Praying in Her Language

Seder Nasim, opening page, Salonica, Greece, c. 1550

Women's Siddur from Salonica, c. 1550

For ancient Spanish women, Judaism takes on an almost mystical quality. Rich with sacred customs only known amongst Spanish communities, widely-spread religious superstitions, and religious observances that differ from other Sephardim, the world of the Jewish Spanish woman is beautiful and revered.

That is maybe why this siddur for women, Seder Nashim, is the first printed translation of prayers into Ladino, and one of the oldest printed works in this language.

It is the first printed translation of prayers into Ladino, and one of the oldest printed works in this language. It appeared in Salonica (Thessaloniki) as early as 1565, and its opening page contains what is likely the firs printed appearance of the word, “Ladino.” The siddur includes prayers and instructions for prayer for the whole year, brief summaries of the laws traditionally associated with women, and a translation of the Passover Haggadah.

Ladino, also called Judeo-Spanish or Judesmo, was a vernacular language that originated in Spain and developed primarily in the Balkans, Greece, and Turkey among descendants of Jews expelled from Spain in 1492. Translating an entire siddur into the vernacular was revolutionary in the sixteenth century, reflecting the popularization of printed books and the assumption of a female audience who were less comfortable with Hebrew. Although it is difficult to reach firm conclusions regarding the actual knowledge or practice of Jewish women based on this prayer book, Seder Nashim nonetheless exemplifies a sociocultural context in which it was expected, or at least hoped, that women would pray regularly and fulfill specific Jewish traditions.

This beautiful piece of history shows us the impact of both Judaism on women, and women on Judaism.
The National Library of Israel is offering communities across the world the phenomenal opportunity to display this item, along with 17 other images, posters and manuscripts, in your very own venue.

From the Crossroads and Connections display of the National Library of Israel


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