Ladino, or Judeo-Spanish, was widely spoken by Jews in Spain and, following their expulsion, in the Ottoman Empire, the Balkans, Morocco, and, to a limited extent, elsewhere.
While it was used by Jews for all matters – religious and mundane – Ladino books in Ladino were limited exclusively to religious works for the first centuries of printing.
An exceedingly rare volume I recently acquired is the first example of a Ladino book that isn’t religious in nature. Titled La Guerta De Oro (“The Garden of Gold”), it was authored by a David Attias and published in Livorno in 1778. The author’s intent was to expose his readers to the general knowledge of the world. The book’s contents are impressively varied, with such subjects as folklore, science, medicine, and world literature.
The author was born in Sarajevo and lived and worked as a merchant in Livorno. He writes in his introduction that he believes Sephardic Jews need to view themselves as Levantines, no longer as Sephardim, and adapt and modernize themselves to continue to be competitive in business.
The period following the publication of this work saw a huge surge in Ladino literature, and by the end of the end of the 19th century, translations of French, German, and English classics and much original general literature was published in Ladino.
Tragically, the majority of Ladino speakers were murdered in the Holocaust; some Ladino-speaking communities – such as those of Salonica, Rhodes, Yugoslavia, and Macedonia – were almost completely eradicated. Today, Ladino is considered an endangered language and only a handful of titles in Ladino have been published in the last few decades.