How Many Jewish Languages Can You Name?

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Here on MJL we cover the basicsHebrew, Yiddish, Ladino, Aramaic–but there are others. This week I learned about Juhuri, the language of the Mountain Jews. Who are the Mountain Jews? I’m glad you asked!
According to Haaretz:

Juhuri, which belongs to the family of Iranian tongues, was the language of the Jews who live in the eastern Caucasus Mountains, an ethnic group whose members were also known as “Mountain Jews.’ For years the Jews of the Caucasus lived as a minority in the northern part of Azerbaijan and in Dagestan. In that region there is a larger population of Muslims of Persian origin, who speak a similar language, called Tat. That is why linguists call Juhuri “Judeo-Tat.”

According to a tradition prevalent in the community, the Jews of the Caucasus are descendants of tribes exiled from the Kingdom of Judea after the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the First Temple. They settled in Persia, where they acquired one of the dialects of Persian, at the same time preserving a considerable vocabulary of Hebrew words. When the Persian rulers wished to strengthen the northern borders of the empire, they resettled these Jewish tribes in the Caucasus.

And here’s a bit more about the Juhuri language:

Until the 20th century, Juhuri was used mainly as the everyday spoken language. Hebrew was the community’s principal written language, and was also the language of prayer and study, with almost all Jewish men in the Caucasus learning to read and write it from an early age. When the members of the community began using Juhuri as a written language, they used Hebrew letters similar to Rashi script (a semi-cursive typeface for Hebrew used by early typographers). The first two books printed in Juhuri in Hebrew script – a prayer book and a book about Zionism – were published in 1908 and 1909, respectively. The Jews managed to preserve their unique language for hundreds of years, until the Russians arrived in the Caucasus.

So cool (if you, like me, are a total linguistics dork)!

Turns out popular Israeli singer Sarit Hadad is a Mountain Jew which gives me an excuse to post this music video. Here’s what I find confusing about this video: It takes place at a (presumably) Israeli office where everyone is wearing wearing ties and knee length skirts. Since it’s not a religious office, I’m confused about where in Israel you find men who wear ties.

Posted on May 11, 2010

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