´╗┐Ladino (Judeo-Spanish) is the language of the descendants of the Jewish people who were exiled from Spain (1492) and were dispersed throughout the Ottoman Empire, Central and Southern Europe and Northern Morocco. In Morocco the language was called "Halkitia". They preserved the language, which was based on classical ancient Spanish, for more than five hundred years. The language absorbed Arabic, Turkish and Balkan elements and, from the 19th Century, was also influenced by French. Ladino was always written in Hebrew characters. The breaking away from Spanish and the effect of different language influences created a distinct Jewish language: Ladino.

A part from the rich folklore that surrounds Ladino (ballads, love songs, poetic festivities, stories and sayings) works of major importance were written in this language. "Meam Loez", a multi volume essay on the Bible, is a major religious work written in Ladino. The leading scholar, Rabbi Yaacob Hulli, originated this work and wrote the first two volumes. "Meam Loez" is a kind of comprehensive encyclopedia on biblical interpretations, midrash, ethics, halacha and customs printed next to reports on experiences of the world, nature and the universe. The contents are taken from hundreds of sources in Hebrew literature. The first volume on Genesis appeared in Constantinople in 1730.

The era of Enlightenment began in the Ottoman Empire during the middle of the 19th Century. One of the expressions of Enlightenment was the appearance of journals in Ladino. The first journal "Puertas del Oriente" was published in Izmir in 1845/6. This was the beginning of 150 years of Ladino journalism during which more than 300 periodicals were published. The journals brought with them translated and original novels. Hundreds of them were printed in the printing centers of Ladino (among them: Constantiople, Izmir, Salonica, Jerusalem and Vienna) and gave pleasure to thousands of readers. Theater also flourished at this time. It is known that, since the last quarter of the 18th Century, more than 200 Ladino plays were staged for the Sephardic (Jews of Spanish descent) communities.

The Ladino-speaking Sephardi Jews in Europe suffered the terrible Holocaust like their Yiddish- speaking Ashkenazi (Jews of Central or Eastern European descent) brothers. The ancient communities such as Salonica and other Greek communities, Macedonia, Serbia and Bosnia, were wiped out. The majority of the Sephardi Jewish community in Europe was annihilated. It was thought that after the devastating Holocaust, Ladino would not be revived. However, recent years have seen an awakening towards all that is connected to language and heritage. There are poetry books and folklore and research is being carried out.

The language is studied in universities and other institutions. The highlight is the National Authority for Ladino Culture Bill, for the development and preservation of the language, passed in 1996 by the Israeli Parliament (Knesset) and the establishment of the National Authority for Ladino Culture headed by Yitzhak Navon, Israel's fifth President.

Written by Avner Perez, Ben Gurion University of the Negev, Beer Sheva.

The stamp was issued in 2002, design: Ben-Tsion (Benny) Nahmias.