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Shofar: An Interdisciplinary Journal of Jewish Studies 25.4 (2007) 189-192

Reviewed by
Tamar Alexander
Director of Moshe David Center for Ladino Culture
Head of Folklore Program, Ben Gurion University of the Negev
Sephardic Identity: Essays on a Vanishing Jewish Culture, edited by George K. Zucker. Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2005. 230 pp. $39.95.

This anthology is edited by George Zucker, who is a professor emeritus of Spanish language and literature at the University of Northern Iowa. It includes 17 articles written by different researchers and performers, divided to 5 sections. Naturally it is an interdisciplinary collection.

The three main sections are (a) history, sociology, anthropology, (b) language, literature, philosophy, and (c) music and dance. In addition, there is an introduction in which Isaac Levy describes, through a personal journey, the Sephardim and Sephardic scholarship. He examines different definitions for the term "Sephardi." In the epilogue, entitled "The Future of the Sephardim," Michael M. Laskier reports on the goals and activities of the Sephardic Educational Center in Jerusalem. In his illuminating preface, the editor summarizes the different articles while interweaving them in a short history of the Sephardim. [End Page 189]

At the end of the book there is a list of the contributors, their affiliation and main publications in Sephardic research and an index of subjects and names, both of which are very helpful to the reader. As for the format of the book, it is pity that it is printed in such small letters.

The goal of this collection, as stated by the editor is, "to be a link in the chain that connects Sephardim and their way of life, their values and priorities . . . to the present . . . to aid the field of Judaic studies . . . studying the changes (in that culture and that tradition) . . . augment the knowledge that can be applied to other cultures and other groups"(p. 6).

The book covers a very wide range of issues, from before the expulsion from Spain in 1492, till today. That is, it covers more than 500 hundred years in terms of a variety of aspects and disciplines. The article by Tracy Harris concerns the language spoken by the Jews in Spain before the expulsion, while that by Moshe Hallamish deals with Don Isaac Abravanel. The "conversos" (converted Jews) are not excluded from this collection and are dealt with in articles by Nechama Kramer Hellinx, about Antonio Enríquez Gómez and by Jack Weiner, about the anti-Semitic converso Sebastían de Horozco. The Iberian exiles in the 16th-century Ottoman Empire are discussed by the historian Abraham David. The life of the exiled Sephardim in other settlements (what is called the second exile which occurred later) is discussed by Eva Alexandera Uchmany in "Spain, Portugal and their Colonies"; by Gloria Mound, "The Balearic Islands"; and by Annette Fromm, "Ioannina."

Different aspects dealing with the creative parts of this culture are discussed by Judith Brin Ingber (dance) and David Jordan Harris and Judith Cohen (music). Yitzchak Kerem deals with the press in Salonika, and Rosemary Lévy Zumwalt discusses the power of speech, a study based on a field-work she conducted with her husband, Isaac Lévy, among the Sephardic communities in the Balkans, the Dodecanese Islands, and Turkey.

However, it is little wonder that such a collection cannot be totally inclusive. For example though the third section is entitled "Literature," there are no articles on the main genres of the Sephardic literature, like Midrash MeAm Loez, the copla, romances, or even proverbs and tales. Neither are there any articles on the Haketia-speaking Sephardic group in northern Morocco. The historical section does not deal with such an important subject as the Holocaust, in which entire Sephardic communities were eliminated.

This publication is based on papers presented at a conference, which limits the possibility of building a collection according to one solid and clear concept.

The title of the book, "Sephardic Identity" creates the expectation for a discussion of who the Sephardim are and what...


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