So I got my first look at real Judeo-Arabic, the Arabic dialect spoken by the Jews of the Arab lands. It is written in Hebrew letters, but is the transcribed Arabic dialect of the country in which it was spoken, but with some Jewish words, Hebrew and Aramaic mostly, thrown in. These two particular examples are Iraqi, and were shown to me by Rabbi Avi Navah of Kadima Heschel West Hebrew Academy in the West San Fernando Valley. He was born in Baghdad and a year later his family fled to Israel and he was raised speaking Judeo-Arabic at home but Hebrew everywhere else. He brought the Hagaddah of Passover, the prayer book used during the Passover feast to tell the story of the Israelite exodus from Egypt, and Shir ha-Shirim, the Song of Songs. It says on the front עם תרגום ושרח ערבי “‘em targum ve-sharakh Arabi” -With Arabic translation and explanation. Note this is the same as Arabic مع ترجمة وشرح عربي “Ma3 targema wa-sharh Arabi.” The ayin and the mim in “with” reverse themselves when you go from Hebrew to Arabic. This is why Judeo-Arabic is cool. Its a bridge language between two cultures who have serious problems right now, and in 50 years this language will be mostly extinct.
A lot of our knowledge of medieval Judeo-Arabic, and thus the dialectic Arabic spoken on the streets of Cairo, Baghdad, Tunis, or Sana’a for a thousand years of Jewish life, comes from the Cairo Geniza, among other genizas, or book storage archives. The geniza was typically an attic in a Synagogue or house of learning in which damaged or unusable books could be stored, since they could not be destroyed as they contained the Holy Name. As they grew over the years and the language gradually changed, the genizas have become a massive archive documenting linguistic evolution, as well as a way of life that has ceased to exist as a result of Zionism.
In our world, the information contained within those hundreds of thousands of books is being digitized and uploaded to the internet for all to peruse. Check Genizah.org for one major example of digitization. The Princeton-Penn-Cambridge Combined Geniza Project also is working hard to make geniza data available.
Some people are doing great research in this field and are preserving the study of this sadly moribund beautiful language. Among them were Dr. Joshua Blau, Dr. S.D. Goitein, Dr. Benjamin Hary, Dr. Noam Stillman, Dr. Ofra Tirosh Becker, Dr. Judith Rosenhouse, and others.