The Sephardi Jews who settled in the Ottoman empire created a rich and varied literature in Ladino—their own dialect of Spanish written in Hebrew characters. Avner Perez traces the history of this literature and its connection to contemporary Spanish literature:
For a long time, researchers thought that literary creation in Ladino had only begun in the first third of the 18th century. Material discovered in recent years has given us a completely different picture. The intellectual elite of the exiled Jews spoke a [uniquely Jewish] dialect, but was still part of the Hispanic world and used literary Castilian in its literary creations. What set [the language of these works] apart [from standard Castilian Spanish] was its use of Hebrew characters as well as the presence of other [distinctive Ladino features].
Three pieces of classical theater in Judeo-Spanish printed in Hebrew characters, dating back to the end of the 16th century, have come down to us. They were the first such pieces printed in Hebrew characters. Two of them, Aquilana, by Bartolome de Torres Navarro (1480-1530), and Tragedia Josephina, by Micael de Carvajal (who died in 1578), are pieces of Spanish classical theater [rendered into an early form of Ladino]. The third, Ma’aseh Yosef (“Joseph’s Tale”), . . . is an original work. All this shows that the intelligentsia that descended from exiles from Spain had a rich cultural life. The channels through which they received the Spanish Renaissance culture were still open.
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