Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Violence in Ottoman Jewish Society: Izmir as a Case Study

Academic journal article International Journal of Turkish Studies

Violence in Ottoman Jewish Society: Izmir as a Case Study

Article excerpt

This article focuses on a subject that has not been studied in the context of Ottoman Jewry: violence and acts of violence. It deals primarily with Izmir which since the early seventeenth century was not only "the microcosmos of Europe," to borrow the title of Jacob Barnai's recent book,* 1 but also the microcosmos of the largest and most important Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire. Izmir's kahals (congregations) and the entire community were influenced by the traditions of the communities from which their members had come: Salónica, Istanbul, Safed, and others. Izmir's thriving community, numbering several thousand souls, attained the developed stage of those earlier communities after a century of migration and settling down, establishment of organizational and leadership patterns, and creation of traditions and customs in the public, social, and political spheres, such as those dealing with taxation or ritual slaughter.

Research on aspects of violence among Jews in the Iberian Peninsula conducted by Yom Tov Assis found a few references to violent behavior, which comes as no surprise.2 For the Ottoman period we have Yaron Tzur's short and fascinating article on the violent conduct of Kaid Yehuda in Tunisia, an individual case that certainly was not exceptional. Such persons employed power and threats against their opponents because that behavior was customary and not doing so would have undermined their authority.3 No few violent acts of a political-communal nature are recorded in Yaron Harel's many studies, primarily in the context of the appointment of rabbis to the post of Haham Ba§i (chief rabbi) in Syria and Iraq during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.4 Studies relating to Jewish communities in the very heart of the empire also touch upon incidents of violence: dissension over the appointment of rabbis, hostile acts against the followers of Shabbetai Zevi or those who did not believe in his mission, and fierce social conflicts. Although violence and a tendency to engage in court battles are mentioned in articles by Joseph Hacker,5 in none of the aforementioned studies is violence within the Jewish society of a Muslim Ottoman city the focus of systematic research.

Violence in the general Ottoman context has been the subject of only a few studies. We do have evidence from Aleppo and Damascus, and a little about Cairo and Salonica, but not much more. There is no systematic documentation for popular uprisings in the empire's major cities, including the capital for which otherwise relatively extensive documentation exists. Jews, mostly poor ones, were an integral part of the urban populace-and occasionally of enraged mobs-and so participated in violent outbreaks, especially those over economic issues. In one such event noted by Hammer-Purgstall, Jews and Christians took part in rioting that broke out in Istanbul in the winter of 1687/8, and some who looted the palace of Siavush Pasha were hanged.6

The first to research violence in the Ottoman Empire was Abraham Marcus,7 followed just over a decade ago by James Grehan, who studied three centuries of angry protests over the rising price of bread, new taxes, and extortion that were aimed at the authorities In Damascus: the kadi, the governor, and the soldiers.8 Eyal Ginio came across many instances of violence in the records of the §ari'a court in Salonica.9 Mention should also be made of the records of Jerusalem's §ari'a court, a virtual goldmine for anyone dealing with life in that city during the Ottoman period. The three volumes published by Amnon Cohen contain many documents dealing with violence between Jews, or between Jews and Muslims. 10 The uprising in Jerusalem of the Naqib al-Ashraf in the eighteenth century is notably well documented, revealing foci of power, social groups, patterns of violence, and the negotiations between the parties.11

On the whole, the claim that Ottoman cities were peaceful and secure was reinforced by the impressions of many European travelers. …

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