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What is Aramaic?

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Question: What is Aramaic?

Answer: Aramaic, a Semitic language used widely in the ancient Near East, was used by Jews from the Second Temple period and onward.

The term Aramaic is derived from Aram, a grandson of Noah. Aramaic is a three thousand year old language. It was first cited in ancient royal inscriptions between 900-700 B.C.E.

Between about 700-320 B.C.E., Aramaic held a position similar to that occupied by English today. Jews started to shift from Hebrew to Aramaic sometime between 721-500 B.C.E. Aramaic became the everyday language of the Jewish masses. Jesus and his disciples spoke and wrote in Aramaic.

Aramaic was used by the Jews in all legal documents of the michnaic and talmudic periods. Thus Aramaic can be found today in Jewish legal papers such as the marriage contract (Ketubah) and divorce documents (Get). Aramaic can be found in the Talmud, Zohar, Book of Ezra and Book of Daniel. The mourner's prayer, called Kaddish, is actually an ancient Aramaic poem.

Between the 13th-14th century C.E., Arabic supplanted Aramaic. However, Christians in many Near Eastern countries (such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Turkey and Lebanon) continued to use Aramaic. Modern Hebrew has adapted many of the Aramaic words it acquired over the centuries, and Kurdish Jews still speak Aramaic today.

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