CAPITULATIONS, treaties signed between the Ottoman sultans and the Christian states of Europe concerning the extraterritorial rights which the subjects of one of the signatories would enjoy while staying in the state of the other.
As a result of the capitulations, commercial colonies – in which international trade was concentrated – were established in various regions of the empire, especially in the countries of the Levant by the French and in a later period also by the British. The most important were Salonika, Constantinople, Smyrna, Tripoli, Sidon, Acre, Alexandria, and (in the interior) Aleppo, Cairo, Ramleh, etc. In most of these centers, there were large Jewish communities. These merchants generally required intermediaries and agents between the purchasers and the suppliers. This was the almost exclusive function of Jews and Christians and it was passed down from father to son. These agents received from the Ottoman authorities letters of protection which were known as berat and which also served as the certification of an agent recognized by the consulate. In addition to their protection, the holders of the berat were exempted from the payment of taxes. In this way, the Jewish merchants, who played an important role in the domestic and foreign trade of the Ottoman Empire from the 16th century onward, indirectly benefited from the capitulations. Even after France had been deprived of its exclusive right, when treaties were made with other countries, its representatives continued to regard themselves as the protectors of the Jews.
From the close of the 17th and throughout the 18th century, the so-called *Francos of *Aleppo rose to importance. They were European Jews who had settled in the town on a temporary or permanent basis in order to trade in the country; they did so on the strength of the rights which were granted to the countries whose protection they enjoyed. The Francos, who became a most useful factor in the economic life of Aleppo, were protected by the French capitulations and they endeavored to exploit their rights by all means available to them. But at the close of the 18th century, Sultan Selim III began to issue letters of appointment to his subjects (mainly Jews); he did not recognize them as the agents of foreign merchants but granted them the status of government-approved merchants, known as "European merchants." At the beginning of the 19th century, foreign consuls extended their protection to the Jewish communities of the empire beyond the scope of commercial affairs, a policy which they had also adopted toward many Christians.
The capitulations system was also in force in Egypt. In order to protect themselves from arbitrary measures, many Jews of this country endeavored to obtain foreign nationality, or at least foreign protection. Thus, during the 19th century there was hardly a Jewish family in Egypt whose head was not a foreign subject – in spite of the opposition of the Egyptian authorities to the extension of the capitulation system. The protection of the Austro-Hungarian and French representatives was the most sought after by the Egyptian Jews. The number of subjects who benefited from the capitulations increased at the close of the 19th century, especially as the result of widespread immigration.
In North Africa, in the Ottoman provinces of Tripolitana, Algeria, and Tunisia, as well as in Morocco (which was not under Ottoman dominion), the capitulations regime also influenced the status of the Jewish communities. According to the capitulations treaties, all the subjects of the European states which did not have their own delegates were placed under the protection of France. As a result, almost all the "Christian" or Frankish Jews, i.e., those who came from countries of Christian Europe, were at first under French protection. In Algeria the capitulations provided them with the following rights: freedom of movement and the possibility of leaving the country at any time of their own free will (on condition that they did not leave any debts); the right of residence in any place which they desired; exemption from wearing distinctive signs on their clothing and their head covering, which were imposed on their native coreligionists. Jews exploited the facilities which were opened to them once equal rights were granted in commerce to foreign merchants by the French government (during the second half of the 18th century).
At the close of the reign of Hammuda Bey (1782–1814), who generally acted favorably toward the Jews of Tunis, related problems arose over the incidence of the capitulations terms for the Jews. He refused to confirm the registration of a Tuscan Jew who had settled in Tunis as a French protégé and who
From the close of the 18th century the European powers, led by France and England, took a growing interest in the Middle East. The European governments therefore established consulates in the larger commercial towns. There were no such towns in Ereẓ Israel during the 18th century, but as soon as the port of Acre attained some commercial importance after the Napoleonic Wars, Austria and Russia appointed consuls. From this period increase of the Jewish population would have been impossible without the protection of foreign consuls and the extensive rights which the capitulations bestowed upon it. On the basis of the capitulations, European Jews were considered as Europeans in every respect, without regard to their religion. The endeavors of the Ashkenazim to benefit from the rights of being foreign nationals in 1822–23 were a cause of internal strife within the Jewish community, since the Sephardim were opposed. There were no consuls in the towns of the country and the immigrants were subjected to the authority of the pasha of Acre; their delegate before the pasha was the wakīl (agent) who was elected or appointed from among the Sephardim and who was also responsible for the collection of the poll tax. The efforts of the Ashkenazim, however, were crowned with success, and by 1840 the Jews obtained the capitulation rights in their entirety. The consuls who were sent to Jerusalem, Acre, Jaffa, and even Safed, protected the Jewish subjects. It was due to this protection that Jews were able to immigrate to Palestine in their thousands.
The influence of the consuls in the coastal towns was extremely limited and a fundamental change occurred with the opening of the first consulate in Jerusalem (the British consulate in 1838–39). In 1843 France reopened its consulate in Jerusalem after an interruption of about 130 years. The greatest number of Palestinian Jews, however, were placed under the protection of the Austrian consulate. These Jews held important positions in the consular services as interpreters and vice consuls. R. Isaiah *Bardaki, the leader of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, was vice consul of Russia and Austria during the 1840s. In 1849 he appealed to the British consul in Jerusalem with a plea that the latter should grant protection to the Jews who had become stateless as a result of the discriminatory laws of Russia. R. Abraham Solomon Zalman *Ẓoref acted as vice consul of Prussia during this period (most of the Prussian citizens in the country were Jews). Because of the *ḥalukkah system the consuls were relief workers rather than diplomats and economic attachés and they generally extended themselves to assist the Jewish population. Britain also intervened on behalf of the Jews of the European countries when their consuls refused them their assistance. At the time of the *Damascus Affair, the British government proposed to the sultan that he authorize his non-Muslim subjects to address their complaints to him through the exclusive intermediary of the British consuls.
From the second half of the 19th century the Turkish government attempted, although without success, to obtain the abolition of the capitulations on the grounds that it considered them as an encroachment on its sovereignty. However, when the first groups of Zionist immigrants arrived from Russia, the Ottoman government prohibited the immigration and
M. Fargeon, Les juifs en Egypte… (1938), 166, 170; M. Saleny, L'Empire égyptien sous Mohammed Ali et la question d'Orient 1811–1849 (1930), 305f.; A.M. Hyamson, The British Consulate in Relation to the Jews in Palestine (1941), passim; A.J. Brawer, in: Zion, 5 (1939/40), 161–9; A. Lutsky, ibid., 6 (1940/41), 46–79; M. Khadduri and H.J. Liebesny, Law in the Middle East, 1 (1955), 309–33, 361f.; B. Gat, Ha-Yishuv ha-Yehudi be-Ereẓ Yisrael… (1840–1881) (1963), 86–92; Hirschberg, Afrikah, 2 (1965), passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: J.M. Landau, Jews in Nineteenth-Century Egypt (1969), 21–24; idem (ed.), Toledot Yehudei Miẓrayim ba-Tekufah ha-Otmanit (1988), index; M. Mazower, Salonica (2004), index; R. Kark, American Consuls in the Holy Land (1994), index.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.