Tenebaum Lecture: Arabic-Speaking Jewry

Tenebaum Lecture: Arabic-Speaking Jewry


Today, very few people think Jews and Arabs can converse in any language. It’s surprising to most, then, to find out that – for many centuries – the two groups not only communicated, but did so in Arabic.

Norman Stillman
Norman Stillman

The fascinating story of Arabic-speaking Jewry will be the focus of the 2013 Tenenbaum Lecture on Wed., Feb. 13. Norman Stillman, a professor at the University of Oklahoma, will deliver the talk that will focus on a historical discussion of the time when Jews lived in large numbers in the Arab world.

“The Jews spoke, wrote and thought in Arabic,” Stillman said. “Jews and Arabs lived together often in relative harmony for centuries.”

Indeed, Judeo-Arabic has the longest recorded history of any post-Talmudic Diaspora language – nearly 1,400 years – and was spoken across three continents: Asia, Africa and Europe. Arabic in its Jewish form – written in Hebrew characters and with borrowed vocabulary from Hebrew and Aramaic – had by the 10th century become the vernacular of culture, intellect, business and law.

Interestingly, though rabbinic works eventually were written in Hebrew, many religious texts continue to be made available in Judeo-Arabic.

In his lecture, Stillman will trace this history as well as its effects on Jewish culture. Trained in Oriental Studies as a philologist and historian, the professor will cover wide swaths of Jewish language, literature and history as he brings this rich period of Jewish history to life.

As to why Jews eventually left Arab lands: This is an area Stillman has explored deeply in two of his many books, “The Jews of Arab Lands” and “Jews of Arab Lands in Modern Times.” On Feb. 13, he will trace when, why and how the separation between Jews and Muslims took place – not in the last few years, as some might surmise, but as early as the 19th century.

Stillman is the Schusterman/Josey Professor in Judaic History at the University of Oklahoma. An internationally recognized author on the history and culture of the Islamic world and on Sephardi and Mizrachi Jewry, he most recently served as executive editor of the award-winning five-volume “Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World.”

The Tenenbaum Family Lectureship in Judaic Studies at Emory University honors the family of the late Meyer W. Tenenbaum of Savannah, Ga. The event is sponsored by the Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, The Hightower Fund, The Laney Graduate School, The Fox Center for Humanistic Inquiry, the Graduate Division of Religion, the Program in Linguistic, and the departments of History, MESAS, and Religion.

Previous lecturers in the series have included Saul Friedlander, Leon Wieseltier, Jonathan Sarna, James Carroll, Michael Bar-Zohar, Deborah Lipstadt and others.

The Tenenbaum Lecture, free and open to the public, is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. on Wed., Feb. 13 at Emory University’s Michael C. Carlos Museum. Complimentary parking available in the University’s Fishburne Deck.

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