ISTANBUL, city in N.W.
, on both sides of the Bosphorus at its entrance on the Sea of Marmara (for history prior to 1453, see
). Constantinople was taken from the Byzantine emperor in 1453 by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II (1451–81) and became the new capital of his state, known from then on as Istanbul. The Arabs called it Qusṭanṭīniyya, and the Jews wrote the name Qustantina (or Qustandina), hence the name Kushta in Hebrew. During the Ottoman period three townlets in its vicinity became quarters of Istanbul: Galata, between the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus; Eyüp, at the northwest extremity of the Golden Horn; and Üsküdar (Scutari), on the eastern shore of the Bosphorus. The town occupied a central position on the routes between Asia and Europe and the maritime communications between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean Sea passed through it. It also served as an administrative and commercial center. After World War I the capital of Turkey was transferred to Ankara.
The 15th and 16th Centuries
Immediately after the conquest of the town on May 29, 1453, the armies of Mehmed, II, the Conqueror, perpetrated a massacre of its inhabitants which lasted for several days; they did not, however, according to one opinion, attack the Jewish community, and according to some Ottoman sources (fermans
Figure 1. Jewish quarters in Istanbul in the 17th century. 1. Areas designated for Jewish settlement by Sultan Muhammad II in 1453. 2. The Jews' Bath is believed to have been in this neighborhood. 3. Area with a majority of Jewish inhabitants. Don Joseph Nasi's famous residence, Belvedere, was near this quarter. 4. Site of a well-known printing press in the late 16th century. 5. Near there was the Jewish cemetery which, according to the Armenian geographer, Inciciyan, owed its special sanctity to the fact that, lying on the Asiatic side of the Bosphorus, it was not separated by sea from the Holy Land. 6. Jews' Gate, one of the main Jewish quarters, in early Ottoman Istanbul. Some of the Jews transported from Salonika by Muhammad II are said to have been settled here. After U. Heyd, "The Jewish Communities of Istanbul," Oriens, vol. 6, 1953.
from the 16th and 17th centuries) the Jews assisted the Ottoman armies in their conquest of the town. Some sources say that the fate of the Jewish residents in the city was not different from that of their Greek neighbors, and Jews who did not run away in time were killed, their women and daughters were raped and their houses were plundered by the Ottoman soldiers. During the conquest the old synagogues of the community in the district of Balat were destroyed. Prior to the siege, the majority of the Jews resided in the area called now Galata, Kasim Pasha and Hasköy. In the census of 1455, which was incomplete, the names of Jews appeared as residents of two quarters: Fabya, near the church of San Fabyan, and Samona, near Karaköy. There was also a Jewish quarter near the church of San Benito, but only a few Jews lived there. The survey of 1472 does not mention even one Jewish household in Galata, and this remained the situation until the middle of the 16th century. In order to renovate the town, populate it, and convert it rapidly into a flourishing and prosperous capital, Mehmed II adopted a policy of transferring Muslim, Christian, and Jewish inhabitants, most of them merchants and craftsmen, from various regions of the empire – principally from Anatolia and the Balkans – to the new capital. All the transferred Jews were Romaniots (see
) and were called by the Ottoman authorities "sürgün" (after the Turkish word for "those who were exiled") to distinguish them from the other Jews, principally from Spain, Portugal, Ashkenaz (Germany), and other European lands, who were named "kendi gelen," meaning "those who came of their own free will." The sürgüns also included the survivors and escapees of Jews from the city who resettled in it as sürgün. All the Jewish population of Asia Minor and many communities in Greece, Macedonia, and Bulgaria were deported to Istanbul over a period of 20 years. They paid taxes to the vakif of the Sultan Mehmed II and had a special status forbidding them to leave Istanbul without a license of the Ottoman authorities. There were sürgüns in the 16th century who left the city, and continued paying their taxes in Istanbul. They paid higher taxes than those paid by the kendi gelen directly to the central treasury. The sürgün settled in the vicinity of the commercial complex of Mahmud Pasha. The surveys made for the vakif of Mehmed II in 1535, 1540, and 1545 noted the existence of a congregation named Galata, but it is clear that this congregation must have been located not in Galata and was comprised of Jews whose origin was Galata. Most sürgüns settled in a trapezoid-shaped area formed by Eminönü, Sirkeci, Tahtakale, Mahmud Pasha, and Zeyrek. The 1495 register of the vakif of Mehmed II mentions many locations where Jews were living. In addition to the Edirne (Karaite) quarter near the harbor of Eminönü are Balik Pazari, Zindan Hani, Sari Demir, on the way to Unkapani, Tahtakale, the area near Edirne Kapi, Sirkeci, and locations in the other direction from Eminönü toward Sarayburnu. In 1569 a great fire broke out in the Jewish area, but according to the 1595–97 register of the vakif of Mehmed II, 60 percent of the Jews were still living in the trapezoid. The main settlement was the quarters of Balik Pazari and Babi Orya. There were a few sürgüns who settled in Balat near Egri Kapi, where the Jewish community had its most important cemetery. The congregations there were Okhrida, Yanbul, Kastoria, and Karaferiye. Only 20 percent of Istanbulʾs Jews resided in Balat at the end of the 16th century. Another place where Romaniots settled after the conquest was in the neighborhood of Samatia (Psamatia) near the Castle of Yediküle on the Marmara coast. The Jews also had an old cemetery in Kasim Pasha, and it is clear that Jews resided in Kasim Pasha and in Hasköy in the middle of the 15th century. Hasköy had been a center of
at the beginning of the 16th century. Many Ashkenazi Jews settled in this area in the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries. In the middle of the 16th century Portugese Jews settled in Galata. In 1540, 47 Romaniot congregations based on their places of origin existed; each was conducted by an autonomous leadership and had separate institutions. The Ashkenazi, Sephardi and Italian Jews also built separate and autonomous congregations. A few Ottoman censuses make it possible to evaluate the demographic changes in the community of Istanbul in the 15th and 16th centuries. The census of 1477 shows 1,647 Jewish households in Istanbul, forming 11 percent of the total population; in 1489, the number had risen to 2,027 and by the turn of the 15th century we find 3,600 Jews in the city out of 100,000 inhabitants. An Ottoman register from 1535 lists 8,070 Jewish households in the capital. In the middle of that century the
Jewish population rose from some 18,000 persons to nearly 50,000. A jizya register of 1542 informs us about 1,490 Jewish householders. A slight growth from 2,645 Jewish hane (family) in 1529 to 2,807 hane in 1566 is recorded in another survey, and all together we find 1,647 Jewish households in the years 1520–1539 out of a total of 16,326 households. European travelers in Istanbul and Jewish sources give higher figures for the Jewish community of Istanbul.
On the eve of the Ottoman conquest and after it, the community was led by
R. Moses b. Elijah *Capsali
. The Jews of Istanbul constituted a religious-administrative unit which enjoyed an extensive internal autonomy. The first to represent the Jewish community of Istanbul was the Romaniot Rabbi Moses Capsali. In addition to its religious importance, this function was also of a political nature. Capsali concerned himself with the internal affairs of his community, served as the representative of the Istanbul Jewish congregations before the government, and collected the Jewish taxes. He was named "The leading rabbi" but had difficulty imposing his authority over the congregations of the newcomers, especially the Sephardim. He had disputes with some rabbis and secular leaders from Istanbul and other cities. After his death, around 1498–1500,
R. Elijah *Mizraḥi
was actually the rabbi bearing the title "the leader Rabbi" of the Romaniot congregations. During his tenure he had grown weak, and, as he states himself, he could not take care of the task because the problems of the congregations were numerous, so the secular affairs of the community were in the hands of a Spanish Jew,
(Salto) who had the office of *kahya, collected taxes from the Jews and dealt with all their financial matters with the Ottoman authorities. After 20 years of service, Shealtiel was ousted from office by the community leaders on October 19, 1518, after many complaints of bribery and arbitrary taxes were lodged against him by Jews. The community banned him and his sons from holding the position of kahya or performing any other function involving contact with the Ottoman authorities. He was returned to office on April 29, 1520, by the leaders of the congregations and R. Elijah Mizrahi. After the death of Shealtiel no successor replaced him. After R. Elijah Mizrahi died in 1526, R. Elijah (son of R. Binyamin) ha-Levi was recognized by all the Romaniot communities, and after his death in 1534 or 1535 R. Abraham Yerushalmi inherited his office in the year 1555. Some of the Romaniot scholars who were forced to leave the city during the conquest later returned. Among them we note R. Mordecai Comitiano and R. Shalom ben Joseph Anavi. Among the Romaniot scholars settling in Istanbul after the conquest we note R. Efraim ben Gershon, R. Meshullam, R. Abbaye, R. Menachem Tamari, and R. Elijah ha-Stipyoni. A few Spanish scholars settled in the city before the expulsion, such as R. Hanokh Saporta of Catalonia and R. Gedaliah ibn Yahya (d. in Istanbul in 1488), the author of Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah.
Ashkenazi Jews had already settled in the town before the Ottoman conquest, but their greatest numbers arrived at a later date. Some from Hungary and Austria first arrived during the 15th century in reaction to the enthusiastic appeal which was included in a letter sent by R. Isaac Ẓarfati, an inhabitant of Adrianople (second half of the 15th century), to the Jews of Germany, Austria, and Hungary, in which he described the agreeable, peaceful, and happy life of the Jews of Ottoman Turkey. The proximity to Ereẓ Israel and messianic aspirations also drew many Jews into settling in Istanbul and other towns of the Ottoman Empire. Refugees from Bavaria, who had been expelled by King Ludwig IX, arrived during the late 1460s. The second wave arrived after the conquest of Hungarian territories during the reign of the sultan
the Magnificent (1526). For many years the Ashkenazi community enjoyed an independent status. The Ashkenazim continued relations with their coreligionists in their countries of origin, and were slow to assimilate among the Sephardim. In time the differences disappeared. Spanish and Portuguese Jews arrived in the town as a result of the massive expulsions of 1492 and 1497. Among the refugees who came to the capital after 1492 were eminent Torah scholars, rabbis, dayyanim, rashei yeshivot and authors of significant books. Between 1492 and 1520 there settled in Istanbul R. Abraham Hayyun, R. David Ibn Yahya, R. Isaac ben Joseph Caro, R. Abraham Ibn Ya'ish, R. Judah Ibn Bulat, R. Solomon Taitazak and his famous son Joseph Taitazak, R. Isaac Dondon, R. Solomon Altabib, R. Moshe ben Shem Tov Ibn Habib, R. Solomon Almoli, and R. Jacob Tam ibn Yahya. Other active rabbis in Istanbul in the 16th century were R. Joseph ibn Lev, R. Samuel Ḥakham Halevi, R. Samuel Jaffe Ashkenazi, R. Elijah ben Hayyim, R. Gedaliah Ibn Hayyun. The Italian R. Joshua Soncino served as rabbi of a Spanish congregation.
Strong tensions also existed between the Romaniot scholars who came with the sürgün, and the spiritual leaders of the native Romaniot community over questions of halakhah and minhagim. Later, disputes occurred about hegemony between Romaniot and Sephardi leaders. The
in Istanbul were also involved in a dispute between the Romaniot and the Sephardi scholars over the attitude toward them. The Romaniots wanted to follow their tradition to teach the Karaites. At the beginning of the 16th century, the Sephardim were still struggling with the Romaniots over issues such as the right over a proportionate amount of the meat supplied to the Jewish community; they did not recognize the authority of the Romaniot leader rabbi. By the time of R. Elijah Mizrahiʾs death, the influence of the Sephardi minhagim had increased. The Sephardim in town agreed to accept the Romaniot custom considering the erusin as kidushin, and this decision was upheld in Istanbul for hundreds of years. In the years 1582–1603 the Romaniots were still a majority of the Jews in the city. The Jews of Istanbul established famous yeshivot which were headed by R. Elijah Mizrahi, R.
Joseph ibn *Lev
*Tam ibn Yaḥya
*Elijah b. Ḥayyim
. The Spanish yeshivot in the city continued the teaching methods of the original Spanish yeshivah. R. Yosef Taitazak was brought from
to head a Spanish yeshivah supported by wealthy patrons, and in 1554/5 Gracia Mendes appointed the Spanish Salonikan Rabbi Joseph Ibn Lev to head the new yeshivah she founded.
THE ORGANIZATION OF THE KAHAL, AND ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL LIFE OF THE JEWISH COMMUNITY
The refugees founded various
(kahal-kehalim) according to their country of origin, the region-province, or the town which they had abandoned. The refugees of Spain, Sicily, and Portugal who arrived in Istanbul founded the congregations called Gerush Sepharad, Cordova, Aragon, Messina, Sicily, and Portugal. These congregations jealously maintained their independence and individuality. Every kahal had its own synagogue, rabbi, teacher, talmud torah, ḥevra kaddisha, welfare institutions (hekdeshim), and various societies, such as gemilut ḥasadim ("benevolent society"), bikkur ḥolim ("visiting of the sick"), and societies for the support of the yeshivot of Tiberias; in most cases they also had a bet din. Moreover, secular affairs were handled by a group of functionaries called maʿamad. The members of the maʿamad were called memunnim, berurim, and gabbaʾim, tovei hakahal, or nikhbadim. A majority of these persons were important businessmen. They were elected in the presence of all the taxpayers of the kahal and administered the affairs of the kahal according to established agreements and takkanot. These leaders were responsible for the registration of the kahal members, and the imposition and collection of taxes, and their transfer to the Ottoman authorities. In every kahal, the ḥakham (Rabbi) was the spiritual leader of the congregation and headed its law court. Penalties, such as the ḥerem and niddui ("bans"), were imposed on those who challenged the opinion of the rabbi of the kahal. The takkanot and agreements on which they based their decisions concerned various matters, especially social and economic ones, such as the prohibition of leaving one kahal for another, tax assessments, the appointment of rabbis and Torah teachers and the conditions of their actiivity, the prohibition of wearing expensive apparel and jewels by women, ḥazakot. Sephardi congregations did not have a single rabbinical authority over all the rabbis. During the 16th century the new settlers from Europe, especially from Portugal and Italy, founded many new congregations. A significant congregation named "Seniora" was founded by Gracia Mendes in the middle of the 16th century for the anusim from Portugal settling in Istanbul. Following disputes in some congregations, there were individuals or groups who preferred to set up new congregations or to join others. The congregations enabled individuals to change their affiliations only before the tax assessment and payment. Great fires that ruined the southern shore of the Golden Horn in 1539 and 1554 caused many Jews to move to areas where they joined congregations whose customs differed from theirs. The 1569 fire in what became Yeni Cami brought many Jews to Hasköy and elsewhere before the famous mosque was built there. Other fires broke out in 1568, 1569, and 1588.
The numerous kehalim of the capital had their roof organization, which was known in responsa literature as Ha-Vaʿad ha-Kolel shel ha-Kehillot, to which every kahal sent its delegate. There were also other institutions in which all the kehalim were associated.
The 16th century was thus a flourishing period for the community, and Istanbul became one of the world's most important Jewish centers. Not long after the settlement of the sürgün, the Jews in Istanbul were excelling in traditional fields of big business, especially in commerce, crafts, medicine, and the manufacture of firearms. They were involved in a lucrative trade of cloth and spices, and Jews from Istanbul traveled to trade with centers such as Bursa, Salonika, Caffa, Kilia, and Akkerman, Egypt, Aleppo, Dubrovnik, Venice, and Ancona. In 1514 the Jewish guild of physicians in Istanbul had six members and the Muslim guilds had sixteen members. A considerable number of Jews were involved in tax farming and the farming of mints all over the empire in the second half of the 15th century. Until the end of the 16th century the richest congregations of Istanbul were the Romaniot. Jews of Istanbul were allowed to work in all aspects of economic activity except those performed by the Ottoman administrative-military system of government. Many Jews of Istanbul produced and sold food and wine. There were Jews compelled by the government to bring sheep from Anatolia and the Balkans to Istanbul, causing some of them to go bankrupt. Many Istanbul Jews were engaged in all the various occupations dealing with precious metals and stones. The farming of the minting house of Istanbul was often in Jewish hands in the second half of the 15th century and in the 16th century Many Istanbuli Jews were *sarrafs (money changers). Other Jews focused on the production of luxury textiles such as silk and also traded in angora wool brought from Anatolia. Many other crafts and occupations were engaged in by Jews in Istanbul; they were, for example, tailors, carpenters, pharmacists, bakers, fishermen, tinsmiths, glassmakers, blacksmiths, painters, bookbinders, and also actors, dancers, and musicians. Many Jews owned shops in the markets of Istanbul. For international trade some of the Jewish merchants of Istanbul used the services of larger entrepreneurs, exporters and importers, and others sent their representatives to other cities. The Spanish Jews in Istanbul had close trading connections with Spanish communities in Italy, Europe, and the Levant. Many Jews in Istanbul became wealthy, and the economic elite in the Jewish community included many Romaniots and Sephardim.
Another significant phenomenon which contributed to the security of the Jewish community was the activism of the court Jews, especially physicians. It is worth noting Jacob (Hekim Yakub) who served as personal physician to Mehmed II until his own death in 1481, and received a tax exemption for himself and his descendants in the Ottoman Empire. Jacob was also a financial adviser to the sultan and his translator, and he seems to also have been a companion to the sultan on every military campaign. Moreover, he maintained close connections with Italian diplomats in Istanbul. Mehmed II appointed this qualified Jew as defterdar, the high official in charge of the treasury. Later he converted to Islam at an advanced age and was appointed vizier. Some of his sons remained Jewish and enjoyed the privilege exempting them from all taxes. Jacob's career ended in the early 1480s, and at the same time (c. 1481) the physician Efraim ben Nissim Ibn Sanchi arrived in Istanbul from Portugal. He became a court physician and his son
Abraham also fulfilled the same role in the court. During the 16th century the most significant physicians of the court were the members of the
family, Joseph and his son Moses of Granada (who served the sultans
, the Magnificent) and the grandson and great grandson, Joseph and Isaac Hamon. There were also prominent Jewish capitalists and bankers who held central positions in the financial areas of the empire – treasury and lease of taxes – and positions of a political nature; their influence at court was beneficial to the Jewish communities of Istanbul and other towns. During the third quarter of the 16th century, the
family played an important role in the life of the city. This Marrano family from Portugal owned a bank in Lisbon with a branch in Antwerp. After the death of Francesco Mendes, the head of the bank, his widow Gracia (
) left Lisbon with her young daughter Reyna and her nephew João Micas for Antwerp and from there continued to Venice and Turkey. In Istanbul they openly returned to Judaism in 1553 and João Micas called himself
. A short while later, he married Reyna, the daughter of Gracia. There were now ample opportunities available to the Nasi family for financial and commercial activities in the town. Their affairs were not limited to giving credit but also included commercial negotiations with various European countries and competition with the Venetian merchants for the Levantine trade. The friendship of Joseph Nasi with the sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and his son Selim II won him an influence in state affairs which he exploited not only for his own benefit but also for the Jews in general. He made generous donations to the yeshivot of the capital, while at the same time the Mendes family established a large and renowned yeshivah, supporting its students and its head R. Joseph ibn Lev. This yeshivah was named Yeshivat ha-Gevirah after Dona Gracia Mendes, by means of whose financial contributions the novellae and the responsa of R. Joseph ibn Lev, which were debated in the yeshivah, were published. They also supported the Hebrew printing press in the capital (see below). Through its extensive influence Gracia Mendes obtained as a multazima (lessee) a concession from the sultan to rebuild the town of
, which lay in ruins. Joseph Nasi supported this act, but he and Gracia Mendes did not manage to visit the town. The family assisted in its reconstruction and gave financial support to the yeshivah of Tiberias, which had been reestablished by the ḥakhamim of
who had come down to the town. This yeshivah was later supported by Don Solomon ibn Ya'ish of Istanbul whose son Jacob settled there and was known as a pious scholar. During the 16th century a few Jewish women were active in the harems of the sultans by rendering various services. These women had the title
. The most famous kieras were Strongilah, Espiranza Malki, and
. In 1566 R. Moshe Almosnino prepared a list of court Jews in Istanbul who helped him to obtain the Writ of Freedom (mu'afname) from the sultan for the Jewish community of Salonika: Joseph Nasi, Judah Di Sigura, Abraham Salma, Meir Ibn Sanji, and Joseph Hamon. Generally those court Jews were very wealthy and attempted to help their brethren in Istanbul and other Ottoman Jewish communities by using their political connections, Sometimes they became involved in internal quarrels of other communities. Gracia Mendes and Joseph Nasi used their status in the Istanbul community and at court, after the burning of the anusim in Ancona in the year 1555, to ban the harbor of Ancona and transfer the Jewish Ottoman mercantile representatives to the city of Pesaro. From 1564 R. Shelomo Ashkenazi served as the personal physician of the sultan; he was sent by the sultan Selim II to arrange the peace treaty in 1573 between the Ottoman Empire and Venice. During the reign of the sultan Murad III (1574–95), however, the Jewish community was shaken by a decree ordering the killing of Jews, which resulted from the appearance of men and women in the streets in rich clothing and jewels. As a result of the intervention of the physician R.
at court, the decree was mitigated, but Jews were forbidden to wear such apparel. Subsequently, the rabbis of Istanbul and the community leaders reached an agreement that "the women and the girls shall not go out in grandiose apparel, golden jewelry, and precious stones." Bula Ikshati Ashkenazi, the wife of Solomon Ashkenazi was also active as a physician at court at the turn of that century.
Don Solomon Ibn Ya'ish (1520–1603) also had very important political and economic status in Istanbul. He was an active diplomat of the Ottoman Empire after settling in Istanbul in 1580 and was also the farmer of the Istanbul customs. Until his death he served the sultans Murad III (1574–1595) and Mehmed III (1595–1603) and was deeply involved in Ottoman politics.
The 17th Century
The economic and cultural decline of the Jewish community of Istanbul began during the 17th century, together with a general decline of the Ottoman Empire. The great fires which devastated a number of quarters during the 17th century (1606, 1618, 1633) induced the Ottomans to transfer the Jews especially to Hasköy, causing changes in the structure of the kehalim. The ancient organization according to origin and synagogue fell into disuse and many Jews joined synagogues near their new residence even if they belonged to another kahal. This process was essentially responsible for the fusion of the Romaniots with the Sephardim. From this time onward each individual identified himself according to the quarter or neighborhood he lived in. In 1608, 24 Romaniot congregations existed in Istanbul including 1,152 households, one Karaite congregation with 70 households, 8 Spanish congregations with 539 households, 4 Italian congregations with 209 households, 2 Ashkenazi congregations with 77 households, one Hungarian congregation with 59 households, and two unidentified congregations including 89 households. The total Jewish population was 2,195 households. In the Hasköy cemetery in 1609–1623 the Romaniots were 30.7 percent of the identified stones, the Ashkenazim were 15.3 percent, and the Iberian Jews were 38.4 percent. In the period 1624–1700 the Romaniots
were 27.1 percent of the identified stones, the Ashkenazim were 14.2 percent, and the Iberian Jews were 46.3 percent. According to the Ottoman census of 1603–1608, 55.6 percent of the Jews of Istanbul were Romaniots, 5.9 percent were Ashkenazim, and 38.5 percent were Iberian Jews. According to the Ottoman census of 1623, the Romaniots were 57 percent of the Jewish population, the Ashkenazim were 1.5 percent, and the Iberian Jews were 41.5 percent. In 1634, according to one source, there were in the city 2,555 Jewish tax-units. The last census of the century, in 1688, reflects the drastic change in the ethnic groups of the community, especially reflecting the decrease in Romaniot figures over time. There were 3,611 Jewish jizya payers, i.e., 18,000 individuals. In Balat there were 1,547 Jewish households; in Galata, 1,033; in Hasköy, 515; and in Orta Köy, 637 households. The Romaniots were only 27.8 percent of the Jewish population, the Ashkenazim were 4.1 percent, and the Iberian Jews were 68.1 percent. Maps describing the Jewish population in the city in the 17th century indicate major Jewish concentrations alongside both the Golden Horn and the Bosphorus. In Orta Köy the Jews were a majority of the local population, and according to the Turkish traveler Evliya Çelebi the same situation existed in Hasköy. In that century there were some wealthy Jews who lived in palaces.
During the 17th century many Sephardi Jews, former anusim, and many Italian Jews settled in Istanbul, which assisted the growth of the Sephardi and Italian congregations. In that century the Jewish population became much more integrated and homogenous in its culture, and the majority of its spiritual leaders were Sephardim. " Va'ad Berurei Averot," whose authority was to deal with offenders, was very active in Istanbul. Special appointees to deal with ritual questions (issur ve-hetter) functioned in Istanbul from the 17th century until the beginning of the 20th. The appointees issued regulations on many matters relating to kashrut, ritual matters, and personal morality. In the community batei din functioned in the various districts, and there also existed a supreme beit din. In that century every kahal had at least one kahya, and it is possible that at times there also served one kahya of the Romaniots and another of the Sephardim. At the beginning of the century the palace medical staff consisted of 41 Jewish physicians and 21 Muslim physicians. Following the economic decline in the number of Istanbulʾs Jewish residents, the number of Jewish physicians and advisers at the court fell. By mid-17th century the medical staff was reduced to fourteen Muslim physicians and four Jews only. Still, Jews served at the court of the sultan until the second half of the 18th century and even at the beginning of the 19th. Sultan Ibrahim I (1630–1648) sent a Jewish diplomat, Samuel Markus, to Madrid. The Italian Israel Conegliano (Conian; c. 1650–c. 1717) settled in Istanbul in 1675 and became the physician of Grand Vezir Kara Mustafa Pasha and was also consulted by Sultan Mehmed IV (1648–1687).
During the reign of Sultan Murad IV, in 1633, a blood libel against the Jews of Istanbul occurred, saying that they had murdered a Turkish child on the eve of Passover (see
). Following the massacres of 1648–49 in
, the Cossacks, Tatars, and Ukrainians took many Jews into captivity and sold them in Istanbul. The Jews of Istanbul competed with one another in observing the precept of redeeming captives, thus saving thousands of Jews. The community of Istanbul sent a special emissary to Italy and Holland in order to raise funds for the redemption of captives. R.
, the author of Yeven Meẓulah, who was an eyewitness to the events in Podolia and Volhynia and escaped through Western Europe, writes:
There was among them [the Jews] a ḥazzan and his name was R. Hirsch. When the Tatars came, he began to lament and to intone the El Male Raḥamim [prayer for the departed] in a loud voice over the deaths of our brothers of the House of Israel; all the assembled broke into a great weeping and they aroused the mercy of their captors who comforted them with kind words and said to them: "Be not concerned, you will not lack food nor drink. Tomorrow we shall bring you to your brothers in Constantinople and they will redeem you." In this fashion the Tatars dealt with our brothers of the House of Israel in Istanbul, who redeemed them together with the other captives from Poland – about 20,000 souls – and they spent much money on them.
In the 17th century the Jews of Istanbul lost many of their former professions and were gradually reduced to secondary positions, typically as agents or tax farmers. They suffered further disadvantages, such as growing economic competition with the European-backed Christians and incessant internal disputes. In 1666
arrived in Istanbul, and the opinion of the Jews of the capital was divided: the majority feared that his appearance would be the cause for actions against Jews in general. Others were attracted by his messianic enthusiasm and went out to meet him in order to pay him homage. The opponents informed the grand vizier of this and he ordered Shabbetai Ẓevi's arrest. The imperial police seized and imprisoned him in Gelibolu. After Shabbetai Zevi's conversion the communal leadership sought to limit the damage within the Jewish communities as much as possible. They did it by calming the people and by attempting to prevent discussion on the subject. The leaders of the Istanbul community decided to neither attack nor prosecute the believers or former believers but rather to ignore them. There is practically no evidence of Shabbateans in Istanbul at the end of the 17th century and during the 18th. A ḥerem ("ban") was also issued there against Nehemiah Ḥayon in 1714.
In spite of the economic and political decline of the Jewish community of Istanbul during the 17th century, the community had a considerable elite which included old families such as Ibn Ya'ish, Hamon. Ankawa, Benveniste, Ibn Faraj, Ibn Valiasid, and Zonana. In the middle of the century a difficult dispute about the rabbinate of the Neve Shalom congregation broke out. The quarreling parties involved the Ottoman authorities in this discussion. In the community many scholars were active such as R.
, R. Isaac ben R. Yom Tov Ibn Faraj, R. Kalev Ben Samuel, R. Aaron Hamon, R. Barukh Ben Hayyim, R. Solomon Caro, R. David Egozi, R. Yom Tob Barbinya, R. Jacob and R. Isaac Elnekave (Ankawa), R.
Yesha'ya Mitrani, R. Moses and R. Joshua Benvinste, R. Moses Shilton, R. Joseph Kazbi and R. David Falcon. R. Joseph Trani from Safed who settled in Istanbul in 1605 was appointed by the wealthy Ibn Ya'ish brothers, head of the Gerush congregation yeshivah. In 1620 he preferred to be appointed rosh yeshivah of the wealthy figure Jacob Elnekave, but he continued to visit the former yeshivah in the mornings. R. Joseph Trani was the spiritual leader of the community from 1607 until his death in 1639.
The 18th Century
During the 18th century several fires (in 1704, 1715, 1729, 1740, 1751, and 1756) devastated the Jewish quarters. The greatest of these was in 1740 after which the Jews were not allowed to rebuild their quarter. As a result most of the Jews moved to Ortaköy and Galata. Others settled in Üsküdar, Hasköy, and Piri Paṣa. In 1740 the Grand Vizier issued new proclamations regarding the dress of the Christians and Jews, forbidding them to wear certain colors and furs. By then the Jewish community of Istanbul had become more homogenous and better organized. It developed institutions adjusted to the topography, administrative structures, and general character of the city. The local Jewish leaders in each quarter communicated with the quarter's authorities on local issues. In the 18th century the sultans continued to hire Jews as physicians and advisers. The physician Tubias (Toviyyah) Cohen (ca. 1652–1729), a native of Metz, settled in Istanbul and entered the service of Sultan Ahmed III (1703–30) until his retirement and settling in Jerusalem in 1714. Another Jew, Daniel de Fonseca (ca. 1668–ca. 1740), former Portugese anus, settled in Istanbul in 1702 and served as a physician and diplomat to the French Embassy, and in 1714 he became the physician of Ahmed III, serving until 1730. Other Jewish court physicians during the reigns of Mahmud I (1730–54) and Osman III (1754–57) were Isaac Çelebi, Joseph the Rofeh, David Halevi Ashkenazi, and Judah Handali. In the second half of the 17th century there was a sharp decline in the number of Jews at the court. According to the inheritance register of the chief rabbi of Galata which was written in 1770, there existed an active millet yazicisi, a post unknown before, possible referring to an official, probably a kahya, who registered transactions within the Jewish community.
In 1772, up to 300 of Istanbulʾs 1,500 Jews who could not pay the increased war taxes served instead in the military. Upon Napoleonʾs invasion of Egypt, Sultan Selim III demanded that the Jews furnish men for the navy, which they did. In 1807 the Jewish community fulfilled among the other citizens the government's order to strengthen the city's defenses. During the Greek war of independence, the Ottomans also drafted non-Christians, including some 500 Jews. In 1772 Mustafa III (1757–74) ground the Jewish community into bankruptcy when he levied great sums to finance a military campaign: 18,000 members of the Jewish Community Paid Jointly 65,000 kuruș. The community's debts amounted to 325,000 kuruș. According to the 1772 budget, 15 percent of Istanbulʾs Jews were in the lower class of taxpayers, 15 percent in the higher, and the remainder in the middle category. Jews in Istanbul continued to serve as tax farmers, contractors and purveyors for the military, and there were also traders and bankers. In spite of the economic decline of the community in the second half of the century, local Jews still were in prominent positions. Jews in Istanbul were members in mixed guilds until the late 17th century. Much of this changed after the end of the 18th century, when communally-based guilds began to replace mixed ones. The francos who settled in Istanbul during the 18th century had many economic rights, were protected by foreign ambassadors, benefited from preferential taxation in trade, and enjoyed relative independence from the local Jewish community. By the end of the century the Istanbul Jewish community had lost much of its former traditional advantages and was sharply affected by the ongoing decline process in Ottoman society.
Istanbul was one of the most important centers for funds because of its geographic proximity to Ereẓ Israel, and since it was the capital of the central government of Ereẓ Israel, its ḥakhamim were spiritually close to those of the Holy Land throughout the Ottoman period. The funds destined for Ereẓ Israel from Eastern Europe also passed through the capital and it was there that the letters and recommendations of the emissaries and their missions were verified, in Istanbul as in many other communities. The "officials for Ereẓ Israel" (pekidei Kushta), were active from 1726 until the beginning of the 19th century and the Jewish settlement of Erez Israel was under their patronage. They collected various contributions for the Jews in Ereẓ Israel and transferred them through special emissaries. In 1727 the community of Istanbul imposed a payment of one para per week per person in favor of Jerusalem on all the communities of the Ottoman Empire and later on other Oriental countries and Italy. They also solved problems of the Jerusalem community with the Ottoman government, established many takkanot, and forced Jerusalem Jews to act according to the takkanot. Other committees of pekidei Kushta in Istanbul were economically responsible for
, Tiberias, and Safed. On some occasions there were also indirect taxes, for example, a tax imposed on the capital in 1763, which consisted of "half a lavan (the Ottoman coin akçe, whose common appellation was lavan, "white") on every metro (measure of volume) of wine and beer" in order to save Hebron from its debts. There were special societies, whose members contributed regularly to charities for Ereẓ Israel, the first having been founded during the last third of the 16th century for the benefit of the yeshivah of Tiberias. Pekidei Kushta organized the immigration and the Jewish pilgrimage to Erez Israel during the 18th centuries and also helped immigrants from East Europe who passed through Istanbul on their way to Ereẓ Israel. There were many active benevolent societies in the community during the Ottoman era. A noteworthy example is the "Benevolent Society of the Congregation of the Kaïkçis," founded in about 1715 by the Jewish boat owners whose task it was to ferry people from one side to the other on both the Golden
Horn and the Bosphorus. The objective of this union was not a professional one but to provide its members with assistance in times of need. They were later joined by workers from related professions: the balikçis, fishermen; the mayvecis, fruiterers, who often sailed on boats because of their occupation; and the mayahaneçis, wine merchants, the owners of taverns, who used boats in order to convey their goods from the town to the villages. Every member was required to contribute one perutah per week, i.e., an akçe or para, toward the society's fund. The mayahaneçis brought four metros (measure of volume in Ladino) free of charge in every boat for the fund. This money was used for supporting the members of the society in difficult times. In order to assure the proper function of the society, the bet din of Istanbul appointed two scholars as "supervisors of all the affairs of the society." It appears that the society continued to exist until shortly before World War I.
During the 18th and 19th centuries the study of the Torah decreased and the cultural standard reached such a low point that the majority could not even read the Bible. It was for this reason that books came to be published in Spanish and Ladino (see below, Hebrew Printing). The leading author of the Spanish literature period was R.
, who was active in Istanbul during the middle of the 18th century and wrote Me-Am Loʿez.
literature also began to develop at that time and many works were published in this language. Besides Rabbi Culi, R. Abraham b. Isaac Asa, who may be referred to as "the father of Ladino literature," is worthy of note. He translated religious works, the Bible, the Shulḥan Arukh, and works of history, ethics, and science into Ladino. In Istanbul during the 18th century the most distinguished intellectual families included the Kimḥi,
, and Navon families. R. Ḥayyim Kimḥe and R. Binyamin Kazish headed yeshivot. Some members of the Rosanes family were rabbis, dayyanim, and authors, and R.
was an author and opponent of the notorious Shabbatean sect. In the 18th century scholarship and intellectual life were in decline. The number of yeshivot declined, but many rabbis were active and compiled significant books, especially responsa and sermons. The dominant posekim were R. Efraim Navon (1677–1735), R. Isaac Ben David (d. in 1755), R. Eliezer Yiẓhaki, R. Meir Yiẓhaki (d. in 1753/4); R. Raphael Isaac Yerushalmi (d. in 1782), R. Shabbetai Halevi, R. Samuel Halevi (d. in 1829/1830), R. Isaac Lahmi, R. David Matalon, R. Ḥayyim Moda'i (d. 1793), R. Abraham Meyuḥas (d. c. 1773), R. Judah Meyuḥas, R. Hayyim Jacob Meyuḥas, R. Binyamin Kazish, R. Ḥayyim Kimhe, R. Isaiah Solomon Kimhe, R. Abraham ben Joseph Rosanes (d. 1748), R. Aaron ben Samuel Rosanes (d. 1759), R. Judah ben Samuel Rosanes (d.1727), R. Isaac Rosanes (d. 1748), R. Eliezer ben Nissim Ibn Sanji (d. 1724), R. Ḥayyim Shelomo Sefami, R. Jacob Sasson (d. 1714), R. Moshe Hacohen (d. 1735), R. Elijah Palombo, R. Abraham Ben Avigdor, R. Ḥayyim de Toledo, R. Judah Navon (d. 1761), R. Abraham Anavi (d. 1813), R. Eliyahu Palombo, R. Moshe Frisco (d. 1807), R. Aharon Zonzin, R. Elijah ben Jacob Alfandari (1670–1717), R. Solomon Alfandari (d. 1774); R. Raphael Jacob Assa, R. Michael Ashkenazi, R. Reuven Mizrahi, R, Nissim Samuel Gabbai, R, Ḥayyim Jacob ben Emmanuel Hamon (d. 1788); R. Emmanuel Zonana, R. Yom Tov Elnekave (d. in Koskonjuk, 1786).
The 19th and Early 20th Centuries
In the 19th century there was a general atmosphere of tolerance between Jews and Turks, but relations with Christians were usually bad. On April 27, 1821, The Grand Vizier Benderli Ali Pasha ordered three Jews to take away the body of the executed Greek Patriarch. After they fulfilled the order, a riot led to the injury of an estimated 5,000 Jews. In 1826 several leading Jews in Istanbul who had economic connections with the Janissary corps were executed by an order of the Sultan Mahmud II. In the course of the 19th century the population of Istanbulʾs Jews remained stable at around 50,000–55,000. This statistic is based upon Ottoman censuses and other sources. In 1830 42,000 Jews lived in Istanbul; between 1881–1882 and 1906, the Jewish population of Istanbul grew by one-third. In the Istanbul census of 1830, almost a quarter of the Jews subject to the jizya were placed in the highest or good category, over half were classified as average, and only a fifth were labeled poor.
The Jewish population in 1885 numbered 44,361; in 1893/4, 46,440; in 1906/7, 47,779; and in 1911/12, 53,606 Jews. The Jewish residents lived in 1885 and in 1906/7 in ten districts: Bayezit, Fatih, Cerrah Pasha, Beshiktash and Bosporous to Rumeli Hisar, Yeniköy and Upper Bosporus; Beyoglu and Dolmabahçe, Dolmabahçe to the end of the Golden Horn, Kanlica and Upper Anatolian Bosporous, Üsküdar and Kadiköy. The majority of Jews lived in Fatih (10,133 persons in 1885 and 10,698 persons in 1906/7), Beshiktash (4,581 persons in 1885 and 4,591 persons in 1906/7), Beyoglu and Dolmabahçe (22,865 persons in 1895 and 24,658 persons in 1906/7), and Üsküdar (5,197 persons in 1885 and 4,097 persons in 1906/7). From the middle of the 19th century the Jewish population of Istanbul increased in absolute numbers. According to the 1882 census, there were about 26,000 Jews, and by 1885, the Jewish population had grown to 44,361 persons. In 1914 52,000 Jews were recorded in the city. From then on, the number has been steadily decreasing to about 49,500 in 1945 and about 36,900 in the 1955 census. After the attacks on the Jews of Thrace, thousands of Jews from Kirklareli, Galipolli, Tekirdag and other towns in Thrace fled to Istanbul and remained there. The main reason for the population drop from 1948 onwards is the mass immigration to Israel and other countries, which explains the number of 19,000 Jews in the city in 1988. In 1844 they constituted five percent of the total population. Between 1844 and 1945 their percentage went up and down alternately, stabilizing at 4.9 percent in 1945. In 1882 there was a relative increase to 7 percent of the city population, and in 1927 there was also a relative increase to 8.6 percent of the general population. In 1955 the percentage of Jews in the general population dropped to 2.4 percent, because of the large immigration to Israel in 1948–1952, reaching 0.3 percent in 1988, due to continual emigration and other demographic processes. In 1988
between 18,900 and 19,200 Jews lived in Istanbul. The above data indicate a decrease in fertility and aging as well as erosion in the size of the Istanbul Jewish community. In 1988 Istanbul South and old neighborhoods in the North and Asia sections were emptied of their Jews, while a massive expansion took place in the Jewish neighborhood of the new Istanbul North. Another accelerated trend, which is still continuing, is a return to the new suburbs of Istanbul/Asia, a place offering them better living conditions. Most of the Jews continue to work in Istanbul South and look for work in Istanbul North.
Fires broke out during the 19th century in 1872, 1874, 1883, 1890, 1891, 1894, and 1896. They destroyed c. 2,000 Jewish houses. Fires also broke out in various quarters in the years 1900; 1905, 1908, 1909, 1911, 1912, 1915, 1918, 1921, 1922, 1923, 1924, and 1941. In 1856 Ludwig Frankel pointed out that about half of the Jews were employed as artisans, i.e, makers of cloth, leather, metal products, etc. In 1885 a census showed 31.1 percent of Jewish males classified in commerce, trade, and industry. The vast majority of Jews were, however, unskilled workers, peddlers, or petty-retail traders.
During the first half of the 19th century powerful Jews from distinguished families were prominent. Isaiah Adjiman, Bekhor Isaac Carmona, and Ezekiel Gabbai were the allies of the Janissaries, for whom they acted as bankers and moneylenders, and some of them bore the title Ocak Bazergani. They also held positions of leadership in the community of Istanbul. Jewish physicians began to reappear at the sultan's court. In the late 1830s, the Jewish dentist Jacob Bivaz entered the palace and served there for 30 years. In 1844, Dr. Spitzer, a Moravian Jew, became a physician and adviser to sultan Abdul Mejid (1839–1861). Some Jewish physicians served at the court of Abdul Hamid II, including Elias Pasha Cohen, Isidore Pasha Greiwer, Leon Behar, David Hayun, and Sami Gunsberg. Influence was wielded by
Abraham de *Camondo
, the representative of a respected family of scholars and wealthy merchants. He was also influential in ruling circles and founded a modern school. Sultan Mahmud II (1808–39) conscripted a unit of 30 Jewish soldiers from Hasköy and 30 from Balat into the army which set out to suppress the revolt in Morea (the Peloponnesus). In 1835 the office of
(chief rabbi) was instituted and R. Abraham ha-Levi was its first incumbent. The office of ḥakham bashi gained increased prestige and importance during the 19th century. It also became the focus of an intense power struggle within the Jewish community of Istanbul. During the reign of the sultan Abdul-Mejid I the authorities allowed the admission of Jews into the military school of medicine and the poll tax was abolished (1853). The era from 1839 to 1876 became known as the tanẓīmāt period (after the name of the sultan's progressive legislation). As a result of the publication of the khaṭṭ-i humayun ("sultanic decree," 1856), the secular leadership began to gain strength at the expense of the religious leadership in various communities, including that of the Jews. In 1840
visited Istanbul. After the foundation of the modern school by Abraham de Camondo, a Vaʿad Pekidim (Majlis jasmi, "Committe of Functionaries") was founded; it was composed of wealthy men and intellectuals of progressive views, under the leadership of Camondo. In 1860 the three members of this body were Carmona, Hamon, and Adjiman. At that time the ḥakham bashi was R. Jacob Avigdor. Splits occurred between the progressive-intellectual circles and the conservative-religious Jews within the community. In the course of this conflict the French language was introduced into the school. Missionary schools were opened for Jewish children in Istanbul by the American Board Mission to the Jews, the Church of Scotland Mission, and the English Association for Promoting Christianity among Istanbul Jews, but only a few Jews converted to Christianity. In that century 40 synagogues functioned in the community. All the religious services of the Istanbul community were supplied by ten " Hashgakhot."
In the middle of the 19th century the francos in Istanbul such as Jacques de Castro, had come into close contact with European Jewry who were interested in spreading Western culture and education in the community. When Albert Cohn arrived in Istanbul in 1854 as the representative of Baron Rothschild and the Central Consistory, Camondo and other francos and some Ashkenazim were ready to open a modern school. The school was inaugurated in November 1854 and was supported by important Jewish philanthropists.
In 1856 a campaign against Camondo was led by R. Isaac Akrish and R. Solomon Kimḥi, who claimed that the new school encouraged children to convert to Christianity. Thereafter, a ḥerem was issued against Camondo, but Isaac Akrish was imprisoned upon the order of the ḥakham bashi. He was set free by Sultan Abdul-Aziz and settled in Hebron. The school operated during the years 1858–1889. In 1875 the Alliance Israélite Universelle founded a school in Istanbul. In 1878 Dr. Moshe Alatini founded a modern school for girls in Balat. Madame Fernandez headed a girls' school in Hasköy. Schools were established in Galata and Balat for Ashkenazi boys. In the beginning of the 20th century, 35 percent of the Jewish school-age population in the community attended Alliance schools. There were approximately 1,000 Jewish students who attended English protestant schools in Hasköy and in French Schools in other quarters of the city. Not many Jews joined the modern institutions established by the Ottoman government. Three days after the announcement of the 1856 decree, a blood libel case occurred at Balat, where a mob of Greeks, Armenians and Turks started attacking Jews. Another blood libel broke out in Istanbul in 1874. An order by the name of ḥakham-khane niẓam namesi ("Organizational Regulation of the Rabbinate") was issued (1864), which defined the administration of the town's kehillot, which was to consist of 12 notables and, among them, four senior rabbis. In 1865 a law was passed which defined the institutions of the community. It was to be headed by the ḥakham bashi, a secular council, and a religious council.
The first council included most of the Jewish officials of the government administration, while the second included rabbis. Both were elected for three years. In every quarter
there was a local rabbi who headed the synagogue committee, as well as a kahya whose duty it was to report births, deaths, and the like to the authorities. There were also three batei din which dealt only with matrimonial matters. All other matters were brought before the secular tribunals of the state. The above-mentioned regulations remained in effect until the establishment of the republic, when they were allowed to lapse without being replaced. Groups of Jewish immigrants of Ashkenazi descent from Austria, Germany, Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia who arrived in Istanbul in the mid-19th century managed to survive as separate entities, alongside the Ottoman Sephardi community. This statute was recognized by the Ottoman authorities and also by the rabbinate, which signed tax agreements with them regarding burial and ritual slaughter. After 1856 a large number of Karaites from Crimea settled in Istanbul. In 1866, R. Shelomo Kimḥi published a pamphlet against the Karaites, in which he collected all the arguments which had been voiced against them over the generations. The Karaites addressed petitions to the chief rabbi, who ordered the destruction of all the copies which had been circulated. During the second half of the 19th century other disputes broke out in the community. In 1862, following an article in the Ladino journal Journal Israelite by its editor Yehezkel Gabbai, in which he attempted to show that not all freemasons were atheists, bans were issued against the newspaper and its editor. This dispute resulted in the resignation of the ḥakham bashi Ya'akov Avigdor in 1863. In 1862 the francos established in Şişli a separate Italian Jewish community with its own synagogue, cemetery, and administration. This act caused a deep split in the community of Istanbul. During the reign of Abdul-Hamid II (1876–1909), individual Jews of the town are mentioned as having received decorations and as having held senior positions in the administration. In 1880–1884 the leadership of the community was involved in a deep crisis. In this crisis Abraham Ajiman, David Carmona, the ḥakham bashi R. Moshe Ha-Levi, Abraham ben Zonana, Bechor Ashkenazi, and other leaders were involved. A new leadership of the community was established in 1883. The local Jewish press had considerable influence on leadership politics. Jewish religious life in Istanbul suffered a decline, especially from the second half of the 18th century until the beginning of the 20th. During the entire 19th century, up to the beginning of the 20th, 26 authors composed 40 books. These rabbis concentrated on halakhic creativity and attempted to meet the challenges of the problems of their generations and tried to offer the best possible halakhic solutions.
In 1906 a large number of refugees arrived from Russia as a result of the revolution of 1905. The Jewish population of Istanbul grew to 100,000 at the beginning of the 20th century. Shortly following the Young Turk Revolution (1908), Jews appear to have been active in government service in Istanbul. Among them were Emmanuel Shalem, Ezekiel Sasoon, Nissim Russo, Vitali Strumsa, and Samuel Israel. But Jews never became cabinet ministers as did Christians in Istanbul. During the 19th century the Jewish community of Istanbul rebuilt its synagogues. From the second half of the 19th century, newspapers and periodicals began to be published in Ladino. The first periodical appeared in 1853 under the name of Or Yisrael and was edited by Leo Ḥayyim de Castro. A soup kitchen and relief and charitable institutions were also established. At the beginning of the 20th century the community organization consisted of two separate councils: the religious council (bet din) and the secular council, the latter of which dealt with the administrative and financial affairs of synagogues, schools, hospitals, etc. There were cases of conversion to Islam performed in Istanbul in the 18th and 19th centuries, for example in 1771 the conversion of 14 rabbanites and several Karaites residing in Hasköy was reported to the government by the local kadi. In 1838 and 1839 the local kadi reported the conversion of two Jews. In the 19th century Galata served as a major Jewish residence area, and functioned as a political and cultural center for the entire Jewish community of the Capital. Many businessmen maintained their headquarters in this district. A sizeable number of Jews also moved to new neighborhoods north of Galata (around Şişli) and on the European bank of the Bosphorus (Ortaköy, Beshiktash, Arnavutköy) districts, which underwent a rapid development process at that time, while Balat and Hasköy remained poor. The Asiatic neighborhood of Kuzguncuk, known for the Western orientation of its residents, as well as Haydarpasha, played an important role in the modernization process and the penetration of Western culture into Jewish life. Many of the Jews adopted secularism. Nevertheless, throughout the 19th century there existed in Istanbul the yeshivot of R. Eliyahu Anav (in Balat), R. Joseph Alfandari, R. Joshua Zonzin, Uziel Yeshivah, and Kimhi Yeshivah (in Orta Köy) headed by R. Solomon Eliezer Alfandari. At the end of the century R. Shemarya Gabbai established a yeshivah for R. Refael Bitran in Daj Hamami. The responsa literature and the minutes registers of the batei din of the community from the 18th and 19th centuries contain dozens of names of Istanbul scholars in every generation. Almost 100 special minhagim of Istanbul Jews were written by the rabbis of the community throughout the Ottoman period.
[Abraham Haim and Yaacov Geller / Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]
Under the Republic of Turkey (from 1923)
The national and secular nature of the Turkish state, which was created by Kemal Ataturk, severely affected the position of the Jews in Istanbul. The laws giving religious autonomy to the Jewish community were allowed to lapse and the millet system was abolished. Matters such as personal status (e.g., marriage) were under civil jurisdiction. The community lost the right to levy its own taxes, causing communal institutions to depend for support on voluntary contributions. The measures of secularization affected not only the Jews but, in general, all non-Muslims. In accord with this policy, Turkish became the language of instruction in the schools instead of French (which was used in the
*Alliance Israélite Universelle
schools throughout the Middle East and North Africa);
the use of French was allowed to continue for a time in the upper grades. The government proscribed the affiliation of any local groups with foreign organizations. Jews, therefore, were prohibited from being represented on such international Jewish bodies as the World Zionist Organization, the World Jewish Congress, and others. In 1932 the schools in Turkey were secularized, in accordance with the character of the state, and religious instruction was prohibited. As other non-Muslim subjects, the Jews of Istanbul were most severely affected by the imposition of the capital levy (varlik vergisi) of 1942. In January 1943 the government confiscated the property of those who did not pay as ordered and sent them to labor camps. Some 1,500 Jews from Istanbul were sent to labor camps in Ashkale, and about 40 died there. On the other hand, dozens of Georgian, Kurdish, and German Jewish families which arrived in Istanbul between 1925 and 1950 functioned within the general community's central organizational framework.
Contemporary Period (from 1948)
In 1949 the Turkish National Assembly passed a law which granted the Jewish community autonomy in its internal affairs. This law had been proposed by the Jewish delegate in the house of representatives, Solomon Adato. Religious instruction, which until then had been restricted exclusively to the synagogues, was permitted in schools as part of the normal curriculum. A large number of Jews attended the government schools and continued their studies at the universities. The general educational standard of the Jews of Istanbul was improved as a result of the powerful influence of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. Jewish physicians, lawyers, and engineers of the community played an important role in the life of the country and Jews were also well represented in its commerce. They were rarely employed in the civil services. The number of Jews in Istanbul, estimated at 55,000 in 1948, dropped to 32,946 and 30,831 in the 1955 and 1965 censuses, respectively, as a result of the large-scale emigration to the State of Israel. In 1970 an estimated 30,000 Jews lived in Balat, Hasköy, Ortaköy, and other quarters. The wealthy lived in the Pera and Şişli neighborhoods. The Haschgaha in the above-mentioned and six other quarters elects a committee which constitutes the members of the city's general community council. This is comprised of 60 men, including a few members of the Ashkenazi congregation. The general council elects the president of the community and administrative and religious committees. Each congregation also has a rabbi. The council's income is derived from dues, synagogue contributions, and donations. By 1950 the general council numbered only 42 members, since for several years new members were not elected to replace those who had died or emigrated. In 1950, elections were held to fill the 18 vacancies. Samuel Abrevaya was elected president of the community, and held the post until his death in 1953. He was succeeded by Henri Soriano and, later, Israel Menaşe. Until 1953, Istanbul Jewry had no official chief rabbi recognized by the authorities. In that year R. Raphael Saban was chosen. In 1968, the following institutions were supervised by the community's general council: the Or Ḥayyim Hospital (built in 1885); an orphanage; the Ẓedakah u-Marpe charitable organization (founded in 1918), which was responsible for the education of underprivileged students; an old-age home (founded in 1899); a Maḥzikei Torah organization, which provided training one day a week for cantors and mohalim; and the Mishneh Torah association, which helped poor students. In 1968 the community also had three elementary schools and a high school. In 1966 the attendance figures at these schools were 950 pupils, most of them poor, since the wealthy Jews preferred to send their children to foreign schools. There were also Jewish youth organizations in Istanbul in 1968, such as Ne'emanei Zion, Amical, and others, some of which undertook a certain amount of Hebrew education. Most of the community members in the 1980s and 1990s worked in the following occupations: light industry, trade, engineering, medicine, law, clerical work, religious services, and various aspects of the technical trade. There are also rich businessmen, such as Jack Kimche, who had an industrial-cum-commercial firm in Istanbul. He simultaneously held a representative position as a member of the Turkish National Bureau of Commerce and Industry. The academic-teaching sphere is still modest among the local Jews.
Among the members of the community in the latter part of the 20th century and into the 21st there is a high level of solidarity. Many of them plan to emigrate and do not establish permanent relations with the majority population. They oppose mixed marriages and live in their own neighborhoods. They establish schools for their children, but the majority of the local Jews send their children to Turkish schools. The Jews of Istanbul under the Turkish republic preserve their religion and avoid involvement in local politics, except for issues that directly affect them as a group. The majority of Istanbul Jews are businessmen, but there are many poor Jews who receive a monthly income from the community. The Jews in the period 1948–1992 still preserved the characteristics of a middleman minority, with its economic and social aspects. The Muslim majority population, as in the previous centuries, still considers the local Jews a foreign minority and not ordinary Turkish citizens. In the riots of 1955 and 1963 against minorities that erupted in Istanbul because of economic conditions, Jews also sustained damage. In the 1960s and 1970s, hundreds of local Jews were caught by the Turkish authorities for smuggling their financial savings to Israel and other countries, and for other crimes: the exchange of money on the black market in Istanbul and Izmir, and the so-called exploitation of the country's resources. However, the reforms of the republican period were adopted voluntarily and readily by the community leadership, and the European day of rest was adopted by the vast majority of community members, to the dismay of their leaders. Adoption of the Swiss civil law permitted marriage between Jews and non-Jews. From the 1960s on, the process of intermarriage increased. In the early 21st century intermarriage was making serious inroads into the community fabric:
in 1990 – 25.8% percent; in 1991 – 39.4%; in 1992 – 42.1%; and in 1993 – 41.9 percent.
In the 1970s and 1980s the Jewish community of Istanbul was involved in certain aspects of Turkish foreign policy, and there were appeals to the community to act in the United States on behalf of its foreign and domestic affairs. The Turkish government also invited community representatives to accompany Turkish personalities on their visits to Israel. In 1992 the community celebration of the Quicentennial of Sephardi Jewry in Turkey was supported by the government. Later the community founded a Jewish school in Ulus, instead of the Jewish school in Galata.
Very few Jews function openly in their political parties in Istanbul, but many more of them provide support and advice behind the scenes.
At the end of the 1980s the secular Council (Conseil Laïc, Parliament) ran into problems when the entire work load had to be borne by about six persons. In 1988, a committee was established which proposed a new structure. The membership of the council was expanded from 27 to 41, and that of the Executive Committee to 17. Together they comprised the Senate which also comprised the members of the Vakifs and their leaders, the heads of the communities of Izmir, Ankara, Adana, Bursa, etc. – all in all about 150 members. This body, which is not recognized by the government, meets once every half-year to receive a report. The council elects its president as well as the president of the Executive Committee and the president of the Senate. Since the establishment in 1892 of B'nai B'rith in Turkey, its leaders and their descendants have been active in community life and have been the cultural and intellectual elite of the Istanbul community. In 1994, the organization numbered 335 persons. B'nai B'rith operates a recreational house for poor children in Istanbul and provides scholarships for students each year; other welfare institutions are old people's neighborhood burial societies that were united at the beginning of the 1970s into one ḥevra kaddisha serving the entire community; and Barin Yurt, a shelter for the poor, that was opened by the community in 1991.
The weekly Shalom is the Istanbul community's only written press. There are 16 synagogues in the city, three of them are open daily; 63% of the Jews attend the synagogue once or twice a year. About 600 students aged 6 to 18 attend Mahazikei Torah, an educational institution that supplements the synagogue. The Istanbul Rabbinate comprises five dayyanim, including the president of the Rabbinical Court and the ḥaham bashi, who heads this body.
For further information, see
[Hayyim J. Cohen / Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]
From the beginning of the 16th century to the end of the 18th, Istanbul was one of the centers of Hebrew printing. The Ottoman Empire and its capital served as a refuge for Jews fleeing from Spain and Portugal after the expulsions of 1492 and 1497, some of whom brought with them their skill in the new art of printing, as well as manuscripts of great rabbinic writers and Kabbalah writers of the past. Later, Marranos escaping the Inquisition played a similar part. In the Ottoman Empire Hebrew books could be printed and sold freely, without the hindrance of the Christian Church. Books were also printed in Spanish (in Hebrew characters), both original manuscripts and translations from Hebrew and other languages, for which there was a growing demand throughout the Spanish-Portuguese Diaspora.
THE 15TH AND 16TH CENTURIES
The first Hebrew printing press – which was the first printing press in any language in the Ottoman Empire, the first book in Turkish being printed in 1728 – was set up in Istanbul in 1493 by David and
Samuel ibn *Naḥmias
, exiles from Spain. Their first book was Jacob b. Asher's Arba'ah Turim. It was followed a year later by a volume of the Pentateuch with Rashi, haftarot with David Kimḥi's commentary, the Five Scrolls with the commentary of Abraham Ibn Ezra, and the Antiochus Scroll. The Naḥmias family were active until 1518. In this early period of Hebrew printing in Istanbul (1504–30) more than 100 books of remarkable range and quality were published, among them Midrashim, the Aggadot ha-Talmud (forerunner of
Jacob *Ibn Ḥabib
's Ein Ya'akov), geonic works, Alfasi,
' Code – printed for the second time, but on the basis of another manuscript – and his Sefer ha-Mitzvot as well as his responsa and letters. Meanwhile,
and his son Eliezer had arrived in Istanbul from Italy, and their press published over 40 books between 1530 and 1547, including a Pentateuch with Targum Onkelos, Rashi, and
's Arabic and
Jacob b. Joseph *Tavus
' Persian translations (1545–46), followed by another Pentateuch edition, also with Targum Onkelos and Rashi, and translations into Greek and Spanish, both in Hebrew characters with vowel signs (1547). Eliezer also printed a Hebrew translation, by the physician Jacob Algabe, of the Spanish romance Amadís de Gaula, the first secular work in Hebrew to be printed in Istanbul. A former employee of the Soncinos, Moses b. Eliezer Parnas, continued printing on their press after Eliezer's death in 1548, publishing at least five books by 1553. Others active in printing during the period were the
brothers, printers from Cracow who publicly returned to Judaism in Istanbul after having undergone baptism in Poland in 1537. Between 1551 and 1553 they printed a Hebrew Bible, Isaac of Dueren's halakhic compendium Sha'arei Dura, and a Hebrew version of Judith. More important were the activities of Solomon and Joseph, the sons of
from Spain, who arrived in Istanbul via Salonika and Adrianople. From 1559 until his death in 1593, Solomon, in partnership with his brother Joseph from 1570, printed such important items as the responsa of R. Elijah Mizraḥi (1559) and R. Joseph ibn Lev (1561) and, in particular, the larger part of the Talmud (1583–93). Eliezer b. Isaac (Ashkenazi) of Prague, a Hebrew printer from Lublin, went to Istanbul in 1575 with his equipment and printed geonic responsa and part of the Maḥzor Romania. After a dispute with his partner in this enterprise,
David b. Elijah Kashti, the rest of the Maḥzor was printed by Kashti at the press of Joseph Jabez (1575–78). Under the patronage of Reyna, daughter of Doña Gracia and the widow of Joseph Nasi, Joseph b. Isaac of Ashkelon printed some 15 books, one of them in Ladino, of no great distinction, first at the palace of Belvedere at Ortaköy, 1592–94, and later at Kuru Çeşme, 1597–99. Manuscripts from Joseph Nasi's library were published by his interpreter, R. Isaac b. Samuel Onkeneira.
THE 17TH CENTURY
A Marrano, Solomon b. David, revived the trade by printing Rashi's Pentateuch commentary in 1639. He was followed by his son Abraham and son-in-law Jacob b. Solomon Gabbai. They published mainly Sephardi authors, such as the responsa of
Joseph b. Moses *Trani
(1641). They also published a Midrash Rabbah in the same year, a vowelled Mishnah text with the commentary Kav Naḥat by Isaac Gabbai (1644–45), and other halakhic, homiletic, and kabbalistic literature.
THE 18TH CENTURY
Hebrew printing during the 18th century in Istanbul was dominated by Jonah b. Jacob Ashkenazi, his sons, and his grandsons, who between 1710 and 1778 issued 188 works, employing at one time as many as 50 workers. Jonah designed and improved his type, and was among those who cast the first Turkish type in 1728. He traveled widely in search of worthwhile manuscripts. He printed such important works as the Zohar (Istanbul 1736–37); the first edition of the famous and influential book Ḥemdat Yamim (Smyrna, 1731–32; Istanbul, 1735–72); and a Bible with Ladino translation (in partnership with the Venetian Benjamin b. Moses Rushi). Altogether, his Ladino productions, originals or translations from the Hebrew, brought about a revival of Ladino literature and language.
THE 19TH AND 20TH CENTURIES
Using the remnants of the Ashkenazi press, Elijah Pardo produced six books between 1799 and 1808, among them Rashi's Pardes (1802) and the Zohar on Genesis (in installments, 1807–08). Isaac b. Abraham Castro, his sons and his grandsons printed with interruptions from 1808 to 1848, beginning with Tikkunei Zohar, rabbinical works, Ladino translations, and polemics against the Christian missions. The Castro press remained active until 1925. The Christian printer Arap Oglu Bogos, commissioned by Jews, printed at least 18 books in Hebrew and Ladino from 1822 to 1827. In the 20th century, with the gradual decline of the Hebrew presses, Ladino literature was eventually published by Christian missionaries; French and English literature in Ladino was published by Greek and Armenian printers. From 1860 to 1940 the Ladino newspaper press, as well as some Jewish printers and publishers, printed mainly Ladino literature.
[Abraham Haim / Yaacov Geller]
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