The Jews of the Ottoman Empire

The Jews of the Ottoman Empire

The Jews of the Ottoman Empire

The Jews of the Ottoman Empire


This volume is a major contribution to Jewish as well as to Ottoman, Balkan, Middle Eastern, and North African history. These twenty-eight original essays grew out of an international conference at Brandeis University the first ever to be convened specifically on this subject. Outstanding scholars from Israel, Turkey, Europe, and the United States contributed wide-ranging essays dealing with the Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire, from the Balkans and Anatolia to Arabia, from Mesopotamia to North Africa. Presented here is an unusually broad historical canvas that brings together many different perspectives and viewpoints.


In 1900, Ottoman Jewry, numbering about 400,000 souls, constituted the fifth largest Jewish community in the world, after those of Russia, Austria-Hungary, the United States, and Germany. More Jews lived in the Ottoman Empire than in Great Britain and France combined. Three hundred years earlier, in 1600, although no reliable data are available, it is commonly believed that more Jews lived under Ottoman rule than in any other state in the world; and this was probably true for much, if not most, of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries.

In addition to their numerical importance, for a long time Ottoman Jewry constituted a major hub—materially, spiritually, and culturally—of the world Jewish diaspora. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497), the Ottoman Empire became the most secure and desirable haven for the Iberian Jews, as well as for other European Jewish refugees, who transplanted their community life, institutions, culture, and scholarship onto Ottoman soil. the contacts and cross-fertilization between Jewish groups coming from different cultures, backgrounds, and traditions led to the emergence of a uniquely vibrant and multifaceted society, rich in culture and scholarship. the Ottoman Jewish communities effectively succeeded Spanish Jewry as the most important centers of Jewish scholarship and learning in the world, a position which they maintained for a long time. Religious and intellectual currents originating within Ottoman Jewry resounded throughout the world Jewish diaspora.

Within the Ottoman sociopolitical order, for much of the period, the Jews occupied an important, if not unique, position. in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries they were instrumental in developing and expanding the Ottoman economy and administration, and they continued to maintain a prominent role in these areas for a long time thereafter. Jews made significant contributions to Ottoman society in science, technology, culture, and entertainment. in return, Ottoman Jewry experienced unprecedented individual and religious freedom and long periods of material comfort, security, and prominence.

In spite of this record, the study of Ottoman Jewry has long been relegated to a marginal position within modern Jewish historiography . . .

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