Most of the contributions to this special issue of Shofar were among those presented at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s interdisciplinary Sefardic Studies Conference in 1997. The conference was supported by departments as diverse as the Latin American & Iberian Studies Program, the English Department, Jewish Studies, and the Department of German’s Dutch Program. While Sefardic topics were discussed in fields ranging from history and philosophy to linguistics and folklore, additional papers dealing with Judeo-Spanish pedagogy were solicited from internationally recognized scholars and writers such as Haïm Vidal Sephiha, Salvador Santa Puche, Matilda Koén Sarano, and Shmuel Refael.
Although the scope of these papers indicates a wide range of research possibilities for Judeo-Spanish culture and Sefardic Jewry as a whole, Sefardic Studies remains a new and still developing academic field. As recently as 1984, Haïm Vidal Sephiha of the University of Paris became the first chaired professor of Judeo-Spanish in the world, a milestone in the history of Sefardic Studies. 1 In recent years there have been new professorships and course offerings in Judeo-Spanish and Sefardic studies in Europe, Israel, and the United States, which is indicative of a growing interest in the field.
Among the challenges presented by a new field of study are the development of language manuals and other textbooks, the design of course syllabi, and the integration of Sefardic Studies courses into pre-existing university programs. Gloria Ascher, Shmuel Refael, Matilda Koén Sarano, and Salvador Santa Puche discuss solutions to such problems in this collection largely through personal pedagogical experience, but much work remains to be done in these areas.
The growth and development of Sefardic Studies as an academic discipline, and the study of Judeo-Spanish as a living language in particular, are interesting in that they come at a time when many scholars had already dedicated their studies of Judeo- Spanish to language attrition and even language death. Nearly twenty years ago Professor Tracy Harris commented that “Today [i.e., in 1982] it is almost impossible to find a native Judeo-Spanish speaker under the age of 40 who can still converse in the [End Page 1] language.” 2 Likewise, Arlene Malinowski had claimed in her 1979 doctoral dissertation that she could not locate Judeo-Spanish speakers under the age of 20 to serve as linguistic informants. 3 Surprisingly enough, the editor of this Shofar issue has located fluent Judeo-Spanish speakers living in Israel who would have been under twenty years old in 1979 as well as speakers under the age of twenty, and most certainly under the age of forty, as recently as 1998. 4 While the current decline in the number of Judeo- Spanish speakers world-wide is an uncontested statistical fact, 5 assertions that relatively young native speakers are either non-existent or nearly impossible to find were apparently premature even in 1998, let alone 1979 or 1982.
Even though Judeo-Spanish has been clearly in decline for several decades, Sefardic Studies and the instruction of Judeo-Spanish as a living language have been attracting a number of university students in various countries. Matilda Koén Sarano notes that some of her students come from homes where Judeo-Spanish was used, while Salvador Santa Puche and Gloria Ascher mention that a portion of their students are being trained as scholars of Spanish and are acquiring Judeo-Spanish as an integral part of Hispanic culture. Regardless of their religious or cultural backround, these students remain undaunted by discouraging statistics and are integrating Judeo-Spanish into the framework of their Jewish or Hispanic studies in the United States, Europe, and Israel.
Other contributions to this issue underscore the fact that Sefardic Studies is still being molded as a discipline by calling some of the most commonly accepted premises into question. Gloria Ascher emphasizes the living nature of Judeo-Spanish, partially debunking the vexing notion that the language already belongs to the past, and George Zucker argues that a distinctively Jewish dialect of Spanish existed in Spain prior to the Expulsion in 1492.
All of these articles, whether pioneering in their presentation of new documentation or innovative in their line...