The Jews and Their Many Tongues

Feb. 18 2015

In the long history of the Diaspora, Jews have preserved Hebrew as a ritual language almost wherever they have gone; they have also developed their own vernaculars (of which Yiddish is the best known), usually based on local tongues and written in the Hebrew alphabet. Drawing on Bernard Spolsky’s The Languages of the Jews, Sarah Bunin Benor gives some examples of the Jewish linguistic panoply:

The Greek-speaking Jewish community in early-modern Corfu [then under Venetian rule], for example, was absorbed by speakers of Apulian (an Italian dialect), but they preserved some Greek words and customs, such as reading Greek poems on the fast of Tisha b’Av. In early 20th-century Cairo, Egypt, Jewish groups from several regions converged, yielding a meeting place of Egyptian Arabic, Arabic from other North African countries, Ladino, Yiddish, and Russian—in addition to Italian, French, and English, international languages adopted by middle- and upper-class Jews. At one point, Cairo even had two newspapers and a theater troupe in Yiddish. And even before the revival of Hebrew as a spoken language, Jews in the Holy Land used Hebrew as a lingua franca; Spolsky gives the example of a Jew from Kabul and a Jew from California speaking Hebrew in mid-19th-century Palestine.

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Read more at Marginalia

More about: Arts & Culture, Corfu, Hebrew, Ladino, Language, Yiddish

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

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Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism