Vox Tablet

Salonica Stories

The earliest known Ladino memoir, now in translation, sheds light on both Ottoman Jewry and one controversial man’s conflicts with the community

February 27, 2012
The preface page of Sa'adi’s soletreo manuscript.(Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel)

The preface page of Sa’adi’s soletreo manuscript.(Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel)

In the 19th century, Sa’adi Besalel a-Levi was an esteemed (if controversial) journalist, publisher, singer, and composer in Salonica, a Mediterranean port city whose 2,000-year-old Jewish community was later decimated in the Holocaust. He also wrote the earliest known Ladino-language memoir, which was all but lost until Stanford University history professor Aron Rodrigue found a forgotten copy at Jerusalem’s Jewish National and University Library. Now the memoir is available to all, in an edition introduced and edited by Rodrigue and fellow historian Sarah Abrevaya Stein, and translated by Isaac Jerusalmi: A Jewish Voice From Ottoman Salonica has been published in English in tandem with a digital version of the original soletreo, or Ladino cursive. Rodrigue and Stein join Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry to talk about Sa’adi’s life, his obsession with the arbitrary rabbinic authority that led to his excommunication, and the surprising details about Jewish Salonica that find their way to us through his account. [Running time: 24:34.]

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Sarah Abrevaya Stein and Aron Rodrigue will discuss the memoir with Sara Ivry in New York City on March 29. Click here for more information.

Vox Tablet is Tablet Magazine’s weekly podcast, hosted by Sara Ivry and produced by Julie Subrin. You can listen to individual episodes here or subscribe on iTunes.

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