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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Istanbul 05: Cultural life 1700-1923

Secular developments - Hebrew and Ladino literature and printing - Jewish positions - poll tax abolished 1853 - modernization of schools and systems - split of Jewry - Jewish refugees from Russia 1906

from: Istanbul; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 9

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




[18th and 19th century: secular development of Jewry in Istanbul - Ladino literature: authors and translations]

During the 18th and 19th centuries the study (col. 1093)

of the Torah decreased and the cultural standard reached such a low point that the majority could not even read the Bible. It was for this reason that books came to be published in Spanish and Ladino (see below, Hebrew Printing). The leading author of the Spanish literature period was R. Jacob  *Culi of Safed and Jerusalem, who settled in Istanbul during the middle of the 18th century and wrote Me-Am Lo'ez.

*Ladino literature also began to develop at that time and many works were published in this language. Besides Rabbi Culi, R. Abraham b. Isaac Asa, who may be referred to as "the father of Ladino literature", is worthy of note. He translated religious works, the Bible, the Shulhan Arukh, and works of history, ethics, and science into Ladino. In Istanbul during the 18th century the most distinguished families in Judaism and literature included the Kimhi, *Rosanes, and Navon families. R. Hayyim Kimhi headed a yeshivah [[religious Torah school]]; members of the Rosanes family were rabbis, dayyanim [[judges]], and authors, and R. Judah *Rosanes was an author and opponent of the notorious Shabbatean sect.> (col. 1094)

[Printing 17th-19th century]


[Prints under the David family]

A Marrano, Solomon b. David, revived the trade by printing Rashi's Pentateuch commentary in 1639. He was followed by his son Abraham and son-in-law Jacob b. Solomon *Gabbai. They published mainly Sephardi authors, such as the responsa of Joseph b. Moses *Trani (1641). They also published a Midrash Rabbah in the same year, a vowelled Mishnah text with the commentary Kav Nahat by Isaac Gabbai (1644-45), and other halakhic, homiletic, and kabbalistic literature.


[Prints under the Jacob Ashkenazi family - Ladino literature]

Hebrew printing during the 18th century in Istanbul was dominated by Jonah b. Jacob Ashkenazi, his sons, and his grandsons, who between 1710 and 1778 issued 188 works, employing at one time as many as 50 workers. Jonah designed and improved his type, and was among those who cast the first Turkish type in 1728. He traveled widely in search of worthwhile manuscripts. He printed such important works as a Zohar (Istanbul 1736-37); the first edition of the famous and influential book Hemdat Yamim (Smyrna, 1731-32; Istanbul, 1735-72); and a Bible with Ladino translation (in partnership with the Venetian Benjamin b. Moses Rushi). Altogether, his Ladino production, originals or translations from the Hebrew, brought about a revival of Ladino literature and language.


Using the remnants of the Ashkenazi press, Elijah Pardo produced six books between 1799 and 1808, among them Rashi's Pardes (1802) and the Zohar on Genesis (in installments, 1807-08). Isaac b. Abraham Castro, his sons and his grandsons printed with interruptions from 1808 to 1848, beginning with Tikkunei Zohar, rabbinical works, Ladino translations, and polemics against the Christian missions. The Castro press remained active until 1925. The Christian printer Arap Oglu Bogos, commissioned by Jews, printed at least 18 books in Hebrew and Ladino from 1822 to 1827.> (col. 1099)

<The 19th and early 20th Centuries.

[Jewish positions: Powerful Jews bankers, scholars, merchants. rabbis]

During the first half of the 19th century powerful Jews from distinguished families were prominent. Isaiah Adjiman, Bekhor Isaac Carmona, and Ezekiel *Gabbai were the allies of the Janissaries, for whom they acted as bankers and moneylenders. They also held positions of leadership in the community of Istanbul.

Later, influence was wielded by Abraham de *Camondo, the representative of a respected family of scholars and wealthy merchants. He was also influential in ruling circles and founded a modern school in the capital, guaranteeing one half of its expenses.

Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39) conscripted a unit of 30 Jewish soldiers from Hasköy and 30 from Balat into the army which set out to suppress the revolt in Morea (the Peloponnesus). In 1836 or the beginning of 1837 the office of *hakham bashi (chief rabbi) was instituted and R. Abraham ha-Levi was its first incumbent.

[Jews admitted in the military school of medicine - poll tax abolished in 1853 - modern school - split of Jewry]

During the reign of the sultan Abdu-l-Mejid I (1839-1861) the authorities allowed the admission of Jews into the military school of medicine and the poll tax was abolished (1853). The era became known as the tanzimat period (after the name of the sultan's progressive legislation). As a result of the publication of the khatt-i humayun ("sultanic decree", 1856), the secular leadership began to gain strength at the expense of the religious leadership in various communities, including that of the Jews.

After the foundation of the modern school by Abraham de Camondo, a Va'ad Pekidim (Majlis jashmi, "Committee of Functionaries") was founded; it was composed of wealthy men and intellectuals of progressive views, under the leadership of Camondo. In 1860 the three members of this body were Carmona, Hamon, and Adjiman. At that time the hakham bashi was R. Jacob Avigdor. Splits occurred between the progressive-intellectual circles and the conservative-religious Jews within the community. In the course of this conflict the French language was introduced into the school.

A campaign against Camondo was led by Isaac Akrish and R. Solomon Kimhi, who claimed that the school which he headed encouraged children to convert to Christianity. Thereafter, a herem [[highest ecclesiastical censure (critical comment) in the Jewish community]] was issued against Camondo, but Isaac Akrish was imprisoned upon the order of the hakham bashi. He was set free by Sultan Abdu-l-Aziz.

[1864: admission of the Jewish congregations into the state's structures - fixed structures 1865-1923]

During the reign of this sultan (1861-76) an order by the name of hakham-khane nizam namesi ("Organizational Regulations of the Rabbinate") was issued (1864). It defined the administration of the town's kehillot [[congregations]], which was to consist of 12 notables and, among them, four chief rabbis. A year later, in 1865, a law was passed which defined the institutions of the community. It was to be headed by the hakham bashi [[chief rabbi]], a secular council, and a religious council. (col. 1094)

The first council included most of the Jewish officials of the government administration, while the second included rabbis. Both were elected for three years. In every quarter there was a local rabbi who headed the synagogue committee, as well as a kakhya [[leader]] whose duty it was to report births, deaths, and the like to the authorities. There were also three battei din [[house of the court]] which dealt only with matrimonial matters. All other affairs were brought before the secular tribunals of the state.

The above-mentioned regulations remained in effect until the establishment of the republic [[until 1923]], when they were allowed to lapse without being replaced.

In 1866, R. Solomon Kimhi published a pamphlet against the Karaites, in which he collected all the arguments which had been voiced against them over the generations. The Karaites addressed petitions to the chief rabbi, who ordered the destruction of all the copies which had been circulated. During the reign of Abdu-l-Hamid II (1876-1909) individual Jews of the town are mentioned as having received decorations and as having held senior positions in the administration.> (1095)

[Jewish newspapers in Istanbul]

From the second half of the 19th century newspapers and periodicals began to be published in Ladino. The first periodical appeared in 1853 under the name of Or Yisrael and was edited by Leo Hayyim de Castro. A soup kitchen and relief and charitable institutions were also established.

At the beginning of the 20th century the community organization consisted of two separate councils: the religious council (bet din) and the secular council, the latter of which dealt with the administrative and financial affairs of synagogues, schools, hospitals, etc.> (col. 1095)

<From 1860 to 1940 the Ladino newspaper press, as well as some Jewish printers and publishers, printed mainly Ladino literature.> (col. 1099)

[1906: Russian Jewish refugees - 100,000 Jews in Istanbul]

<In 1906 a large number of refugees arrived from Russia as a result of the revolution of 1905. The Jewish population of Istanbul grew to 100,000 a the beginning of the 20th century.

[A.H. / J.GEL.]> (col. 1095)

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