Description by Marc Kiwitt & Julia Zwink

During the Middle Ages, the Jewish communities of Northern France - the territory of the langue d'oïl - developed an extensive Old French textual tradition written in Hebrew script, which is known as Judeo-French. Other designations for Judeo-French include Zarphatic (S. A. Birnbaum) and Western Loez (M. Weinreich). The Judeo-French texts are independent of Christian Old French literature both in their content and in their distinct writing system, which adapts the Hebrew script and the Tiberian system of pointing to the phonological characteristics of the Old French language.

The history of the Judeo-French literary tradition begins in the late 10th century with Biblical and Talmudic glosses; its most famous author is Rashi of Troyes, who was active in the 11th century (cf. below). The production of Judeo-French texts ends in the 14th century, after persecutions and repeated expulsions had virtually ended the Jewish presence in the French homeland. But Jews continued to write French in their exile: the latest known French text in Hebrew transcription - a recipe - dates from 1470 (Fudeman 2010).

The Judeo-French texts can roughly be divided into four groups:

  • Glosses: At first, isolated Old French glosses appeared in commentaries to the Bible and the Talmud. The first ones known are from the end of the 10th century, attributed to Gershom of Metz (Brandin 1901). From the 11th and 12th century onward, such Old French glosses - called le'azim - were common in the entire rabbinical literature of Northern France. Rabbi Shlomo ben Isaac of Troyes (1040-1105), better known by the acronym Rashi, is the most famous author of glasses (Darmesteter 1909; Darmesteter and Blondheim 1929); his method of transcribing French by means of Hebrew letters had a lasting impact on subsequent authors of Judeo-French.

Quick facts

Names of language:

Judeo-French, Zarphatic, Western Loez

Territories where it was/is spoken:


Estimated # speakers:
- 1900: 0
- 2019: 0



This is a medieval language variety; contemporary Jews speak/write Jewish French, which has much in common with Judeo-French but is also distinct.

Writing systems:

Hebrew, Latin letters


Poetry, prose, wedding songs


Language family/branch:


  • Glossaries of religious terms: From the beginning of the 13th century – with the greatest activity in the 14th century –, the Old French glosses to the Bible were compiled into extensive biblical glossaries. Arranged in columns, they represent a precursor to bilingual dictionaries: a Hebrew word or an entire phrase is translated into Old French. Whereas the older glosses had not been vocalized and had lacked diacritical marks, the glossaries adopted the Tiberian system of pointing, partly adapting it to the peculiarities of the Old French language, e.g., by differentiating between the vowels [u] and [y] and by introducing additional signs and digraphs for affricates, palatalized consonants and the unrounded central vowel. We know about at least ten major glossaries with up to 30,000 French glosses and ten shorter ones. The two most famous and voluminous glossaries are the Champenois Glossary of Basle (Banitt 1972) and the Glossary of Leipzig (written in Norman French; Banitt 1995-2005).​ 

  • Poetic texts:  From the 13th century onwards, Judeo-French literature was no longer limited to the understanding of the Bible and the Talmud, but it now encompassed diverse domains. They comprise religious (literary) texts like the famous Vitry Maḥzor (ca. 1200), a compendium of prayers, liturgical poems (piyyutim), and ritual instructions for the course of the year. Several texts treat the pogrom of 1288, like the Elegy of Troyes, which was edited by many scholars, e.g., Kiwitt (2003). Another interesting genre is the wedding song with alternating Old French and Hebrew stanzas; two songs have been edited, e.g., by Fudeman (2006b; 2010).

  • Technical texts: Finally, technical texts were written: they deal with medicine, astrology, and commerce. This secular literature generally adopted the graphemic system of the biblical glossaries, occasionally simplifying parts of it. The longest known Judeo-French text (with almost 800 pages) is among the technical texts; the  medical work "fevres," which treats fever diseases according to the doctrine of the Schola Medica Salernitana, is written in the Champenois or Lotharingian dialect (partially edited by, e.g., Kiwitt 2001; Zwink 2017). The astrological work of Abraham ibn Ezra was translated into Old French at the end of the 13th century by Hagin le Juif, but is written down in the Latin alphabet (Levy 1973). From the economic domain, there are two extant account registers, which originate from Franche-Comté (Loeb 1884). 

Some scholars regard Judeo-French as an Old French social dialect different from its Christian counterparts (e.g. D. Blondheim; R. Levy), or even as a separate Judeo-Romance language (e.g., M. Weinreich; S. A. Birnbaum). Aslanov and Kukenheim admit slight differences on the phonological and morphological level and some more substantial differences on the lexical level, but do not go so far as to assume a distinct linguistic system. Nevertheless, most linguists (Banitt, Darmesteter, Fudeman, Kiwitt, Möhren, Zwink, etc.) seem to agree that the language of the Jews of medieval France did not differ significantly from Old French. According to this view, the main particularity of Judeo-French lies in its distinct writing system. Judeo-French texts allow, however, new insights into their autarchic literary tradition as well as into Old French phonology, due to their independence from writing conventions adopted by Christian authors. Furthermore, French texts written by Jews are mostly related to a popular register and are supposed to reflect the spoken language in an immediate, authentic way - erudite and scholarly texts, in contrast, were written in Hebrew.

Indeed, the dialectal features in which Judeo-French texts differ from standard Old French are equally common in Christian texts that were written in the same regions as the respective Jewish texts. Thus, Judeo-French shares the regional distribution of Old French. In particular, manuscripts written in Champenois, Lotharingian, Burgundian and Norman have been preserved.

Hebrew loanwords are surprisingly rare in the Judeo-French texts. Most Hebrew elements occur within Bible quotations entirely in Hebrew and are not morphologically or syntactically integrated into the French text. Occasionally, the word perush "explanation" is used to introduce a French explanation of a foreign term, e.g. ce sont les maladies qui sont de cholera nigra, perush cole noire "these are the illnesses [caused] by cholera nigra, i.e. black bile" (Judeo-French medical treatise f. 84v., edited in Kiwitt 2001, 70). Morphological integration of Hebrew and French elements is only attested in a few isolated cases like Zäh ha-cure mi-carteine mi-Thesaurus Pauperum, Otsar ha-'Aniyyim "This is the cure of quartan fever from the Thesaurus Pauperum, the Treasury of the Poor" (Judeo-French medical treatise f. 245v. / 86).

So far, no linguistic features have been shown to differentiate Judeo-French as a whole from the Christian varieties of Old French. It is probable, however, that the vocabulary of Judeo-French comprised additional registers pertaining to realities specific to Jewish culture and religion. The written form , 'God' (<Latin deus, cf. Levy 1964: 122), e.g., seems to be restricted to Judeo-French and might hint at a phonetic realization different from the usual Old French Deu, Dieu, etc. Another example of a lexical item limited to Judeo-French might be the name of the bird herupe, 'hoopoe,' from a Hebrew-Old French glossary of unclean animal names. The noun is not attested in texts in Latin script, where the hoopoe is called hup(p)e (cf. Bos et al. 2009; Fudeman 2010: 48). In addition, certain patterns of derivational morphology might also be specific to Judeo-French - for instance, the nominal suffixes -eté and -at appear especially productive in certain Judeo-French texts (cf. M. Kiwitt 2001, 53-56). The precise nature and scope of these linguistic phenomena have yet to be investigated.

Selected Bibliography

1 General Works
  • Aslanov, C. 2013. From Latin into Hebrew through the Romance Vernaculars: The Creation of an Interlanguage Written in Hebrew Characters. In R. Rontaine and G. Freudenthal (eds.), Latin-into-Hebrew. Texts and Studies. Leiden, Boston: Brill. 1:69-84.

  • Banitt, M., & C. Aslanov. 2007. Judeo-French. In M. Berenbaum & F. Skolnik (eds.),  Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan. 11: 545.

  • Boehmer, E. 1872. De vocabulis Francogallicis Judaice transcriptis. Romanische Studien 1: 197-220.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2010. Vernacular Voices. Langauge and Identity in Medieval French Jewish Communities. Philadelphia: University Press.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2015. L'ancien français en caractères hébreux. In D. Trotter (ed.), Manuel de la philologie de l'édition [=G. Holtus & F. Sánchez Miret (eds.), Manuals of Romance Linguistics, vol. 4]. Berlin: De Gruyter. 219-236.

  • Kowallik, S. & Kramer, J. 1993. Romanojudaica. Gerbrunn bei Würzburg: Lehmann.

  • Oesterreicher, J. 1896. Beiträge zur Geschichte der jüdisch-französischen Sprache und Literatur im Mittelalter. Czernowitz (Bukowina): Heinrich Pardini.

  • Sala, M. 1998. Die romanischen Judensprachen / Les langues judéo-romanes. In G. Holtus et al. (eds.), Lexikon der Romanistischen Linguistik. Tübingen: Max Niemeyer. 7: 372-395.

  • Zwink, J. Forthcoming. Continental French. In G. Mensching & F. Savelsberg (eds.), Manual of Judaeo-Romance Linguistics and Philology. Berlin, New York: de Gruyter.

2 Bibliographies
  • Möhren, F. 1993. Dictionnaire Etymologique de l'Ancien Français, Complément bibliographique 1993. Québec: Presses de l'Université Laval / Tübingen: Niemeyer. [=DEAFBibél]

  • Wexler, P. 1989. Judeo-Romance Linguistics: A Bibliography (Latin, Italo-, Gallo-, Ibero-, and Rhaeto-Romance except Castilian). New York, London: Garland.

3 Judeo-French Literature
  • Darmesteter, A. 1872. Gloses et glossaires hébreux-français du moyen-âge. Romania 1: 146-176.

3.1 Glosses
  • Ahrend, M. M. 1978. Le commentaire sur Job de Rabbi Yospéph Qara’. Études des méthodes philologiques et exégétiques avec une étude des “le‛azim” par M. Catane. Hildesheim: Gerstenberg.

  • Aslanov, C. 2000. Le français de Rabbi Joseph Kara et de Rabbi Eliézer de Beaugency d’après leurs commentaires sur Ezéchiel. Revue des Études Juives 159: 425-446.

  • Banitt, M. 1985. Rashi: Interpreter of the Biblical Letter. Tel Aviv: Chaim Rosenberg School of Jewish Studies.

  • Brandin, L. (1901), Les gloses françaises (loazim) de Gerschom de Metz. Revue des Études Juives 42: 48-75, 237-252; 43: 72-100.

  • Darmesteter, A. 1909. Les gloses françaises de Raschi dans la Bible. Paris: Durlacher.

  • Darmesteter, A. & D. S. Blondheim. 1929. Les gloses françaises dans le commentaire talmudique de Raschi. Paris: Champion.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2003. The Linguistic Significance of the “Le‛azim” in Josph Kara’s Job Commentary. The Jewish Quarterly Review 93.3-4: 397-414.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2006. The Old French Glosses in Joseph Kara’s Isaiah Commentary. Revue des Études Juives 165: 147-177.

  • Penkower, J. S. 2009. The French and German Glosses (“Le‛azim”) in the Pseudo-Rashi Commentary on Chronicles (12th century Narbonne): The Manuscripts and the Printed Editions. Jewish Studies Quarterly 16: 255-305.

3.2 Biblical Glossaries
  • Banitt, M. 1961. Fragments d'un glossaire judéo-français du moyen âge. Revue des Etudes Juives 120: 259-296

  • Banitt, M. 1966. Les poterim. Revue des Etudes Juives 125: 21-33.

  • Banitt, M. 1972. Le Glossaire de Bâle, 2 Volumes (Corpus Glossariorum Biblicorum Hebraico-Gallicorum Medii Aevi I). Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

  • Banitt, M. 1995-2002. Le Glossaire de Leipzig, 3 Volumes (Corpus Glossariorum Biblicorum Hebraico-Gallicorum Medii Aevi II). Jerusalem: The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

  • Bos, G., Mensching, G. & Zwink, J. 2009, A Late Medieval Hebrew-French Glossary of Biblical Animal Names. Romance Philology 63: 71-94.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2008. Les glossaires bibliques hébraïco-français du XIIIe siècle et le transfert du savoir profane. In S. Dörr & R. Wilhelm (eds.), Transfert des savoirs au Moyen Âge. Wissenstransfer im Mittelalter. Actes de l’Atelier franco-allemand, Heidelberg, 15-18 January 2008. Heidelberg: Winter. 65-80.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2010. Les glossaires hébreu-français du XIIIe siècle et la culture juive en France du nord. In M. Heinz (ed.), Cultures et Lexicographie. Actes des “Troisièmes Journées allemandes des dictionnaires» en l'honneur d'Alain Rey, Klingenberg, 4th-6th July, 2008. Berlin: Frank & Timme. 113-125.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2012. Un fragment inédit d’un glossaire biblique hébreu-français. In S. Dörr & T. Städtler (eds.), “Ki bien voldreit raisun entendre.” Mélanges en l’honneur du 70e anniversaire de Frankwalt Möhren. Strasbourg: Éditions de linguistique et de philologie. 127-146.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2013. Les gloses françaises du glossaire biblique B.N. hébr. 301. Édition critique partielle et étude linguistique. Heidelberg: Winter.

  • Lambert, L. & Brandin, M. 1905 [1977]. Glossaire hébreu-français du XIIIe siècle. Paris (reprint Geneva: Slatkine).

  • Neubauer, A. 1872. Un vocabulaire hébraïco-français. Romanische Studien I-2, 163-196.

3.3 Literary Texts
  • Aslanov, C. 2015. The Lament on the Martyrs of Troyes as a Monument of Judeo-French on the Verge of the Expulsions. In E. Baumgarten & J. D. Galinsky (eds.), Jews and Christians in Thirteenth-Century France. New York: Macmillan. 217-233.

  • Blondheim, D. S. 1927. Poèmes judéo-français du Moyen Age. Paris: Champion.

  • Darmester, A. 1874. Deux Élégies du Vatican. Romania 3: 443-486.

  • Darmester, A. 1881. L’Autodafé de Troyes. Revue des Études Juives 1881: 199-233.

  • Einbinder, S. 1999. The Troyes Laments: Jewish Martyrology in Hebrew and Old French. Viator: Medieval and Renaissance Studies 30: 201-230.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2006b. “They have ears but do not hear”: Gendered access to Hebrew and the Medieval Hebrew-French Wedding Song. The Jewish Quarterly Review 96.4: 542-567.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2008. Restoring a Vernacular Jewish Voice: The Old French Elegy of Troyes. Jewish Studies Quarterly 15.3: 190-221.

  • Hurwitz, S. ha-Levy 1923 [1896-1897]. Simḥah ben Samuel of Vitry, Maḥzor Vitry. Berlin: T.H. Ittskovski (reprint Nuremberg: Y. Bulka for Lyon Press, Brooklyn, N.Y.).

  • Kiwitt, M. 2003. L’élégie de Troyes: une nouvelle lecture. Études médiévales 5: 259-272.

  • Peri, H. 1931. Poems of Religious Disputation in the Middle Ages (with a Hithero Unknown Text in Old French). Tarbiz 2-4: 443-376.

3.4 Technical Texts

  • Katzenellenbogen, L. 1933. Eine altfranzösische Abhandlung über Fieber. Würzburg: Konrad Triltsch.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2001. Der altfranzösische Fiebertraktat Fevres: Teiledition und sprachwissenschaftliche Untersuchung (Würzburger medizinhistorische Forschungen 75). Würzburg: Königshausen & Neumann.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2012a. Éléments hébreux et éléments arabes dans le “Comencement de Sapience”. In J. Ducos (ed.), Sciences et langues au Moyen Âge. Wissenschaften und Sprachen im Mittelalter. Actes de l'Atelier franco-allemand, Paris, 27th-30th January, 2009. Heidelberg: Winter. 157-171.

  • Levy, R. 1973 [1927]. The Astrological Works of Abraham ibn Ezra. A Literary and Linguistic Study with Special Reference to the Old French Translation of Hagin. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins (reprint New York: Johnson Reprint Corporation). 

  • Loeb, I. 1884. Deux livres de commerce du commencement du XIVe siècle. Revue des Études Juives 8: 161-196; 9: 21-50; 187-213.

  • Saye, H. 1931. A Linguistic Study of an Old French Medical Treatise. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins.

  • Zaun, S. 2002. Fieberbehandlung im Mittelalter: Edition und Analyse eines altfranzösischen Texts in hebräischer Graphie. In R. Schleicher & A. Wilske (eds.), Konzepte der Nation: Eingrenzung, Ausgrenzung, Entgrenzung: Beiträge zum 17. Forum Junge Romanistik Frankfurt/Main, 20th-23th June, 2001. Bonn: Romanistischer Verlag. 273-291.

  • Zwink, J. 2006. Étude lexicographique du traité anonyme “Fevres”: Une compilation médicale en ancien français, écrite en caractères hébraïques. Panace@ 24: 250-260.

  • Zwink, J. 2013. Ausbau der medizinischen Fachsprache im Französischen. Lateinische versus altfranzösische Termini in einem mittelalterlichen Fiebertraktat in hebräischer Graphie. In L. Sergo et al. (eds.), Fachsprachen in der Romania. Entwicklung, Verwendung, Übersetzung. Berlin: Frank & Timme. 183-207.

  • Zwink, J. 2017. Altfranzösisch in hebräischer Graphie. Teiledition und Analyse des Medizintraktats “Fevres”. Berlin/Boston: De Gruyter.

4 Linguistic Status of Judeo-French
  • Banitt, M. 1963. Une langue fantôme: le judéo-français. Revue de Linguistique Romane 27: 245-294.

  • Birnbaum, S. A. 1997. Die jiddische Sprache. Hamburg: Helmut Buske. 1-21.

  • Blondheim, D. S. 1925. Les parlers judéo-romans et la Vetus Latina: Etudes sur les rapports entre les traductions bibliques en langue romane des Juifs au Moyen Age et les anciennes versions. Paris: Champion.

  • Edzard, A. 2011. Varietätenlinguistische Untersuchungen zum Judenfranzösischen. Bern, Berlin, Frankfurt am Main: Lang.

  • Fudeman, K. A. 2010. Vernacular Voices: Language and Identity in Medieval French Jewish Communities. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

  • Kiwitt, M. 2012b. Hébreu, français et “judéo-français” dans les commentaires bibliques des paštanim. In: M.-S. Masse & A.-P. Pouey-Mounou (eds.), Langue de l'autre, langue de l'auteur. Affirmation d'une identité linguistique et littéraire au XIIe et XVIe siècles. Actes du colloque tenu à la Bibliothèque Louis Aragon, Amiens, 6th-8th June, 2007. Paris: Droz. 137-154.

  • Kukenheim L. 1963. Judéo-Gallica ou Gallo-Judaïca? Neophilologus 67: 89-111.

  • Weinreich, M. 2008. History of the Yiddish Language, 2 vols. (ed. P. Glassner). New Haven: Yale University Press [= English translation of id., (1973), געשיכטע פֿון דער ייִדישער שפּראַך. (Geshikte fun der yidisher shprakh), 4 vols. New York: YIVO.

5 Lexicographical Works
  • Godefroy, F. 1880-1902. Dictionnaire de l'ancienne langue française et de tous ses dialectes du IXe au XVe siècle. 10 Volumes. Paris.

  • Levy, R. 1932. Recherches lexicographiques sur d'anciens textes d'origine juive. Paris: Les Belles Lettres.

  • Levy, R. 1960. Contribution à la lexicographie française selon d'anciens textes d'origine juive. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.

  • Levy, R. 1964. Trésor de la langue des Juifs français au Moyen Age. Austin: University of Texas Press.

  • Möhren, F. et al. 1974-. Dictionnaire Etymologique de l'Ancien Français. Version électronique. Heidelberger Akademie der Wissenschaften (Continually updated online version) [= DEAFél].

  • Tobler, A. & Lommatzsch, E. 1925-. Altfranzösisches Wörterbuch. 11 Volumes. Berlin / Wiesbaden / Stuttgart. [=TL]

  • Wartburg, W. von. 1922-. Französisches etymologisches Wörterbuch: Eine Darstellung des galloromanischen Sprachschatzes. Bonn / Heidelberg / Leipzig / Basel. [=FEW]

6 Historical and Miscellaneous Works
  • Benbassa, E. 2002. Histoire des Juifs en France. Paris: Seuil.

  • Chazan, R. 1973. Medieval Jewry in Northern France. A Political and Social History. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

  • Dieckhoff, A. 2007. France. In M. Berenbaum & F. Skolnik (eds.), Encyclopaedia Judaica, 2nd ed. Detroit: Macmillan. 7: 146-170.

  • Gross, H. 1897 / Schwarzfuchs, S. 1969. Gallia Judaica: Dictionnaire géographique de la France d'après les sources rabbiniques. Paris (supplement by S. Schwarzfuchs. Amsterdam). Reprint Amsterdam: Philo.

  • Jordan, W. Ch. 2008. Administering Expulsion in 1306. Jewish Studies Quarterly. 15: 241-250.

  • Rabinowitz, L. 1938. The Social Life of the Jews in Northern France as Reflected in the Rabbinical Literature of the Period . London: Edward Goldston.

  • Schwarzfuchs, S. 1975. Les Juifs de France. Paris: Albin Michel.


For a description of contemporary Jewish French, click here.