Page 19 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 31

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11
FISCHEL / LITERARY HERITAGE OF KURDISH JEWS
dity, as did the Jewish traveler Rabbi David d’Beth Hillel almost
seven centuries later. Like Benjamin of Tudela and Petahya of
Ratisbon, he was struck by this singular feature in the life of the
Kurdish Jews, namely, their employment, along with Hebrew, of
a Judeo-Aramaic dialect variously designated by the Kurdish Jews
and their neighbors as
lashon ha-Targum, lishna Yahudiya, lashon
ha-Galut,
or Jabali (the mountain language), also called in mod-
ern times New-Aramaic or New-Syriac. This dialect was divided
according to the geographical locale into sub-dialects of Amadiya,
Sakho, Rovandus, Arbil, Mosul, Urmiya, Salmas and others. (See
the studies by Franz Rosenthal, I. Garbell, and J. Sabar.)
While the march of Islam and the advance of the Arabic lan-
guage in the seventh century swept away Aramaic and other lan-
guages in the Near and Middle East, it seems that in the remote
corner of Kurdistan, Aramaic could withstand the pressure of
Arabization and halt the linguistic conquest of Arabic. Apart
from some Christian Nestorian communities in this region, the
Kurdish Jews are the only Jewish group in the Oriental Diaspora
who have preserved to this day Aramaic as a viable language.
Have the Kurdish Jews used this peculiar language as a me-
dium of literary expression and have they created with it a
literature of their own
Galut Kurd?
Indeed, they did! They ere-
ated a
Targum
literature which comprised commentaries (Tafsir,
Sharh) to various biblical books, to Esther, Ruth, Proverbs, Song
of Songs, Job; also various post-biblical treatises,
Pirke Avot,
the
Haggadah of Passover, and sermons on various portions of the
Torah.
This Targum literature also encompassed a great amount of
folk prose and folk poetry, and tales for entertainment whose
predominant themes dealt with love, war and hero worship. They
included stories on Adam and Eve, Jacob and his sons, Moses and
the Pharaoh, Israel and Amalek, David and Goliath, Sisra and
Yael, Elijah, Solomon and the Queen of Sheba, and the like, all
based on biblical, rabbinic and midrashic sources—Targum, Tal-
mud,
Ayn Jacob, Yalkut Shimoni,
among others. In these compo-
sitions are embedded such religious themes as the hope for re-
demption, the longing for the return to Zion—for the end of
Galut Kurd.
Special attention was directed to the alleged burial places of the
biblical prophets, of Nahum in Alkosh, or Jonah near Nineveh,