DOENMEH (Dönme), sect of adherents of
who embraced Islam as a consequence of the failure of the Shabbatean messianic upheaval in the
. After Shabbetai Ẓevi converted to Islam in September 1666, large numbers of his disciples interpreted his apostasy as a secret mission, deliberately undertaken with a particular mystical purpose in mind. The overwhelming majority of his adherents, who called themselves ma'aminim ("believers"), remained within the Jewish fold. However, even while Shabbetai ẓevi was alive several leaders of the ma'aminim thought it essential to follow in the footsteps of their messiah and to become Muslims, without, as they saw it, renouncing their Judaism, which they interpreted according to new principles. Until Shabbetai Zevi's death in 1676 the sect, which at first was centered largely in Adrianople (
), numbered some 200 families. They came mainly from the Balkans, but there were also adherents from
, Brusa, and other places. There were a few outstanding scholars and kabbalists among them, whose families afterward were accorded a special place among the Doenmeh as descendants of the original community of the sect. Even among the Shabbateans who did not convert to Islam, such as
*Nathan of Gaza
, this sect enjoyed an honorable reputation and an important mission was ascribed to it. Clear evidence of this is preserved in the commentary on Psalms (written c. 1679) of Israel Ḥazzan of Castoria.
Many of the community became converts as a direct result of Shabbetai Ẓevi's preaching and persuasion. They were outwardly fervent Muslims and privately Shabbatean ma'aminim who practiced a type of messianic Judaism, based as early as the 1670s or 1680s on "the 18 precepts" which were attributed to Shabbetai Ẓevi and accepted by the Doenmeh communities. (The full text was published in English by G. Scholem, in: Essays … Abba Hillel Silver (1963), 368–86.) These precepts contain a parallel version of the Ten Commandments. However, they are distinguished by an extraordinarily ambiguous formulation of the commandment "Thou shalt not commit adultery," which approximates more to a recommendation to take care rather than a prohibition. The additional commandments determine the relationship of the ma'aminim toward the Jews and the Turks. Intermarriage with true Muslims is strictly and emphatically forbidden.
After the death of Shabbetai Ẓevi the community's center of activities moved to
and remained there until 1924. Shabbetai's last wife, Jochebed (in Islam, ʿĀʾisha), was the daughter of Joseph Philosoph, one of the rabbis of Salonika, and she returned there from Albania after a brief sojourn in Adrianople. Later, she proclaimed her younger brother Jacob Philosoph, known traditionally as
(i.e., "the beloved"), as the reincarnation of the soul of Shabbetai Ẓevi. So many different and contradictory traditions exist concerning the profound upheaval which affected the ma'aminim of Salonika around 1680 and afterward that, for the time being, it is impossible to say which is the most reliable. They all agree that there was considerable tension between the original Doenmeh community and the followers of Jacob Querido, among whom were several of the rabbis of Salonika. As a result of their propaganda, two to three hundred families, under the leadership of two rabbis, Solomon Florentin and Joseph Philosoph, and his son, underwent mass conversion to Islam. There are two contradictory accounts of this conversion. One dates it in the year 1683, and the other at the end of 1686. It is possible that there were two mass conversions, one after the other. Many mystical "revelations" were then experienced in Salonika, and several pamphlets were written reflecting the spiritual tendencies of the various groups. As time went on, most of the apostate families from other cities in Turkey migrated to Salonika and the sect was organized on a more institutional basis. During the 18th century the sect was joined by other Shabbatean groups, particularly from Poland. Jacob Querido demonstrated his outward allegiance to Islam by making the pilgrimage to Mecca with several of his followers – a course of action which the original Doenmeh community opposed. He died on his return from this journey in 1690 or 1695, probably in Alexandria.
Internal conflicts caused a split in the organization and resulted in the formation of two sub-sects: one, according to Doenmeh tradition, was called Izmirlis (Izmirim) and consisted of members of the original community, and the other was known as the Ya'akoviyyim, or in Turkish Jakoblar. A few years after Querido's death another split occurred among the Izmirlis, when around 1700 a new young leader, Baruchiah Russo, appeared among them and was proclaimed by his disciples to be the reincarnation of Shabbetai Ẓevi. In 1716 his disciples proclaimed him as the Divine Incarnation. Russo was apparently of Jewish birth and the son of one of the early followers of Shabbetai Ẓevi. After his conversion he was called "Osman Baba." A third sub-sect was organized around him. Its members were called Konyosos (in Ladino) or Karakashlar (in Turkish). This was considered to be the most extreme group of the Doenmeh community. It had the reputation of having founded a new faith with a leaning toward religious nihilism. Its adherents embarked on a new missionary campaign to the chief cities of the Diaspora. Representatives were sent to Poland, Germany, and Austria, where they were a source of considerable excitement between 1720 and 1726. Branches of this sect, from which the Frankists later emerged, were established in several places. Baruchiah Russo died in 1720 while still young and his grave was an object of pilgrimage for members of the sect until recent times. His son, who became the leader of this sect, died in 1781. During the period of the French Revolution a powerful leader of one of the sects (either the Izmirim or the Baruchiah sect), known as "Deverish Effendi," became prominent. He is perhaps to be identified with the Doenmeh preacher and poet, Judah Levi Tovah, several of whose poems and homiletical expositions in Ladino were preserved in manuscripts belonging to the Doenmeh and are now in a number of public collections.
It soon became clear to the Turkish authorities that these apostates, who had been expected to encourage the Jews to convert to Islam, had no intention of assimilating, but were determined to continue to lead a closed sectarian existence, although outwardly they strictly observed the practices of Islam, and were politically loyal citizens. From the beginning of the 18th century, they were called Doenmeh, meaning (in Turkish) either "converts" or "apostates." However, it is not clear whether this is a reference to their conversion from Judaism or to the fact of their not being true Muslims. The Jews called them minim ("sectarians") and among the writings of the Salonika rabbis there are several responsa dealing with the problems of how they are to be treated and whether they are to be regarded as Jews or not. They settled in specific quarters of Salonika, and their leaders were on friendly terms with Sufic circles, and with the dervish orders among the Turks, particularly the Baktashi. At the same time they maintained secret ties not only with those Shabbateans who had not converted, but also with several rabbis in Salonika, who, when knowledge of the Torah diminished among the Doenmeh, were paid for secretly settling points of law for them. These relationships were severed only in the middle of the 19th century. This double-faced behavior becomes clear only when their ambiguous attitude toward traditional Judaism is taken into account. On one level, they regarded the latter as void, its place being taken by a higher, more spiritual Torah, called Torah de-Aẓilut ("Torah of Emanation"). But on another level there remained certain areas in which they sought to conduct
themselves according to the actual Torah of talmudic tradition, called Torah di-Beri'ah ("Torah of Creation").
The numerical strength of the Doenmeh is only approximately known. According to the Danish traveler,
, around 600 families lived in Salonika in 1774, and they married only among themselves. Before World War I their number was estimated to be between 10,000 and 15,000, divided more or less equally among the three sub-sects, with the Konyosos having a slight numerical majority. At first, knowledge of Hebrew was common among the Doenmeh and their liturgy was originally standardized in Hebrew. This can be seen in the part of their prayer book which is still extant (Scholem, in: KS, vols. 18 and 19). However, as time went on the use of Ladino increased, and both their homiletic and poetic literature was written in that tongue. They continued to speak Ladino among themselves up to about 1870 and it was only later that Turkish replaced it as the language of everyday speech.
As far as social structure is concerned, there were distinct differences among the three sub-sects which developed apparently between 1750 and 1850. The aristocrats of Doenmeh society were the Izmirlis, who were called Cavalleros in Ladino or Kapanjilar in Turkish. These included the great merchants and the middle classes, as well as most of the Doenmeh intelligentsia. They were also the first to show, from the end of the 19th century, a marked tendency toward assimilation with the Turks. The Jakoblar community of Ya'akoviyyim included a large number of lower- or middle-class Turkish officials, while the third and most numerous group, the Konyosos (according to the few available accounts), consisted as time went on mainly of the proletariat and artisan classes, e.g., porters, shoemakers, barbers, and butchers. Some say that for a long time practically all the barbers of Salonika belonged to this group. Each Doenmeh had a Turkish and a Hebrew name (for use in Turkish and Doenmeh society respectively). Furthermore, they preserved the original Sephardi family names, which are mentioned in poems composed in honor of the dead; many of these poems have survived in manuscript. Doenmeh cemeteries were used in common by all the sub-sects. In contrast, each sect had its particular synagogue (called Kahal – "congregation") at the center of its own quarter, concealed from the outsider.
Their liturgies were written in a very small format so that they could easily be hidden. All the sects concealed their internal affairs from Jews and Turks so successfully that for a long time knowledge of them was based only on rumor and upon reports of outsiders. Doenmeh manuscripts revealing details of their Shabbatean ideas were brought to light and examined only after several of the Doenmeh families decided to assimilate completely into Turkish society and transmitted their documents to friends among the Jews of Salonika and Izmir. As long as the Doenmeh were concentrated in Salonika, the sect's institutional framework remained intact, although several Doenmeh members were active in the Young Turks' movement which originated in that city. The first administration that came to power after the Young Turk revolution (1909) included several ministers of Doenmeh origin, including the minister of finance,
, who was a descendant of the Baruchiah Russo family and served as one of the leaders of his sect. One assertion that was commonly made by many Jews of Salonika (denied, however, by the Turkish government) was that
Atatürk was of Doenmeh origin. This view was eagerly embraced by many of Atatürk's religious opponents in Anatolia.
With the exchange of population that followed the Greco-Turkish war of 1924, the Doenmeh were compelled to leave Salonika. Most of them settled in Istanbul, and a few in other Turkish cities such as Izmir and Ankara. In the Turkish press at that time there was a lively debate about the Jewish character of the Doenmeh and their assimilation. When they were uprooted from the great Jewish center of Salonika, assimilation began to spread widely. Nevertheless, there is reliable evidence that the organizational framework of the Konyosos sect survived, and as late as 1960 many families still belonged to this organization. Among the Turkish intelligentsia, one of the professors at the University of Istanbul was widely regarded as the leader of the Doenmeh. Attempts to persuade them to return to Judaism and to immigrate to Israel have borne little fruit. Only a few isolated Doenmeh families were among the Turkish immigrants to Israel.
There is hardly any basic difference in religious opinions between the Doenmeh and the other sects who believed in Shabbetai Ẓevi. In their literature, as far as it is known, there is hardly a mention of their belonging to the Islamic fold. Their claim of being the true Jewish community is not unlike the claims of the early Christians and the Christian church. They preserved their faith in Shabbetai Ẓevi, who had abrogated the practical commandments of the material Torah and had opened up "the spiritual Torah" of the upper world as a substitute. The principle of the divinity of Shabbetai Ẓevi was firmly developed and accepted by the sect, as was the threefold nature of the upper forces of emanation, called telat kishrei demeheimanuta ("the three bonds of faith"). In addition to their abrogation of the practical commandments and their mystical trinitarian belief, one factor in particular aroused great opposition among their contemporaries. This was their obvious inclination to permit marriages which were halakhically forbidden, and to conduct religious ceremonies which involved the exchange of wives and which, therefore, bastardized their issue according to Jewish law. Accusations of sexual licentiousness were made from the beginning of the 18th century, and although many have tried to belittle their importance there is no doubt that sexual promiscuity existed for many generations. The long sermon of Judah Levi Tovah (published by I.R. Molcho and R. Shatz, in: Sefunot, 3–4 (1960), 395–521) contains a spirited defense of the abrogation of the sexual prohibitions contained in the material "Torah of Creation." Orgiastic ceremonies in fact took place in the main on the Doenmeh Ḥag ha-Keves ("Festival of the Lamb") which fell on the 22nd of Adar and was recognized as a celebration of the beginning of
spring. In addition, they celebrated other festivals, connected with the life of Shabbetai Ḥevi and particular events associated with their apostasy. They did not abstain from work on their festivals in order not to arouse outside curiosity. They contented themselves with rituals on the eve of their festivals. The Doenmeh liturgy for Tishah be-Av, the birthday of Shabbetai Ḥevi, called Ḥg ha-Semaḥot ("Festival of Rejoicing"), is extant in Hebrew and contains a Shabbatean adaptation of some of the High Holy Day prayers, with the addition of a solemn declaration of their Shabbatean creed, consisting of eight paragraphs (KS, vol. 18, 309–10).