Page 102 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 35

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Recent English Works on Sephardic Jewry
h a t
h a p p e n e d
to Sephardic Jewry following the Spanish ex­
pulsion in 1492? What were the religious, intellectual, economic
and social conditions of Sephardim in the O ttoman Empire and
Middle East over the past four or five centuries? Can you name
ten Sephardic authors who flourished during the eighteenth and
nineteenth centuries? If you consult most of the standard his­
tories of the Jewish people, you will find little or no guidance
in answering these questions. Popular historians have generally
described the glorious achievements of the Jews of medieval
Spain and have sometimes even followed the exiles’ history for
one or two generations after their expulsion. Discussions of the
Sabbatai Zevi debacle usually also make reference to Sephardim.
But, by and large, the Sephardic communities (post-16th cen­
tury) have been left in darkness, w ithout benefit of adequate
historical study.
T he power of books should never be underestimated. As I
grew up and studied Jewish history in Day School and, later,
in college, I never learned one detail about the life of my
ancestors, Sephardim of the Ottoman Empire. I had not one
“hero” to admire. In a sense, I had no history at all: the books
of Jewish history which we studied had no room for a chapter
or even a few pages about the Sephardic experience, post­
expulsion. I t is perhaps difficult to appreciate the serious damage
standard Jewish histories have done to Sephardim. Moreover,
the entire Jewish world has been deprived of an important,
vital and fascinating segment of its own history.
Often, when attempts
made to teach Sephardic history and
culture, Sephardim are depicted as exotic types: beautiful, olive­
skinned Moroccan brides; dark, wrinkled Arabic-looking potters
and craftsmen; ignorant bu t pious laborers. While there is tru th
in each of these stereotypes, there is also much more tru th tha t
remains unstated and untaught.
This essay will present a number of books and articles which
should be helpful in gaining a better understanding of the past