Much as the Jews of Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East used the Hebrew alphabet to write in French, German (or Yiddish), and Arabic, Iranian Jews for centuries have produced religious literature in their vernacular but using Hebrew script. The British library contains one of the world’s largest collections of books in this language, some of which are described here by Ilana Tahan. (Photographs included at the link.)
Judeo-Persian manuscripts and imprints are . . . composed in a Persian dialect that closely resembles “classical” or “literary” Persian, combined with Hebrew words. The practice of writing the Persian language in Hebrew letters has been in use by Jews in Iran, Afghanistan, and Central Asia for over a millennium. . . .
The 1319 handwritten copy of Torat Mosheh . . . had been unknown in scholarly circles until its acquisition [by the library] in 1898. It has since been acknowledged as the earliest dated Judeo-Persian text of the Pentateuch. The manuscript has been copied on paper and has 124 folios; it is imperfect at the beginning and has many lacunae. For example, the first two chapters of Genesis and the whole of Exodus are missing. So are chapters from Leviticus and Numbers. . . .
Jacob Tavusi’s rendition, [first published in Constantinople in 1546], was long regarded as the oldest surviving Judeo-Persian translation of the Bible. The same text transcribed into Arabic script by Thomas Hyde was reprinted in the famed Bishop Brian Walton’s Polyglot, issued in London 1655-1657. The realization that earlier Judeo-Persian translations of the Scriptures pre-dating Tavusi’s had existed already and may have been used by Tavusi as models came only in the 19th century after the discovery of early Judeo-Persian biblical manuscripts in the Cairo Genizah.
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