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LA'AZ , a foreign-language gloss in Hebrew transliteration. La'az (plural le'azim) originally meant a foreign language into which a Hebrew text, especially a sacred text, was translated (Meg. 2:1; Tosef., Meg. 2:6; Ber. 18a; Sot. 49b; tj, Sot. 7:1). Somehow, la'az became identified with Latin and its meaning was later restricted to liturgical translations in any of the Romance languages into which Latin evolved. Thus, the biblical lo'ez (Ps. 114:1) is rendered in the medieval Jewish translations by latinar (Italy), ladinar (Provence), ladinar or romançar (Spain), and aromancer (northern France). Italian Jews were known as Lo'azim. When the French roman came to signify "a novel," the Jews called it la'az.

Medieval rabbinical texts written in Romance-speaking countries were interspersed with vernacular words to clinch an argument or specify an object. More often than not, these glosses were preceded by the formula be-La'az ("in Romance"), even when they did not refer to the biblical translation. The overwhelming ascendancy of *Rashi's commentaries, with their 1,300 glosses on the Bible and 3,500 on the Talmud, further restricted the meaning of la'az to "a gloss in Old French." Like any other grammatical term in Jewish manuscripts, בְּלעז was superscribed by a circumflex; בל̂עז was, therefore, later mistaken for an abbreviation of בִּלְשוֹן עַם זָר ("in a foreign tongue").

A distinction must be made between the le'azim in biblical commentaries and those in other rabbinical writings. The latter are valuable because they often carry Old Romance words, whose meaning is circumscribed by the Hebrew context, while they are seldom found in literary texts. Those of Rashi and of the Arukh of *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome go back to the 11th century, a period from which very few Romance texts are extant. Since the manuscripts are of a later date, it took the brilliant intellect of David *Blondheim to present a reliable scientific edition of these glosses. Likewise, there are glosses in all French rabbinical writings of the Middle Ages; Provençal le'azim in the Ittur of *Isaac b. Abba Mari of Marseilles; and Catalan glosses in Aaron Hakohen's *Orḥot Ḥayyim.

The le'azim in the biblical commentaries are of greater importance. These refer to complete vernacular translations of the Bible, called la'az ha-am or la'az ha-olam. Such versions are extant in Spanish and in Italian; of those in French Provençal and Catalan, there exists (apart from some prayer books and hymns) only indirect evidence: the glossaries. There are printed glossaries in Italian (Makrei Dardeki, Naples, 1488; Galut Yehudah, Venice, 1612) and in *Ladino (Ḥeshek Shelomo, Venice, 1588). In France, by the time the printing press came into existence, Jewish communities were no longer in existence. After two or three generations in exile, French Jews must have discarded these glossaries. Nevertheless, six of them more or less complete, and fragments of nine more, mostly of the 13th century, have survived. They are at the same time commentaries, Sifrei Pitronot. They lack most of the midrashic material of, for example, Rashi, but have a much wider range, one of them presenting over 12,000 le'azim for part of the Prophets alone. The Sefer ha-Pitronot mi-Leipzig was published in three volumes in 1996. In addition to these glossaries, there are innumerable le'azim jotted down as marginal annotations in biblical manuscripts. These throw light on the real meaning of the le'azim in Rashi, as well as of those in the 11th-century commentaries of the Pseudo-Gershom, of *Menaḥem ben Ḥelbo, and of Joseph *Kara. Scholarly discussion centered in the vernacular version, already in existence at that early period. In the same way, the le'azim found in the Ḥizkuni, the Ḥadar Zekenim, Minḥat Yehudahe, and the commentaries of *Eliezer of Beaugency, *Samuel b. Meir (Rashbam), and others were all designed to correct the Old French translation. This is one of the reasons for the frequent appearance in the glossaries of two, and sometimes even three or four, le'azim for one biblical term. The second reason is not exegetical but linguistic: with the passage of the centuries, some words became obsolete and had to be replaced, but they were still given as examples out of respect for tradition. If for no other reason, the reference to the vernacular version is substantiated by the contextual aspect of the la'az: néant ("nothing") for כל and דבר in negative sentences; the addition of prepositions called for in French syntax, but not in Hebrew; the use of the subjunctive in accordance with the rules of French grammar; and adjectives agreeing in gender with the French noun, though not mentioned in the glossary.

In addition to glossaries, the Jews of France and Provence composed alphabetical Bible dictionaries. The le'azim in *Kimḥi, *Levi b. Gershom, Joseph *Kaspi, and the Sassoon Codex (no. 368) would also imply the existence of a Provençal version.

See also *Judeo-French, *Judeo-Italian, *Judeo-Provençal.


A. Darmesteter, Reliques scientifiques, 1 (1890), 107–307; G. Schlessinger, Die altfranzoesischen Woerter im Machsor Vitry… (1899); L. Brandin, Les gloses françaises [loazim] de Gerschon de Metz (1902); S.A. Poznańsky, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… N. Sokolov (1904), 389–439; M. Lambert and L. Brandin (eds.), Glossaire hébreu-français du xiiie siècle (1905); A. Aron, Das hebraeischaltfranzoesische Glossar der Leipziger Universitaets Bibliothek (1907); A. Darmesteter, Les gloses françaises de Raschi dans la Bible (1909); A. Darmesteter and D.S. Blondheim, Les gloses françaises dans les commentaires talmudiques de Raschi, 2 vols. (1929–37); M. Banitt, in: Roth, Dark Ages, 291–6, 463. add. bibliography: H. Cohen-Edelman, in: Mesorot, 12 (2002), 83–96; D.M. Harduf, Oẓar ha-Shemot ha-Tanakhiyyim ba-Aggadah: Kollel Yalkut u-Milon be-Ivrit, Be'ur Semalei Be-La'az (2002).

[Menahem Banitt]

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