The Deonme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks

The Deonme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks

The Deonme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks

The Deonme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, and Secular Turks


This book tells the story of the Dönme, the descendents of Jews who resided in the Ottoman Empire and converted to Islam along with their messiah, Rabbi Shabbatai Tzevi, in the seventeenth century. For two centuries following their conversion, the Dönme were accepted as Muslims, and by the end of the nineteenth century rose to the top of Salonikan society. The Dönme helped transform Salonika into a cosmopolitan city, promoting the newest innovation in trade and finance, urban reform, and modern education. They eventually became the driving force behind the 1908 revolution that led to the overthrow of the Ottoman sultan and the establishment of a secular republic.

To their proponents, the Dönme are enlightened secularists and Turkish nationalists who fought against the dark forces of superstition and religious obscurantism. To their opponents, they were simply crypto-Jews engaged in a plot to dissolve the Islamic empire. Both points of view assume the Dönme were anti-religious, whether couched as critique or praise.

But it is time that we take these religious people seriously on their own terms. In the Ottoman Empire, the Dönme promoted morality, ethics, spirituality, and a syncretistic religion that reflected their origins at the intersection of Jewish Kabbalah and Islamic Sufism. This is the first book to tell their story, from their origins to their near total dissolution as they became secular Turks in the mid-twentieth century.


Over the past few years, hundreds of thousands of copies of two books by Soner Yalçın entitled Efendi: Beyaz Türklerin büyük sırrı (Master: The White Turks' Big Secret) and Efendi 2: Beyaz Müslümanların büyük sırrı (Master 2: The White Muslims' Big Secret) have been sold in Turkey. The first purports to uncover the secret Jewish identity of the secular elite that has guided the nation for over a century; the sequel claims to unmask the hidden Jews within leading religious Muslim families. The cover of Musanın çocukları Tayyip ve Emine (Moses' Children Tayyip and Emine) by Ergün Poyraz, the second best-selling book in Turkey in 2007, is a photomontage of Turkish religious Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoǧan and his headscarf-wearing wife Emine—both of Jewish origin, it contends—trapped within a Star of David. Everyone important in Turkey, it seems, has Jewish ancestry. Ghost Jews haunt the Turkish popular imagination. Many Turkish secularists believe that Prime Minister Erdoǧan is a crypto-Jew working to undermine Turkey's secular order. Islamists and, increasingly, large segments of the Turkish reading public think atheist Jews overthrew the Ottoman sultan, dissolved his Islamic empire, replaced it with an anti-Muslim secular republic led by the “secret Jew” Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, and still today control the country.

The Republic of Turkey has in fact never been led by a secret Jew. Never theless, the popularity of sensational accounts about secret Jewish plotters scheming to undermine Turkey has shed light on a group that would otherwise have remained lost to history. A group of people who seem to have acted as crypto-Jews did exist for over two centuries in Ottoman Salonika and later, after the First Balkan War, when the . . .

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