Judeo Arabic II
As I mentioned in the previous post, I found a Jewish prayer book from around the year 850, written by an incredibly influential and brilliant Egyptian rabbi, Rav Saadia Gaon, with large portions of translation and explanation in Judeo Arabic, Classical Arabic written in Hebrew characters. This particular book was reprinted in 1941 in Jerusalem.
This is an interesting piece of research material because it provides a window into what cutting-edge Arabic Jewish discourse and discussion and prayer was like in the Cairo/Baghdad of the Middle Ages.
In this post I’ve chosen a random sampling of Judeo Arabic and I’m going to transcribe a small section of Hebrew characters into the Arabic characters and then try and translate it to English. Thing about Judeo Arabic is, there are Hebrew phrases scattered in, particularly relating to God and prayer. In this (helpful) printing, the Hebrew words are spaced a little wider out. Note that only one column is Arabic, the left side is Hebrew.
Also present are Arabic diacritical marks denoting certain Arabic letters and pronunciation guides. This is an easy diagnosis when looking at a this siddur, since the Hebrew wouldn’t have those particular marks, one can tell the JudeoArabic from the rest easily, without having to scan and find clues in the text, a preposition here, a definite article there. These marks also help transcribe the text more easily. I’ll go into more detail about how to switch the alphabets over later.
وكانت الفصول يح فقت فلما زاد هذا صارت يظ. وكذلك في عهد ابانا لم يكونوا محتاجين ان يقولون “מקבץ נדחי עמו”
لاجتماعهم ولا “בונה ירושלים” لآنها كانت مبنية ولكنهم بدلًا من هاتين كانوا يسلون في دوام الملك والنصر في الحروب حسب الحاجة في كل جيل. فأن توهم متوهم ان ههنا فنون آخر جير هذه اليح مما
“And it was only in the sections of Yeh, and when it increased it became Yidth, as it was in the time of our fathers, who were not in need of saying, “מקבץ נדחי עמו” for they were together, nor “בונה ירושלים” because it was built, but instead of saying either of those, they sought the favor of the king and helped during the wars, according to the need of each generation. If there was suspicion against them, with these or other types of Yeh regarding…”
So jibberish, or what happens when you flip to a random page and pick a paragraph. I’m pretty sure I screwed up the translation, I have no idea what these Yeh and Yidth things are, and I translated fasul as ‘sections’ but it could be ‘months’ and a ton of other stuff. The first part of the Hebrew says “Gather the Exiles ” and the second reads “Build Jerusalem”.
-UPDATE! My man Ezra comes through with the clarification!
Yeh and Yidth are numbers, abbreviations for 18 and 19. 18 in Hebrew, besides being the numerological sign for ‘life’, is also a collection of prayers said daily: the 18 blessings, or Amidah, from עמד/عمد ‘amd – pillar or support, as it is said standing.
The Hebrew of the first line, facing column, translated by Ezra: “and when the sections/paragraphs were only 18, and when they were added upon they became 19.” So just based on this first paragraph and nothing else, it’s possible that it’s discussing factional politics in Israelite times, before the Jews were scattered.