Judah ibn Kuraish (יהודה אבן קריש), was a Hebrew grammarian and lexicographer. He was born at Tahort, in northern Africa, and flourished in the ninth century. While his grammatical works advanced little beyond his predecessors, he was the first in studying comparative philology in the languages of Hebrew, Aramaic and Arabic. He recognized that the various Semitic languages are derived from one source, and that, although different in their development, they are subject to the same linguistic laws. Judah's grammatical researches were original, and he maintained his views regardless of the Mishnah and the Talmud; hence he has been, erroneously, considered a Karaite.
His Risalah, a letter in Arabic, written in the Hebrew script, to the community at Fez (ed. Bargès and Goldberg, Paris, 1857), is the earliest known contribution to the critical study of the Semitic languages. The work is divided into 3 sections with an introduction. In the preface he warns the community not to neglect the study of the Targumim, since they are important for a correct knowledge of the Bible, which contains many Aramaisms. In the first section, he compares biblical words to similar Aramaic words. In the second section, he focuses on comparing biblical words to later Rabbinic Hebrew words. He makes this comparison for 17 words, even if they do not have a direct comparison. The third section is structured differently than the other two in that he does not deal with individual words. Instead, he deals with the larger relationship between these three Semitic languages. He explores ideas such as the interchange of letters or pronunciation, the presence or loss of certain weaker letters in roots like the Nun, the changes of letters used in tenses, changes in gender in names and number, additional vowels or the lack thereof, etc. An additional section is attached to the third section in which Judah examines the relationship between Arabic and Hebrew specifically. In particular he notes the exchanges of Aleph with Ayin, Ayin with Ghain, Zayin with Dalet, Tsade with Teth, Shin with Taw, etc.
He is also said to have written, in addition to the Risalah, a dictionary, and a book on the Commandments. Of these works, however, little is known about them. Although Judah mentions his dictionary in the Risalah, nothing remains of it or his other book.
- Goldberg, preface to the Risalah, Paris, 1857
- Gustav Karpeles, Geschichte der Jüdischen Literatur, i. 435 et seq., Berlin, 1886
- Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüdische Litteratur, ii.142-144.
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