Frontpagemag.com presents part one of a two part series. We will publish the conclusion of "Under Turkish Rule" in next weekend's edition August 3-5. --The Editors.
Ignorance about the plight of Jews under Turkish rule—past, including Ottoman Palestine, and present—is profound. In lieu of serious, critical examination one finds whitewashed apologetics concocted to promote dubious geo-political strategies—even the morally bankrupt denial of the Armenian genocide, as promoted, shamefully, by public intellectuals and major US Jewish organizations who abet the exploitation of their co-religionist Turkish Jews as dhmmi “lobbyists” for the government of Turkey. These strategies have “succeeded”, perversely, in further isolating Jews, while failing, abysmally, to alter a virulently Antisemitic Turkish religious (i.e., Islamic), and secular culture—the latter perhaps best exemplified by the wildly popular, and most expensive film ever made in Turkey, “Valley of the Wolves” (released February, 2006) which features an American Jewish doctor dismembering Iraqis brutally murdered by American soldiers in order to harvest their organs for Jewish markets. Prime Minister Erdogan not only failed to condemn the film, he justified its production and popularity.
The ruling AK (Adalet ve Kalkınma) Party’s resounding popular electoral victory July 22, 2007 over its closest “secularist” rival parties is further evidence of Turkey’s steady re-Islamization. Indeed this trend dates literally to the first election during which Turkish voters were offered any option other than one party rule under Ataturk’s CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk Party)—in 1950, when Menderes’ Demokrat Party (DP) pursued a successful electoral strategy by pandering to an Islamic “re-awakening.” Upon election, the DP supported religious schools, and a mosque construction initiative; it also allowed Sufi orders to reappear, and many of their followers then actively supported DP candidates in elections. Already by 1952, Bernard Lewis warned, presciently, about the open re-emergence of Islam in Turkey with the 1950 ascent of Menderes’ DP just twelve years after Atatürk’s death.
Ataturk’s regime and the CHP-lead Republican governments of his successors manifested their own discriminatory attitudes towards non-Muslims, generally, including specific outbursts of antisemitic persecution—most notably the Thracian pogroms of July, 1934. But since 1950, both the Turkish press and Islamic literature have steadily increased their output of theological Islamic antisemitism—founded upon core anti-Jewish motifs in the Koran, hadith, and sira. This theologically-based anti-Jewish animus grew steadily in stridency, and during the 1970s through 1990s, was melded into anti-Zionist and anti-Israel invective by the burgeoning fundamentalist Islamic movement under Necmettin Erbakan—the former Turkish Prime Minister, and mentor of the current AK Party Prime Minister, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, whose own Islamic fundamentalist (see here, and here), and virulently Antisemitic leanings are well-documented. For example, in 1974, Erdogan, then serving as president of the Istanbul Youth Group of the Islamist National Salvation Party (founded by Erbakan), wrote, directed, and played the leading role in a theatrical play entitled Maskomya, staged throughout Turkey during the 1970s. Mas-Kom-Ya was a compound acronym for “Masons-Communists-Yahudi [Jews]”, and the play focused on the evil, conspiratorial nature of these three entities whose common denominator was Judaism.
The steady recrudescence of fundamentalist Islam in Turkey since 1950—epitomized by the overwhelming re-election of the AKP—does not bode well for either the dhimmified vestigial Jewish community of Turkey, or long term relations between Turkey and the Jewish State of Israel. But the plight of Turkey’s Jews and the other vestigial non-Muslim Turkish minorities reveals a more profound challenge which modern Turkey has failed to overcome since its origins under Ataturk in 1923—steering a truly progressive course between the Scylla of autocratic secular Kemalist nationalism (whose often racist theories are still being taught), and the Charybdis of a totalitarian, politicized Islam.
The ruling AK (Adalet ve Kalkınma) Party’s resounding popular electoral victory July 27, 2007 over its closest “secularist” rival parties—the CHP (Cumhuriyet Halk) and MHP (Milliyetçi Hareket) receiving 20% and 15% of the vote, respectively, to the AKP’s 47%—is further evidence of Turkey’s steady re-Islamization. Indeed this trend dates literally to the first election during which Turkish voters were offered any option other than one party rule under Ataturk’s CHP—in 1950, when Menderes’ Demokrat Party (DP) pursued a successful electoral strategy by pandering to an Islamic “re-awakening.” Upon election, the DP supported religious schools, and a mosque construction initiative; it also allowed Sufi orders to reappear, and many of their followers then actively supported DP candidates in elections. Already by 1952, Bernard Lewis warned, 1 presciently, about the open re-emergence of Islam in Turkey with the 1950 ascent of Menderes’ DP just twelve years after Atatürk’s death.
…the deepest Islamic roots of Turkish life and culture are still alive, and the ultimate identity of Turk and Muslim in Turkey is still unchallenged. The resurgence of Islam after a long interval responds to a profound national need. The occasional outburst of the tarikas [Sufi “dervish” orders], far more than the limited restoration of official Islam, show how powerful are the forces stirring beneath the surface. The path that the revival will take is still not clear. If simple reaction has its way, much of the work of the last century will be undone, and Turkey will slip back into the darkness from which she painfully emerged.
Ataturk’s regime and the CHP-lead Republican governments of his successors manifested their own discriminatory attitudes towards non-Muslims, generally, including specific outbursts of antisemitic persecution—most notably the Thracian pogroms of July, 1934. But since 1950, both the Turkish press and Islamic literature have steadily increased their output of theological Islamic antisemitism—founded upon core anti-Jewish motifs in the Koran, hadith, and sira. This theologically-based anti-Jewish animus grew steadily in stridency, and during the 1970s through 1990s, was melded into anti-Zionist and anti-Israel invective by the burgeoning fundamentalist Islamic movement under Necmettin Erbakan—the former Turkish Prime Minister, and mentor of the current AK Party Prime Minister, Tayyip Recep Erdogan, whose own Islamic fundamentalist (see here, and here), and virulently Antisemitic leanings are well-documented. Even after the murderous November 15, 2003 jihadist bombings of two Istanbul synagogues (Neve Shalom and Beth Israel), Erdogan and the AKP government never denounced the ongoing (see here, here, and here) fundamentalist Islamic antisemitic discourse—from which he and his party emerged—but claimed to have abandoned.
This two-part essay examines at length the tragic living legacy of Turkish antisemitism: from the archetypal Islamic Jew hatred and general anti-dhimmi attitudes of the Ottoman Empire, to their persistence and transmogrification into racially-based antisemitism by the bizarre and bigoted Turco-centric racial theories promoted under Ataturk and his successors.
From Andalusia to the Ottoman Empire
The brutal jihad conquests of the Berber Muslim Almohads—followed by their discriminatory practices as rulers—resulted in a massive emigration of Jews and forced Jewish converts to Islam from both Almohad-controlled Spain, and the North African Maghreb, to the Christian kingdoms of the Iberian peninsula. 2 During the first half of the 13th century, Jaime the I of Aragon, in particular, as Garcia-Arenal notes, 3
…created a general policy of sheltering Jews in his territories, granting “guidage”, safe conduct, and letters of naturalization to all Jews who, by land or sea were able to come to come and establish themselves in the states of Majorca, Catalonia, and Valencia. Among these documents are preserved the safe-conduct passes granted to two Jewish families from Sijilmasa, dated 1247, Valencia. For some time prior to this, Jewish converts to Islam had been permitted to return to their former religion if they so wished.
Between 1367 and 1417, however, Spanish Jewry, including the descendants of those Jews who had escaped the Muslim Almohad depredations, experienced an era of “furious persecutions”, 4 including anti-Jewish pogroms, which caused the majority of Spanish Jews to abjure their faith under coercion and convert to Christianity (becoming “Marranos”). 5335 Subsequently those Marranos whose conversion was deemed “insincere”, would be subjected to the fanaticism of the Spanish Inquisition, officially decreed by the Spanish rulers Ferdinand and Isabella on September, 27, 1480. 6 Following the issuance of an “expulsion” decree in 1492—a dozen years after the founding of the Inquisition—until 1499, as Henry Kamen has established, only a minority of Jews left Spain—most decided to convert. 7 Indeed, as Kamen observes, 8
The “expulsion” decree of 1492 was a decree aimed not at expulsion but at conversion.
Moreover a total of perhaps 40,000—50,000 Jews were expelled between 1492-99, and no more than half of those sought refuge under the suzerainty of Ottoman Muslim rule (debunking the ahistorical notion of an en masse Jewish emigration to the Ottoman Empire). Kamen describes these events as follows: 9
…emigration to the Ottoman Empire certainly took place, but slowly and in stages. Many exiles fled from the Mediterranean coast of Spain, but virtually all went only to the neighboring countries; the difficulty of arranging sea transport is sufficient explanation for the limited radius of movement, though the important fact must also be borne in mind that Judaism was tolerated in all the territories concerned, and there was little need to go as far as the Levant.
Thanks to the public toleration of Judaism in neighboring territory (Navarre, Portugal, Provence), little migration from the peninsula took place except among communities which faced the Mediterranean coast, and which therefore were forced to take ship. Possibly over 10,000 Jews left the Mediterranean coast in 1492 and 1493, but many of these were Castilian and not exclusively Aragonese; the figure of 10,000, in any case, is our ceiling for the likely total of all Jews in the crown of Aragon. If we accept the Jewish total for Castile as being around 70,000 persons in 1492, we may allow that over half of these emigrated; but it was an emigration that was in great measure reversed by the high number of returnees, so that the possible final emigration from Castile may not have been much above 30,000 persons. Even allowing for a possible overlap between this figure and that given above for Aragon, the total Spanish emigration looks like being closer to 40,000 or 50,000...
To complete this morose cycle of persecution, the vacuum filled by those Jews expelled from Spain at the end of the 15th century, and relocated by the Ottomans, for example, in the regions of Salonika, and Constantinople (Istanbul), itself, was created when their co-religionist counterparts—the Jews living under Byzantine rule—were subjected to massacre, pillage, enslavement, and deportation by these same Ottoman conquerors, during their jihad campaigns of the early to mid-15th century. 10
Ottoman “Tolerance”: Jews Under Ottoman Rule—From Jihad, to Sürgün, to Dhimmitude
Wittek, citing the oldest known Ottoman source, the versified chronicle of Ahmedi, maintains that the 14th century Ottomans believed they (too), “ were a community of Ghazis, of champions of the Mohammedan religion; a community of the Moslem march- warriors, devoted to the struggle with the infidels in their neighborhood” 11
Sir Paul Rycaut (1629-1700) served as a Dragoman (Turkish interpreter) and assistant to the British ambassador (starting in 1665), before being appointed British Consul to Smyrna for eleven years (1667-1678). 12 Rycaut also wrote major historical works on the Ottoman Empire, one of which described the importance attached to the “Office of the Mufti” 12a:
The Mufti (or Shaykh al Islam)12b is the principal head of the Mahometan Religion or Oracle of all doubtful questions in the Law, and is a person of great esteem amongst the Turks; his election is solely in the Grand Signor [Sultan], who chooses a man to that Office always famous for his Learning in the Law and eminent for his virtues and strictness of Life; his Authority is so great amongst them, that when he passes judgment or Determination in any point, the Grand Signor himself will in no wise [ways] contradict or oppose it…In matters of State the Sultan demands his opinion, whether it be in Condemnation of any great man to Death, or in making War or Peace, or other important Affairs of the Empire; either to appear the more just and religious, or to incline the People more willingly to Obedience. And this practice is used in business of greatest moment; scarce a Visier [Vizier] is proscribed, or a Pashaw [Pasha] for pretence of crime displaced, or any matter of great alteration or change designed, but the Grand Signor arms himself with the Muft’s Sentence…
Molla Khosrew (d. 1480) was a celebrated writer and Hanafi jurist, who was appointed the Ottoman Shaykh-al-Islam by Sultan Mehmed II in 1469. 12c One of Molla Khosrew’s authoritative, widely cited legal works, reiterated these classical views on jihad: 12d
…jihad is a fard al-kifaya, that is, that one must begin the fight against the enemy, even when he [the enemy] may not have taken the initiative to fight, because the Prophet...early on…allowed believers to defend themselves, later, however, he ordered them to take the initiative at certain times of the year, that is, at the end of the haram months, saying, “Kill the idolaters wherever you find them...” (Q9:5). He finally ordered fighting without limitations, at all times and in all places, saying, “Fight those who do not believe in God, and in the Last Day...”(Q9:29); there are also other [similar] verses on the subject. This shows that it is a fard al-kifaya
The contemporary Turkish scholar of Ottoman history, Halil Inalcik, has emphasized how this conception of jihad—as formulated by Molla Khosrew, and both his predecessors and followers—was a primary motivation for the conquests of the Ottoman Turks. 13
The ideal of gaza, Holy War, was an important factor in the foundation and development of the Ottoman state. Society in the frontier principalities conformed to a particular cultural pattern imbued with the ideal of continuous Holy War and continuous expansion of the Dar ul Islam-the realms of Islam- until they covered the whole world.
Incited by pious Muslim theologians, these ghazis were at the vanguard of (both the earlier Seljuk Turk) and Ottoman jihad conquests. A.E. Vacalopoulos highlights the role of the dervishes during the Ottoman campaigns: 14
…fanatical dervishes and other devout Muslim leaders…constantly toiled for the dissemination of Islam. They had done so from the very beginning of the Ottoman state and had played an important part in the consolidation and extension of Islam. These dervishes were particularly active in the uninhabited frontier regions of the east. Here they settled down with their families, attracted other settlers, and thus became the virtual founders of whole new villages, whose inhabitants invariably exhibited the same qualities of deep religious fervor. From places such as these, the dervishes or their agents would emerge to take part in new military enterprises for the extension of the Islamic state.
Vryonis has provided this schematic, clinical assessment of the jihad conquest and colonization of Asia Minor by the Seljuks and Ottoman Turks: 15
The conquest, or should I say the conquests of Asia Minor were in operation over a period of four centuries. Thus the Christian societies of Asia Minor were submitted to extensive periods of intense warfare, incursions, and destructions which undermined the existence of the Christian church. In the first century of Turkish conquests and invasions from the mid-eleventh to the late twelfth century, the sources reveal that some 63 towns and villages were destroyed. The inhabitants of other towns and villages were enslaved and taken off to the Muslim slave markets.
The Islamization of Asia Minor was complemented by parallel and subsequent Ottoman jihad campaigns in the Balkans. 16 As of 1326 C.E., yearly razzias by the emirs of Asia Minor targeted southern Thrace, southern Macedonia, and the coastal areas of southern Greece. Around 1360 C.E., the Ottomans, under Suleiman (son of Sultan Orchan), and later Sultan Murad I (1359-1389), launched bona fide campaigns of jihad conquest, capturing and occupying a series of cities and towns in Byzantine and Bulgarian Thrace. Following the battle of Cernomen (September 26, 1371), the Ottomans penetrated westward, occupying within 15 years, a large number of towns in western Bulgaria, and in Macedonia. Ottoman invasions during this period also occurred in the Peloponnesus [or “Morea”, the southern Greek peninsula], central Greece, Epirus, Thessaly, Albania, and Montenegro. By 1388 most of northeast Bulgaria was conquered, and following the battle of Kosovo (1389), Serbia came under Ottoman suzerainty. Bayezid I (1389-1402) undertook devastating campaigns in Bosnia, Hungary, and Wallachia, in addition to turning south and again attacking central Greece and the Peloponnesus. After a hiatus during their struggle against the Mongol invaders, the Ottomans renewed their Balkan offensive in 1421. Successful Ottoman campaigns were waged in the Peloponnesus, Serbia, and Hungary, culminating with the victory at the second Battle of Kosovo (1448). With the accession to power of Mehmed II, the Ottomans commenced their definitive conquest of the Balkan peninsula. Constantinople was captured on May 29, 1453, marking the end of the Byzantine Empire. By 1460, the Ottomans had completely vanquished both Serbia and the Peloponnesus. Bosnia and Trebizond fell in 1463, followed by Albania in 1468. With the conquest of Herzegovina in 1483, the Ottomans became rulers of the entire Balkan peninsula. Angelov, highlighting the later campaigns of Murad II (1421-1451) and Mehmed II (1451-1481), described the impact of the Ottoman jihad on the vanquished Balkan populations. 17
…the conquest of the Balkan Peninsula accomplished by the Turks over the course of about two centuries caused the incalculable ruin of material goods, countless massacres, the enslavement and exile of a great part of the population—in a word, a general and protracted decline of productivity, as was the case with Asia Minor after it was occupied by the same invaders. This decline in productivity is all the more striking when one recalls that in the mid-fourteenth century, as the Ottomans were gaining a foothold on the peninsula, the States that existed there – Byzantium, Bulgaria and Serbia – had already reached a rather high level of economic and cultural development....The campaigns of Murad II (1421-1451) and especially those of his successor, Mehmed II (1451-1481) in Serbia, Bosnia, Albania and in the Byzantine princedom of the Peloponnesus, were of a particularly devastating character…It [the Peloponnesus] was invaded in 1446 by the armies of Murad II, which destroyed a great number of places and took thousands of prisoners. Twelve years later, during the summer of 1458, the Balkan Peninsula was invaded by an enormous Turkish army under the command of Mehmed II and his first lieutenant Mahmoud Pasha. After a siege that lasted four months, Corinth fell into enemy hands. Its walls were razed, and many places that the sultan considered useless were destroyed. The work by Kritobulos contains an account of the Ottoman campaigns, which clearly shows us the vast destruction caused by the invaders in these regions. Two years later another Turkish army burst into the Peloponnesus. This time Gardiki and several other places were ruined. Finally, in 1464, for the third time, the destructive rage of the invaders was aimed at the Peloponnesus. That was when the Ottomans battled the Venetians and leveled the city of Argos to its foundations.
The Initial Incorporation of the Jews into the Ottoman Empire: From Jihad to Sürgün
Joseph Hacker’s pioneering scholarship 18 has revealed the origins of another myth—that of a remarkable Ottoman Muslim benevolence toward Jews. Hacker notes that historians since Heinrich Graetz (who, as discussed earlier, 19 also promoted the ahistorical notion of a “Golden Age” Muslim-Jewish symbiosis in an ecumenical Muslim Spain), 20
…described in idyllic colors the evolution of relations and links between the Jews and Ottomans, and even the happenings of the conquest of Constantinople and the fate of the Jews of the city were not depicted authentically. These approaches affected the understanding of the scholars of the Ottoman Empire who relied on students of Jewish history and upon “their sources”. Thus they tended to continue to minimize and swallow up all tensions in those relations and links, and to describe them as idyllic only.
Hacker’s research singles out the 1523 book of the Talmudist Eliyah Kapsali (Seder Eliyah Zuta) composed in Crete in 1523, and its embellishment by the 17th century Egyptian chronicler Rabbi Yosef Sambari (probably from Alexandria) in his Divrei Yosef, 21
…that became the version accepted by modern historiography of the history of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire, and the sürgün [forced population transfer] phenomenon and all its attendant [discriminatory] features features was not considered at all. If the sürgün was mentioned at all in the writings of the [Jewish] scholars of the Empire, it was held to be an insignificant, indecisive episode in the history of the Jews. The relations between Jews and Ottomans were thus felt to be both idyllic and monotonous from their very inception, no distinction being made either between kinds of Jewish populations or between one period and another throughout the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries.
Kapsali conceals all criticism and tries to cover up and obliterate inconvenient facts…This is also apparently the reason for his utterly ignoring the Romaniot [Byzantine] Jews and their fate at the time of the conquest of Constantinople, and of the suffering of the others exiled there after the conquest.
The Jews, like other inhabitants of the Byzantine Empire, suffered heavily from the Ottoman jihad conquests, 22 and policies of colonization and forced population transfer (i.e., the sürgün system). 22a This also explains the disappearance of several Jewish communities, including Salonika, and their founding anew by Jewish immigrants from Spain. 22b Moreover, even these Spanish Jewish immigrants could subsequently be subjected to sürgün deportations (as were elite families of Spanish Jews settled in Salonika [~1508], and then exiled to Rhodes in 1523), 23 with relegation, thereafter, to permanent sürgün status.
Hacker emphasizes how the sürgün (the meanings of the root “sür” and the suffix “gün” include exile, persecution, and expulsion 24) decrees of obligatory transfer were experienced as a punishment which its victims sought to avoid. 25 Those who refused to emigrate once ordered, could be put to death, 26 and Hacker describes the lasting impact of being designated “sürgün”—a form of vassalage that restricted movement and social interactions, and resulted in economic penalties, including double taxation: 27
…it is completely evident that departing and settling in the ruined city [i.e., Constantinople] were considered a severe decree. A study of the status and obligations of a person exiled by decree of the authorities shows that from the time the person exiled to a certain region he was forbidden to leave it without permission of the shubashi (the chief of police) or some other representative of the authorities. Not only he himself was forbidden to leave the area, his children were likewise forbidden to leave, and he was sometimes forbidden to marry a person who was not, like himself, an exile. Furthermore he was obliged to engage in certain occupations if it was for this occupation that he had been exiled and was not permitted to change his occupation. Though he enjoyed a partial tax exemption for a given period of time and in most cases a dwelling place, as well, the property (real estate) he had owned in his previous domicile was on occasion taken from him by the authorities—without compensation, and sometimes divided up amongst the military. These limitations on his freedom would continue indefinitely. In fact a person becoming a sürgün would assume a special appropriate legal status which differentiated clearly between him and the other residents of the regions in his personal status, in his freedom of movement, and sometimes in his occupation as well. In Istanbul, for example, all new arrivals were first organized in special neighborhoods and in predetermined areas according to their origin, and were not permitted to move to other parts of the city to reside.
When a person was registered by the authorities as a sürgün, and when he had been sent to his new place of residence, this sürgün status adhered to him and his offspring until “the end of time.” No one was able to free himself of this status, which obligated him—first and foremost—to be a vassal of his place of residence, without the ability to leave it before first having obtained the permission of the authorities. This limitation had decisive effects on the lives both of the individual and the general public. This topic comes up quite a few times in the sources available, both with respect to the individual and regarding the public. Concerning the individual, the subject is mentioned with regard to brides and bridegrooms who were sürgün: one of the parties involved considered this to be justification for cancellation of the wedding. People were also unable to leave their place for either the purpose of bearing witness or for a legal session elsewhere. However, the more complex subject which surely left its impression on the lives of these Jews is that of double taxation. The sürgün’s status as a vassal to his place of residence was expressed on occasion not so much by virtue of his physical presence in his place of exile as by his registration in the authorties’ taxation books. The individual was sometimes permited to leave the city for a limited or lengthy period of time, on condition that he pay his taxes at the place where he was registered. This arrangement would lead to the community where he actually resided (lived and worked there) demanding that he pay taxes to the authorities and to the community in his place of active residence. And though at first glance, he was exempt from this by Ottoman law (at least insofar as paying taxes to the authorities), the communities refused to concede, for in their opinion the taxes were determined by the tax collectors according to the quantity of the economic activity and the number of people in the community. They claimed that the authorities imposed their taxes on the community without taking into consideration the fact that a person was sürgün and paid his taxes elsewhere.
As a result those Romaniot [Byzantine] Jews exiled to Istanbul in the fifteenth century, who asked permission to leave the town for economic activities, had to receive permits for that from the authorities (either the shubashi or his assistant, or by by agreement of the directors of the wakf [Muslim religious endowment, typically plots of land and/or buildings; like a “trust”] to which they paid their taxes, for the money was earmarked for this wakf from the very earliest of times, when they were exiled to Istanbul). When they received their permit to leave or when they left without a permit, and operated in another town, the community in which they lived would not agree to give up its portion of the taxes in their new place. Thus, every such person was obliged to pay double taxes. From the available Hebrew sources it would seem that this demand remained valid as late as the seventeenth century; it may even have grown stronger as the Romaniots left town in larger and larger numbers. It was a serious economic obstacle for the descendants of the Romaniots, most of whom were sürgün, and for the descendants of those Spanish and Portuguese emigrés who became sürgün as a result of one of the sixteenth-century conquests.
From a letter by the scholars of Istanbul written between 1601 and 1605 to assist a Romaniot Jew of Istanbul, we learn that about one hundred and fifty years after they became sürgün, this status was still an obstacle for their descendants. And though “individuals became nay and [the authorities] no longer distinguished between Romaniot and Spaniard,” the Romaniot congregations responsible for the payment of their members’ taxes in Instanbul did not facilitate a person’s leaving “unless he guaranteed his congregation by means of a certain guarantor who would pay for him any tax requirement and levy imposed by the crown.” This encumbrance of being vassal to a place, or at least this heavy financial obligation to one’s previous place of residence, was a burden endured by the vast majority of Romaniots, and it seems that only a few Spanish Jews were encumbered by it. The problem was well known, and suffices to explain somewhat the Romaniot inferiority, whose legal and economic status was inferior to those of the migrants from Europe (even though they were the more ancient population group). This is a surprising situation whereby it was preferable to be a migrant Jew from a foreign land than to be a long-time Jewish resident of the Empire as early as the fifteenth century.
As an external sign of the degree of influence the sürgün phenomenon had on the Jews of Istanbul, as late as the eighteenth century, one might consider the fact that the term came to be accepted as a familial name for the Jewish community, though it bore negative connotations.
Hacker records the observations of prominent contemporary Jews forcibly deported from their places of origin to Constantinople (renamed Istanbul) after its brutal 28 jihad conquest in 1453. Twenty to thirty Jewish communities were removed en bloc from Anatolia and the Rumelia [Albania, Macedonia, and Thrace] to Istanbul, including, by 1456 all the Karaite dignitaries previously living in Edirne. 29 He notes, 29a
The Karaites (too) experienced bitterness and sorrow arising from the new circumstances.
Writings of Byzantine Jews also address the Ottoman conquest of Constantinople. Laments on the fall of Constantinople and the fate of its community and other communities subjected to the ravages of the 15th century Ottoman jihad campaigns were written during this period by Jews such as Rabbi Ephraim b. Gershon, a doctor and homilist from Veroia [Macedonia, 40 miles WSW of Salonika], and Rabbi Michael Balbo of Crete. 30
Ephraim b. Gershon’s “relatively moderate words”, describe his own fate, and that of the Jewish community of Veroia. He initially fled to Negroponte (under Venetian control) when his community was forcibly exiled to Istanbul. Later he joined his co-religionists in Istanbul expressing his anti-Ottoman feelings during a homily delivered in 1469. Ephraim b. Gershon writes that these sürgün Jews suffered not only property and financial losses, but the abandonment of places to which they were emotionally attached, and great damage to their physical health. 31 His 1469 sermon includes these words: 32
All this stems from our enslavement and the sorrow we cause ourselves in our pursuit of a livelihood: we call upon God and He will hear our voices. He will take pity and have mercy on us and redeem us.
According to Hacker, Ephraim saw Islamic (i.e., Ottoman) and Christian (i.e., Venetian, Byzantine) rule over Jews—living “among the Gentiles”—as equivalent: 33
Rabbi Ephraim views the Ottoman Empire as the prophet Daniel’s fourth kingdom from which Israel will be redeemed when it collapses, and the Jews retrun to their homeland.
…it is clear that after his arrival in Istanbul no change took place in Ephraim ben Gershon’s basic approach to the Ottomans. As a Jew living (and who apparently was also born) under Ottoman rule, he perceived no difference between this regime and a Christian one, with regard to the function and status of these kingdoms in universal history and with regard to their place in the redemption of the Jews from among the Gentiles. At first he preferred to move to a Venetian area; later he returned to the Ottoman sphere of influence and rejoined his brethren in Istanbul, wher he spoke in public, hinting at his reservations regarding the regime and the kingdom. Under this Ishmaelite government, just as under other authorities, there prevailed circumstances where the individual would be well advised when “in exile amongst the seven tribes and asked to pay taxes or to convert [Hacker’s emphasis reproduced], hand over a portion of your capital in order to be saved. This is the meaning of ‘Give a portion to seven,’ i.e., to the seven tribes.’ ”
Rabbi Michael Balbo of Candia, Crete (born spring, 1411, and still alive December, 1480), was a well-known community figure who compiled his own letters in addition to those of others, most of which were written during the second and third quarters of the 15th century. 34 His observations, as Hacker notes, provide “more severe descriptions” of the fate of these Byzantine Jewish communities. 35 One letter apparently originating from Corfu includes this characterization of the political upheavals which accompanied the Ottoman jihad: 36
At this time the King maker [the Ottoman Sultan] enthroned a king of the Archers [Genesis 21:20, Ishmael] over each town and district; he decreed upon the poor, wandering nation go into exile, and went to gather them up to the daughter of Edom, Constantinople [Lamentations 4:21, as applied to Constantinople], and the Almighty enabled him to succeed [according to Exodus 21:13: “And one who did lie in wait, but God caused to come about.”]. Everyone lamented. The robbery [Isaiah 51:19-20: “These two have befallen you; who shall lament you? Desolation and ruin, famine and war; how shall I console you? Your sons have been wasted, they lie at the head of all the streets…”] and the disaster, the famine and the sword and the forced conversion of children at this time defy comforting. All are affected and desolated by the oppressor [Isaiah 51:13], and there is no tranquility [Deuteronomy 32:36].
The fate of the Jews was not different from that of Christians in either Constantinople itself or other areas conquered by the Ottoman jihad campaigns. 37 Large numbers of Jews were killed; others were taken captive, and Jewish children were enslaved, some being forcibly converted to Islam, and brought to devshirme (the coercive levies of adolescent non-Muslim male children, almost exclusively Christians, for the Ottoman slave-soldier Janissary system). 38 Extant letters describe the forced exiling of the captive Jews to Istanbul and are filled with anti-Ottoman sentiments. Hacker elucidates the contents of the Corfu letter in the overall context of other contemporary observations from prominent Byzantine Jews, before drawing his own summary conclusions. 39
This letter paints a picture of Jews severely harmed by the Ottoman wars and conquests in the days of Mehmet II. The description indicates that the Jews of Corfu were well aware of the processes of the Ottoman conquest. The conquest was accompanied by the appointment of governors over the occupied territories by the “Kingmaker,” i.e., the Sultan. These Muslim governors were responsible for the stabilization and the development of the conquered region. At the same time, this letter describes the colonizing activities and the transfer of the Jewish population to Istanbul. Whether the letter is describing the conquest of an area previously under Byzantine or Latin control, subsequent to the conquest of Constantinople, or an event during the conquest of Constantinople itself and its consequences, the process is similar. The people view their exile as a catastrophe, and the conquest as manslaughter and loss of property. The picture is one of crisis and distress. This letter also hints at the phenomenon of converting Jewish children to Islam. In fact, this would seem to be the first evidence of the fact that in the heat of the conquest, the fate of Jewish children was the same as that of Christian children: conversion, in order to absorb them into the Janissary army. The induction of Christian children into the Janissary army, known as devshirme, was one of the harsher decrees imposed upon the conquered populace, and various towns that surrendered to the Ottomans without resistance requested, and sometimes received by virtue of this, an exemption from the sürgün and from the devshirme. The evidence before us is somewhat vague. Were the conquerors incapable, in the heat of battle, of distinguishing between Christian inhabitants and non-Christians? Or perhaps they had not yet formulated the policy familiar to us from the later periods, in accordance with which they exempted the Jews from devshirme and even forbade them from being drafted into the Janissary army.
From the letter, furthermore, it becomes clear that the person for whom it was compiled had gone into exile to Istanbul, and lost whatever he had owned. When he tried to return and engage in trade, he was taken captive, and now people succeeded in redeeming him from captivity and in rehabilitating him and his family. Another source also discusses the fate of Jews in the unstable period and their captivity at the hands of the Ottomans. In this source, the Ottomans are termed “men of wickedness and deceit, Riphath and Togarmah” (referring to Genesis 10:3), and fear is expressed, lest the captives “be assimilated” into their captors. The personal histories of two of the intellectuals of the period show, too, that they were captives, and it would seem that they were referring to their captivity at the hands of the Ottomans. R[abbi] Mordekhai Comtino tells of his imprisonment in the town of Edirne, whereas R[abbi] Shalom Anabi of Istanbul—who was in contact with R[abbi] Michael Balbo who copied many of his writings—wrote of himself: “Ensnared in the net of captivity,” or “who surrounded us so that we were ensnared in the net of captivity.”
…in Michael Balbo’s aforementioned notebook there is a dirge to the fall of Constantinople into Ottoman hands, which was probably written shortly after news of the event had been received. This dirge calls the conquerors “a violent people.” “The embroidered great eagle, Riphath and Togarmah” is here depicted as one who destroys, who ruins, who robs and kills Jews. This is a dirge in which R[abbi] Michael Balbo mourns the fate of the Jewish community of Constantinople, and according to his description, this event was a terrible disaster for the Jews, who were robbed and killed by the conquering force, as were the other inhabitants of the city.
The picture painted by the writings of these Romaniots in the Ottoman Empire and in the Latin colonies on its outskirts during the third quarter of the fifteenth century, is one of people who underwent heavy suffering as a result of the processes of conquest and population transfers to Istanbul.
The sürgün policy was applied rigorously throughout the reign of Mehmet II—often affecting the lives of Jews—and at least intermittently by his successor Bayezid II. While it is unknown whether the Jews, specifically, were involved in the population transfers of Bayezid II, the subsequent regimes of Selim I and Süleyman the Magnificent did exile and transfer Jews between regions of the expanding Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of their jihad conquests: from Egypt to Istanbul after Selim I conquered Mamluk Syria and Egypt in 1516-1517; from Salonika to Rhodes following the conquest of Rhodes in 1522 by Süleyman the Magnificent; and after the conquest of Buda(pest) following the battle of Mohacs in 1526 (and the final subjugation of Buda and its environs in 1541), Jews were exiled from this ancient capital of Hungary to locations throughout the Ottoman Empire, including Istanbul, Sofia [Bulgaria], Kavalla [NE Macedonia], Edirne, and perhaps even Safed. 40
Upon reviewing the available contemporary evidence regarding the 1517 sürgün of Egypts Jews, especially a letter from the Cairogeniza (by Meir Saragos of Egypt) written during the first half of the 16th century, Hacker concludes, 41
The description tells of the limitations and the supervision to which they were subjected and which prevented them from moving their location and accepting appointments to the positions they desired. The limitations of the sürgün are very prominent here. Similarly, it is clear that the phenomenon of sürgün was common and many were ensnared in its coils. People were responsible for dealing with the affairs of those who became sürgün, while the latter attempted to free themselves by attaching themselves to some position—either to avoid going into exile or to leave one place of exile for another, steps which were forbidden to any sürgün.
Yitzhak Ibn Farash was originally exiled from Spain to Portugal, and later departed for Salonika, where he settled in 1508. Yitzhak apparently wrote about the 1523 transfer of Jews from Salonika to Rhodes because his son-in-law was one of those designated as sürgün. He states, 42
From Salonika, Monday the 13th of Av 5283 (1523) there went to Rhodes against their will a hundred and fifty of the richest and the most respected landlors in the country, men, women, and children, at the command of the king [Süleyman the Magnificent]…an official coming and taking them off by boat.
While such transfers “…of the richest and most respected…in the land” accrued obvious advantages to the Ottomans who sought to facilitate the socioeconomic development of new areas of jihad conquest, in this case Rhodes, as Hacker observes, 43
The hasty and rapid process of exiling the sürgün led to various familial, social, economic and legal complications…These exiles would seem to have been forced to remain in Rhodes, and were unable to leave, but the sources adduced make it evident that people did succeed in escaping from the island even though they were forbidden to do so.
Concerted efforts by the Jews of Safed did succeed ultimately in canceling the decreed sürgün deportation of two-thirds of their community to Cyprus, following the island’s conquest (under Selim II) by the Ottomans in 1571 (the reprieve being confirmed, January 1579). 44 Yosef Mataron provided a contemporary account of a sürgün decree imposed upon his family in conjunction with these events. Yosef’s description of his extensive efforts to have this transfer abrogated reflect how oppressive the sürgün decrees were considered by Jews. However, despite the success of the Safed community appeals, Hacker notes, 45
…at the same time, …the governor [of Cyprus] succeeded in delaying a boat with 100 Jews on board who had been on their way from Salonika to Safed, and in getting permission to resettle them in Cyprus, despite their desire to go on to Palestine.
During this period various members of the Jewish communities in Salonika, Safed and elsewhere, whose status was questioned, who lost favor with the authorities, or were caught engaging in economic and criminal offenses, were exiled to Cyprus.
Regarding the later sürgün deportations (primarily under Selim I and Süleyman the Magnificent), Hacker writes, 46
From the various facts exhibited here, it may be deduced that the sürgün system remained in force throughout the sixteenth and the beginning of the seventeenth century, and affected to a very considerable degree the lives of the Jews of the [Ottoman] Empire. These facts, which certainly do not reflect every event which actually took place, show that whenever a significant conquest occurred—under Selim I, Süleyman the Magnificent or Selim II—Jews were moved from their homes and, as they were considered a productive element of the population, it was considered good to exploit them for purposes of regional development. Whenever the Jews were living in territory recently conquered, they would be exiled to Istanbul or some other urban area, while on other occasions they were moved from their homes in the Empire in order to resettle and develop new territories.
Three overall conclusions are drawn by Hacker: 47 (i) Strong anti-Ottoman feelings prevailed among important Byzantine Jewish circles in the first decades after the fall of Constantinople. These feelings were openly expressed by people living under Latin rule and to some extent even in Istanbul.; (ii) Mehmed II's policies toward non-Muslims made possible the substantial economic and social development of the Jewish communities in the empire, and especially in the capital—Istanbul. These communities were protected by him against popular hatred, including blood libels. However, this policy was not continued by Bayezid II and there is evidence that under his rule the Jews suffered both forced conversions to Islam, and severe restrictions in their religious life.; (iii) The friendly policies of Mehmed on the one hand, and the good reception by Bayezid II of Spanish Jewry on the other, cause the Jewish writers of the sixteenth century to overlook both the destruction which Byzantine Jewry suffered during the Ottoman jihad conquests, and the later outbursts of oppression under both Bayezid II and Selim I. Hacker illustrates this latter process (iii) in his animated discussion of the rather crudely redacted narrative of the 16th century Ottoman hagiographer, Eliyah Kapsali: 48
…though he [Kapsali] was well aware of the fact that Bayezid II’s policies towards the Jews were very different from those of Mehmet II, and that in his day attempts were made to pressure the Jews to adopt Islam and strict decrees were promulgated against the existence of synagogues erected after the Ottoman conquest, he was still careful to describe Bayezid II as the perfect Jew lover and protector. The truth is revealed with his description of Selim [I], Bayezid’s heir. Here he saw fit to praise Selim as follows: “Now on the third day of the reign of Sultan Selim, the Sultan gave an order and permitted the Jews to reopen the synagogues his father Sultan Bayezid [II], had closed…for he was pious…and he even restored to Judaism many Jews whom the Turks had forced to convert contrary to their own wishes”
And so not only did he conceal the fate of sürgün Jews and disguise them as voluntary migrants who came to settle in the royal capital at the invitation of the King; not only did he obscure the bitter fate of the Jews of conquered Constantinople; he also attempted to cover up as much as possible the zealous policies of Bayezid II against religious minorities—including the Jews—after the expulsion. And all to avoid harming the image of the Sultan and his major work: throwing open the gates of the kingdom before the expelled Jews of Spain and Portugal, guaranteeing their physical security and preparing the conditions for their free economic activity. There is thus in his book not a single hint or even trace of criticism of the Sultans of his generation: Mehmet [Mehmed] II, Bayezid II, and Selim I.
Ottoman Dhimmitude: The Jewish Experience
The institutional regulations of dhimmitude were applied to all Jews (and the much larger Christian minority populations) under Ottoman suzerainty, regardless of whether or not they were designated, in addition, as sürgün. Once again, the influential writings of Mehmed II’s leading cleric (Shaykh-al-Islam), Molla Khosrew, 49 elucidate the guiding principles and concrete directives of these theological-juridical regulations—which are entirely consistent with the vast corpus of Sunni Islamic jurisprudence. 50
Molla Khosrew reiterates these classical views on the jizya—a blood ransom poll-tax demanded in lieu of being slain and completely dispossessed. The jizya was collected regularly (most often annually), in person, and in a manner that confers the subjects humiliation, due to their willingly imperfect belief, consistent with Qur’an 9:29. Of note also, is the specific admonition to Jews: 51
Jizya is a term that refers to that which is collected of the dhimmi, in exchange for their life and belongings...[belongings] referring here exclusively to land and non-moveable property [as] nothing else, except the land and the home, remain in the hands of the conquered.
There are two kinds of tribute, or jizya: one is agreed upon following surrender; the other is set by the Imam if the enemy has been vanquished by Muslims following a battle. The agreed-upon jizya is not subject to later negotiations. The only situations that allow the cessation of payment are the following: death, conversion to Islam, the onset of a physical handicap, such as blindness, mutilation, or old age, to such a degree as to no longer allow work..[and] the debt contracted due to the non-payment of the previous year’s jizya should not expire... The obligation to pay the jizya ends with death or with conversion to Islam, because the divine law, [Shari’a] considers such an obligation to be an earthly punishment: it serves the punitive purpose of chasing away evil from the world.
The jizya should not be accepted when payment is made through an intermediary, rather, the payer should come in person to pay, and remain standing: he who is collecting should, on the other hand, be sitting. In the al-hidaya text, the tax collector is also expected to shake the clothing of the payer, saying “Pay the jizya, oh dhimmi”, further, ... the tax collector can also say, “Oh Jew, enemy of God, pay!”. [emphasis added]...In other texts...we read that the dhimmi should be hit on the neck 52 at the time of collection.
Also in accord with classical Islamic jurisprudence, Molla Khosrew outlines the typical regulations—regarding religious structures and practice, the prohibition on bearing arms, and distinguishing forms of dress, modes of travel, neighborhoods, and abodes—which complemented the jizya collection, and formed the basis for the system of dhimmitude (in this specific case, the Ottoman version): 53
Building a synagogue or a church or a [Zoroastrian] Temple of Fire is not allowed. The term synagogue [kanisa] indicates a place of worship of the Jews, while church [bay’a] indicates a place of worship of the Christians. A place for spiritual retreat is also considered like a church. The prohibition concerns places constructed specifically for the purpose of religious rites, not areas for prayer set up within private homes, and this is applicable within the dar-al-islam. In any case, the right to rebuild that which was destroyed is granted, as buildings devoted to worship can be built in a place where such a building had been erected previously. It is not possible, however, to move from the original location, and to build elsewhere, as this would require erecting another building.
It is possible for dhimmis to coexist with Muslims, but in specified locations such as a particular neighborhood. In no case should that be on Arab land, because the collaborators may not take those lands as a place of residence, according to the Prophet’s hadith, which states, “there may not coexist two religions on Arab land”. The houses of the dhimmi must be marked, in order not to violate the terms of the contract [ahd] so as to deserve to be put to death.
...the dhimmi must be distinguishable by his clothing and by his means of transportation, by the way he loads his beast of burden , by his equipment, etc. For these reasons he may not appear riding a horse, or bearing arms, and he must always show his kusfig. This is a small cord, as thick as a finger, made of wool or animal hair, tied around the belly of the dhimmi, but different from a belt [zunnar], as the latter is made of silk.
The dhimmi must ride a saddle of the kakaf type. The ideal situation would be for them not to ride any animal, but if they should do so out of necessity in a place crowded with Muslims, they should dismount and proceed on foot. Their passageways should be made narrow. Dhimmi women, too, must be distinguishable by keeping to pre-established roads and hammams.
In any case, they must be kept from exhibiting their sinful practices, such as usury, and their customs, their songs, their dances, all that which is forbidden in any case...Should there be a festival, they should not celebrate by carrying crosses.
The Ottoman system of dhimmitude—consistent with all other variants of this Shari’a-based institution—conferred upon Jews (and all dhimmis) two basic legal disabilities which denied them both protection, and redress, when victimized: prohibition of the right to bear arms; and the inadmissibility of dhimmi legal evidence when a Muslim was a party. 54 And (as noted earlier) even the series of reforms imposed by European powers (as so-called “capitulations”) upon the weakening Ottoman Empire during is final eight decades, almost continuously (through 1914), failed to rectify these institutionalized legal discriminations in a substantive manner. 55 For example, Dadrian notes that during a December, 1876 Ottoman Turkish conference in Constantinople—twenty years after the second iteration (in 1856) of the Tanzimat reforms—the right of non-Muslims to bear arms was rejected as a violation of the Shari’a: 56
After summoning and consulting the Ulema, the Islamic doctors of law, the Shaykh-al-Islam, their head, issued a Fetva [fatwa], the peremptory final opinion declaring such possession of arms by non-Muslim subjects a violation of the Islamic Sacred Law.
A series of extensive European consular investigations conducted throughout the Ottoman Empire during the latter half of the 19th century confirmed the trivial impact of these reforms on the fundamental right of Jews and Christians to present legal evidence in Muslim administered courts. Their testimony continued to be, 57
…utterly rejected in the lower criminal courts, and only received in the higher courts when corroborated by a Mussulman…A Mussulman’s simple allegation, unbacked by evidence, will upset the best founded and most incontrovertible claim.
As a result of this ongoing dual disenfranchisement, the modern Ottomanist Roderick Davison concluded: 58
Ottoman equality was not attained in the Tanzimat period [i.e., mid to late 19th century, 1839-1876], nor yet after the Young Turk revolution of 1908…
Jews in Ottoman Palestine, Early 16th Century Until the End of World War I
Although episodes of violent anarchy diminished during the four centuries of Ottoman suzerainty the degrading conditions of the indigenous Jews (and Christians) living under the shari’a’s jurisdiction remained unchanged. For example, Samuel b. Ishaq Uceda, a major Kabbalist from Safed at the end of the 16th century, refers in his commentary on The Lamentations of Jeremiah, to the situation of the Jews in the Land of Israel (Palestine): 59
“The princess among the provinces, how is she become tributary!” …Perhaps this is an allusion to the situation that prevails in our times, for there is no town in the [Ottoman] empire in which the Jews are subjected to such heavy taxes and dues as in the Land of Israel, and particularly in Jerusalem. Were it not for the funds sent by the communities in Exile, no Jew could survive here on account of the numerous taxes, as the prophet said in connection with the ‘princess of the provinces’: ‘They hunt our steps, that we cannot go into our own streets’…The nations humiliate us to such an extent that we are not allowed to walk in the streets. The Jew is obliged to step aside in order to let the Gentile [Muslim] pass first. And if the Jew does not turn aside of his own will, he is forced to do so. This law is particularly enforced in Jerusalem, more so than in other localities. For this reason the text specifies ‘…in our own streets,’ that is, those of Jerusalem.
A century later Canon Antoine Morison, 60 from Bar-le-Duc in France, while traveling in the Levant in 1698, observed that the Jews in Jerusalem are “there in misery and under the most cruel and shameful slavery”, and although a large community, they were subjected to extortion. Similar contemporary observations regarding the plight of both Palestinian Jews and Christians were made by the Polish Jew, Gedaliah of Siemiatyce (d. 1716), who, braving numerous perils, came to Jerusalem in 1700. These appalling conditions, recorded in his book, Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem, forced him to return to Europe in order to raise funds for the Jews of Jerusalem: 61
We [Jews] were obliged to give a large sum of money to the Muslim authorities in Jerusalem in order to be allowed to build a new synagogue. Although the old synagogue was small and we only wanted to enlarge it very slightly, it was forbidden under Islamic law to modify the least part. . . . In addition to the expenses in bribes destined to win the favor of the Muslims, each male was obliged to pay an annual poll tax of two pieces of gold to the sultan. The rich man was not obliged to give more, but the poor man could not give less. Every year, generally during the festival of the Passover, an official from Constantinople would arrive in Jerusalem. He who did not have the means to pay the tax was thrown into prison and the Jewish community was obliged to redeem him. The official remained in Jerusalem for about two months and consequently, during that period, the poor people would hide wherever they could, but if ever they were caught, they would be redeemed by community funds. The official sent his soldiers throughout the streets to control the papers of the passers-by, for a certificate was provided to those who had already paid the tax. If anyone was found without his certificate, he had to present himself before the official with the required sum, otherwise he was imprisoned until such time as he could be redeemed.
The Christians are also obliged to pay the poll-tax…during the week, the paupers dared not show themselves outside…in their wickedness, the [Muslim]soldiers would go to the synagogues, waiting by the doors, requesting the certificate of payment from the congregants who emerged...
No Jew or Christian is allowed to ride a horse, but a donkey is permitted, for [in the eyes of Muslims] Christians and Jews are inferior beings…The Muslims do not allow any member of another faith—unless he converts to their religion—entry to the Temple [Mount] area, for they claim that no other religion is sufficiently pure to enter this holy spot. They never weary of claiming that, although God had originally chosen the people of Israel, He had since abandoned them on account of their iniquity in order to choose the Muslims…
In the Land of Israel, no member of any other religion besides Islam may wear the color green, even if it is a thread [of cotton] like that with which we decorate our prayer shawls. If a Muslim perceives it, that could bring trouble. Similarly, it is not permitted to wear a green or white turban. On the Sabbath, however, we wear white turbans, on the crown of which we place a piece of cloth of another color as a distinguishing mark. The Christians are not allowed to wear a turban, but they wear a hat instead, as is customary in Poland. Moreover, the Muslim law requires that each religious denomination wear its specific garment so that each people may be distinguished from another. This distinction also applies to footwear. Indeed, the Jews wear shoes of a dark blue color, whereas Christians wear red shoes. No one can use green, for this color is worn solely by Muslims. The latter are very hostile toward Jews and inflict upon them vexations in the streets of the city…the common folk persecute the Jews, for we are forbidden to defend ourselves against the Turks or the Arabs. If an Arab strikes a Jew, he [the Jew] must appease him but dare not rebuke him, for fear that he may be struck even harder, which they [the Arabs] do without the slightest scruple. This is the way the Oriental Jews react, for they are accustomed to this treatment, whereas the European Jews, who are not yet accustomed to suffer being assaulted by the Arabs, insult them in return.
Even the Christians are subjected to these vexations. If a Jew offends a Muslim, the latter strikes him a brutal blow with his shoe in order to demean him, without anyone's being able to prevent him from doing it. The Christians fall victim to the same treatment and they suffer as much as the Jews, except that the former are very rich by reason of the subsidies that they receive from abroad, and they use this money to bribe the Arabs. As for the Jews, they do not possess much money with which to oil the palms of the Muslims, and consequently they are subject to much greater suffering.
Moshe Maoz maintains that this state of affairs persisted for Jews (and Christians) living under Ottoman rule within (Syro-) Palestine, through at least the 1830s: 62
…the position of the Jews was in many ways precarious. Like their Christian fellow subjects, the Jews were inferior citizens in the Muslim-Ottoman state which was based on the principle of Muslim superiority. They were regarded as state protégés (dhimmis) and had to pay a special poll tax (jizya) for that protection and as a sign of their inferior status. Their testimony was not accepted in the courts of justice, and in cases of the murder of a Jew or Christian by a Muslim, the latter was usually not condemned to death. In addition, Jews as well as Christians were normally not acceptable for appointments to the highest administrative posts; they were forbidden to carry arms (thus, to serve in the army), to ride horses in towns or to wear Muslim dress. They were also not usually allowed to build or repair places of worship and were often subjected to oppression, extortion and violence by both the local authorities and the Muslim population. The Jews in Ottoman Palestine and Syria lived under such ambivalent and precarious conditions for a number of centuries…
Maoz describes the fate of the Jew Hayim Farhi, who became treasury manager and administrative advisor to Ahmad Pasha al Jezzar, vali (governor) of the Pashalik (territory) of Sidon (1775-1804). Subsequently, during the reign of al-Jezzar’s successor, Sulyaman Pasha (1804-1818), Farhi was appointed supervisor of income and expenditure, coordinator of the province’s accounts with the central treasury, and overall director of administrative functions, accruing considerable power and influence. As Maoz, explains, however, 63
Farhi’s prominent position in Acre was, however, unique at that time, due to the mild character of Sulayman Pasha “the Just” (al-Adil) who, in addition, owed Hayim his ascendancy to the pashalik. For during the previous reign of Jezzar Pasha, Farhi was no more than an ordinary senior official, and upon falling into disfavor—he was even discharged and arrested, one of his eyes was gouged out and his nose and ears cut.
That the position of Hayim Farhi was very precarious was even more evident under Sulyaman’s successor, ‘Abdallah Pasha (1819-1831). At the beginning of his rule, Farhi’s influence was at its peak and the Pasha was allegedly “unable to do anything without Hayim’s consent.” But a short time later, in 1820, Farhi was executed and his property confiscated upon ‘Abdallah’s orders. It is evident that such a case was by no means uncommons regards Jews or Christians during the period of the Pashas’ rule. J.L. Burkhardt, the perceptive Swiss traveler, noted in 1811: “…there is scarcely an instance in the modern history of Syria of a Christian or Jew having long enjoyed the power or riches he may have acquired. These persons are always taken off in the last moment of their apparent glory”.
The case of the notable Hayim Farhi (and his family) illustrates the tenuous status of the Jewish community in Syro-Palestine. 64
The unstable position of the Farhis in Acre and Damascus (in Damascus) too the Farhis were occasionally subject to arbitrary treatment) may serve as an illustration of the shaky position of the Jewish communities in Ottoman Palestine and Syria for many years. In certain circumstance—under tolerant rulers such as Sulayman Pasha, and in certain places—such as Aleppo, Jews enjoyed a certain degree of personal safety and religious freedom, and a few of them also acquired economic prosperity as well as social status. These circumstances, however, were rare or limited. Sulayman al-Adil (“The Wise”) was unique; more typical rulers were Ahmad al-Jezzar (the Butcher) and ‘Abdallah Pasha. They conducted a tyrannical and oppressive regime which affected large sections of the local population, particularly the Jews and Christians.
Maoz makes these additional observations about Aleppo which was a thoroughfare for international commerce, and center of European activities (including consular and business communities), versus outlying areas, comparing the conditions for Jews under consular protection, relative to the local population under Ottoman rule: 65
A number of Jewish families, mostly foreign protégés who belonged to those communities, were indeed relatively secure and prosperous. But many other local Jews, ordinary Ottoman subjects, were occasionally subject to violence and oppression from various quarters. If that was the case in tolerant Aleppo, in other towns which were imbued with religious intolerance and were distant from Istanbul, the Jewish population was perhaps the most oppressed element.
One of the major sources of their oppression was the local governors, public officials, soldiers and policemen, who maltreated Jews and extorted money from them in various ways. It is true that Muslim townsmen were occasionally oppressed and squeezed by tyrannical rulers and greedy soldiers. But many Muslims were nevertheless able to protect themselves against their oppressors with the help of the influential religious notables, or by placing themselves under the protection of local powerful leaders and military groups. It was also not very infrequent that Muslim masses would revolt against oppressive rulers and expel them from the town, or even kill them. The Jewish population obviously did not dare and was unable to oppose its oppressors; and in places where they managed to acquire protection of influential local notables they had to pay high sums for that protection. Otherwise—and this was another source of their misery—Jews weer squeezed by local Muslim notables and molested by Muslim mobs. To quote a Jewish source: “When a Jew walked among them [the Muslims] in the market, one would throw a stone at him in order to kill him, another would pull his beard and a third his ear lock, yet another spit on his face and he became a symbol of abuse”
There were clear improvements in prevailing conditions for Christian dhimmis when Ibrahim Pasha occupied and ruled the Syro-Palestinian provinces from 1830-1841. The Jews, in contrast, experienced much less amelioration of their oppressed status according to Maoz. 66
Their position was, no doubt, improved in some respects, in comparison with the past. They were occasionally permitted to repair old synagogues or to erect new ones; Jews were also represented in the new local majlises (legislative assemblies) and were officially given equal status before the new civil courts. Muslim notables were strictly ordered not to levy illegal dues and taxes on Jews, while a number of Muslim civilians, as well as some Egyptian soldiers, were severely punished for having maltreated Jews.
It should, however, be noted here that the measures taken to protect the Jews were only partly a result of the government’s initiative and good will; they were mainly the consequence of the intervention and pressure from the European consuls. As Jews themselves stated: “Had it not been the consuls’ supervision, we would have been destroyed and lost, since the Gentiles wish but to eat the Jews and to accuse them falsely.”
Nevertheless neither the consuls nor the authorities were able to prevent all the acts of aggression which were directed against Jews, particularly in small towns…in fact, there occurred during the short period of Egyptian rule some of the gravest anti-Jewish outbreaks in the recent history of Palestine and Syria. In Hebron, for example, Jews were massacred [including the rape-murder of five young girls 67] in 1834 by Egyptian soldiers who came to put down a local Muslim rebellion. About the same time Jewish houses and shops in Jerusalem were broken into and looted by local Muslim insurgents, who dominated the town for a long time. Similarly, the Jews of Safed were brutally attacked by Muslim and Druze peasants from the vicinity in 1834 and again in 1837 (after the Safed earthquake).
As Mr. Young, the English Consul in Jerusalem, noted in 1839: “The spirit of toleration towards the Jews is not yet known here to the same extent it is in Europe…still a Jew in Jerusalem is not estimated much above a dog.”
The Safed pogrom, alluded to by Maoz, lasted 33 days in June/July 1834, and was particularly devastating—many Jews were killed, hundreds wounded, and the town nearly destroyed. Malachi has provided these details based upon eyewitness sources and accounts: 68
The Arabs slaughtered the Jews who could not flee Safed. Many who hid in caves and graveyards were found out by the vandals and killed in their hiding places… They did not show compassion towards the elderly or the young, children or pregnant women. They burned Torah scrolls and tore holy books, ripped prayer shawls and phylacteries (tefillin)… The rioters tortured women and children in the synagogues and “defiled gentle women on parchment scrolls of the Torah” in front of their husbands and their children. Those who tried to protect their wives and courageously defend their honor were murdered by the bandits.
The prevailing conditions for Jews did not improve in a consistent or substantive manner even after the mid 19th century treaties imposed by the European powers on the weakened Ottoman Empire included provisions for the Tanzimat reforms. These reforms were designed to end the discriminatory laws of dhimmitude for both Jews and Christians, living under the Ottoman Shari’a. European consuls endeavored to maintain compliance with at least two cardinal principles central to any meaningful implementation of these reforms: respect for the life and property of non-Muslims; and the right for Christians and Jews to provide evidence in Islamic courts when a Muslim was a party. Unfortunately, these efforts to replace the concept of Muslim superiority over “infidels”, with the principle of equal rights, failed. 68a
Although Maoz contends the the Tanzimat period was accompanied by “markedly better” conditions for Jews, at least “..in comparison with the past…”, he concedes, 69
It should not be denied that Jews as well as Christians in Palestine and Syria were in that period still far from being equal members in the local political community. Despite the Tanzimat edicts, which promised equality between non-Muslims and Muslims, the dhimmis continued to be actually inferior before the law of the state and its institutions. They had still to pay the poll-tax (jizya)—or from 1855 the bedel (compulsory exemption tax from military service). Their testimony against Muslims was completely discounted in the mahkama (Muslim court), and in the various new Ottoman secular courts such testimony was occasionally rejected. Jews and Christians would similarly be discriminated against in cases brought before the majlises; even their deputies in these councils were usually disregarded and occasionally maltreated by their Muslim colleagues.
Eyewitness accounts from the time of the first iteration of the reforms (in 1839), almost a decade later (1847), and again two years after (i.e., in 1858) the second series of reforms in 1856 (issued at the conclusion of the Crimean War), paint a rather gloomy picture of continued anti-Jewish discrimination in Syro-Palestine. For example, the Scottish clerics A. A. Bonar and R. M. McCheyne, who visited Palestine in 1839 to inquire into the condition of the Jews there, published these observations in their A Narrative of a Mission of Inquiry to the Jews from the Church of Scotland in 1839 (Edinburgh, 1842): 70
There is none of the sacred places over which the Moslem's keep so jealous a watch as the tomb of Abraham…travelers in general being forbidden to approach even the door of the Mosque [built by the conquering Muslims over the tomb of Abraham]…The Jews at present are permitted only to look through a hole near the entrance, and to pray with their face toward the grave of Abraham…the synagogues of Jerusalem…are six in number, all of them small and poorly furnished, and four of them under one roof…The reading desk is little else than an elevated part of the floor, enclosed with a wooden railing…We were much impressed with the melancholy aspect of the Jews in Jerusalem. The meanness of their dress, their pale faces, and timid expression, all seem to betoken great wretchedness…We found all the Jews here [in Safed] living in a state of great alarm…the Bedouins were every day threatening an attack to plunder the town…We observed how poorly clad most of the Jews seemed to be, and were told that they had buried under ground all their valuable clothes, their money, and other precious things. It was easy to read their deep anxiety in the very expression of their countenances…And all this in their own land!
The Jewish traevelogue writer J. J. Binyamin II recorded the following account after his 1847 sojourn in Palestine: 71
Deep misery and continual oppression are the right words to describe the condition of the Children of Israel in the land of their fathers… They are entirely destitute of every legal protection and every means of safety. Instead of security afforded by law, which is unknown in these countries, they are completely under the orders of the Sheiks and Pashas, men, whose character and feelings inspire but little confidence from the beginning. It is only the European Consuls who frequently take care of the oppressed, and afford them some protection.…With unheard of rapacity tax upon tax is levied on them, and with the exception of Jerusalem, the taxes demanded are arbitrary. Whole communities have been impoverished by the exorbitant claims of the Sheiks, who, under the most trifling pretences and without being subject to any control, oppress the Jews with fresh burdens… In the strict sense of the word the Jews are not even masters of their own property. They do not even venture to complain when they are robbed and plundered…Their lives are taken into as little consideration as their property; they are exposed to the caprice of any one; even the smallest pretext, even a harmless discussion, a word dropped in conversation, is enough to cause bloody reprisals. Violence of every kind is of daily occurrence. When, for instance in the contests of Mahomet Ali with the Sublime Porte, the City of Hebron was besieged by Egyptian troops and taken by storm, the Jews were murdered and plundered, and the survivors scarcely even allowed to retain a few rags to cover themselves. No pen can describe the despair of these unfortunates. The women were treated with brutal cruelty; and even to this day, many are found, who since that time are miserable cripples. With truth can the Lamentations of Jeremiah be employed here. Since that great misfortune up to the present day, the Jews of Hebron languish in the deepest misery, and the present Sheik is unwearied in his endeavors, not to allow their condition to be ameliorated, but on the contrary, he makes it worse…The chief evidence of their miserable condition is the universal poverty which we remarked in Palestine, and which is here truly astounding; for nowhere else in our long journeys, in Europe, Asia and Africa did we observe it among the Jews. It even causes leprosy among the Jews of Palestine, as in former times. Robbed of their means of subsistence from the cultivation of the soil and the pursuit of trade, they exist upon the charity of their brethren in the faith in foreign parts… In a word the state of the Jews in Palestine, physically and mentally, is an unbearable one.
British Jerusalem Consul James Finn, reported in (July and November) 1858 that both physical insecurity for Jews in Palestine, and their inequality before the law, persisted despite the second iteration of Ottoman reforms in 1856: 72
[July 8, 1858]…in consequence of a series of disgusting insults offered to Jews and Jewesses in Hebron, I obtained such orders as I could from the Pasha’s agent in this city…Finding these not answer entirely as might be desired, I repaired to the neighborhood of Hebron myself—and found the whole government of that important and turbulent district being administered by a very old Bashi Bozuk officer as the ton governor; and a military Boluk Bashi with five starved and ragged Bashi Bozuk man as soldiers—The rural district is left entirely to peasant Sheikhs, with one responsible over the rest. The streets of the town were paraded by fanatic Dervishes—and during my stay there a Jewish house was forcibly entered by night, iron bars of the window broken, and heavy stones thrown by invisible hands at every person approaching the place to afford help. One of the Members of the Council affirmed that they were not obliged to obey orders from the Pasha’s deputy—and another declared his right derived from time immemorial in his family, to enter Jewish houses, and take toll or contributions any time without giving account. When others present in the Council exclaimed against this he said—“Well then I will forbear from taking it myself, but things will happen which will compel the Jews to come and kiss my feet to induce me to take their money.” On hearing of my arrival in the vicinity he went away to the villages, refusing to obey the summons to Jerusalem, and I believe the Pasha cannot really compel him to come here—he being a privileged member of the Council, and recognized in Constantinople.
[November 11, 1858] And my Hebrew Dragoman [translator] having a case for judgment in the Makhameh [Muslim court] before the new Kadi [judge], although accompanied by my Kawass [constable], and announcing his office, was commanded to stand up humbly and take off his shoes before his case could be heard. He did not however comply—But during the process although the thief had previously confessed to the robbery in presence of Jews, the Kadi would not proceed without the testimony of two Moslems—when the Jewish witnesses were offered, he refused to accept their testimony—and the offensive term adopted towards Jews in former times (more offensive than Giaour for Christians) was used by the Kadi’s servants…such circumstances exhibit the working of the present Turkish government in Jerusalem.
Tudor Parfitt’s comprehensive 1987 study of the Jews of Palestine during the 19th century, concluded with these summary observations covering entire the period of his analysis, through 1882: 73
Inside the towns, Jews and other dhimmis were frequently attacked, wounded, and even killed by local Muslims and Turkish soldiers. Such attacks were frequently for trivial reasons: Wilson [in British Foreign Office correspondence] recalled having met a Jew who had been badly wounded by a Turkish soldier for not having instantly dismounted when ordered to give up his donkey to a soldier of the Sultan. Many Jews were killed for less. On occasion the authorities attempted to get some form of redress but this was by no means always the case: the Turkish authorities themselves were sometimes responsible for beating Jews to death for some unproven charge. After one such occasion [British Consul] Young remarked: “I must say I am sorry and surprised that the Governor could have acted so savage a part- for certainly what I have seen of him I should have thought him superior to such wanton inhumanity- but it was a Jew- without friends or protection- it serves to show well that it is not without reason that the poor Jew, even in the nineteenth century, lives from day to day in terror of his life”.
…In fact, it took some time [i.e., at least a decade after the 1839 reforms] before these courts did accept dhimmi testimony in Palestine. The fact that Jews were represented on the meclis [provincial legal council] did not contribute a great deal to the amelioration of the legal position of the Jews: the Jewish representatives were tolerated grudgingly and were humiliated and intimidated to the point that they were afraid to offer any opposition to the Muslim representatives. In addition the constitution of the meclis was in no sense fairly representative of the population. In Jerusalem in the 1870s the meclis consisted of four Muslims, three Christians and only one Jew- at a time when Jews constituted over half the population of the city…Perhaps even more to the point, the courts were biased against the Jews and even when a case was heard in a properly assembled court where dhimmi testimony was admissible the court would still almost invariably rule against the Jews. It should be noted that a non-dhimmi [eg., foreign] Jew was still not permitted to appear and witness in either the mahkama [specific Muslim council] or the meclis.
During World War I in Palestine, between 1915 and 1917, the New York Times published a series of reports 74 on Ottoman-inspired and local Arab Muslim assisted antisemitic persecution which affected Jerusalem, and the other major Jewish population centers. For example, by the end of January, 1915, 7000 Palestinian Jewish refugees—men, women, and children—had fled to British-controlled Alexandria, Egypt. Three New York Times accounts from January/February, 1915 provide these details of the earlier period: 75
On Jan. 8, Djemal Pasha 75a ordered the destruction of all Jewish colonization documents within a fortnight under penalty of death…In many cases land settled by Jews was handed over to Arabs, and wheat collected by the relief committee in Galilee was confiscated in order to feed the army. The Moslem peasantry are being armed with any weapons discovered in Jewish hands…The United States cruiser Tennessee has been fitted up on the lines of a troop ship for the accommodation of about 1,500 refugees, and is plying regularly between Alexandria and Jaffa…A proclamation issued by the commander of the Fourth [Turkish] Army Corps describes Zionism as a revolutionary anti-Tukish movement which must be stamped out. Accordingly the local governing committees have been dissolved and the sternest measures have been taken to insure that all Jews who remain on their holdings shall be Ottoman subjects…Nearly all the  Jewish refugees in Alexandria come from Jerusalem and other large towns, among them being over 1,000 young men of the artisan class who refused to become Ottomans.
By April of 1917, conditions deteriorated further for Palestinian Jewry, which faced threats of annihilation from the Ottoman government. Many Jews were in fact deported, expropriated, and starved, in an ominous parallel to the genocidal deportations of the Armenian dhimmi communities throughout Anatolia. 76 Indeed, as related by Yair Auron, 77
Fear of the Turkish actions was bound up with alarm that the Turks might do to the Jewish community in Palestine, or at least to the Zionist elements within it, what they had done to the Armenians. This concern was expressed in additional evidence from the early days of the war, from which we can conclude that the Armenian tragedy was known in the Yishuv [Jewish community in Palestine]
A mass expulsion of the Jews of Jerusalem, although ordered twice by Djemal Pasha, was averted only through the efforts of [the Ottoman Turks World War I allies] the German government which sought to avoid international condemnation. 78 The 8000 Jews of Jaffa, however, were expelled quite brutally, a cruel fate the Arab Muslims and the Christians of the city did not share. Moreover, these deportations took place months before the small pro-British Nili spy ring of Zionist Jews was discovered by the Turks in October, 1917, and its leading figures killed. 79 A report by United States Consul Garrels (in Alexandria, Egypt) describing the Jaffa deportation of early April 1917 (published in the June 3, 1917 New York Times), included these details of the Jews plight: 80
The orders of evacuation were aimed chiefly at the Jewish population. Even German, Austro-Hungarian, and Bulgarian Jews were ordered to leave the town. Mohammedans and Christians were allowed to remain provided they were holders of individual permits. The Jews who sought the permits were refused. On April 1 the Jews were ordered to leave the country within 48 hours. Those who rode from Jaffa to Petach Tikvah had to pay from 100 to 200 francs instead of the normal fare of 15 to 25 francs. The Turkish drivers practically refused to receive anything but gold, the Turkish paper note being taken as the equivalent of 17.50 piastres for a note of 100 piastres.
Already about a week earlier 300 Jews had been deported in a most cruel manner from Jerusalem. Djemal Pasha openly declared that the joy of the Jews on the approach of the British forces would be shortlived, as he would make them share the fate of the Armenians.
In Jaffa Djemal Pasha cynically assured the Jews that it was for their own good and interests that he drove them out. Those who had not succeeded in leaving on April 1 were graciously accorded permission to remain at Jaffa over the Easter holiday. Thus 8000 were evicted from their houses and not allowed to carry off their belongings or provisions. Their houses were looted and pillaged even before the owners had left. A swarm of pillaging Bedouin women, Arabs with donkeys, camels, etc., came like birds of prey and proceeded to carry off valuables and furniture.
The Jewish suburbs have been totally sacked under the paternal eye of the authorities. By way of example two Jews from Yemen were hanged at the entrance of the Jewish suburb of Tel Aviv in order to clearly indicate the fate in store for any Jew who might be so foolish as to oppose the looters. The roads to the Jewish colonies north of Jaffa are lined with thousands of starving Jewish refugees. The most appalling scenes of of cruelty and robbery are reported by absolutely reliable eyewitnesses. Dozens of cases are reported of wealthy Jews who were found dead in the sandhills around Tel Aviv. In order to drive off the bands of robbers preying on the refugees on the roads the young men of the Jewish villages organized a body of guards to watch in turn the roads. These guards have been arrested and maltreated by the authorities.
The Mohammedan population have also left the town recently, but they are allowed to live in the orchards and country houses surrounding Jaffa and are permitted to enter the town daily to look after their property, but not a single Jew has been allowed to return to Jaffa.
The same fate awaits all Jews in Palestine. Djemal Pasha is too cunning to order cold-blooded massacres. His method is to drive the population to starvation and to death by thirst, epidemics, etc, which according to himself, are merely calamities sent by God.
Auron cites a very tenable hypothesis put forth at that time in a journal of the British Zionist movement as to why the looming slaughter of the Jews of Palestine did not occur—the advance of the British army (from immediately adjacent Egypt) and its potential willingness “..to hold the military and Turkish authorities directly responsible for a policy of slaughter and destruction of the Jews”—may have averted this disaster. 80a
To continue reading Andrew Bostom's "Under Turkish Rule, Part I," click here.