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A Handbook and Reader of Ottoman Arabic

Esther-Miriam Wagner

II. Reader

1. Bodl. ms. Heb. C. 72/18: a letter by Isaac Bayt ʿAṭṭān to Moses b. Judah (1480s)

Dotan Arad et Esther-Miriam Wagner

Texte intégral




Arabic Transcription





1(1) After greetings to the dear, the beloved, the honourable, the one of comprehensive knowledge, the honourable rabbi Moses b. Judah (2) we inform you that after we separated from you, we travelled for a very long time because of the (3) ship which could not do much better, but the Creator, may he be exalted, showed us the way out and we arrived (4) in Rhodes and stayed in Rhodes Daqas [?] for two months. We departed with a barca (5) in order to go to Syracuse, and went to Modon. We were lacking bread and wine, and other (things). Rabbi Ṣuriel and (6) Rabbi Maṣliaḥ went down (from the ship) in order to buy bread and wine [from] the country people, and then the (small) boat went off (to the shore), with both the (non-Jewish) people and the (7) Jews on it. Then a pair of ships approached in order to seize our ship. (8) They revealed themselves, and (when) we saw this, we cut the hawser and fled, while the Jews remained in Modon. (9) So Ṣuriel remained in Modon and I am now in Syracuse. I inform you that (10) one of the Catalan Christians will come to you, his name is Messer Bernard Lo Azina. He is a nice Christian. I want you to support (11) him somewhat, for your and his benefit: this Christian inquired about someone in (12) Alexandria who is (his) equal, to support (him) in the market place, and in other things. I told him: there is someone in (Alexandria), his name is (13) Rabbi Moses. He is an agent and equal (to you) in every regard. Also, he will bring with him 500 (14) pieces of kosher cheese with our seal, and he will bring with him a letter from the Dayyan (Jewish judge), (15) also (certifying) that this cheese is indeed kosher and pure. He bought this cheese under my advice. (16) I inform you that the books which I promised you to buy for you— I did not have time to write them for you, but (17) those which I promised to you—I am making haste so that they will arrive at yours (soon). Relay from me many greetings to Rabbi Abraham (18) Talmid, and also to the honourable ḥasid Ṣedaqah Contias (?), and also to the honourable Joshua known as (19) Najīb, and greet for me all the loved ones. And shalom. (20) Ready for your command, Isaac Bayt ʿAṭṭān.


  • 1 Dan. 10.11.

2(1) for the beloved, the pleasant, the honourable (2) the lovely, you man greatly beloved1 (3) the honourable Rabbi Moses b. Judah (4) from Syracuse to Alexandria.


3In some Judaeo-Arabic letters from the 15th century we start to see features that later regularly occur in Judaeo-Arabic Ottoman letters, such as plene spelling of short vowels; the shortening of long final [a] and subsequent spelling with ה ; reflections of the raising of [a] vowels and other dialectal vocalisms; tafḵīm (velarisation) and tarqīq (de-velarisation) of consonants; non-standard personal pronouns and suffixes; the common occurrence of bi-imperfect forms and inclusion of vernacular vocabulary.


4Line 2

5הנקרתפא ‘we separated’. Classical Arabic long final ā is spelled with ה throughout the letter.

6Line 4

7‘Daqas’ ( סקד ). The meaning of this word is not clear, but it appears here to be the name of a locality.

8‘barca’. A kind of a small boat (in Spanish and Italian).

9Line 5

10שאב . The word baš is used throughout this letter as the connective ‘so that’, which points to the Moroccan background of the writer; see Wagner (2014, 148–49).

11Line 6

12וירתשאי ‘they buy’ probably reflects dialectal North African morphology of III-y verbs, according to which the final radical is treated like a strong consonant. See also ויקבו ‘they stayed’ in line 8.

13Line 10

14Tarqīq of [ṣ] in ינארסנ ‘Christian’, although earlier in the line it is spelled in its CA form.

15Line 11

16שא ןאסנא reflects the North African form ash, for CA aysh.

17Line 12

18Tafḵīm of [t] in רגטמ ‘market place’.


1 Dan. 10.11.


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