In Memoriam: Moshe Shaul z”l

In: Journal of Jewish Languages
David M. Bunis Professor, Department of the Hebrew Language, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem Jerusalem Israel

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Moshe Shaul (1929–2023)

Citation: Journal of Jewish Languages 11, 1 (2023) ; 10.1163/22134638-bja10031

On April 1, 2023, the world of Judezmo (or Ladino, Djudeo-Espanyol, or Spanyolit) language and culture lost its leading activist and publicist of over 60 years, Moshe Shaul z”l.

Moshe Shaul was born on May 24, 1929, in Izmir, where he grew up in a Judezmo-speaking environment and became captivated by the speakers’ culture. In 1949 he immigrated to the newly founded State of Israel, settling in Jerusalem. From his first year of studies at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Shaul spent part of his time recording over 2,000 selections from the Djudeo-Espanyol oral folklore tradition. In 1959 Shaul received a bachelor’s degree in sociology and political science from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He then went on to dedicate his entire professional life to his group’s traditional Jewish language, which he preferred to call Djudeo-Espanyol. He contributed to the description and documentation of the language and the culture and history of its speakers (see bibliography); he wrote and broadcasted in it; he encouraged the use of the language by others, especially by his fellow post-Ottoman Sephardim in Turkey and the Balkans, and in the immigrant communities they founded elsewhere.

In 1959 Moshe Shaul started to work on the daily program in Djudeo-Espanyol that musician and Sephardic music anthologist Yitshak Levy had established on Israel’s Radio Kol Israel. With the death of Levy in 1977, Shaul became the program’s director and principal broadcaster. The program was awarded several prizes of distinction in Spain and Argentina.

Like other native Judezmo-speaking language activists, Moshe Shaul never proposed an explicit, detailed set of linguistic norms for acceptance by his group; but the basic lines of his language ideology may be gleaned from the style used in his actual broadcasts and writings. As the director of the Radio Kol Israel program, Shaul established de facto norms for the variety of language used in the programming. Like the Eurocentric Judezmo journalists who had preceded him since the middle of the nineteenth century, in the language of his broadcasts and writings Shaul preferred a lexicon, morphology, and syntax rooted in western European Romance languages, primarily Spanish and French; although in his colloquial speech he also made free use of widespread borrowings from Hebrew, Turkish, and the other local languages with which the Sephardim had been in contact throughout the centuries since their arrival in the Ottoman regions from Iberia. When news reporting required the expression in Djudeo-Espanyol of new social, political, and scientific concepts, Shaul often turned to Modern Castilian, a language that he studied during frequent visits to Spain (Shaul 1999).

Nevertheless, within the language’s Romance component, Shaul always insisted on preserving certain distinctive structural features which had developed among the Sephardim. For example, Shaul consistently used mozotros ‘(M) we’ and mue- (e.g., muevo ‘new,’ muestro ‘[M.SG] our’) rather than corresponding Spanish nosotros and nue-; tadre ‘late’ and M.SG nasional vs. F.SG nasionala ‘national,’ instead of Spanish tarde and invariant M.SG/F.SG nacional; and sus instead of su as the possessive adjective denoting a third person plural possessor of a singular object (e.g., sus livro ‘their book,’ Sp. su libro). He also tended to prefer regional forms characteristic of the Judezmo dialects of his native Turkey, and of them, that of Izmir, especially those forms which distinguished the language from Spanish, such as the adjective muncho ‘much,’ verb forms such as 1SG present indicative kero ‘I want,’ preterite indicative vidi ‘I saw’ and kiji ‘I wanted,’ and syntactic structures such as para bushkarlo ‘in order to seek it,’ rather than Salonikan mucho, vide and kyije, and para lo bushkar (Modern Spanish mucho, vi, quise, para buscarlo).

In 1979 Shaul founded and for 37 years edited the original series of the periodical Aki Yerushalayim: Revista kulturala djudeo-espanyola, published entirely in Djudeo-Espanyol. The periodical featured articles by him, as well as by other native speakers and Judezmo enthusiasts from around the globe. Issue 101, released on the 40th anniversary of the periodical’s founding, was a special Jubilee Volume dedicated to Moshe Shaul. From the first issue on, Shaul emphasized the need for a simple, clear-cut, phonemic-based orthography that would enable native speakers to write their language easily, using familiar graphemes, and without needing to know the orthographic principles of any other language. Just as Shaul required that the language used in the journal preserve certain basic, distinctive native structural features such as those noted above, so too he insisted that its orthography reflect a fundamentally one-to-one correspondence between the phonemes of the language and its graphemes. In the first issue of the periodical, Shaul proposed such an orthography, which included graphemes such as systematic <b> = [b] and <v> = [v] (e.g., bolver ‘to return,’ vs. Sp. volver); <k> = [k], <s> = [s] and <z> = [z] (e.g., kazas ‘houses,’ vs. Spanish casas); and digraphs such as <sh> = [š] (e.g., kesharse ‘to complain,’ vs. Sp. quejarse); and the distinctive representation of flapped [r] = <r> versus trilled [r̄] = <rr>, which are separate phonemes in most Southeastern Judezmo dialects. Shaul did not favor the orthographic distinction between [d] = <d> versus [δ] = <ḏ> (or some other distinctive grapheme), or [g] = <g> versus [γ] = <ġ> (or some other unique grapheme), although the four are also distinct phonemes in major Southeastern dialects such as that of Salonika. Always giving top priority to economy, simplicity, and the needs of the native speakers of the language, rather than to those less familiar with it, Shaul also opposed the use of diacritics to denote irregularly stressed vowels, since he assumed that the correct position of stress in the words having them was known to the speakers, and because the use of accents was not easily accommodated on the Roman-letter keyboards easily available to the speakers at the time he devised the system. Shaul’s insistence on the use, in Aki Yerushalayim and in his other publications, of the distinctive, intuitive orthography he had devised with the language’s native speakers in mind caused a controversy between him and some scholars of Sephardic language and culture in Spain, who advocated a Castilian-based orthography (for a more detailed treatment, see Bunis 2019).

Nonetheless, the language’s native speakers throughout the world have overwhelmingly adopted Shaul’s orthography, and today it is supported by Israel’s Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino and La Akademia del Ladino en Israel, by the Judezmo periodical El Amaneser of Istanbul, as well as by many contemporary researchers of the language. It was also used in Shaul’s Ladino (Spanyolit): Sefer limmud le-matḥilim (Ladino [Spanyolit]: A Textbook for Beginners), which he published in Maale Adumim in 1999 (edited by Avner Perez), and at the Maale Adumim Institute for the Documentation of the Spanyolit Language and Its Literature, which Shaul helped found with Perez and others. The Institute was an offshoot of the Amutat Sefarad and the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino, which Moshe Shaul helped to found in 1997, together with Israel’s fifth president, Yitzhak Navon, and other Judezmo activists and researchers; Shaul served as the vice-president of the Autoridad between 1997–2015.

Between 1980–1985 Moshe Shaul taught Djudeo-Espanyol at the Ben- Gurion University of the Negev, and he later established and taught at the Djudeo-Espanyol teacher’s training program organized by the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino (Shaul 1996). Shaul also organized international conferences on the Djudeo-Espanyol language, its writing systems, and culture in Jerusalem, Paris, and Zaragoza; and he fostered and publicized research focused on Djudeo-Espanyol language and culture in his broadcasts and writings.

In recognition of his significant contributions to the field of Djudeo-Espanyol, in 2016 Moshe Shaul was appointed Miembro Correspondiente for Israel by the Real Academia Española. In 2018 he was awarded the title Comandante de la Orden del Mérito Civil Español by the Spanish government. He also received a Life Award from the Autoridad Nasionala del Ladino for his ceaseless endeavors on behalf of the Djudeo-Espanyol language and culture.

Moshe Shaul passed away on 1 April, 2023 in Jerusalem and was buried in the cemetery in Moshav Shoresh, outside of Jerusalem.


  • Bunis, David M. 2019. “La ortografia de Aki Yerushalayim: Un pinakolo en la estoria de la romanizasion del djudezmo (djudeo-espanyol).” Aki Yerushalayim 101: 824.

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  • Shaul, Moshe. 1984. “Materiales folklorikos: Tres romansas de la Sra. Estrea Aelion, nasida en Saloniko.” Aki Yerushalayim 6.21: 4345.

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  • Shaul, Moshe. 1986. “El indulko i la mumia,Aki Yerushalayim 30–31: 2628.

  • Shaul, Moshe. 1996. “La ensenyansa del djudeo-espanyol en muestros dias.” In Hommage à Haïm Vidal Sephiha, eds. Winfried Busse & Marie-Christine Varol-Bornes. Berne: Peter Lang, 617628.

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  • Shaul, Moshe. 1999. “Kreasion leksikala en la Emision Djudeo-espanyola de Kol Israel.” In The Proceedings of the Tenth British Conference on Judeo-Spanish Studies, ed. Annette Benaim. London: Queen Mary and Westfield College, 6571.

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  • Shaul, Moshe & Yoel Remken. 1985. Kantes djudeo-espanyoles: Romansas, kantigas i kantes del siklo de la vida del Proyecto Folklor de Kol Israel. Jerusalem: Sefarad: Sosietad para la Konservasion i Difuzion de la Kultura Djudeo-espanyola.

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  • Shaul, Moshe, Moshe Liba, & José Luís Najenson. 1985. Judeo-español. Jerusalem: Instituto Central de Relaciones Culturales Israel-Iberoamérica, España y Portugal. Reprinted from: Hispanorama 38, November 1984.

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  • Shaul, Moshe, Aldina Quintana-Rodríguez, & Zelda Ovadia. 1995. El gizado sefaradi: rechetas de komidas sefaradis de la revista kulturala djudeo-espanyola Aki Yerushalaim. Zaragoza: Libros Certeza.

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