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
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.
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).
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.