A 200-Year-Old English Translation of a Spanish Prayer Book

July 27 2016

Following the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, and the forced conversion of Portuguese Jewry shortly thereafter, many converted Jews and their descendants continued to observe Jewish rituals in private. But knowledge of Hebrew was gradually lost among them, and many who eventually found their way to other parts of Western Europe continued to pray in Spanish. The scholar Aron Sterk’s recent discovery of an English-language prayer book casts some light on the first of these Jews to make their way to England—perhaps even before the formal re-admission of Jews in 1656. Jenni Frazer writes:

Sterk found . . . an English translation of [a printed] Spanish version of the siddur, painstakingly handwritten and copied—almost certainly, because it is full of mistakes, by someone who was not Jewish.

[Sterk] believes that [this prayer book] is one of only four copies of a translation from the Spanish version, probably printed between 1700 and 1734. . . .

The siddur, says Sterk, “is very English-looking and beautifully bound. It has a beautiful gilt black Morocco-leather binding, with gilded edges to the pages, a green silk page-marker, and lovely crimson and gold-foil ‘brocade’ endpapers with an embossed floral design. The book has been written by hand by a professional penman in an italic hand with gothic titles.” . . .

[W]hile the book itself is dateable to the early 18th century, Sterk believes that the translation is based on a much older edition of the Spanish prayer book, maybe even dating back to shortly after the first Amsterdam edition [was published] in 1612.

Read more at Times of Israel

More about: British Jewry, England, History & Ideas, Marranos, Prayer books, Sephardim, Spanish Expulsion


When It Comes to Peace with Israel, Many Saudis Have Religious Concerns

Sept. 22 2023

While roughly a third of Saudis are willing to cooperate with the Jewish state in matters of technology and commerce, far fewer are willing to allow Israeli teams to compete within the kingdom—let alone support diplomatic normalization. These are just a few results of a recent, detailed, and professional opinion survey—a rarity in Saudi Arabia—that has much bearing on current negotiations involving Washington, Jerusalem, and Riyadh. David Pollock notes some others:

When asked about possible factors “in considering whether or not Saudi Arabia should establish official relations with Israel,” the Saudi public opts first for an Islamic—rather than a specifically Saudi—agenda: almost half (46 percent) say it would be “important” to obtain “new Israeli guarantees of Muslim rights at al-Aqsa Mosque and al-Haram al-Sharif [i.e., the Temple Mount] in Jerusalem.” Prioritizing this issue is significantly more popular than any other option offered. . . .

This popular focus on religion is in line with responses to other controversial questions in the survey. Exactly the same percentage, for example, feel “strongly” that “our country should cut off all relations with any other country where anybody hurts the Quran.”

By comparison, Palestinian aspirations come in second place in Saudi popular perceptions of a deal with Israel. Thirty-six percent of the Saudi public say it would be “important” to obtain “new steps toward political rights and better economic opportunities for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.” Far behind these drivers in popular attitudes, surprisingly, are hypothetical American contributions to a Saudi-Israel deal—even though these have reportedly been under heavy discussion at the official level in recent months.

Therefore, based on this analysis of these new survey findings, all three governments involved in a possible trilateral U.S.-Saudi-Israel deal would be well advised to pay at least as much attention to its religious dimension as to its political, security, and economic ones.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Islam, Israel-Arab relations, Saudi Arabia, Temple Mount