his own
translation.