A Sea of Tongues: Language and Cultural Change in the Medieval and Early Modern Sephardic Mediterranean

Dr. Ilil Baum

Modern reproduction of the Catalan Atlas by the Jewish-Majorcans Abraham and Jehuda Cresques (1375), Bibliothèque Nationale de France, 1959.

The Mediterranean region in the medieval and early modern periods was characterized by multilingualism and cultural diversity as immigration and trade brought people and languages in contact across cities and ports. In many ways, Sephardic Jews not only exemplified, but rather shaped the cultural and social dynamics of the pre-modern Mediterranean, connecting between the Eastern and the Western Mediterranean, between Muslim and Christian lands, between Europe, the Levant and the Maghreb. In this talk, I will explore how language and script served as boundary markers for defining and determining group membership beyond strictly religious definitions. Examining manuscript sources, early prints and archival documents in Hebrew, Arabic, Latin, Castilian, Catalan, Judeo-Spanish and Portuguese between the thirteenth and the seventeenth centuries, I delineate longue durée changes in practices related with Jewish reading, learning, translation and other scribal practices. The case studies of Iberian, Maghrebi and Ottoman Jews will challenge traditional historiographic assumptions regarding Jews as cultural brokers, as they also engaged in cultural resistance and in their own language wars.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021.


Room #146, New Library Wing,

University of Haifa