Judeo-Arabic languages

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Judeo-Arabic
Language family
Writing system Hebrew alphabet
Language codes
ISO 639-2 jrb
ISO 639-3 jrbinclusive code
Individual codes:
yhd – Judeo-Iraqi Arabic
aju – Judeo-Moroccan Arabic
yud – Judeo-Tripolitanian Arabic
ajt – Judeo-Tunisian Arabic
jye – Judeo-Yemeni Arabic

Judeo-Arabic languages are a collection of Arabic language dialects spoken by Jews living or formerly living in Arabic-speaking countries. Just as with the rest of the Arab world, Arabic-speaking Jews had different dialects for the different regions where they lived. Most Judæo-Arabic dialects were written in modified forms of the Hebrew alphabet, often including consonant dots from the Arabic alphabet to accommodate phonemes that did not exist in the Hebrew alphabet.

In retaliation for 1948 Arab-Israeli War, Jews in Arab countries became subject to increasingly insufferable discrimination and violence, causing virtually all of them to flee en masse to Israel. Their dialects of Arabic did not thrive in Israel, and most became extinct, replaced by the Modern Hebrew language.

In the Middle Ages, Jews in the Islamic diaspora spoke a dialect of Arabic, which they wrote in a mildly adapted Hebrew script (rather than using Arabic script).

This phenomenon is called Judaeo-Arabic and may be compared to both Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) and Yiddish (Judaeo-German).

Some of the most important books of medieval Jewish though were originally written in Judaeo-Arabic, as well as certain halakhic works and biblical commentary. Only later were they translated into medieval scientific Hebrew so that they could be read by the Ashkenazic Jews of Europe. These include:

  • Saadia Gaon's Emunot ve-Deot, his Tafsir (biblical commentary and translation), and his siddur (the explanatory parts, not the prayers themselves)
  • Solomon ibn Gabirol's Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh
  • Bahya ibn Pakuda's Hovot ha-Levavot
  • Judah Halevi's Kuzari
  • Maimonides' Commentary on the Mishnah, Sefer ha-Mitzvot, Guide to the Perplexed, and many of his letters and shorter essays.