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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Constantinople

Settlement - professions - positions - pogroms and restrictions - burnt Jewish quarter in 1453

from: Constantinople; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 5

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)

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CONSTANTINOPLE (Byzantium; former capital of the *Byzantine and *Ottoman empires; now *Istanbul, Turkey.

[Settlement and professions]

Under the Byzantine (col. 916)

empire Jews were settled in various areas of Constantinople. In the fourth and fifth centuries they lived in the Chalkoprateia (copper market), where there was a synagogue as early as 318 (converted into a church in 422).

From the tenth century to about 1060 they lived on the south shore of the Golden Horn. In the late 11th century they were transferred by the authorities to the suburb of Galata-Pera, the affluence of which was noted by *Benjamin (col. 917)

of Tudela in the mid-12th century. In 1203 the Jewish quarter burned down.

There were Jewish workers in copper, finishers of woven material, dyers, silk weavers, and makers of silk garments. In the 11th and 12th centuries Jews were compelled to serve as executioners. Jewish physicians served various emperors despite church opposition to consulting them. Benjamin of Tudela also reports on the presence of Jewish tanners in the (col. 918)

city and the complaints of wealthy Jews about the animosity among gentiles caused by the tanners.

[Jewish positions in Constantinople]

Throughout the Byzantine period the Jews in Constantinople had close contacts with Christians. In the sixth and early seventh centuries Jews were active in the political factions of the *circus parties.

[Pogroms and restrictions against the Jews]

In 641 Jews took part in a riot, during which the church of Hagia Sophia was broken into. Under *Leo III in 721-722, Jews were forced either to leave the city or to accept baptism.

But this ruling apparently did not bring the community to an end. In about 874 *Shephatiah b. Amittai of Oria, Italy, according to a legendary report in the Ahima'az Chronicle, went to Constantinople to plead with the emperor *Basil I to end the persecutions of Jews in Italy.

Other prominent Jewish visitors to the city included a *Khazar in the tenth century, Benjamin of Tudela in the mid-12th century, and the poet Judah *Alharizi in the 13th century.

Jews were among those banished from the city because they supported the princesses Zoe and Theodora against the emperor Michael V in 1042. Many were killed in a riot against Venetian and other Western merchants during the reign of Alexius II (1180-83).

In 1204 the Latin Crusaders captured Constantinople and established the capital of the Latin Empire (1204-61) in Galata. The conflict of the great Christian powers awoke messianic expectations among the Jews of the city during the First Crusade.

[Community life]

In the Byzantine period the Jewish community was administered by a council of elders and by *archipherecytes (heads of the academies). Benjamin of Tudela reports that five wealthy rabbis led the community. There were also religious officials, didaskaloi (teachers). the council of elders dealt with administrative, fiscal, and cultural-religious matters, and relations with Christians.

[Karaites in Constantinople]

A Karaite community existed in Pera from the 11th century on and Constantinople became an important center of Karaite learning which attracted members of the sect from elsewhere. Celebrated leading Karaite scholars of Constantinople included *Tobias b. Moses ha-Avel (11th century) and Judah b. Elijah *Hadassi (mid-12th century).

[Jews from Venetia and Genoa in Constantinople]

From 1275 to 1453 the Venetian and Genoese Jews lived in Constantinople under the legal jurisdiction of their respective governments.

From 1280 to 1325 the Venetian Jews lived together with the Byzantine Jews, but from 1325 to 1453 they lived in the Venetian quarter on the Golden Horn. The Genoese Jews lived in the Genoese quarter of Galata from 1275 to 1453. The Jewish quarter of Constantinople existed from about 1280 to 1453 in Vlanga, on the southern coast of the Golden Horn on the Sea of Marmara.

During this period (from 1280) the Jews were involved in the tanning trade.

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971:
                          Constantinople, vol. 5, col. 917-918, map with
                          the different Jewish quarters
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Constantinople, vol. 5, col. 917-918, map with the different Jewish quarters. Plan of Constantinople in 1420, showing sites of the Jewish quarter at different periods. (1) c. 10th century-c. 1050. (2) The gate to the quarter ("Porta indece"), whose correct position was at (3). (4) c. 1050-1203, when it was burned by the Crusaders. (5) 1280 onward. (The quarter was destroyed when Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453). From the Liber insularum archipelagi of Buondelmonte. Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale [[National Library]], cod. lat. 4825, fol. 37.

[1453: Jewish quarter destroyed by the Turks - and fall of Constantinople in 1453]

The quarter was burned by the Turks in 1453. The fall of Constantinople appeared to Jews to herald the Redemption: the Targum for Lamentations 4:21 was held to prophesy the downfall of the "guilty city"; some predicted that redemption would occur in the same year, 1453.

For later history see *Istanbul.

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-- J. Starr: Jews in the Byzantine Empire (1939)
-- idem: Romania (1949)
-- idem, in: JPOS, 15 (1935), 280-93
-- A. Galanté: Les Juifs de Constantinople sous Byzance (1940)
-- Baron Social, index
-- Baron, Community, index
-- Baer, Spain, index
-- A. Sharf: Byzantine Jewry (1970), index
-- D. Jacoby, in: Byzantion, 37 (1967), 167-227
-- M. Adler: Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela (1907), 7, 10, 11-14> (col. 919)

Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Constantinople,
                        vol. 5, col. 916-918
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Constantinople, vol. 5, col. 916-918
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Constantinople,
                        vol. 5, col. 919
Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971: Constantinople, vol. 5, col. 919