Paloma Diaz-Mas’ SEPHARDIM offers a broad account of Jews who trace their origins to Spain. The book begins with a description of Jewish religious traditions and a brief history of the Jews in Spain prior to their expulsion in 1492. Diaz-Mas then discusses where Jews went after the Spanish crown expelled them, narrating their history in Turkey, the Levant, Morocco, and other areas around the Mediterranean.
Diaz-Mas’ main topic, however, is the subject of her third chapter: the language of the Sephardim. She describes at length how the language evolved from Iberian Spanish, how different forms of it arose in the various Sephardic communities, and what genres of literature developed in this language. For technical reasons, she objects to the term “Ladino,” insisting that the language should be called “Judeo-Spanish” or “Judezmo.” Diaz-Mas concludes her book with an account of the uneasy feelings most Sephardim still have about Spain, and the decline of the Sephardic community and its language in the twentieth century due to the Holocaust and assimilation into gentile society and Ashkenazic Judaism.
Diaz-Mas has consulted a wide variety of sources in preparing her work and tries to tackle a very broad subject. SEPHARDIM, however, was clearly written from a philological perspective and will be of most interest to the linguist. Its discussion of people and events tends to be superficial; its analysis of language and literature tends to be pedantic. Diaz-Mas’ book adequately describes the history of the Sephardic language, but does not really succeed as a history of the Sephardic people.