Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared History, Fifteenth through the Twentieth Century Edited by Avigdor Levy

By Kirli, Cengiz | Shofar, Fall 2004 | Go to article overview

Jews, Turks, Ottomans: A Shared History, Fifteenth through the Twentieth Century Edited by Avigdor Levy


Kirli, Cengiz, Shofar


This is a free addition to the literature on the Jews of the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. The literature has grown significantly in the last decade largely due to the interest stimulated by the 500(th) anniversary of the expulsion of Jews from the Iberian peninsula and the subsequent migration of many of them to the Ottoman lands. The editor of the present volume, Avigdor Levy, has contributed recently, as author (The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire, 1992) and editor (The Jews of the Ottoman Empire, 1994).

It is now conventional to assess the economic and political fortunes of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire in three chronological periods: the rise (fifteenth and sixteenth centuries) and fall (seventeenth and eighteenth centuries) of the prominence of the Jewish community; the impact of reforms in the nineteenth century; and the Jewish communities in the successor states of the Ottoman Empire in the twentieth century. Even a cursory glance at this periodization reveals that the historiography of the Jews of the Ottoman Empire and its successor states follows the conventional, yet obsolete, periodization of Ottoman Empire in general, connecting the economic and political fortunes of the Ottoman Jews to those of the Ottoman state. The present collection does not deviate from this convention. It is chronologically and unevenly divided into three parts, each corresponding to a particular period described above. The first part, entitled "Jewish Society and the Ottoman Polity, Fifteenth through Eighteenth Centuries," includes five essays. Halil Inalcik explores the "Foundations of Jewish Ottoman Cooperation," and underlines that the skill and experience in international commerce, banking, and manufacture that the Jews brought to the Ottoman lands "in the face of a crusading Christian Europe" provided the conditions for solidarity and cooperation between the Jews and the Ottomans in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Daniel Goffman and Jacob Barnai focus with different perspectives mainly on Izmir, a Western Anatolian port city which, along with Istanbul and Salonica, inhabited a substantial Jewish community. Israel Ta-Shama in "Rabbinic Literature in the Late Byzantine and Early Ottoman Periods" examines the influence of Franco-German Jewish legal traditions on Sephardic legal practices. And Rhodes Murphy studies the role of Jews in the medical profession.

Eight essays in Part II of the volume, "Modernization and Transformation, Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries," examine directly or indirectly the impact of nineteenth century reforms on the Jews in the Ottoman Empire, "a key issue," as Levi describes, "in Ottoman Jewish historiography" (p. xxiii). These reforms are usually considered to have a positive impact on the Jewish communities throughout the empire by Ottoman historiography. Specific case studies included in this part deal with various aspects of this impact in different parts of the empire. The first four articles focus exclusively on Arab provinces. Jacob Landau describes the double challenge posed, from above, by the increasing state centralization, and from below, by the educated and secular Jews, on the Jewish community structure in Egypt. Daniel J. Schroeter discusses the impact of the reforms in Ottoman Syria, Palestine, Iraq, and Libya.

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