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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ottoman Empire 04: Occupation of Middle East

Middle East occupations - firearm production by Jewish knowledge - occupation of Egypt - Jews in Egypt and Syria - Jerusalem and Syria rebellion - peace under Suleiman - Tiberias, Safed, Jerusalem

from: Ottoman Empire; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 16

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




The Conquest of Syria, Erez Israel, Egypt, Hungary, North Africa, Iraq, and Yemen.

[[The Turks had fire arms. The Arabs were proud of their horse warriors without fire arms, and the Arabs even resigned fire arms, and by this the Turks occupied all Arab lands]].

[War monger Selim I - firearms introduced by the Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal - occupations]

*Selim I (1515-20), called "the Grim", began a new era in the great conquest of the Ottoman Empire. He forced his father Bayazid to abdicate, took the throne by force, and (col. 1533)

expelled his brother Muhammad. Instead of continuing his conquests in Europe, he turned to the East, and because of this was called "the man of the eastern front". In his time the Ottoman Empire doubled its area by conquests in Asia. He built the Turkish fleet, established a cavalry< army and mercenary bands, in addition to the sipahi, the feudal cavalry army. His aim in doing this was to overpower the *Mamluks, whose kingdom extended over Egypt, Erez Israel, Syria, and the Arabian Peninsula.

The war between the Ottomans and the Mamluks commenced in 1516; the Ottomans were victorious due to their superior use of firearms, which the exiled Jews taught them to manufacture, their good organization, their strict discipline, and to a certain extent, the treachery of important Mamluks. Before the end of 1516 Syria and Erez Israel were conquered, thus beginning a new era in the empire's history which lasted 400 years.

Selim seized control of Egypt in January 1517 and was acclaimed in Cairo as the ruler of two continents (Europe and Asia) and two seas (the Black and the Mediterranean), the destroyer of two armies (the Persian and the Mamluk) and the "servant" of two temples (Mecca and Medina). For Jews the conquest was a salvation, as their situation in the 14th and 15th centuries under Mamluk rule had deteriorated.

[Change in Egypt under the Ottoman rule]

A number of years after the Ottoman conquest of Egypt, the office of *nagid [[leader]], which had existed under Fatimid and Mamluk rule, was abrogated. At first, Isaac ha-Kohen *Sholal was removed from office and he emigrated to Jerusalem. His office was continued for a few years by two or three negidim [[leaders]]. Selim I appointed Abraham *Castro, a wealthy Jew from Constantinople, as nagid, finance minister, and master of the mint in Egypt, but Ahmed Pasha, the ruler of Egypt on behalf of the sultan Suleiman I (1520-66), demanded huge sums from him and abused and imprisoned him; he fled to Constantinople. The supreme government in Constantinople intervened and claimed the right to appoint the nagid in Egypt, after consultation with the Jewish community.

The first official to be appointed by them was Rabbi Tajir, an Egyptian by birth. He was followed by *Jacob b. Hayyim Talmid, but as he did not respect the community, he was excommunicated by Bezalel *Ashkenazi. Thenceforth, the title of nagid was discontinued, and the representative of the Jews who was sent from Constantinople was called chelebi (Turk. "gentleman"), an office which existed for almost 200 years. Among the best-known were Solomon *Alashkar, who maintained yeshivot [[religious Torah school]] in Egypt and Erez (col. 1534)

Israel; Samuel ha-Kohen; Abba Iskandari and his son the physician Abraham Iskandari; Joseph Bagliar, who maintained the yeshivot of Erez Israel for a period of ten years; and Raphael b. Joseph Bar-Hin. The sultan's Egyptian rulers maintained Jewish chief bankers and money changers (*sarraf bashi); they were appointed masters of the mint, as Egypt minted its own coins. The Egyptian lords also had Jewish physicians who were appointed to high positions in the government.

[Spanish Jewish refugees spread to Egypt]

The economic situation of Egyptian Jews, like that of the other inhabitants of Turkish lands, was good. After the Ottoman conquest the refugees from Spain settled in Egypt, in Cairo, *Alexandria, Rosetta, etc. They found the old communities of *Must'arabs (Moriscos), *Maghrebis (North Africans), Shamis (from Syria, *Damascus), and a Karaite congregation. Among the Spanish refugees who settled in Egypt, or lived there for a time, were: Samuel b. Sid, Abraham b. Shoshan, Moses b. Isaac Alashkar, Samuel Hakim-Haqan ha-Levi, David ibn Abi Zimra, and Jacob *Berab. They founded yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] and the study of Torah developed. Well-known rabbis of the next generation included: Bezalel Ashkenazi, Isaac *Luria (Ha-Ari), the pupils of David ibn Abi Zimra, Simeon Kastilaz, Jacob *Castro, Hayyim *Capusi, Abraham *Monzon.

[Spanish Jewish refugees spread to Syria - tensions with the elder Jewish communities]

In *Syria, Spanish refugees settled in Damascus, Kfar *Jubar (near Damascus), and in *Aleppo. In all these localities there were Must'arab [[romanticized]] and Shami communities [[Damascus]]. The *Sephardim surpassed them in knowledge and culture, however, and were unable to live in peace with these veteran inhabitants. Prominent among the rabbis of Damascus were Moses *Najara, the chief rabbi, and his son Israel *Najara, the poet Jacob *Abulafia and his pupil  Josiah *Pinto, Moses *Galanté, Hayyim *Vital, and Moses *Alsheikh (after he left Safed). Joseph Taitazak was Must'arab rabbi in Damascus, as was Samuel *Laniado in Aleppo.

[1520: rebellion in Syria and Palestine - new Ottoman governors, disbanded Mamluk troops, new administration system - walls of Jerusalem, water supply for Jerusalem]

When Suleiman the Magnificent (1520-66) ascended to the throne, the governor of Syria and Erez Israel rebelled against the young sultan, thinking that the time had arrived to cast off the yoke of Ottoman rule and establish an independent kingdom in Syria and Erez Israel. The governor was defeated and his head sent to Constantinople. Moreover, the Jerusalem community suffered from this rebellion.

Later, the Turks learned the lesson of this rebellion and changed all the governors of these regions, replacing them by Ottomans. The local Mamluk troops were disbanded, and the land then became quiet. The civil and military administration was organized in accordance with the political system of Sultan Suleiman. He ordered the erection of the walls of *Jerusalem and he repaired the water conduits and the pools; as a result of these actions the security of the city was improved.

[Peace under Suleiman: growth in Palestine]

Suleiman was outstanding among the Ottoman rulers and is regarded as the greatest of them. During his rule the Ottoman Empire attained its greatest power and extent. For more than 50 years Erez Israel benefited from the peace and security which prevailed. Its population grew and its agricultural economy was expanded.

[Peace under Suleiman: pacts and contracts with the Christian countries of Europe - Jews benefiting]

This sultan introduced the *capitulations agreements, i.e., pacts or contracts between the Ottoman sultans and the Christian countries of Europe concerning the rights to be enjoyed by the subjects of each when dwelling in the country of the other. Many Jews who immigrated from abroad benefited from these agreements, which had great influence on their legal standing. They acquired the status of protected persons and were granted extraterritorial rights and protection from attacks on property and life.

Venice was the first to come to an arrangement in 1521 and was followed by Francis I, king of France, in 1535. After Suleiman's death, the capitulations were renewed during the time of his heir Selim II (1566-74), and also in the time of Murad III, Muhammad III, and Ahmed I.

[since 1561: Tiberias under Jewish leadership of Don Joseph Nasi - Jewish settlement with yeshivah - bad leader Solomon ibn Yaish - decline of Tiberias with discrimination of the Jews]

In 1561 Suleiman granted his counselor Don Joseph *Nasi [[Jewish diplomat and banker]] - at a price of 1,000 ducats per year - a concession for *Tiberias and its vicinity [[on Sea of Galilee / Lake Kinneret]], which enabled Jews to settle there. Joseph Nasi wanted to turn the locality into a great Jewish center, both spiritually and economically, and he sent his steward Joseph b. Ardit, who was a representative of the sultan, there. With the support of his mother-in-law Doña Gracia (Mendes) *Nasi, Joseph Nasi founded a yeshivah [[religious Torah school]] of scholars and supported its students. The wall of Tiberias was built, people were brought from Safed, and the foundation for the development of the site was laid. On Joseph Nasi's death the enthusiasm evaporated.

He was followed by a new benefactor, Don Solomon ibn Yaish, who was also a counselor of the sultan *Murad III (1574-95). The sultan gave Solomon a renewed concession for Tiberias, and the latter sent his son Jacob ibn Yaish there. For want of organizational ability, (col. 1535)

however, he devoted himself to Torah study, did not succeed in his task, and the settlement in Tiberias failed to continue.

Toward the end of the 16th century, signs of decline manifested themselves in the Jewish settlement of Erez Israel. Security deteriorated, especially after the period of Safed's eminence, which lasted three generations. The ruler of the town treated the Jews poorly and the sultan was unable to supervise his rulers.

[Help for Safed - Tiberias is evacuated - new Jewish center Jerusalem]

Turkish orders have been found which demanded the expulsion of wealthy Jews from Safed to Cyprus, but it is not known if the orders were implemented. The Turkish communities during the period, especially Constantinople, began to send assistance to the Jewish population of Safed. Yom Tov *Zahalon, Joseph of *Trani, Abraham *Shalom, Moses Alsheikh, and Bezalel Ashkenazi traveled to Constantinople, Syria, and Persia to collect financial aid for the Jews of Erez Israel, as well as to beg the viziers to ease the burden imposed on them by the local governors. Emissaries also departed for North Africa, Italy, and Germany. Tiberias was evacuated.

The center of the Jews of Erez Israel passed to Jerusalem, as a result of the influence of the eminent rabbi Isaiah ha-Levi *Horowitz, who immigrated to Erez Israel in 1620 and settled in Jerusalem.> (col. 1536)

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