European Jewish Congress

The Jewish Community of Turkey

History

The history of the Jews in Anatolia started many centuries before the migration of Sephardic Jews. Remnants of Jewish settlements, ancient synagogue ruins and tumbstones, dating from 220 B.C.at least, have been uncovered in Sardes, Miletus, Phocee, Priene, along the Aegean, Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts, Jewish communities in Anatolia flourished and continued to prosper through the Turkish conquest. When the Ottomans captured Bursa in 1326 Orhan Bey gave to the Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule, the permission to rebuild the Etz Ahayim (Tree of Life) Synagogue which remained in service until nineteen forties. The Jews greeted the Ottomans as saviours.

Early in the 14th century, Jews expelled from Hungary, France, Sicily etc. migrated to the Ottoman lands. From the early 15th century on, the Ottomans actively encouraged Jewish immigration. Through a letter sent to Jewish communities in Europe in around 1454/1469, Yitzhak Sarfati (Chief-Rabbi of Edirne) invited his co-religionists to leave the torments they were enduring in Christianity 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.

Following the Edict of Expulsion in 1492, Sultan Bayazid II's offer of refuge gave new hope to the persecuted Sephardim. The arrival of the Sephardim 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. Jews fleeing the 1881, 1891, 1897 and 1902 pogroms in Russia and the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution also took refuge in Turkey.

For 300 years following the expulsion, the prosperity and creativity of the Ottoman Jews rivaled that of the Golden Age of Spain. With a Jewish population of almost 30.000, Istanbul thus became one of the most important Jewish centers of Europe. The Talmudic Academy that was established in Edirne, with the participation of many Sephardic philosophers, thinkers and scholars, trained students coming from all over Europe. Sfad (Safed) too became a world famous centre for religious philosophy and Kabbalah.

The first printing press in the Ottoman Empire was established in 1493 by the brothers David and Samuel ibn Nahmias, who had emigrated from Spain. Between the beginning of the 16th and the end of the 18th centuries, Istanbul was one the main centers of Hebrew publishing.

Most of the court physicians were Jews:. Number of Jews were assigned to distinguished posts in the Ottoman palace, especially in financial and foreign relations issues. Ottoman diplomacy was often carried out by Jews. In the free air of the Ottoman Empire, Jewish literature flourished. Joseph Caro compiled the Shulhan Arouh. Shlomo haLevi Alkabes composed the Lekhah Dodi and Jacob Culi began to write the famous MeAm Loez. The Ottoman Sultans issued a number of firmans about blood slanders World War I brought to an end the glory of the Ottoman Empire.

The young Turkish Republic. recognized in 1923 by the Treaty of Lausanne as a fully independent state within its present day borders, adopted a secular constitution and accorded minority rights to the three principal non-Muslim religious minorities, permitting them to carry on with their own schools, social institutions and funds.

During the tragic days of World War II, Turkey managed to maintain its neutrality. As early as 1933, Atatürk invited numbers of prominent German and Austrian scientists, mostly Jewish, to find shelter in Turkey and continue their academic carriers at Turkish universities.

Turkey served as a safe passage for thousands of Jews fleeing the horrors of the Nazism. Several Turkish diplomats, made every effort to save the Turkish Jews in the Nazi occupied countries, from the Holocaust. Mr. Salahattin Ulkumen, Consul General at Rhodes in 1943-1944, was recognized by the Yad Vashem as a Hassid Umot ha'Olam (Righteous Gentile) in June 1990. Turkey continues to be a shelter, a haven for all those who have to flee dogmatism, intolerance and persecution.

Demograpgy

The present size of Jewish Community is estimated at around 20.000. Almost 18.000 live in Istanbul, about 1.500 in Izmir and other smaller groups located in different towns. Sephardim make up 96% of the Community, with Ashkenazim accounting for the rest. Turkish Jews are legally represented, as they have been for many centuries, by the Hahambasi, the Chief Rabbi who is assisted by a religious Council made up of five Hahamim and fifty Lay Counsellors who look after the secular affairs.

Community

The Community maintains in Istanbul a school complex including elementary and secondary schools for around 600 students. A weekly newspaper:?alom (Shalom), in Turkish with one page in Judeo-Spanish and a monthly supplement El Amaneser, also in Judeo-Spanish are published. The first and only Jewish Museum of Turkey has been inaugurated on November 2001 (www.muze500.com).

Two Jewish hospitals, homes for the aged (Moshav Zekinim) and several welfare associations (Matan Baseter, Bar?nyurt Mishne Tora), that assisting the poor, the sick, the needy children and orphans, serves the community. Social youth clubs containing libraries, cultural and sports facilities, discotheques give young people the chance to meet. In spite of their number, the Jews have distinguished themselves.

There are several Jewish professors teaching at the Universities of Istanbul and Ankara, and many Turkish Jews are prominent in business, industry, almost all liberal professions and journalism.

Contact

Jewish Community of Turkey
PRESIDENT :
Ishak IBRAHIMZADEH
Tel: +90 212 293 87 94
Fax: +90 212 244 19 80
Email: tjc@tjcomm.org
Website: http://www.turkyahudileri.com/

Subscribe to our Newsletter
Life in Israel
  • Massive section of Western Wall and Roman theatre uncovered after 1,700 years
    Archaeologists are one step closer to solving the riddle of what took place in Jerusalem following the destruction of the city by Romans in 70 CE.

    On Friday, October 20, 2017 Massive section of Western Wall and Roman theatre uncovered after 1,700 years
  • Israel targets fashion industry over underweight models
    Israeli lawmakers want to tighten a ban on the employment of underweight models and on the undeclared digital slimming-down of fashion images, amid concern that the measures are being routinely flouted even as they are adopted abroad.

    On Friday, October 20, 2017 Israel targets fashion industry over underweight models
  • Work on Israel-Cyprus-Greece electricity link to start in 2018
    A Cypriot official said work on an electric cable linking the power grids of Israel, Cyprus and Greece is on track to start in the first quarter of 2018 after Greek and Cypriot regulators approved the project.

    On Friday, October 20, 2017 Work on Israel-Cyprus-Greece electricity link to start in 2018
  • In Israel, ultra-Orthodox women emerge as high-tech entrepreneurs
    While Silicon Valley is just beginning to confront decades of sexism and discrimination, female founders in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community say their segregated gender roles have an unintended benefit -- encouraging growing ranks of women entrepreneurs.

    On Friday, October 20, 2017 In Israel, ultra-Orthodox women emerge as high-tech entrepreneurs
  • First fully disabled-accessible synagogue opened in Jerusalem
    Construction of the first fully disabled-accessible synagogue in Jerusalem is about to be finished, giving disabled worshipers easy access to the compound, with comfortable seating arrangements for wheelchair-bound visitors, Braille bibles and more.

    On Wednesday, October 11, 2017 First fully disabled-accessible synagogue opened in Jerusalem
  • Survey: 60 percent of Arab Israelis have a positive view of the state
    A poll of Israeli Arabs has found that sixty percent surveyed said they had a favourable view of the state, while 37% said their view was unfavourable.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Survey: 60 percent of Arab Israelis have a positive view of the state
  • Israel's trade with Russia leaps by 25 percent
    Trade between Israel and Russia has grown this year by 25 percent, officials from both countries revealed, amid complications with other Russian trading partners.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Israel's trade with Russia leaps by 25 percent
  • Israel aims to double the number of people working in hi-tech
    The Israel Innovation Authority aims to double the number of high-tech workers in the country over the next decade, while encouraging companies in older industry to use more technology and become more innovative, the authority said in its annual report released on Sunday.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 Israel aims to double the number of people working in hi-tech
  • 20,000 Gazan lulavs arrive in Israel
    A shipment of 20,000 date palm fronds were transported on Monday from the Gaza Strip to Israel where they were to be sold for use in a traditional Jewish religious ritual during the coming Sukkot holiday, the Defence Ministry said.

    On Wednesday, October 04, 2017 20,000 Gazan lulavs arrive in Israel
  • Israeli intelligence helped to thwart dozens of terror attacks around the world
    The Israeli intelligence community has shared information with other countries over the past two years that has helped thwart dozens of terror attacks about to be perpetrated by Islamists who were in contact with members of Islamic State and Middle Eastern factions identified with Al-Qaida.

    On Thursday, September 28, 2017 Israeli intelligence helped to thwart dozens of terror attacks around the world
President's Page Security and Crisis Centre by EJC European Parliament Working Group On Antisemitism