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(from UNESCO projetaladin - ‘A Call to Conscience’)   

The history of the Jews in Anatolia started many centuries before the migration of Sephardic Jews. Remnants of Jewish settlement from the 4th century BC have been uncovered in the Aegean region. The historian Josephus Flavius relates that Aristotle "met Jewish people with whom he had an exchange of views during his trip across Asia Minor."

Ancient synagogue ruins have been found in Sardis, near Izmir, dating from 220 B.C.E and traces of other Jewish settlements have been discovered near Bursa, in the southeast and along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts. A bronze column found in Ankara confirms the rights the Emperor Augustus accorded the Jews of Asia Minor.

Under Byzantium the  imperial policy tended to change depending on who the emperor was, and the second is that from the vantage point of the twenty-first century medieval attitudes toward Judaism- even the most “enlightened”- can look pretty barbaric.  Generally speaking, however, we can say that Jews were more accepted in the Byzantine Empire than in the West.  There were the occasional hostilities, but no systematic persecutions or mass expulsions like those common in Western Europe at the time.

Jewish communities in Anatolia flourished and continued to prosper through the Turkish conquest. When the Ottomans captured Bursa in 1324 and made it their capital, they found a Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule. The Jews welcomed the Ottomans as saviours. Sultan Orhan gave them permission to build the Etz ha-Hayyim (Tree of Life) synagogue which remained in service until 50 years ago.

Early in the 14th century, when the Ottomans had established their capital at Edirne, Jews from Europe, including Karaites, migrated there. Similarly, Jews expelled from Hungary in 1376, from France by Charles VI in September 1394, and from Sicily early in the 15th century found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. In the 1420s, Jews from Salonika then under Venetian control fled to Edirne.

Ottoman rule was much more tolerant than Byzantine rule had been. In fact, from the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. A letter sent by Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati (from Edirne) to Jewish communities in Europe in the first part of the century "invited his coreligionists to lease the torments they were enduring in Christendom and to seek safety and prosperity in Turkey".

When Mehmet II "the Conqueror" took Constantinople in 1453, he encountered an oppressed Romaniot (Byzantine) Jewish community which welcomed him with enthusiasm. Sultan Mehmet II issued a proclamation to all Jews "... to ascend the site of the Imperial Throne, to dwell in the best of the land, each beneath his Dine and his fig tree, with silver and with gold, with wealth and with cattle...".

In 1470, Jews expelled from Bavaria by Ludwig X found refuge in the Ottoman Empire.


In 1492, the Spanish royal couple Isabelle I and Ferdinand II ordered the expulsion of the Jews from the country - a measure that brought immediate affliction to hundreds of thousands of people rooted there for generations and whose ancestors were buried in the Spanish soil.

Faced with the expulsion of Jews from Spain, Sultan Bayazid II ordered the governors of the provinces of the Ottoman Empire "not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially". According to Bernard Lewis, "the Jews were not just permitted to settle in the Ottoman lands, but were encouraged, assisted and sometimes even compelled".

Immanual Aboab attributes to Bayazid II the famous remark that "the Catholic monarch Ferdinand was wrongly considered as wise, since he impoverished Spain by the expulsion of the Jews, and enriched Turkey".

The arrival of the Sephardis altered the structure of the community and the original group of Romaniote Jews was totally absorbed.

Over the centuries an increasing number of European Jews, escaping persecution in their native countries, settled in the Ottoman Empire. In 1537 the Jews expelled from Apulia (Italy) after the city fell under Papal control, and in 1542 those expelled from Bohemia by King Ferdinand found a safe haven in the Ottoman Empire. In March of 1556, Sultan Suleyman "the Magnificent" wrote a letter to Pope Paul IV asking for the immediate release of the Ancona Marranos (Jews forcibly baptized), whom he declared to be Ottoman citizens. The Pope had no other alternative than to release them, the Ottoman Empire being the "superpower" of those days.

By 1477, Jewish households in Istanbul numbered 1647 or 11% of the total. Half a century later, 8070 Jewish houses were listed in the city.

For 300 years following the expulsion, the prosperity and creativity of the Ottoman Jews rivalled that of the Golden Age of Spain. Four Turkish cities: Istanbul, Izmir, Safed and Salonika became the centres of Sephardic Jewry.

Most of the court physicians were Jews: Hakim Yakoub, Joseph and Moshe Hamon, Daniel Fonseca, Gabriel Buenaventura to name only very few ones.

One of the most significant innovations that Jews brought to the Ottoman Empire was the printing press. In 1493, only one year after their expulsion from Spain, David & Samuel ibn Nahmias established the first Hebrew printing press in Istanbul.

Following the Ottoman conquest in 1517, Israel was divided into four districts and attached administratively to the province of Damascus and ruled from Istanbul. At the outset of the Ottoman era, an estimated 1,000 Jewish families lived in the country, mainly in Jerusalem, Nablus (Shechem), Hebron, Gaza, Safad (Tzfat) and the villages of Galilee. The community was comprised of descendants of Jews who had never left the Land as well as immigrants from North Africa and Europe. (From the Jewish Virttual Library)

Ottoman diplomacy was often carried out by Jews. Joseph Nasi, appointed the Duke of Naxos, was the former Portuguese Marrano Joao Miques.  Another Portuguese Marrano, Aluaro Mandes, was named Duke of Mytylene in return for his diplomatic services to the Sultan. Salamon ben Nathan Eskenazi arranged the first diplomatic ties with the British Empire. Jewish women such as Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi "La Seniora" and Esther Kyra exercised considerable influence in the Court.

In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished. Joseph Caro compiled the Shulhan Arouh. Shlomo haLevi Alkabes composed the Lekhah Dodi, a hymn which welcomes the Sabbath according to both Sephardic and Ashkenazi ritual. Jacob Culi began to write the famous MeAm Loez. Rabbi Abraham ben Isaac Assa became known as the father of Judeo-Spanish literature.

The expansion of the Ottoman Empire resulted in remarkable prosperity. The Jewish population traded with Christian Europe, They took advantage of their world-wide network of family connections and their knowledge of European affairs in order to promote the concerns of the Sublime Porte, as well as to protect their interests and those of their community.

On October 27,1840, Sultan Abdulmecid issued his famous ferman concerning the "Blood Libel Accusation" saying: "... and for the love we bear to our subjects, we cannot permit the Jewish nation, whose innocence for the crime alleged against them is evident, to be worried and tormented as a consequence of accusations which have not the least foundation in truth...".

Under Ottoman tradition, each non-Moslem religious community was responsible for its own institutions, including schools. In the early 19th century, Abraham de Camondo established a modern school, "La Escola", causing a serious conflict between conservative and secular rabbis which was only settled by the intervention of Sultan Abdulaziz in 1864. The same year the Takkanot haKehilla (By-laws of the Jewish Community) was published, defining the structure of the Jewish community.

An important event in the life of Ottoman Jews in the 17th century was the schism led by Sabetay Sevi, the pseudo Messiah who lived in Izmir and later adopted Islam with his followers.

Efforts at reform of the Ottoman Empire led to the proclamation of the Hatti Humayun in 1856, which made all Ottoman citizens, Moslem and non-Moslem alike, equal under the law. As a result, leadership of the community began to shift away from the religious establishment to secular forces.


World War I brought to an end the glory of the Ottoman Empire. In its place rose the young Turkish Republic. Mustafa Kemal Ataturk was elected president, the Caliphate was abolished and a secular constitution was adopted.

Recognized in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne as a fully independent state within its present-day borders, Turkey accorded minority rights to the three principal non-Muslim religious minorities and permitted them to carry on with their own schools, social institutions and funds. In 1926, on the eve of Turkey's adoption of the Swiss Civil Code, the Jewish Community renounced its minority status on personal rights.

At the beginning, relations between the new republic and the Jewish community were not idyllic. Jews had been a model of loyalty to the Ottoman Empire and most were not republican. They came under criticism in the press and aroused the hostility of extremist Muslims and anti-Semitic fringe elements, while maintaining cordial relations with the mainstream Muslim society and did not face persecution.

During the years 1920 -1930 Jews were subject to criticism because they spoke Judeo-Spanish and Turkish replaced French and Hebrew in Jewish schools. A law in 1932 prohibited religious education in all schools, while language and Bible studies at Jewish schools had to be taught by lay teachers.


During the tragic days of World War II, Turkey managed to maintain its neutrality. As early as 1933 Ataturk invited numbers of prominent German Jewish professors to flee Nazi Germany and settle in Turkey. Before and during the war years, these scholars contributed a great deal to the development of the Turkish university system. During World War II, Turkey served as a safe passage for many Jews fleeing the horrors of Nazism. While the Jewish communities of Greece were wiped out almost completely by Hitler, Turkish Jews remained secure.

Several Turkish diplomats such as Ambassadors Behic Erkin and Numan Menemencioglu; Consul Generals Fikret Sefik Ozdoganci, Bedii Arbel, Selahattin Ulkumen; Consuls Namik Kemal Yolga and Necdet Kent helped to save the Turkish Jews in European countries from the Holocaust. Mr. Salahattin Ulkumen, Consul General in the Greek island of Rhodes in 1943 and 1944, was recognized by Yad Vashem as a Righteous Gentile in June 1990.

The present size of the Jewish community is estimated at around 26000. The vast majority live in Istanbul, with a community of about 2500 in Izmir and other smaller groups located in Adana, Ankara, Bursa, Canakkale, Iskenderun and Kirklareli. Sephardis make up 96% of the community, with Ashkenazis accounting for the rest. There are about 100 Karaites, an independent group who does not accept the authority of the Chief Rabbi.

Turkish Jews are legally represented, as they have been for many centuries, by the Hahambasi, the Chief Rabbi. Synagogues are classified as religious foundations (Vakifs). There are 16 synagogues in use in Istanbul today. Three are in service in holiday resorts, during summer only. Some of them are very old, especially Ahrida Synagogue in the Balat district, which dates from mid-fifteenth century. The 15th and 16th century Haskoy and Kuzguncuk cemeteries in Istanbul are still in use today.

In recent years, this proud and ancient community has become increasingly fearful of the rise of radical Islamism.of the


Times of israel Ilan Ben Zion, June 6, 2015

Five centuries after Sultan Bayezid II welcomed Sephardic Jewish refugees to Istanbul, Turkey’s Jewish community is slowly dwindling. Faced with rising anti-Semitism, growing authoritarianism and dire economic circumstances, young Turkish Jews have increasingly set their sights on Israel, Europe and North America.

Despite a rich history under the Ottomans — rising to prominence as ministers, traders and buccaneers — and active involvement in public life in the early Turkish Republic, Turkish Jews no longer contribute significantly to the country’s political or cultural life. In 1948 Turkey was home to about 80,000 Jews; three years later nearly 40% had left. Talking with members of the community today, one is likely to hear the future for Jews in Turkey described as “bleak”.

The departure of Jewish youth is by no means an exodus. The numbers are small, but so is the community from which they’re leaving. Officially, 17,300 Jews live in Turkey today, the vast majority in Istanbul, making it the largest Jewish community in the Muslim world. A decade earlier, it was closer to 20,000.

This much is clear: class sizes in Jewish kindergartens are shrinking, the birth rate is dropping and the community is aging.

Hard statistics concerning the emigration of young Jews, however, are difficult to come by. The official figure, for example, doesn’t account for the rising number of high school graduates who have left for opportunities abroad.

Mois Gabay, a columnist for the Jewish Şalom newspaper, wrote last year about the growing trend of young Turkish Jews moving abroad. He told Deutsche Welle in January that “40 percent of Jewish graduates chose to seek higher education abroad” in 2014. In 2013 it was half that figure. He said that number was expected to rise.

“I cannot tell you if young Jews are leaving, or how many young Jews are leaving,” he said over the phone. He added, though, that the community couldn’t ignore the fact that collective anxiety was taking hold.

Faced with anti-Semitic rhetoric that’s been given free rein by the government in recent years and amplified by social media, some young Jews have also opted to move to Israel for ideological reasons.

Immigration to Israel by Turkish Jews has remained steady at roughly 100 per year since 1980. In the past decade, 1,002 Turkish Jews have immigrated to Israel, according to statistics published by Israel’s Immigration and Absorption Ministry.

“I always felt I didn’t belong to the Turkish people, I felt like a stranger, like I didn’t belong to them,” Israel Maden, 29, said. He grew up in Istanbul’s Göztepe neighborhood, on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, and was an active member in the local Jewish youth club.

Like many Turkish Jews, Maden has family living in Israel, and “the idea of leaving and coming to Israel was always there.” In 2009, he immigrated to the country whose name he carries.

Maden’s experience compared to that of Lisya Malki, a 31-year-old mother of one who moved to Israel in 2008 and now lives in a small town north of Tel Aviv.

“Even though I grew up there, we had our own holidays, our own culture,” she said in Hebrew tinged with a slight Turkish accent. “I was a Jew living in Turkey, that’s what I always felt.”

Alongside the ascendance of Islam and authoritarianism under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, the volume of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel rhetoric in Turkey has grown in state-sponsored media.

“Turkey has gained a much more conservative outlook that’s getting stronger day by day,” said Selin Nasi, an Istanbul native and PhD candidate in political science at Bogazici University. Islam has become “a way of conducting policy,” she said, and authoritarianism is on the rise.

Ahead of Sunday’s national elections, Erdogan on May 8 employed a Quran as a campaign prop — an unprecedented move in an officially secular government — waving it around onstage. His move was a cause of concern for Turkey’s religious minorities, including the Jews, and he was speedily accused of exploiting religion for political purposes.

Erdogan and his party’s open embrace of political Islam has also translated into strained ties with Israel, and the country’s Jews. Despite largely symbolic gestures, such as the recent restoration of the Edirne Great Synagogue (which has no accompanying community), tensions run high.

“Bilateral disputes between Turkey and Israel have an undeniable impact on attitudes toward Turkish Jews,” Nasi said, referring to tensions between Ankara and Jerusalem over Israel’s relations with the Palestinians.

Previously close ties between Israel and Turkey were frayed nearly to the breaking point in May 2010 after Israeli soldiers boarded the MV Mavi Marmara, a ship carrying activists attempting to break the IDF blockade on the Gaza Strip. In skirmishes between activists and Israeli troops, nine Turkish citizens were killed, triggering a diplomatic crisis. Tens of thousands of Turks protested in Istanbul, and hundreds attempted to storm the Israeli consulate.

Similar attacks on the Israeli diplomatic mission took place last summer during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge against Palestinian terrorist groups in the Gaza Strip, and latent anti-Semitic propaganda proliferated unchecked.

While recent months have been calm compared to last summer, Turkish Jews nonetheless “come across hate speech on a daily basis,” Nasi said.

“We know that some of the press, particularly close to the government, is involved in this hate speech and they are not sanctioned at all,” Nasi said. “The government totally turns a blind eye.”

Although anti-Semitism and ideology play a role in bringing Jewish youths such as Malki and Maden to Israel, Turkish Jews are also affected by the same socioeconomic pressures pushing middle class Turks to look abroad for a better life.

Turkey’s economic boom in the first decade of the 21st century has slowed, and its currency has lost 20 percent of its value against the dollar in the past year alone.

As tuition prices in Turkey’s increasingly competitive universities have skyrocketed in recent years, the quality of education lags behind schools in western Europe, the United tates and Canada.

Like many middle-class Turks, Turkish Jews have contributed of the country’s brain drain.

“There’s no doubt anti-Semitism is a motivating factor,” said Louis Fishman, an assistant professor at Brooklyn College who has split his time in the last decade between New York, Istanbul and Tel Aviv. “But there are other groups [in the Jewish community] that are leaving because they’re part of the middle class, they can go to school in the US and get a job abroad.”

T., a 30-something resident of Istanbul who, like other Turkish Jews, preferred to speak anonymously for fear of backlash, works in a multinational company, which he said offers many Turks a means of emigrating with financial security.

“Almost all my friends think about what to do next,” said T., especially after the 2010 and 2014 anti-Israel uproar in Turkey. “Even though we are staying here, everyone is thinking of their next move.” He said that in the past five years he’s noticed a marked rise in Jewish emigration from Turkey.

Another indicator of the anxiety pervading the community is the number of Turkish Jews who have jumped at the opportunity to acquire Spanish citizenship. The vast majority of Turkey’s Jews are descendants of Spanish exiles who were welcomed into the Ottoman Empire.

Earlier this year the Spanish government announced its intention of extending citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews expelled in 1492. Shortly thereafter 5,000 Turkish Jews — roughly a third of the community — applied for dual citizenship, potentially opening the doors to life in Europe, according to a recent Financial Times report.

Leaders from the Istanbul community declined to respond to inquiries concerning the departure of young Turkish Jews. The community’s official organ is notoriously tight-lipped and maintains a low profile. Rifat Bali, a prominent Turkish Jewish native to Istanbul, on the one hand denied there being “an exodus of young Jews” and called reports of one a “baseless allegation.” On the other hand, he acknowledged that since the 1980s young Jews of “more or less well to do families,” like their Muslim counterparts, leave for education abroad.

“As with all communities which are demographically so small and aged we will see numbers continuing to decrease,” Bali said by email.

Almost universally, the prognosis for the future of Turkey’s Jews, who have called Anatolia home for nearly 2,000 years, is grim. Malki, the young mother now living in Israel, said there are few Jewish men of marrying age still in Istanbul and, predictably, the birthrate is dropping.

“In Turkey, there’s no future for Jews,” she said. “There is racism, there is anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism.” There are a million and one reasons for Jews to leave, she said.

“We have to admit that even if there is not an exodus of Jews leaving,” Fishman said, in light of its gradual senescence and young Jews trickling away,”the overall future of the community is not looking very hopeful.”


Wikipedia   Go to link to read full story

The history of the Jews of Thessaloniki, (Greece) reaches back two thousand years.

The city of Thessaloniki (also known as Salonica) housed a major Jewish community, mostly Eastern Sephardim, until the middle of the Second World War. It is the only known example of a city of this size in the Jewish diaspora that retained a Jewish majority for centuries.

Sephardic Jews immigrated to the city following their expulsion from Spain by Christian rulers under the Alhambra Decree in 1492. This community influenced the Sephardic world both culturally and economically, and the city was nicknamed la madre de Israel (mother of Israel). The community experienced a "golden age" in the 16th century, when they developed a strong culture in the city. Like other groups in the Ottoman Empire, they continued to practice traditional culture during the time when western Europe was undergoing industrialization. In the middle of the 19th century, Jewish educators and entrepreneurs came to Thessaloniki from Western Europe to develop schools and industries; they brought contemporary ideas from Europe that changed the culture of the city. With the development of industry, both Jewish and other ethnic populations became industrial workers and developed a large working class, with labor movements contributing to the intellectual mix of the city. After Greece achieved independence from the Ottoman Empire, it made Jews full citizens of the country in the 1920s.

During World War II, the Germans occupied Greece in 1941, and started to persecute the Jews as they had in other parts of Europe. In 1943 they forced the Jews in Thessaloniki into a ghetto near the rail lines, and started deporting them to concentration camps and labor camps, where most of the 60,000 deported died. This resulted in the near-extermination of the community. Only 1200 Jews live in the city today.


European Jewish Congress

World Jewish Congress

Turkish Jewish Community                                                                           

Jewish Museum of Turkey

History of the Jews in the Byzantine Empire    Wikipedia

History of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire  Wikipedia

History of the Jews in Turkey    Wikipedia

Ottoman Jews in the Context of Geographical, Distribution, Population and Housing TurkofAmerica



1492 - Expulsion from Spain and After

The Ottoman Empire Becomes Turkey

World War II and After


MuhlenbergCollege 2012 (46.45)



Remnants of Jewish settlement from the 4th century BCE have been uncovered in the Aegean area.  While Jews were usually more accepted in the Byzantine Empire than in the West imperial policy usually changed with each Emperor. .  There were occasional hostilities, but no systematic persecutions or mass expulsions as in Western Europe.

Conditions worsened with the Fourth Crusade after the capture of Constantinople in 1204 by the  Christians  lead to massacres  .In 1453 Constantinople fell to the Turks.  In 1492 Sultan Bayazid II ordered the province governors "not to refuse the Jews entry or cause them difficulties, but to receive them cordially".  Some historians claim more Jews emigrated here than went to Portugal.

The Ottoman Empire expansion resulted in prosperity. The Jewish population traded with Christian Europe by taking advantage of their international family connections network using their knowledge of European affairs to promote the Sublime Porte and protect their interests and those of their community.

World War I saw the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of the secular Turkish Republic with Mustafa Kemal Ataturk as president,  Today there is a Muslim government under Recep Tayyip Erdoğan




MadeInTurkey 2015 (27.54))
(see detailed to 1453 attached
to this video)