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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ottoman Empire 14: Jewish personalities

Jews in politics and as physicians at the court of the sultan

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

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




[Don Joseph Nasi]

During the reign of Suleiman I, Don Joseph Nasi was - as mentioned above - influential at court. Nasi was a principal spokesman in foreign affairs and did a great deal on behalf of the Jews. In 1556 he succeeded in freeing Jews imprisoned in *Ancona, the Papal state, and Selim II made him ruler of the island of Naxos and of the other Cyclade islands, and elevated him to the rank of duke. During his lifetime one of the representatives of Salonika Jewry converted to Islam, and another was murdered by the janissaries. Heavy taxes amounting to 50,000 aspers (equivalent of c. 5,000 silver thalers) a year were imposed upon the Jews of Salonika. Through Nasi's mediation they were freed from these hardships. He helped the poor, supported yeshivot and scholars, and founded the yeshivah of Joseph Levi (Bet Halevi).

[Don Solomon ibn Yaish]

Don Solomon ibn Yaish, a Crypto-Jew who reached Turkey in 1585, was also close to the sultanate. He received the rank of duke of the isle of Mytilene. He gave great financial assistance to the poor of Safed and Turkey, and assisted the Yavetz family, printers in Constantinople. He also intervened with the Sublime Porte on behalf of Jews. He influenced the sultan's foreign policy and promulgated a pact between Turkey and England to obstruct Spain.

[Jewish women]

Some Jewish women achieved great influence at the courts of the sultans in the 16th century. At least two or three such kieras (see *Kiera; trustworthy) women are known.

[Some more Jews in high political positions]

Moses ibn Judah Bikhri and his son Judah, born in Amsterdam, were envoys of Turkey in the time of Sultan Muhammad IV (1648-87). Meir *Adjiman was appointed banker of the Sublime Porte by Selim III (1789-1807), his office being like that of a minister of finance; he had great influence in the government. Adjiman was murdered by the janissaries and the office was given to his two nephews Baruch and Jacob *Adjiman who were active on behalf of their fellow-Jews. These two were killed by the sultans Selim III and Mustafa IV. The son of one of them, Isaiah *Adjiman, was appointed in their place, but he too was put to death, by Mahmud II.

The high-ranking chelebi [["gentleman"]] Siman Tov Shaci was one of those who came and went in the royal court. He and Solomon Camondo, of the well-known family, purchased the concession for the sale of gum from the government. Ezekiel Gabbai was the royal banker and manager of the sultan's affairs (sarraf bashi). His grandson, Ezekiel Gabbai, also served in the highest offices during the reign of the sultans Abdu-l-Aziz and Abdu-l-Hamid. He brought great benefits to his coreligionists and in 1806 was the head of the community.

There were wealthy and influential Jews not only in the capital city but also in the offices of bankers in other countries of the empire.

[Jews in high scientific positions]

A large number of prominent physicians, specialists in different branches of medicine, served the courts of the sultans, the viziers, and the valis. This important office furnished them with a high personal status and also with the ability to exercise influence in the royal courts on behalf of Jews and Judaism throughout the empire. The Jewish physicians wore different clothes from other Jews, and instead of the yellow hat wore a tall pointed scarlet one. Some of them were freed from burdensome taxes.

[Physician Jacob Pasha and other Jewish physicians at the court of the Sultan]

The important physicians included Jacob Pasha, the physician to the sultan Murad II and his son Muhammad II. According to the account of his career, Jacob arrived in Adrianople and was granted tax exemption for himself and his descendants in perpetuity. Joseph *Hamon, of a family of physicians from the town of Granada, was physician to the sultans Bayazid II and Selim I. His son, Moses *Hamon, accompanied Selim I in 1516 to Egypt and Erez Israel during his conquests, and Suleiman I to Persia.

Through his great influence at court he brought benefits to Jews in the empire: he influenced the sultan to instruct the judges to pay no attention to the libels that Jews mix blood with the unleavened bread during the Passover festival. Other royal physicians at Suleiman's court included Don Gedaliah *Yahya, Abraham Levi Migas, Moses Bataril, and Judah de Segura, who with Joseph Hamon, son of Moses Hamon, was appointed to the office after the death of Moses Hamon.

Solomon Nathan Ashkenazi was the close adviser of the vizier Mehmed Sokolli during the reign of Selim II. He was the most powerful man in Constantinople after Don Joseph Nasi, and greatly assisted the Jews. He also remained in power during the reign of the sultans Murad III and Muhammad III.

Tobias b. Moses *Cohn was the physician of the vizier Mehmet Rami, the grand vizier of Mustafa II (col. 1552)

(1695-1703), as well as of Ahmed III (1703-30). Naphtali b. Mansur was the close adviser of Baltaji Ahmed Pasha. A physician named Benveniste attended the vizier Sivas Pasha; he had great influence upon the policies of the realm. Daniel de *Fonseca, of a Portuguese family, lived at the same time as Tobias b. Moses Cohn. An expert diplomat, he was appointed physician of Ahmed III. Eliezer Iskandari was physician of Sinan Pasha, the Egyptian viceroy and one of the grand viziers in time of the sultan Murad IV (1623-40) and of his son Muhammad IV (1648-87). He was also adviser on Jewish affairs. The female physician Boula Eksati, wife of the physician Solomon *Ashkenazi, was an expert in poxes and healed Sultan Ahmed I (1603-17).> (col. 1553)

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