Rare Jewish Languages at Oxford

Jewish languages are essential and incorporeal parts of Jewish history, creativity, culture and identity. Most of them are currently in danger of extinction while others are already dead, known only from early writing. Various research programmes stress the immense role of vernacular languages in Jewish life and culture as well as point to their fragility, yet universities offer very few learning opportunities for most of these rare Jewish languages. 

Created in August 2021 by the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies (OCHJS) in collaboration with the Institut des Langues Rares (ILARA) at Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes (EPHE), Paris, the Oxford School of Rare Jewish Languages (OSRJL) offers free, online teaching of rare Jewish languages and their cultural-historical contexts—along with a public lecture seriesacademic blogVisiting Fellows programmeJewish music classes (this year focusing on the history of Yiddish music!) and language Cafés—accessible at no cost to accepted students and members of the general public around the globe. By doing so, the OSRJL aims to preserve, spark interest in, enable access to and reflect on the nature and role of Jewish languages as rich linguistic facets of Jewish life and history. It is the first school of its kind globally. 

You can read about the OSRJL’s second year, 2022–23, in our recently published Impact Report:

Already, 2023–24 is shaping up to be an exciting year for the OSRJL! We received 671 applications for language classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2023 alone—more applications than we received in total across all 3 terms in 2021–22 and 2022–23. Clearly, interest in rare Jewish languages is on the rise, and we greatly look forward to facilitating access to and engagement with them in the coming year and beyond.

We are expanding our language offerings this year to include classes on 3 languages new to the programme—Haketia, Judeo-Hamadani and Kivruli. Doing so means we will be teaching a record 18 languages (listed below) alongside continuing our many other activities!

Languages to be taught through the OSRJL in 2023–24 include:

  • Haketia    (Dr Carlos Yebra López, University College London)
  • Baghdadi Judeo-Arabic    (Dr Assaf Bar Moshe, Freie Universität Berlin)
  • Classical Judeo-Arabic    (Friederike Schmidt, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München)
  • Judeo-French    (Dr Sandra Hajek, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen)
  • Judeo-Greek    (Dr Julia G. Krivoruchko, University of Cambridge)
  • Judeo-Hamadani    (Professor Dr Saloumeh Gholami, Goethe-Universität Frankfurt)
  • Judeo-Italian    (Dr Marilena Colasuonno, University of Naples)
  • Judeo-Moroccan    (Haviva Fenton)
  • Judeo-Neo-Aramaic    (Dr Dorota Molin, University of Oxford, University of Cambridge)
  • Judeo-Persian    (Dr Ofir Haim, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem, & Maximilian Kinzler)
  • Judeo-Provençal    (Dr Peter Nahon, Université de Neuchâtel)
  • Judeo-Tat    (Professor Gilles Authier & Dr Murad Suleymanov, EPHE, Paris)
  • Judeo-Turkish    (Professor Laurent Mignon, University of Oxford)
  • Karaim    (Professor Henryk Jankowski, Adam Mickiewicz University, Poznań)
  • Kivruli    (Dr Hélène Gérardin, Institut National des Langues et Civilisations Orientales/EPHE)
  • Ladino    (Dr Carlos Yebra López, University College London)
  • Old Yiddish    (Dr Diana Matut)
  • Yiddish    (Dr Beruriah Wiegand, OCHJS, University of Oxford)

Some of the languages we teach—such as Classical Judeo-Arabic, Judeo-French, Judeo-Provençal, Judeo-Persian and Judeo-Greek—are extinct, and our teaching is therefore based, at least in part, on medieval texts and manuscripts written in these languages.

While applications for classes beginning in Michaelmas Term 2023 are now closed, applications for language classes beginning in Hilary Term 2024—including Advanced Beginners Judeo-French, Beginners Judeo-Greek, Beginners Judeo-Tat and Advanced Judeo-Turkish—will open in November 2023. To receive notifications about these and future application opportunities, as well as other activities of the OSRJL, follow the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies on social media (X: @OCHJSnews, Facebook: Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies, LinkedIn: Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies and Vimeo: OCHJS) and/or sign up to its Activities Email List by emailing academic.administrator@ochjs.ac.uk. To learn more about the OSRJL programme as a whole, please visit our website or email us at osrjl@ochjs.ac.uk.

We hope to see you in one of our classes and/or at one of our events soon!

Madeleine Trivasse (OSRJL Coordinator; Academic Registrar & Publications Officer of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies)

With: Professor Judith Olszowy-Schlanger (OSRJL Founder; President of the Oxford Centre for Hebrew & Jewish Studies; Professor of Hebrew Manuscript Studies, EPHE, PSL; Fellow, Corpus Christi College)

Celeste Pan (OSRJL Administrator; DPhil Student, Faculty of Asian & Middle Eastern Studies, University of Oxford)