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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in the Ottoman Empire 15: 1876-1908

Confrontation with racist Zionism - national revolution of 1908 and Jewish attendance

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

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




[Censorship under Abdu-l-Hamid II - Arabs and Ottoman government against Zionism - Jewish settlements thanks to corruption]

During the reign of the sultan Abdu-l-Hamid II (1876-1909) the attitude of the Sublime Porte [[Ottoman Empire]] toward the Jews was positive and there were four Jewish representatives on the first short-lived (1877-78) parliament, the mejlis mab'uthan (council of deputies), in which the Christian communities also participated. However, the despotic regime of the sultan led him to disregard the constitution that he had created, so that it never became effective.

Abdu-l-Hamid attempted to secure his power by a reversion to the worst methods of oriental despotism. every free intellectual and national impulse in his empire was destroyed from its beginnings. It is obvious that the *Hovevei Zion movement, the *Bilu aliyah, and the Zionist aspirations met with not only local opposition from the Arabs in Erez Israel, but even more with opposition from the Ottoman government in Constantinople. The attempts of Theodor *Herzl to change the attitude of Abdu-l-Hamid and his viziers were of no avail.

[[Herzl attempted to bribe the sultan with promises to help his state's finances in exchange for the permission of a "Jewish State" in Palestine]].

Aliyah to Erez Israel was severely restricted and could only be maintained due to the corruption of the bureaucracy.

[[Supplement: The Ottoman Empire stood now in a steady confrontation with Russian imperialism. Russia wanted to get the Dardanelles and access to the Mediterranean Sea. By this pressure the Ottoman Empire was dependent on help from the "democratic" colonial European states France and England and the sultan had more or less nothing to say any more. Nevertheless the government of the sultan realized big investments with e.g. the railway system in the Middle East which was destroyed in big parts by Jewish guerrilla forces between 1919 and 1948 in protest against the English neutrality to racist and militant Zionism]].

[1908: The national revolution against the sultan - tale of a "Jewish" revolution]

Some members of the Doenmeh sect took an active part in the formation of the ideology of the Ottoman Society of Union and Congress, which was the mother of the constitutional revolution against Abdu-l-Hamid and his government (1908). It is known that some prominent Jews were also members of the society, e.g., R. Hayyim *Bejerano (c. 1846-1931). However, the story that the revolution of 1908 was a "Jewish-Masonic plot" received wide circulation. Originating among various clerics and nationalists, the tale about the Jewish origin of the revolution was taken up by some British circles and during World War I seized upon by Allied propaganda as a means of discrediting their Turkish enemies.

As the Young Turks had been very successful in their propaganda among non-Ottoman Muslims, it seemed a good idea to demonstrate that they themselves were neither Turks nor Muslims. A characteristic statement is found in a book by an English author published in 1917: "... Djavid belongs to the Jewish sect of Dunmehs. Carasso is a Sephardini Jew from Salonika ..." The British scholar Bernard Lewis says that no doubt Turkish-speaking Ottoman Muslims of Balkan and other origin played a part in the movement. "There seems, however, to be no evidence at all, in the voluminous Turkish literature on the Young Turks, that Jews ever played a part of any significance in their councils, either before or after the Revolution ... The Salonika lawyer Carasso ... was a minor figure. Cavid ... was a doenmeh ... and not a real Jew; he seems in any case to have been the only member of his community to reach front rank ..." (B. Lewis: The Emergence of Modern Turkey, 207-8). In any case the developments in the Turkish Republic show that the attitude of the Young Turks toward the Jews as a nation was not influenced by the part supposedly played by the Jews in the origins of the society.


Jewish history inside the changing borders of the empire was rich in material and spiritual events. Extant sources, many of them still in manuscript or rare editions, have not yet been fully explored, and there is no doubt that extensive research will reveal important vistas in understanding many phenomena in the life of Jewish society - not only in the Orient. The Jews took part in the economic and political life of the empire, especially in the 16th century.

The Ottomans were tolerant of other religions, and their Jewish subjects lived in peace and security. Attempts to spread the blood libel (see above) were almost always suppressed by the government. Restrictions against Jews (see Covenant of *Omar) were never executed as strictly as in other countries. In the cities and towns of the Turkish provinces of the empire no Jewish quarters surrounded by walls are found. However, one negative (col. 1553)

conclusion must be drawn: The social segregation was much more strict than in the Arab Caliphate, in Morocco, or in Arabic Spain. [[because the Spanish and Portuguese immigrants did not learn Turkish!!]]

There was no cultural cooperation whatsoever between Ottoman-Turkish Islam and the Jews on any level. As far as is known a Jewish-Turkish vernacular never existed. There is no extant work of Jewish content written in Turkish language, even in Hebrew characters. A knowledge of Turkish was widespread among the Jews only during the time of the republic [[when the language became a national matter]].

The same is observed in the Arab-speaking countries; e.g., 400 years of Ottoman rule left no traces on Arab life in Erez Israel - except for the Hanafi rite in towns, because that was the ruling rite in the Turkish province of the empire, and the qadis who sat in the towns came from these parts of the empire. Thus the lack of mutual influence between Jews and turks cannot be ascribed to some specific peculiarity. On the contrary, rabbinic scholars of that period and their works, especially responsa, show a knowledge of the shari'a law and institutions which is astonishing, considering the general conditions. However, this field is still unexplored and research is yet to be done on it.> (col. 1554)

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