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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ottoman Empire 13: Cultural life

Iberian Jewish immigrants implementing Jewish learning - Shabbatean movement under Shabbetai Zevi in Izmir - literature in Ladino language

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

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




The Spiritual Revival in the 16th Century.

[The Ottoman Empire becomes a worldwide Torah study center because of the Iberian Jewish immigrants]

With the growing influx of refugees and immigrants, the Ottoman Empire became a center of Torah study. The yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] of Salonika, Constantinople, Safed, and Jerusalem took the places of the splendid and well-known yeshivot of Toledo, Cordoba, and Barcelona. Constantinople, called by scholars "a large city of scholars and scribes", maintained Torah institutions and magnificent yeshivot, such as the yeshivah of Elijah Mizrahi, where both sacred and secular studies were pursued; the yeshivah of Joseph Levi (Bet Halevi), in which great talmudic scholars studied and which was supported financially by Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi and her son-in-law Don Joseph Nasi; the yeshivah of Elijah ha-Levi, the pupil of Elijah Mizrahi, who headed his teacher's yeshivah; the yeshivah of Joseph of Trani, supported by the wealthy philanthropist Abraham ibn Yaish and his sons as well as by the wealthy Jacob Ancona.

This last institution produced many pupils who served as rabbis in numerous towns of the Ottoman Empire. Yeshivot also existed in Izmir, Bursa, Angora, Nikopol, Tiriya, and Corfu. Those in Adrianople included the magnificent yeshivah of Joseph *Fasi.

[Jewish learning center Salonika]

Salonika became a center of Jewish learning. The poet Samuel *Usque called it "a metropolis of Israel, city of righteousness, loyal town, mother of the Jewish nation like Jerusalem in its time". Talmud torahs and yeshivot [[religious Torah schools]] florished there whose names were famous throughout the Jewish world and brought scholars together from all parts of the empire, such as the yeshivah of Jacob ibn Habib and his son Levi ibn Habib and those of Joseph Taitazak, Samuel de Medina, Joseph Levi (Bet Halevi), Isaac *Adarbi, and others. Similarly well known was the Great Talmud Torah of Salonika, which contained many hundreds of pupils whom it also clothed and fed.

The heads of the aforementioned yeshivot and their scholars left a ramified responsa literature which served as a foundation for the studies of *posekim [[sg. posek, legal decisor]] and dayyanim [[judges]], as well as an important, and sometimes the sole, source for the history of their times.

[Safed as immigration center in Palestine]

With the expulsion from Spain, and even before it, Safed became a great center for immigration of Spanish refugees. The town grew and its economic development - chiefly the setting up of a clothing industry which won markets throughout the whole of the East - brought spiritual growth in its wake. Safed attracted scholars from many countries. It developed into a great center of Torah, Kabbalah, musar [[moral literature]] and piyyut [[liturgical poems]], becoming an important spiritual center in Erez Israel, as well as for the Diaspora.

Important and well-known Yeshivot were founded there, among them the Yeshivah of Jacob Berab; Berab taught a generation of outstanding pupils, among whom were four ordained pupils (see *Semikhah) who also headed well-known yeshivot: Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, Moses of Trani, Abraham *Shalom, and Israel di *Curiel. Not only local students but also scholars who came from other regions of the empire studied in their yeshivot. The yeshivot obtained their economic support from the wealthy and from charities in all parts of the empire. (For further information see *Safed).

Aside from these, yeshivot and places of study in which esoteric lore, Kabbalah, and the Zohar were the main subjects of study were established in Safed during this period. The students studied while walking and prostrating themselves at the graves of the pious, in the fields of Safed and its vicinity. Among the outstanding scholars were Solomon Alkabez, Moses *Cordovero, and the well-known Isaac Luria Ashkenazi (Ha-Ari), the founder of the Lurianic Kabbalah and teacher of many disciples, among them Hayyim *Vital. There were also kabbalists and heads of yeshivot from the Maghreb (North Africa), such as Joseph Magrabi (ha-Ma'aravi), Joseph b. Tabul, Masyud Azalai, Solomon ha-Ma'aravi (Abunaha), and others. The yeshivah of Moses ibn Machir was located at *Ein Zeitim, near Safed.

[Jerusalem is only a little Jewish center]

Jerusalem's development after the Ottoman conquest in 1516 was slow compared to that of Safed. The economic situation was harsh, but the heads of the yeshivot ant the rabbis of the town did a great deal to prevent the town being deserted. After the conquest, (col. 1549)

the spiritual hegemony passed from the Must'arabs to the Spaniards.

[Yeshivah in Tiberias]

Doña Gracia Mendes Nasi founded a yeshivah of scholars in Tiberias, most of whom came from Safed. They were maintained by her appropriations and were thus able to devote all their time to Torah study. In addition to her contributions, there was a society in Constantinople for the benefit of the yeshivah. At the end of the 16th century when Tiberias was abandoned, this yeshivah was also closed.

[Egypt becomes a Jewish learning center]

A major development in the standing of the yeshivot and the study of Torah occurred in Egypt. The Spanish refugees who settled there developed the Torah institutions which had long served the dwellers in Egypt itself, now attracting to them pupils from other places. Among the well-known yeshivot were those of David ibn Abi Zimra, Isaac Berab, Bezalel Ashkenazi, Jacob Castro, and Abraham Monzon.

Heterodox Spiritual Trends Among Ottoman Jewry.

[Shabbatean movement - messianic hopes - Shabbetai Zevi in Izmir]

The study of the Lurianic Kabbalah spread during the first half of the 17th century throughout the Ottoman Empire, and among its heterodox outgrowths was the Shabbatean movement. The persecutions and pogroms in the *Ukraine and *Poland, on the one hand, and a decline in the study of halakhah accompanied by the spread of the study of esoteric lore and Kabbalah, on the other, led to the rise of messianic hopes, which were given a strong stimulus with the appearance of *Shabbetai Zevi in Izmir. At the time it was believed that the advent of the messiah and the coming of the redemption would take place in 1666.

Shabbetai Zevi proclaimed himself the messiah who would redeem his people. From Izmir he traveled to Constantinople, taking special advantage of the fact that the royal court had then been transferred to Adrianople. His teacher, Joseph *Escapa, rabbi of Izmir, excommunicated Shabbetai Zevi and wrote to Constantinople telling people to avoid him. Shabbetai Zevi also traveled to Salonika, *Athens, Alexandria (1662), Cairo, and, via *Hebron, to Jerusalem. He reached Jerusalem in 1665 and many followed him.

On his way to Egypt as emissary of the Jerusalem community, he became friendly with *Nathan of Gaza. Nathan became Shabbetai Zevi's foremost pupil and adherent. Shabbetai Zevi himself was excommunicated in Jerusalem and he returned to Izmir with his secretary Samuel *Primo.

Izmir became like a state within a state. Shabbetai Zevi was imprisoned and sent in chains as a rebel to Constantinople, where he was received with enthusiasm by great crowds. His royal behavior roused the anger of the sultan. He was put on trial in Adrianople, and in order to save his life converted to Islam. A group of his followers imitated him and the descendants of those apostates formed a separate sect and were called *Doenmeh (Turk. "apostate"). Members of the sect lived in Adrianople, Constantinople, Salonika, and Izmir. They continued to believe in Shabbetai Zevi as the messiah.

[The bad effect of Shabbetai Zevi for all Jews in the Empire - Jacob Frank - Shabbateans in the Empire]

The appearance of Shabbetai Zevi and his companions humiliated the Jews of the empire, whose status had in any case declined in comparison with that of previous times. The movement gave rise to apostasy, disappointment, and despair, and undermined the important economic positions held by the Jews of Turkey. The remaining Shabbateans did not cease their activities.

The Shabbatean emissary Abraham Miguel *Cardozo went to Constantinople in order to influence the rabbis to adhere to Shabbateanism. In Izmir, Nehemiah *Hayon and his friends were excommunicated.

Jacob *Frank, a pseudo-messiah, a late adherent of the Shabbatean movement, and founder of the Frankist movement, traveled from Poland to Volhynia and then to Turkey, where he lived in Izmir and Salonika, becoming friendly with the secret Shabbateans, the Doenmeh. Not finding Salonika favorable, he returned to Poland.

The Shabbateans and their adherents also penetrated into Egypt, Persia, Babylon, *Kurdistan, and North Africa. Various customs were introduced in these places under the influence of this movement, and they added to the prayers in Kurdistan the following words: "As instituted by our messiah, exalted be his majesty."

Ladino Literature.

[Spanish descendants and works in "Ladino" language]

In the 18th century, a great decline occurred in the cultural condition of the Jews of Turkey. The situation became so bad that the majority could not read the sacred literature. As a consequence of this state of affairs books began to be published in the Spanish vernacular spoken by the Jews, who came from Spain, called *Ladino. For along period it was the only language spoken by them, because they never mastered Turkish. Religious literature was printed in Hebrew, and the presses in Salonika, Constantinople, and Izmir were renowned for the Hebrew books they published. (col. 1550)

The spiritual leaders waged a fierce struggle for the preservation of Judaism. This effort was expressed in the popular anthology Me'Am Lo'ez ("From a Foreign Nation")  by R. Jacob b. Meir *Culi, the most eminent Ladino author.

The period of the proliferation and florishing of Ladino literature in the Ottoman Empire and its successor states began in the 19th century. The education of the Jewish population in the Balkan countries and in the Turkish-speaking provinces of the empire (Anatolia) was rooted in newspapers, "literary" periodicals, and original and translated works that were published in Ladino. According to the bibliography of Moses Gaon, over 300 newspapers and magazines were published in that language during a period of 100 years.

Even before this, mahzorim [[sg. mahzor, prayer book for High Holidays]], siddurim, [[sg. siddur, daily and Sabbath prayer book]], kinot [[liturgical poetry]], kabbalistic works, Midrashim [[methods of exegesis of Biblical texts]], ethical works, biblical commentaries written by Sephardi commentators, and a poem for Purim were published by the presses of the Middle East in Ladino. During various periods between the middle of the 18th century and the close of the 19th century, pamphlets of folk songs, poems on historical subjects connected with Jewish festivals and on secular subjects, works on Jewish and general history, as well as Shlevilei Olam ("Paths of the World"), a compilation of wisdom and knowledge, were published. History textbooks were translated from Hebrew into Ladino, the translators preserving the original Hebrew titles. Novels and stories, such as Ahavat Ziyyon by *Mapu, and works by M. Mendelssohn and others were also translated from Hebrew.

[Ladino publication centers: Salonika, Constantinople, and Izmir - Ladino newspapers and books]

The publishing of literature and periodicals in Ladino was mainly concentrated in the largest towns of Rumelia and Anatolia: Salonika, Constantinople, and Izmir, the last of which was the cradle of Ladino literature.

The first attempts to publish Ladino newspapers in Izmir were made during the middle of the 18th century, but these were short-lived. The first weekly to be published in Izmir in 1842 was called La Buena Esperanca, edited by Raphael Uziel, but it ceased to appear after a few issues. In 1846 a second attempt was made by the same editor; this time his publication lasted half a year.

In 1874 a new weekly under the same title began to appear and its publication continued for 40 years. Its editor was Aaron Joseph Hazzan. In 1889 a newspaper named La Nouvelliste, which remained in existence 30 years, was founded. Another weekly, El-Messeret, which exhibited a Turkish nationalistic tendency, began to appear in 1897 in Ladino and Turkish. The continuation of Me'Am Lo'ez by Isaac Magriso (from the end of Exodus) and a translation of Esther appeared in Izmir (1864).

In Constantinople from the 19th century on most of the books, pamphlets, and literary magazines were published in Ladino. The most important publisher was Benjamin Raphael b. Joseph, who between 1889 and 1928 produced at least 30 books.

Among the many periodicals that appeared in Constantinople the oldest are Journal Israélite (1841-60), by Ezekiel Gabbai; La Luz de Israel ("The Light of Israel"), by Leon Hayyim Castro, published from 1853; El Tempio, whose first editor (1871) was Isaac R. Camondo and last (from 1889), David Fresco, the greatest of the Ladino writers. The Al-Sharkiyah ("The Eastern") appeared from 1869 (?) in four languages: Ladino, Turkish, Greek, and Bulgarian (all in Rashi script). The following newspapers and weeklies should also be mentioned: El-Telegrafo (1872), El Nacional (1871), and El Amigo de la Familla (1881).

The pioneer of the Ladino press in Salonika was Judah Nehamah (1826-1899), who published in 1865 the first scientific monthly in Ladino, El Lunar ("The Month"). It contained articles on history, philosophy, astronomy, law, commerce, art, etc. It published biographies of Jewish personalities and a translation of a history of the universe (as a serial). La Epoca (from 1875) was a periodical devoted to political, commercial, and literary subjects.

In 1910 it became a daily and the elite of the Jewish authors of Salonika contributed to it. The newspapers Selanik appeared (1869) as an official organ of the Ottoman government in four languages (but in Hebrew characters): Turkish, Greek, Bulgarian, and Ladino. It was issued by the order of Midhat Pasha, called the father of the Revolution of the Young Turks. He was appointed vali of Salonika in 1873.

Among the periodicals which appeared in other towns, one that is important as a source for Jewish history is the Yosef Da'at ("The Progress") edited by Abraham Danon in Adrianople (1888). Many other periodicals and newsletters in Ladino, Greek, Turkish, French, and Italian, which began to be published at the end of the 19th century and later, belong to contemporary history.> (col. 1551)

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