SULEIMAN I (the Magnificent), Ottoman sultan 1520–1566, called al-Qānūnī, "the Legislator," "the Lawgiver," as the Turks referred to him for his extensive legislative achievements in fiscal and feudal law. The epithet "the Magnificent" was given to him by the Europeans as a tribute to the fact that his rule coincided with the golden period of the *Ottoman Empire. The Jews called him "King Solomon," not only because of his name, but also because of his wisdom and legislative activities. Suleiman conquered *Hungary and laid siege to Vienna in 1529. He annexed *Iraq and *Yemen and extended Ottoman control of North Africa from *Egypt to the borders of *Morocco. Generally he followed the positive system of his father and grandfather toward the Jews, but there were also some problems, caused especially by his tax policy and the pressure to get money from the Jewish population. The long years of his reign represented the pinnacle of Ottoman Jewry, and under his reign the Jewish communities achieved their highest political and economic status, and also benefited from the involvement of Jews in Suleiman's court. In these years thousands of Jews, many of them anusim from Portugal, immigrated into the Ottoman Empire. The Jewish population in his days achieved records in communal, social, economic, and intellectual life. Under Suleiman's rule the Jewish settlement in Ereẓ Israel, especially in *Safed, had a strong presence. Like his father and grandfather, Suleiman used the sürgün system, and transferred Jewish residents from their native cities to other cities. In 1523 he transferred 150 Jewish families from *Salonika to *Rhodes just after its conquest in 1522. According to one testimony, 150 of the richest and most respected Jewish landlords in Salonika (men, women, and children) were transferred at the command of Sultan Suleiman. He wanted to develop Rhodes and to establish it economically. The Jews were forced to remain on the island, but there were people who did succeed in escaping from there. Suleiman had followed this system after he captured Buda in 1526. Despite the fact that the Jews were among the few who had remained in Buda and had delivered the keys to the city into his hands, he still took the Jews with him, leading them off in boats as sürgün. The Jews were dispatched as sürgün, in the category of craftsmen and tradesmen. The Jews of Buda were settled in Sofia, Kavalla, and according to one source, in Salonika as well. Other Jews from Buda settled during Sultan Suleiman's reign in *Edirne (Adrianople), *Istanbul, and perhaps even in Safed. Joseph b. Solomon Ashkenazi, who handed Suleiman the keys to the city of Buda, was awarded, together with his descendants, tax exemption and special grants. The firman written by Suleiman to Ashkenazi was renewed during the Ottoman era by other sultans.

Generally Suleiman was strict, in accordance with the laws of *Islam and state legislation. Suleiman codified the regulations regarding the attire of his subjects, and during his reign the obligation of the Jews to preserve all *Omar regulations was discussed. The Jews had to obtain firmans from the sultan, permitting them to restore several synagogues in some cities. On the other hand, Suleiman did not enforce all of Omar's regulations. For example, Moses *Hamon, his physician and adviser, acquired the right to build a four-story house, and there are sources about Jews in Istanbul who felt free to dress in expensive wool and muslin, silky atlas and cotton cloaks and expensive shoes. Preserved in the Ottoman archives are dozens of firmans written by Suleiman dealing with the status of the Jews of Ereẓ Israel and other communities. Suleiman ordered local Ottoman officials to change their attitude toward the Jewish population and to prevent pressure and extortion. Many of these orders were written in response to letters of complaint sent to Suleiman by the Jews.

A number of Jews held important posts during Suleiman's rule, some acting as diplomatic agents of the Ottoman Empire in European capitals. As one of his Jewish advisers, the aforementioned Moses Hamon accompanied the sultan on his travels and campaigns. Hamon also interceded on behalf of the Jews with the sultan. Following the Amasya blood libel in 1553, Hamon persuaded the sultan to issue a special decree prohibiting provincial judges from trying cases of blood libel and requiring them to refer such cases to the Imperial divan for trial. Hamon was in close contact with the party in the court led by Hurrem Sultan (Roxelana), Suleiman's favorite wife, and Grand Vizir Rustem Pasha. Hamon is also believed to have interceded with Suleiman to exert pressure on Venice to facilitate the departure of the Mendes-Nasi family for the Ottoman Empire. Moses Hamon was the man who influenced Suleiman to bring Gracia Mendes to Istanbul in 1552 and to protect her on the way from Italy to the Ottoman capital. Hamon strived to assist Jews in the Ottoman Empire who requested his political help. But there is no proof that he took up the request of the impoverished clothiers of Salonika to intervene on their behalf at the court of the kadi of Istanbul. On the other hand, he did intervene in the quarrel in the community of Salonika about the activity of the wealthy Barukh.

Another Jew who had an important role in the state, especially in foreign affairs, was Don Joseph *Nasi. Deeply impressed by Nasi's erudition and financial and diplomatic talent, the sultan made him one of his confidants, and gave him his protection and several economic monopolies. In 1555 Suleiman, at Nasi's request, urged Pope Paul IV, who had burned a group of Portuguese anusim in Ancona, to release the Ottoman Jewish subjects who had been arrested. When the Nasi family declared that their agents, who were Ottoman subjects, were among the prisoners, Suleiman urged the pope to free them. Since some of the Ancona prisoners were Nasi's agents, they could be considered Ottoman subjects. The effort failed and the Jews were burned. Suleiman also made efforts in 1555 to release confiscated possessions of Jewish merchants in the papal territory. Suleiman protested, claiming that this act had caused many Jews of Salonika and Istanbul to go bankrupt, so they were unable to pay their taxes to the Ottoman treasury. In the last days of his reign, in 1666, Suleiman, under Jewish influence at his court, interceded concerning money interests of some Levantine Jewish merchants who owed debts to Venetian merchants. In the course of this crisis, Grand Vizier Mehmed Sokollu intervened, and a sultanic messenger was sent to Venice, with a special firman issued by Suleiman. This intervention was in favor of the Segura family, whose members were close to Joseph Nasi and possessed important businesses in the empire.

Finally the sultan gave Gracia Mendes, as a multazima during the years 1560–1566, the ruined city of *Tiberias and its environs, and permitted her to build the walls of the city. Details about this agreement are written in the orders of Suleiman to the governor of *Damascus and to other Ottoman officials. The chronicler Joseph ha-Kohen writes about the important role of Joseph Nasi in developing the city of Tiberias.

During Suleiman's rule the Jews of the Ottoman Empire made great cultural and economic progress. They developed the empire's commerce and succeeded in renting from the sultan the right to collect taxes, especially customs duties. Despite this, at the same time there were the first indications of financial pressure on the Jews by the authorities, and it required great efforts on the part of the Jews close to the court to keep such pressure to a minimum.

Suleiman had connections with two Jewish women called *Kiera (kira) who had good relations with the wives in the harem. When he ascended to the throne, in 1520/1521, he gave the Jewish kira, Stronillah, who served his mother Hafsa Sultan, an exemption from taxes for her and her descendants. This woman adopted Islam at the end of her life and received the name Fatma. We do not know if her conversion was under pressure by the sultan. Another kira, Esther *Handali, was certainly active in the harem before the death of Suleiman, and served Nur-Banu, the favorite concubine of Selim II, continuing her services to that woman during the reign of Selim II. Under Suleiman's reign the two kiras did not gain political influence but did have opportunities to become wealthy.

The Ottoman censuses organized by Sultan Suleiman have considerable importance for the history of the Jews in the 16th century. In Ereẓ Israel four censuses were carried out in his time. Suleiman built the wall around the Old City of Jerusalem which still stands (see *Jerusalem, Under Ottoman Rule). This deed made a great impression throughout the Jewish Diaspora.

The attitude of Suleiman to the Jews of Salonika was described by many writers and historians. In 1537 Suleiman visited Salonika and granted the Jewish residents a decree exempting them from the obligation of being "celep" (that is, rich men chosen by the Ottoman officials to use their own money to buy thousands of sheep and to drive them to Istanbul, where they would sell the sheep to the butchers of the city at a fixed price, which often resulted in a financial loss) and from the obligation to be the operators of the silver mines in Siderokapisi, near Salonika. But in 1545 this document was burned in the Great Fire which broke out in Salonika, and the Jews lost these rights. For 20 years the Jews of Salonika sent emissaries to Istanbul to attempt to renew the old order, but their efforts failed. R. Moses *Almosnino did succeed in obtaining the reissue of the order.

The death of Suleiman in Transylvania (September 6, 1566) and his funeral (November 22, 1566) are described by the same Moses Almosnino, who was present in Istanbul at that time, in his book History of the Ottoman Kings. In a second work he described Sultan Suleiman's reign. The entire book is full of admiration for Suleiman's wisdom and statesmanship as well as his attitude toward his subjects, Muslim and non-Muslim. He calls Sultan Suleiman "Our great master Sultan Suleiman, may his memory live forever." The feelings of admiration toward Suleiman are noted also in the colophon of the response by R. Isaac Bar Sheshet published in Istanbul in 1556. The publisher, Shemuel ha-Levi, wrote at the time of the publication, "In Istanbul, the fine city, the city of a great king, a faithful shepherd, our master the Sultan Suleiman, may his splendor be exalted, and his honor grow, and in his times and ours Judea and Israel be redeemed, and may the redeemer come to Zion." Sultan Suleiman was the first Ottoman sultan in whose honor a special poem was written in Hebrew. This poem was written by the Istanbuli poet Shelomo ben Mazal Tov (d. 1545). The last book published in Istanbul during Suleiman's reign was Sefer Yuḥasin by R. Abraham *Zacuto. It was printed in 1566, a few months before Suleiman's death during his campaign in Hungary, and the publisher expressed his wishes for the sultan: "…May the Lord bring him back here in peace without obstacles, and may the Lord cause all his enemies to be defeated by him …"


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[Abraham Haim /

Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky (2nd ed.)]

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