Page 144 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 44

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Elia Carmona:
Judeo-Spanish Author
a r l y
t h i s
c e n t u r y
the Spanish senator Dr. Angel Pulido came
into contact with Sephardic Jews living in Turkey, the Balkan
countries, the Middle East and North Africa. He was fascinated
to find Jews — whose ancestors had left Spain at the end of the
15th century — who spoke a Hispanic language as their mother
tongue. These Sephardim were living totally out of context with
Spain or any other Spanish-speaking country. Yet, in their cul­
tural isolation, they still preserved aspects of medieval Spanish
culture — old Spanish vocabulary and pronunciation of words,
medieval ballad traditions, folk sayings, etc. Dr. Pulido was so
taken with the Sephardim that he wrote a book about them which
he entitled
Espanoles sin patria
(Spaniards without a country).
Pulido’s book, published in Madrid in 1905, is a remarkable
document for anyone interested in Sephardic culture. Pulido
includes correspondence between himself and Sephardic intel­
lectuals in dozens of communities. He describes the intellectual
and cultural life of the Judeo-Spanish-speaking Sephardic world.
The book captures the excitement, turmoil, conflict, and cre­
ativity which characterized the Sephardic world during the late
19th and early 20th centuries.
Pulido found a dynamism which had not always been present
in these Sephardic communities. An economic and cultural
decline was seen in the Sephardic world of the Ottoman Empire
by the late 17th century. The Sabbatai Zevi debacle in 1666 was a
terrible spiritual blow; the economic and military decline of the
Ottoman Empire were heavy financial and psychological blows.
Notwithstanding these setbacks, Sephardic communities always
managed to have an elite group of rabbinic scholars and prosper­
ous merchants; but the masses of Sephardim drifted into poverty
and cultural apathy.