Goitien - Linguistic Aspects of Jewish-Arab Symbiosis

Goitien - Linguistic Aspects of Jewish-Arab Symbiosis - 130...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–6. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 2
Background image of page 3

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 4
Background image of page 5

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Background image of page 6
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

Unformatted text preview: 130 JEWS AND ARABS spite their great relative importance, none of the creations of the Jewish authors writing in German or conceived under the impact of modern Western civilization has reached all parts of the Jewish people or have influenced the personal inner life of every Jew to the profound degree as did the great Jewish writers who belonged to the medieval civilization of Arab Islam. The reason for this difference is self’evident. Modern Western civilization, like the ancient civilization of the Greeks, is essen- tially at variance with the religious culture of the Jewish people. Islam, however, is from \the very flesh and bone of Judaism. It is, ' I so to say, a recast, an enlargement of the latter, just as Arabic is closely related to Hebrew. Therefore, Judaism could draw freely and copiously from Muslim civilization and, at the same time, pre- serve its independence and integrity far more completely than it was able to do in the modern world or in the Hellenistic society ‘ of Alexandria. It is very instructive to compare the utterances of Jewish authors of the Middle Ages about Islam and the Arabs with those of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries which deal with a surrounding culture, for instance, Germanism and Judaism (Deutschtum and Judentum) by Hermann Cohen. In Cohen’s book Judaism is “justified,” because it is regarded (rightly or wrongly) as essentially identical with the highest attainments of German thinking. However, most of the Jewish authors of the Middle Ages who wrote in Arabic never had the slightest doubt about the absolute superiority of Judaism. I emphasize this fact not because I believe that such an attitude should be adopted in our times, but simply as an indication that Judaism inside Islam was an autonomous culture sure of itself desPite, and possibly be- cause of, its intimate connection with its environment. Never has Judaism encountered such a close and fructuous symbiosis as that with the medieval civilizatiOn of Arab Islam. Some of its partic- ularly significant aspects will be discussed in the following sections. The Linguistic Aspects of Jewish-Arab Symbiosis. The first and most basic aspect of Jewish-Arab symbiosis is the simple fact that the great majority of the Jews, like the rest of the populations of the Caliph’s Empire, adepted the Arabic language. It is by no means easy to account for the comparatively rapid and almost complete diffusion of the Arabic language in the countries of Southwest Asia and North Africa. One most important factor has been explained in chapter III, namely, the fervent attachment of the Arabs to their beloved language, an enthusiasm which sim— ply infected the populations which came under their sway, and we must take into account the merits inherent in that highly de— veloped language itself. However, what occurred in the seventh and ninth centuries AD. with Arabic had its counterpart, for Over twelve hundred years, in the adoption of Aramaic as the common language 0f the whole Fertile Crescent in the sixth to the fourth centuries B.C. Aramaic, unlike Arabic, had not the advantages of being the language of a state, a ruling religion and society; it was not a “national” language at all; nor could it compete with the Clearly cut and highly refined Arabic grammar. Still, it achieved, almost surreptitiously, what Arabic accomplished in the wake of the spec— tacular victories of the Muslim armies. This shows that, in addi— tion to the obvious factors, other agents must have been at work in the process of the diffusion of these international languages. However, as the Jews were only one of the peoples affected by it, there is no need to dwell on this problem here in detail. Nor is it necessary, or even possible, to state when exactly Arabic be- came the language of the majority of the Jewish people. in the main, the process was completed around 1000 AD, about 350 years after the great Muslim conquests, at the time when the Arabs themselves had been replaced throughout the Caliph’s Ern- pire by Turkish and other foreign rulers. Only in the rugged mountains of Kurdistan and Armenia have the Jews retained their old Aramaic dialect, while Hebrew, as we !32 JEWS ANDARABS shall see, not only retained its position as a second and literary language, but experienced an unprecedented revival. By adopting the Arabic language the Jews did not become Arabs. They only exchanged one international language Arabic for another, Aramaic. However, there was a great difference be: tween the two processes. As far as we know, there did not exist a non-JeWish Aramaic literary language and literature, which influ- enced to any extent the thought and the writing of the bulk of the Jew1sh peOple. Various Aramaic dialects were spoken by Jews in countries such as Palestine and Babylonia, and developed b them into literary languages. In addition, as far as we can see ti]: patterns and contents of the talmudic and midrashic literatures were to all intents and purposes a purely Jewish creation. The Situation was quite different with regard to Arabic. It was adopted by the Jews at a time when the Arabs had already devel- oped a national literature and a religious terminology (a develo merit, to be sure, in which many Jewish converts had taken part1):- Therefore, the acquisition of the Arab language by the Jews meant also their adoption of Arab ways of thinking and forms of litera- ture, as. well as of Muslim religious notions. Arabic was used by Jews for all kinds of literary activities not only for seientific and other secular purposes, but for expouridin and translating the Bible or the Mishna, for theological and philog~ sophical treatises, for discussing Jewish law and ritual and even for the study of Hebrew grammar and lexiCOgraphy. ’ For all these literary purposes Arabic, as developed in the post- classical period, was used. It was recognized long ago that the deviations from the ancient models of Arabic style found in Judaeov Arabic literature are not due to a specific Jewish idiom but to the stage of development reached by Arabic in the High Nliddle Ages a change, however, more conspicuous in Jewish literature because the Jew1sh writers, who used Hebrew characters, felt themselves less bound by the classical models than the Muslims. On the other hand, for letter-writing and other nonaliterarv pur- poses a more colloquial form of Arabic, interspersed with Hebrew ' words and phrases, was used. These documents, thousands of which 133 have been preserved, are extremely interesting, not only for their content but also for linguistic reasons. Many peculiarities of pres- ent-day colloquial Arabic, which is a language quite apart from classical, can first be traced in these non-literary medieval Jewish _' documents. The Judaeo—Arabic vernaculars of our own days, such as those of Morocco, Tunisia or Yemen, cannot be compared with Yiddish or Ladino, for these, as explained in the previous section, are lan- guages preserved by the Jewish people in an environment foreign to them (Yiddish, which is Germanic, 0n Slavic soil; Ladino, which is Spanish, in Turkey, Greece, etc.). Still they differ markedly from the language of the Muslim population, first in pronunciation, secondly, with regard to details in grammar and vocabulary, and, thirdly, by the use of Hebrew words and phrases. However, the Arabic—speaking Jews introduce far less Hebrew elements into their speech than is common in Yiddish; precisely because their knowledge of living Hebrew was far more developed than was the case in eastern Europe, they refrained from mixing up the two languages. In any case, the contemporary Judaeo-Arabic dialects and their literatures constitute a storehouse of Jewish tra- dition, folklore and wit, and bear a living testimony to the creative power of Jewish-Arab symbiosis. Not only that, but just as the medieval Judaeo-Arabic texts con- stitute a most valuable contribution to our knowledge of the de- velopment of spoken Arabic, thus, in more recent times, Judaeo— Arabic writing is able to contribute to the solution of a most serious problem facing the Arab world today, the discrepancy be- tween literary and spoken Arabic. In western Europe the surrender of Latin to national languages and the rise of the local vernaculars marked the transition from medieval to modern times. The Arab countries are in a similar situ- atiOn today. The dilterence between the literary language and the colloquial—even that spoken by the most educated perSOns—is im— mense, with all the negative eitects of such a dualism on literature, the spiritual development in general and even on morals. Twenty years ago it seemed that Egypt would actually do some- 134 ]EWS AND ARABS thing about this grave problem, and I venture to surmise that if at that time Egypt had been a really independent state with some outstanding creations—not only some pleasant collections of short storiesuavailable in the local vernacular, we would have had today a national Egyptian language, which would have done away with that linguistic dualism that is so detrimental to the Arab mind. Why then is it true to say that Indaeo—Arabic writing is able to contribute to the solution of this problem? Because Jews, while using Arabic for literary purposes, have created what could be called “a literary vernacular,” a language based on the living local talk, while avoiding its vulgarities. This idiorn can be studied in ludaeo—Arabic new3papers, Weeklies and monthlies (some, in the __ Iraqian and Tunisian dialect, were among the earliest periodicals to appear in Arabic) and books written for entertainment or re- ligious and other purposes. A characteristic example of this style might be found in the book Travels in Yemen, written by a shrewd coppersmith from San‘a, who accompanied the famous French—Jewish scholar Joseph Halévy during his journey through Yemen in 1870. Despite some indeli— _ cacies, the book is written in a pleasant, vivid language, which betrays its roots in the living local vernacular, but is “common 5 Arabic,” easily understood by any educated Arab all over the world with the aid‘ of the small vocabulary and the short linguistic notes provided in the Introduction to the printed edition (Hebrew Uni— versity Press, Ierusalem 1941). For the various local dialects are more closely related to one another than they are to classical Arabic. This shows, by the way, that the development of national lan— I guages, a process which would contribute much to the mental health of the Arab world, would not impede its unity. The various stages of the development of )udaeo—Arabic are ' most conspicuous in the checkered and extremely interesting his- tory of the translations of the )ewish Bible into Arabic. Originally, the reason for this activity was not so much that Hebrew was no longer understood, but an endeavor to provide by these transla— tions (which had the character of explanatory free renderings) an ;_ 135 authoritative interpretation of the text, in particular in theological matters, (e.g., the inculcatioa of a spiritual-abstract conception of the human—like qualities attributed to God in the Bible). That is why the most famOus of the classical translations, which i ' superseded all the others in popular usage, that of Sa‘adya (died 942), was called by him Tafsir, commentary. (In order to avoid misunderstanding: Sa‘adya wrote also an Arabic commentary on the Bible.) Sa‘adya, although of Egyptian origin, was so great a scholar that he succeeded in becoming Gaon, that is, the spiritual head of the Icwish community, who had his seat in Bagdad. In addition to his substantial greatness as a doctor of the Iewish law, Sa‘adya excelled as a philosopher and theologian, as a linguist of great originality and even as a cemposer of religious poetry. All these qualities made him an ideal interpreter of the Bible. His translation became a sacred text, which was copied, and later printed, beside the Hebrew original and the 01d Aramaic version. This procedure was followed even in the latest standard editiOn of the Pentateuch for Yemenite Jews printed in Tel Aviv in 1940. As with other sacred texts, Saladya’s version was often memo- rized, but soon became largely unintelligible to the majority of the Arabic—speaking Iews, because of the discrepancy between literary and spoken Arabic, which has been in existence for many cen- turies. Therefore, it became necessary to translate the Bible anew, and this time into the various local dialects. A fine collection of such vernacular Bible translations, called Sharh, which also means “explanation,” is found in the unique fund of Oriental ]ewish books and manuscnpts brought together by the late Mr. David ' Sassoon and preserved by his learned son, Solomon Sassoon, in Letchworth, Hertfordshire, England. In his introduction to his translation of the-Bible into the ver- - nacular of Morocco, Rabbi Susani, a very scholarly-minded man ' living in the sixteenth century, most lucidly explains the problems 3 of turning the Bible into Arabic. The book, which he had written ': in his own hand in Safari, Palestine, where he had emigrated as a young man, was read in Damascus, Syria, and Basra, Iraq, which (5 shows that deSpite its local flavor the version was “common 135 JEWS AND ARABS ,3, Arabic” (colloquial) enough to be understood by Jewish readers all over the Arab world. However, the history of the Jewish translations of the Bible into Arabic did not stop at this stage. The pOpular Sharhs, although not committed to writing, but memorized by the elementary— school teachers, became themselves semi-sacred and traditional, and, with the further deve10prnent of the colloquials, partly unin- telligible. They were still memorized in schools, but complemented by explanations in the contemporary vernacular. This is the posi— tion in our own times, when the Jewish-Arabic symbiosis in the old sense of the word is rapidly coming to an end. It is highly de- sirable that we preserve some of these orally transmitted Bible versions in print (and even by recording), not only because of their linguistic interest, but because they are a living testimony to the popular traditional conception of the Bible in the Arab East. Together with the study of the Bible, there came into being the study of its language and of language in general. Writing in Arabic ' and using Arabic methods and terminology, the Jewish scholars assiduously explored and described the Hebrew otthe Bible and soon also that of the Mishna or post-biblical Hebrew. For the first time, the pronunciation, the grammar and the vocabulary of He- brew were scientifically treated and, so to speak, brOught under control; thus Hebrew became a disciplined and well-organized means of expressiOn under the influence of Arabic. The vast literature on the subject has come down to us only in part and not everything of what has been preserved is available in printed editions. Thus only recently the huge Bible dictionary of David ben Abraham al-Fasi, a tenth-century scholar originating from Fez, in Morocco but living in Jerusalem, was made known to the public by Professor S. L. Skoss of Philadelphia in an excellent edition, while the dictionary of post-biblical Hebrew by Tanhum Yerushalmi (thirteenth century)—as his surname shows, also a man from Jerusalem—has not yet been published in full up to the present day, although its edition was described as a major “desiri- eratum” by most competent Gentile and Jewish scholars. Al-Fasi’s dictionary—the first of its size and age yet published in full—was written, before the great grammarians of the West (Morocco and Spain), Yehuda Hayyui and Jona ibn Janah, dis- covered and developed the principle that all Hebrew words, just as Arabic, went back to “roots” consisting of three letters, a prin- ciple which has become basic to all Semitic philology. However, subsequent discoveries did not make obsolete the inde- pendent collections of the older generations. As a whole, the He- ; brew philology of the Arabic—writing Jewish scholars of the tenth through thirteenth centuries is an imposing body of research and knowledge. These philologists did not confine themselves to the study of Hebrew. It was a commonplace among both Jewish and Muslim scholars that Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic were basically one and the same language. However, it was left to the former, who alone were fluent in all three languages, to do the actual work of com- _ parison and mutual explanation, thus laying the foundations for the field of comparative linguistics, a science which to the present day seems to have had particular appeal for Jews. Considering the fine work done by medieval Jewish philologists and the fact that so many men of Jewish faith or descent have ex- ,' celled in linguistics during the last hundred years, one is tempted 'to ask: why did the Jews wait for the Arabs to give them the im— petus to study their own language and why had they not devel- ; Oped a system of Hebrew grammar and lexicography of their own "during, say, the time of the Mishna, when the nucleus of the ; Jewish people was still firmly rooted in its native soil? This deficiency is the more astonishing, as in the first centuries fthe Christian era there prevailed in Palestine almost ideal con- , itions for such a creation: (1) The Rabbis were versed in two or even three languages, I lassical (i.e., biblical) and colloquial (mishnaic) Hebrew, as well ': as Aramaic—it is precisely the discrepancy between the classical (.tives to the rise of Arab philology; (2) In mishnaic times the canon of biblical literature was finally 5 i: i [5 138 JEVVS AND ARABS "39 fixed—in Alexandria it was the similar work on the “editioa” of- Homer and Plato which laid the foundation of the Greek science . ' of language; (3) The powerful faculty of abstract and syllogistic thinking displayed in the Talmud, if applied to the study of language, woald have made the rabbis excellent linguists; (4) The work of the Masoretes, the scholars who lay down the correct pronunciation of the text of the Bible, shows that its creators had a very fine “ear” and an excellent faculty of observa- tion of linguistic facts. It despite all these favorable conditiOns no genuine Hebrew philology was created by the )ews, while on their own soil, some special reason must be sought, such as that innate disregard of the importance of a natiOnal language and that concentration on ideas, which in chapter 111 was defined as characteristic for old Israel in contrast to the Arabs. Thus it was the contact with the Arabs—“the worshippers of language,” as they have been called—that directed the Iewish mind to a field of activity, for which, as it was proved subsequently, it was particularly gifted, and which bore its mature first fruits to the benefit of the national language of the Iewish people itself. A particularly telling trait of Jewish-Arab symbiosis are the Arabic names borne by lews from pre—Islamic times up to the pres- ent day. In his Introduction to the Arabic Literature of the )ews, Moritz Steinschneider devoted no less than 236 pages to this sub- ject. Today, however, with the new research resulting from access to the letters and documents of the Cairo Geniza, on the one hand, and the life of the still-existing oriental communities on the other, the material brought together by Steinschneider could be doubled. Particularly has our knowledge of the Arabic names borne by Iew- _ ish women increased enormously. Those names often have a very tenacious life. Sorne of the Karaite Iewish ladies of Cairo, men- tioned in the Arabic weekly of their community, still bear in 1954 .: the same awkward Arabic names as did their grandmothers nine '2 hundred years ago. A great piece of cultural history is preserved in these names. . Thus I doubt, for example, whether any )ewish girl bore the name Sitt attujjar, “The Princess of the Merchants,” found in a twelfth- century marriage certificate prior to the social transformation of the Iewish people described in chapter VI of this hook. Neither would )ewish girls ever have been called Siniya, Tuerkiye, or Rumiye, i.e., the Chinese, Turkish, or Greek (or, rather, Euro- pean) girl, if Iews had not emigrated to Yemen or other near- ‘ tropical areas. The climate of that country, which is both near to the equator and yet Alpine, has a darkening effect on the human complexion. The result is that the mothers in Yemen would wish their daughters to be as fair-skinned as their sisters in more north- ern countries. Space does not permit us to enlarge on this fascinating subject. There is, however, one point which deserves special attention. Arabic names have been used by )ews for religious purposes far more extensively than is the case with non-Hebrew names in Europe and America. Normally, in the West, a person is called up or mentioned in a synagogue by his Hebrew name and so ad— dressed in such documents as marriage c0ntracts. In the East, how— ever, Arabic names are used for the same purposes without scruple, and the custom of bearing double names, one in the language of the country and one in Hebrew, is by no means common. Thus in certain times and certain countries a man called Hasan (“the hand— some”) in Arabic would hear also its Hebrew equivalent, Iapheth; or, conversely, a Moshe (Moses) would be known also as Musa (the Arabic form of the name)—as was the famous Maimonides. However, in other places, e.g., in Yemen, people are called either by Arabic or by Hebrew names and these are used for all purposes. Thus, a Hasan or a Musa, even if he were a rabbi, would be always addressed by his Arabic name even during the synagogue service or in documents, while a Moshe would be addressed in this He— brew form by his Arab acquaintances. (They might distort the name and pronounce it Moesai but it is the Hebrew form which they have in mind.) All this is natural where )ews had spoken in the vernacular of their neighbors for hundreds of years and yet are segregated fr0m them by a special attire. If a man is discernible frOm 7,2- W“ . v... i- ‘- th'fi'fiymftfi-nuzy-‘t H, no laws AND ARABS a distance as a member of a separate community, he does not need 7 to conceal his identity by giving up his Hebrew name. On the ' other hand, a non-Jewish name was not regarded as “profane,” be- cause the whole life of the community was confined to the narrow ', circle in which religion was paramount. We must remember, how ever, that the alliance between Hebrew and Arabic contributed to i the fact that Jews in Arab countries bore mainly Arabic names 3. The Rise of Jewish Philosophy under Muslim Impact. In the first part of this chapter, the linguistic aspects of Jewish- Arabic symbiosis have been discussed in some detail, for these, al- though most tangible in everyday life, are usually overlooked. Fortunately, and most characteristically, the same cannot be said about the study of the impact of Muhammadan spiritual life on the Jewish mind. Many Jewish scholars engaged in Islamic studies directed a part of their activities to this subject. They were led in this by I. Goldziher, the Nestor of modern Islamics (1850—1921), who re garded his own work on Jewish—Arab philosoPhy as so essential, that in private letters he complained that it did not find the same attention as his widely read books on Islam. A tremendous amount of scholarly work, some of first-rate qual— ity, has been devoted, during the last hundred years, to the rise and development of Jewish philosophy and theology under the influ- ence of the Islamic culture. Beginning with Solomon Monk’s : Mélanges de philosophic juive et arabe, and his classical edition 3 and translatiOn into French of Maimonides’ Guide of the Per- I plexed, down to the masters of our own times, H. A. W'olfson of 7,. Harvard, or the lamented Julius Guttmann of Jerusalem (whose , The Philosophies of Judaism, 1933, is now available in an Eng- lish translation), many experts on Jewish philosophy or on philos— ophy at large have devoted their lives to the study of the relatiOns _ between Muslim and Jewish thought. This work is being vigor- Mi ously continued by a younger generation of scholars in the United States, France and England—as well as in Israel. It is due to the activities of scholars of this type that some of the Jewish-Arabic authors, to whom comparatively little attention has been paid before, have come into the foreground in our own times, e.g., the enigmatic Ibn Kammuna, a thirteenth century author of a comparative study on Islam, Christianity and Judaism, or the original thinker, Abu’l—Barakat ibn Malka (twelfth century), whose philosophy has been lucidly explained by Solomon Pines, Gutt— mann’s successor to the chair of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University, Jerusalem. Abu’l—Barakat’s main philosophical work has been recently edited by Muslim scholars in India, while Pines is preparing an edition of his philosophical commentary on Kohelet (Ecclesiastes). In his criticism of Aristotle's Physics, Abu’l-Barakat, like the He- brew—writing Hasdai Crescas of the fourteenth century, (who, how- ever, worked independently of him), anticipated that destruction of Aristotle’s authority, which marked the beginning of modern science. The basic fact about Jewish—Arabic thought is that Greek science and Greek methods of thinking made their entrance into Jewish - life mainly through the gates of Arab-Muslim literature. With the Arabic-writing Jewish doctors, mathematicians, astronomers and phi1050phers of the ninth and tenth centuries, science, in the Greek sense of the word, for the first time became known and practiced among the bulk of the Jewish community. All genuine Jewish reasoning before that time consisted either of simple, prac- tical observations and conclusions, or of mythological conceptions, no matter how profound. Systematic, scientific thinking, such as that developed by the Greeks, was practiced by the Jewish people only under “Muslim” influence. There were, at the turn of the ninth and tenth centuries, close connections between the Jews of western Upper Mesopo— tamia, in particular of Raqqa, which, for a short time served as the capital of the Muslim Empire, and the Harranians, a non-Muslim community, which was especially devoted to Greek science and ...
View Full Document

Page1 / 6

Goitien - Linguistic Aspects of Jewish-Arab Symbiosis - 130...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 6. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online