The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire

The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire

The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire

The Sephardim in the Ottoman Empire

Synopsis

Although much has been written about the "golden age" of Iberian Jews, the Sephardim, relatively little has been published about their largest diaspora, which came into existence after their expulsion from Spain in 1492. Levy describes how the Sephardim came to settle in the Ottoman Empire, how they developed and organized their communities, what were their economic and cultural activities, and what role they played in the lands of the Ottoman Empire. Annotation copyright by Book News, Inc., Portland, OR

Excerpt

The expulsion of the Jews from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497) brought the curtain down on the largest, most vigorous, and creative Jewish community in the world at the time, which had thrived on Iberian soil for more than a thousand years. The same events, however, also led to the rise of a wide-flung Sephardic diaspora in the countries of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seaboard. For wherever the Iberian Jews, the Sephardim, went, they carried with them their languages, cultural heritage, traditions, and customs. The largest of the new Sephardic centers were formed in the Ottoman Empire, which emerged as the most secure and desirable haven for the Iberian refugees. Records from the early sixteenth century indicate that, within two to three decades after their expulsion, tens of thousands of Iberian Jews had become established in many Ottoman cities and towns.

In the Ottoman Empire the Sephardim encountered other Jewish groups, not only local residents, but also refugees from other European countries, especially Italy, France, Germany, and Hungary. The contacts and cross-fertilization between these various Jewish groups led to the emergence of a new, uniquely vibrant and multifaceted society, rich in culture and scholarship. Due to their large numbers and high cultural and educational standards, the Sephardim emerged as the dominant group within Ottoman Jewry. Their impact was especially strong and long-lasting in the Jewish communities of the Balkans, western Anatolia, and the urban centers of Palestine. Under Sephardic leadership, the Ottoman Jewish communities became the most important centers of Jewish scholarship and learning in the world, a position they maintained for a long time. Religious and intellectual currents originating within Ottoman Jewry resounded throughout the 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 in science, technology, culture, and entertainment. In return, Ottoman Jewry experienced unprecedented levels of individual and religious freedom and long periods of material comfort, security, and prominence.

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