Did the Jewish inhabitants of Safed and Jerusalem (contemporaries of Rav Yosef Karo and the Ari) speak Hebrew when they learned Torah or did they speak Arabic, Ladino or some other language?

I saw a reference (quoting Rav Ovadiah Yosef) which claimed that they spoke Hebrew and therefore their seforim flow better than seforim authored by Yiddish speakers who mentally had to translate their Yiddish into Hebrew.

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    I would assume that they spoke either a dialect of Arabic or Aramaic. May 28, 2014 at 18:38
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    @NoachmiFrankfurt maybe Arabic. Aramaic was not spoken since the time of Amoraim so that sends very unlikely to me. But I need a source. Thanks!
    – Yoni
    May 29, 2014 at 13:51
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    @Yoni Aramaic was not spoken since the time of Amoraim that is not true.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 10, 2016 at 18:42
  • @mevaqesh do you have a source that Aramaic was a spoken language after the Amoraim?
    – Yoni
    Aug 10, 2016 at 22:18
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    @Yoni Jews continued speaking Aramaic well into the twentieth century. For modern non-Jewish speakers of Aramaic, see here.
    – mevaqesh
    Aug 10, 2016 at 22:22

3 Answers 3


As I write in my upcoming book Lashon HaKodesh: History, Holiness, and Hebrew:

His slightly younger colleague, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534–1572), also known as Arizal, is said to have been careful to exclusively speak Lashon HaKodesh on the Sabbath, and only use foreign languages as needed to clarify elaborate Torah-related complexities.
Source: Pri Eitz Chaim, Sha’ar HaShabbos (end of Ch. 21). A later account of Arizal’s behavior mentions that he was particular not to speak to anyone—even his wife—in a language other than Lashon HaKodesh. See S. Ashkenazi, Doros B’Yisrael (Tel Aviv: Don Publishing House, 1975) pg. 165.

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    Was this unique to the Arizal, but the people (including the Mechaber) spoke something else?
    – Yishai
    May 28, 2014 at 19:00
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    From your answer it sounds like this was not the general practice. My question is not about the Ari but more about what the lingua franca used in general when learning Torah.
    – Yoni
    May 28, 2014 at 19:20
  • @no mention of the mishna berurah re: lashon hakodesh on shabbos?? May 18, 2015 at 22:34

From a passage written by Rabbi Hayyim Vital's son, Shmuel, and posted in an answer to another question here on Mi Yodea--


--it seems like the language spoken was Spanish: the passage mentions the term "El Diablo" as something one might say in la'az, the spoken vernacular.

(Although Rabbi Shmuel lived in Damascus, not Safed, presumably he would have spoken the same language as his father, Rabbi Hayyim. Rabbi Hayyim was the close disciple of Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Ari.)


The Ari was born in Jerusalem and lived in Cairo. He may have spoken a little Ladino, but most likely his primary vernacular was Arabic.

  • Welcome to Mi Yodeya Michal! Regardless of his place of origin, perhaps he nevertheless spoke Hebrew.
    – mevaqesh
    Jul 14, 2017 at 12:31

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