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The Jewish Community of Manissa

Manissa

Identical with the ancient Magnesia, today the chief town of the Turkish province bearing the same name, N.E. of Izmir.

A Jewish community probably existed in Manissa from the first century C.E., but there is no extant information on it. During the Byzantine period, there was a congregation in the town and a synagogue, Etz Ha-Chayyim. After 1492 groups of Jews expelled from Spain arrived in Manissa; they founded two congregations and two synagogues, Lorca and Toledo. Later, as a result of a dispute which broke out in the town, a third congregation, Shalom, was established. At the end of the 15th century, there were more than 100 Jewish families in the town. With the rising importance of Izmir, and as a result of a plague which broke out in the town in 1617, many families left for Izmir. During this period the local rabbi was Rabbi Aaron Lapapa. At the beginning of the 19th century, the synagogues were renovated and a plot of land was consecrated for a new cemetery. In 1837 200 Jews died of the plague. In 1838 the Jewish community numbered about 1,200. There were blood libels against the Jews in the town in 1883 and 1893.

In 1891 the first school for boys was founded, and in 1896 this was followed by a school for girls. Both were administered by the Alliance Israelite Universelle. At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community numbered about 2,000, out of a total population of some 40,000. During this period two additional synagogues were built. After the conquest of the region by the Greeks in 1919, the Jews continued to support the Turks. They did not fly the Greek flag on their institutions and did not attend the Congress (August 1922) which demanded autonomy for Izmir and its surroundings.

When the Greeks retreated in 1922, a great fire broke out in the town, as a result of which a number of Jewish institutions, including the yeshivah, were destroyed. In the late 1930s the community numbered only 30 families. The principal occupations of the Jews were commerce - the export of agricultural products (fruit, tobacco, and raisins) and the import of manufactured goods - and crafts - tailoring, shoemaking, money changing; there were also some farm owners. A few Jews served as physicians in the government hospitals, as judges, and as translators in the foreign consulates of the town. In the mid-20th century many families emigrated to the USA, South Africa, Egypt, and Israel. By 1970 no Jews were living in Manissa.

Place Type:
City
ID Number:
213709
Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People
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Chaim (Haim) Nahum (Nahoum) (1872-1960), rabbi, born in Manissa (Magnesia), Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire). He was educated in Tiberias, before going back to Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey), where he attended high school, and Istanbul where he studied law. From 1893-97 he studied in Paris, France, where he was ordained at the rabbinical seminary. Back in Istanbul, Nahum worked for the community and was deputy director of the rabbinical seminary as well as teaching history at the Military Academy. A supporter of the Young Turk movement, he was appointed Hacham Bashi - Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire after the Young Turks came to power in 1908. When they lost power in 1920, he moved to Paris and five years later was elected Chief Rabbi of Cairo, Egypt, where he remained until his death. In 1931, the king of Egypt appointed him to the senate and in 1933 Nahum became a member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo. He published works of historical research.

Chaim (Haim) Nahum (Nahoum) (1872-1960), rabbi, born in Manissa (Magnesia), Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire). He was educated in Tiberias, before going back to Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey), where he attended high school, and Istanbul where he studied law. From 1893-97 he studied in Paris, France, where he was ordained at the rabbinical seminary. Back in Istanbul, Nahum worked for the community and was deputy director of the rabbinical seminary as well as teaching history at the Military Academy. A supporter of the Young Turk movement, he was appointed Hacham Bashi - Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire after the Young Turks came to power in 1908. When they lost power in 1920, he moved to Paris and five years later was elected Chief Rabbi of Cairo, Egypt, where he remained until his death. In 1931, the king of Egypt appointed him to the senate and in 1933 Nahum became a member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo. He published works of historical research.

Turkey

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti - Republic of Turkey

A country in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe. 

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 15,000 out of 82,000,000 (0.01%).  Main Jewish organization:

Jewish Community of Turkey
Website: www.turkyahudileri.com

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Turkey

1923 | Father of the Turkish Nation

WW1 heralded the end of the great empires era – the Czarist Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the enormous Ottoman Turkish Empire, which at various times stretched from Southeastern Europe to North Africa.
The collapse of the Turkish giant and the disintegration of the empire were fertile ground for mayhem and friction between many different ethnic groups, mostly Turks and Greeks.
On July 24th, 1923, in the picturesque Swiss city of Lausanne representatives of the Turks, the British, the French, the Italians and the Greeks met to put the Asia Minor puzzle back together again following the end of the Ottoman Empire.
The Treaty of Lausanne set the borders of modern Turkey, which turned from an Empire with a religious and traditional character to a democratic, secular, and national, even nationalistic state.
Under the new ruler, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey underwent an aggressive process of modernization and secularization. The institution of the caliphate, the title of Pasha, the madrassas (religious schools) and Sharia, or Islamic law, were all abolished and relegated to the past. Ataturk (which means “Father of the Turks” in Turkish) believed in ethnic homogeneity, and therefore the Lausanne treaty included mass population exchanges, in which over two million Greeks and Turks were uprooted from their homes.
Under the treaty, the Turkish regime was required to allow minorities the right to maintain their culture. Ataturk was not impressed by this obligation. He banned the display of religious symbols in public and among other steps, restricted the teaching of Hebrew at schools. Despite this, many of the Jews of Turkey identified with the patriotic wave washing over the country and gave up the characteristics that defined them as a minority.

1926 | Princes of High Tide and Low

The US Consul in Istanbul, Bey Randall, aptly described the state of the Jews in the early years of Ataturk's rule: “During the Ottoman period”, he wrote, “while Jews managed to obtain basic political rights, they were generally treated as one of the lowest groups in the empire. Upon the establishment of modern Turkey Jews won a place in all walks of Turkish life: as stock brokers, bankers, practitioners of free professions, clerks and officials, and even won key positions in the trade unions.” However, historians mark 1926 as the end of the high tide for Turkish Jews and the beginning in the low, reaching a nadir during WW2.
Like any country during a war, let alone a world war, even neutral Turkey needed cash. To that end, the Turkish authorities levied a differential tax upon its populace – a tax not set by a citizen's income, but by their ethnicity. Muslims paid less. Others – and most of all the Jews – paid more. Much more.
The tax laid very heavily on the Jews and expedited their departure from the country, and in addition, the Turkish press at the time was pro-Nazi and claimed that the Jews have “foreign blood” and are “Turkish in name only”. Expressions of anti-Semitism soon followed. And yet, during WW2 Turkey gave shelter to a small number of Jewish refugees.
Towards the end of the war, as it became clear that the Axis Powers were facing defeat, the discriminatory tax was repealed and the remaining debts incurred under it were expunged.

1948 | We Hereby Declare!

In 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the State of Israel and the Turkish government declared another expansion of religious freedoms. Some 35,000 Jews made aliyah from Turkey that year; the children of those who stayed were allowed to study basic Hebrew at one of the five Jewish schools in Istanbul. However teaching of general studies was permitted only in Turkish.
In those years the Jewish cultural circle in Turkey expanded, including among other manifestations three Jewish periodicals. Two of them - “Shalom” and “La Vera Luz” were printed in Ladino, and the third, “HaMenorah”, was published by the Bnei Brith organization and was distributed in three languages: Hebrew, French and Ladino. These were also the years that saw the work of Jewish poet Joseph Habib Gerez, whose writing extolled the greatness of Istanbul, and Avraham Galanti – a columnist, historian and prolific researcher, who wrote many books about the Jews of Turkey.
Turkish Jews also left a mark on the country's plastic arts. In the first half of the 20th century Ataturk invited painting teacher Leopold Levy to head the Istanbul Art Institute. Levy, who believed in the heritage of European impressionism and expressionism, breathed life into the moribund art world of Istanbul, and the greatest Turkish painter owe him a great debt for doing so.
The economic situation of the Jews also improved markedly compared to that during WW2. Many of them engaged in commerce and art, served as government officials and practiced various free professions. In the 1950s and 1960s the Jews of Turkey lived with their neighbors in peace, save for a few anti-Semitic outbursts following Israel's victory over the Arab states in the Six Day War of 1967.

1970 | Wanted: A Language Reviver

In the early 1970s there were 30-35,000 Jews living in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul. 95% of them were descendants of the Spanish Expulsion, and the rest scions of Jews who immigrated from Poland and Austria in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Austrian-descended Jews, who were considered the elite of the community, founded the great synagogue of Istanbul among others, which was known as the “Austrian Synagogue”. In 1951 the Sephardi community founded another famous Istanbul synagogue, Neve Shalom, which in 1986 was the scene of a horrific attack, when two terrorists entered it in the guise of reporters and murdered 22 worshipers.
For hundreds of years, the heart and soul of the Sephardi community in Turkey was the Ladino language, but nothing lasts forever. While in 1927 84% of Jews in Turkey declared Ladino to be their mother tongue, in a 1955 survey that figure dropped to 64%, and in 2013 Jewish-Turkish author Mario Levy told the daily “Israel Hayom” that his twin daughters, then 25 years old, do not know a word of Ladino. As of 2015, Ladino culture in Turkey is dying out.

2015 | Tense Relations

In 2014 Turkey was home to approximately 17,000 Jews, most in Istanbul and about 2,000 people in Izmir and other cities. Many of the Jews of Turkey maintain the flames of Jewish tradition to this day. Istanbul has 16 synagogues and a well-kept cemetery, tightly guarded from hostile actions.
Due to the harsh relations between Israel and Turkey in the past ten years, especially since the “Mavi Marmara” affair in 2010 and the recalling of the Turkish Ambassador from Israel, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the country. Jews report a growing fear of walking the streets in clothing indicative of their Jewish origins, and many are leaving the country, mostly to the United States and Europe.

Izmir

Also known as Smyrna

Early History

Izmir (historically Smyrna) is the principal seaport of Western Anatolia on the coast of the Aegean Sea and provincial capital of the Turkish Vilayet (province) of Aydin, the third largest city in the Republic of Turkey.

The city had a Jewish population in the antiquity, as mentioned in the New Testament (Rev. 1:11; 2:8). Apparently, the Jews had some influence on the local pagan population with some of them converted to Judaism; however, the appearance of Christianity had reduced the power of the Jewish community, although only a minority of the local Jews accepted the new religion. A Jewish community in Smyrna is mentioned again in Christian sources narrating the martyrdom of Polycarp in the second century. Additional archeological evidence of Greek inscriptions from the second and the third century C.E. indicate that the community had the authority to punish any person who displayed disrespect toward it. Another inscription mentions Rufina, a woman described as the "Mother of the Synagogue". A depiction of a menorah similar to the one represented on the Triumphal Arch of the Roman Emperor Titus in Rome appears on a seal discovered in the proximity of Izmir. There are almost no mentions of a
Jewish settlement in Smyrna during the Byzantine times and it is possible that the local Jewish community disappeared for most of the medieval epoch, although Jewish communities continued to subsist in a number of neighboring towns. Smyrna, at the time an unimportant town, became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1424, following its capture from the Byzantines. Testimonies of Sephardi Jews arriving in Smyrna during the 16th century suggest the existence of a local small Romaniot Jewish community. The first Jews arrived in Izmir in the 1530s, following their expulsion (surgun, in Turkish) by the Ottomans from Belgrad, Serbia, in 1521, and Buda, Hungary, in 1524. Gravestones with Jewish motifs dating from 1540 and 1565 and found in Izmir indicate a Jewish presence in the city during the 16th century. It appears that a Jewish Sephardi-Portuguese community made up of Jewish immigrants from other cities in Asia as well as from Northern Africa and Venice was established in 1569, although
there is no evidence of its existence or of any other organized Jewish community in contemporary Ottoman documents. The great wave of Sephardi immigration into the Ottoman Empire skipped over Izmir for most of the 16th century; they began to settle in any significant numbers only towards the end of the 16th century, when gradually Izmir turned into a major Ottoman seaport.


The Golden Age of the 17th Century

The development of the Jewish community of Izmir started in the early 17th century corresponding with the increased economic status of the city as a major transit seaport, especially for the commerce with Anatolia and the countries beyond the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, Izmir was included into the Sanjak (province) of Sigala, one of the most prosperous in the empire. The new Jewish settlers came mainly from among Sephardi refugees, although the great majority arrived in Izmir after first settling in other cities in the Ottoman Empire. A major group of settlers came from Istanbul; they were joined by Jewish immigrants from small Jewish communities in Western Anatolia as well as from Crete, Corfu, Janina (now in Greece), Ankara, and especially Salonika. Etz Hayim, Portugal, and Gerush, were among the first congregations to have been established in Izmir in the early 17th century, possibly consisting of descendants of 16th cent. settlers. The majority of Jewish
inhabitants were Ottoman subjects and according to the Muslim law were considered ahl al-dhimma - protected non-Muslims, an inferior status in the Muslim society. Jews enjoyed relative religious freedom and were able to administer separate educational and judiciary institutions. The community, known in Turkish law as taifa or kamat, and after mid 19th century, as millet, was free to collect taxes from its members in order to support its activity. Resulting from their status as dhimmis, Jews were compelled to pay a special tax – jizya (cizye or harac, in Turkish) – to the Ottoman authorities that promised them protection of their lives and property. For practical reasons, the community paid the jizya in one inclusive sum for all its members. However, the Muslim law was not strictly enforced and the Jews of Izmir were allowed to build new synagogues, of which there were already six by the mid years of the 17th century, despite a regulation permitting only renovation of exiting
synagogues and forbidding the building of new ones.

Jewish merchants of Portuguese extraction including many former conversos who returned to Judaism and settled in Italy and other European countries before immigrating to the Ottoman Empire, were called Francos and formed a distinct group within the Jewish community. During the 17th century the Francos of Izmir generally enjoyed the protection of European powers, for instance they were under the protection of France until 1693, and then for short periods under that of the Dutch consul. The Ottoman authorities regarded the Francos as musta'min – foreigners living in a Muslim country, and tended to turn them into dhimmis, especially after 1696. The Jewish community did not recognize and difference in the status of the Francos, although they tried to evade some of their obligations towards the community.

R. Yitzhak Meir HaLevy (d.1634) of Constantinople was the first rabbi in Izmir in 1606. The 1620s saw the influx of many new Jewish settlers from Salonika. Rabbi Joseph Escapa of Salonika (d.1662) was appointed the first rabbi of the Salonikan Jews, in c1620. After 1631, there was in Izmir a chief rabbi over all local congregations, whose number grew to six by 1644. They were mostly of Sephardi origin, but the city also had a small Ashkenazi congregation. Following the death of R.Y. Meir HaLevy in 1634, another rabbi from Salonika, Azariah Joshua Ashkenazi (d.1647), came to Izmir and was elected a colleague to R. J. Escapa, the chief rabbi. Following a bitter controversy that arose between the two rabbis, the community split into two factions, each supporting one rabbi. The dispute reflected differences in the way Salonikan Jews interpreted and practiced certain Jewish traditions concerning dietary laws, mourning practices, the counting of the Omer, ritual slaughter and Tisha Be-Av,
among others, as opposed by the traditions of the immigrants from Istanbul. It was only after the death of R. A.J. Ashkenazi in 1647 and the intervention of the chief rabbi in Constantinople that all congregations in Izmir once again recognized R. Escapa’s authority. The fingerprint of R. Escapa's administrative activities was evident for many generations thanks to the takkanot concerning taxes that he issued and that were respected by the Jews of Izmir and the surrounding towns. He was instrumental in consolidating Jews of various backgrounds and traditions into a common community. R. Escapa's achievements were pursued by a series of distinguished rabbis including R. Aaron Lapapa (d.1667), R. Solomon Algazi, and R. Hayim Benveniste (1603-1673) that helped transform the Jewish community into a major Jewish center of the 17th century. Its significance became evident in the important halakhic studies composed by local rabbis, especially Knesset Ha-Gedolah ("Great Assembly"), a
commentary by R. Hayim Benveniste on the Shulkhan Aruch, and the ethics treatise Shevet Musar ("Staff of Reproof") by R. Eliyah HaKohen (d.1729) of Izmir. The community comprised many affluent members that supported large yeshivot and Jewish schools. It also excelled as a center of Jewish learning: the prestige of its religious leaders having been recognized by many other Jewish communities in Anatolia, a Hebrew printing press established in 1657 and several celebrated physicians contributed to the fame of the Izmir community. Izmir was the birthplace of Shabbetai Zvi (1626-1676), the false messiah who received the support of large sections of the Jewish people all over the Diaspora. A student of R. Joseph Escapa, Shabbetai Zvi traveled to a number of Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire. His return to Izmir in September 1665 caused a great furor in the community when a majority of the local Jews converted to his teachings – ma'aminim ("believers") in the Shabbatean terminology.
They included R. Hayim Benveniste, one of the chief rabbis of Izmir. The opponents of Shabbetai Zvi grouped around R. Aaron Lapapa, the other chief rabbi, who was subsequently expulsed from Izmir leaving R. Benveniste the sole chief rabbi of the city. Throughout the four months of Shabbetai Zvi's sojourn in Izmir during the fall of 1665, the city became a centre of Messianic enthusiasm counting at least 150 "prophets", with the regular economic activities interrupted by a succession of festive days of dancing and processions intermingled with days of collective penitence. Whoever opposed the Shabbatean movement was persecuted and some had to flee the city, as did Solomon Algazi, himself an important scholar and renowned kabbalist, who was forced to take refuge in the nearby community of Magnesia. Following Shabbetai Zvi's apostasy, it took some time for the Jewish community of Izmir to settle down the virulent conflicts brought about by the false messiah.

Most Jews in Izmir were active as traders, agents, translators, and artisans. Their commercial ties extended from Persia and Syria in the East, to the countries of Western Europe, and especially to the main seaports of the Mediterranean that used to have important Jewish communities of their own. In 1688, an earthquake destroyed Izmir and killed some 400 Jews, among them the chief rabbi Aaron ben Hayim.


The 18th and 19th Centuries

During the 18th and the 19th centuries, the Jewish community of Izmir continued to flourish as its economic activity moved to the manufacture, especially of wool from goat's fleece, and of carpets. The European trade of the local Jews flourished after 1774, with many acting as exporters of cereals, figs, oil, raisins, carpets, licorice and beans. Jews also acted as dragomans (translators and local agents) for European merchants, banking houses and consulates. A special mention should be made of Moshe Soncino who was controller of the customhouse in 1718 and Moshe Arditi, a governmental treasurer in 1812. During the 19th century, especially after the liberal reforms known as Tanzimat were introduced in the Ottoman Empire bringing about an end to the formal discrimination against the dhimmis, an increasing number of Jews held various positions in the local municipal government and judicial court. There had also been numerous Jewish physicians and surgeons in the Jewish community of
Izmir, some of them plague specialists. However, the fortunes of the Jewish community of Izmir were impaired by frequent disasters: great fires (1743, 1772, 1841, and 1881), at least eleven epidemics of cholera between 1770 and 1892, and a number of powerful earthquakes. The great fire of 1772 was particularly destructive leaving the community for 28 years with no standing synagogue, until the Ottoman authorities issued authorizations for new buildings. During this long period, the Jews of Izmir were constrained to pray in specially adapted private houses.

The intellectual life of the community was bolstered with the establishment of a printing house in 1657 by Abraham ben Jedidiah Gabbai, an immigrant from Livorno, Italy. Rosh Yosef by R. J. Escapa was the first book published in Izmir. In addition to several Hebrew books, Gabbai printed a second edition of Mikve Yisrael – Esperanza de Israel ("The Hope of Israel") by R. Manassh Ben Israel and Apologia por la noble nacion de los Judios, by Eduardo Nicholas, both books in Spanish with Latin characters, the last one being a translation from English by R. Manasseh. Izmir became the third printing center in the Ottoman Empire, after Constantinople and Salonika. More than 400 titles, mostly of rabbinical literature were printed in the Izmir from the 18th until the early 20th century by twelve various printers, Ben Senior (1913-1922) being the last one. Local rabbis were the authors of many of the works printed in Izmir. R. Joseph ben Elijah Chazzan's commentaries Ein Yosef were published
in Izmir already in 1675, it was followed by R. Aaron Alfandari's Yad Aharon (Izmir, 1735), and R. Abraham ibn Ezra's Battei Knessiyot (Salonika, 1806). Other important authors include R. Isaac B. Moshe Nunez Belmonte and R. Isaac Di Mayo (d.1810), who both composed commentaries on Maimonides' Yad Hazaka: Sha'ar ha- Melekh (Salonika, 1801) and Shorashei Ha-Yam (Salonika, 1807), respectively. R. Hayim Palaggi (Palache) (1788-1868), chief rabbi of Izmir and of another six neighboring communities after 1855 and appointed Hakham Bashi of Izmir by the Ottoman authorities in 1856, is the author of over more than 70 works, most of them have been published. R. Joseph Hazzan's (1741-1820) seven-volume collection of response Chikrei Lev (Salonika, 1806) and R. Nissim Abraham Ashkenazi's Nechmad le-Mareh commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud (Salonika, 1832) are additional important works composed by the Izmir rabbis. Several important rabbis of Izmir emigrated to the Land of Israel: R. Hayim b.
Jacob Abulafia (d. 1744), a native of Tiberias, was chief rabbi of Izmir from 1720 to 1740, when he returned to Tiberias along with his disciples and restored the Jewish settlement in that city, having received the assistance of the Istanbul Committee Officials of the Land of Israel that were in charge of organizing immigration and pilgrimages to the Land of Israel. Other rabbis of Izmir who settled in the Land of Israel include R. Hayim Moda'i (d. 1794), a Safed-born chief rabbi of Izmir from 1776 till 1793, when he returned to Safed, and R. Joseph Hazzan (1741- 1820) who settled in Hebron in 1813 and then in Jerusalem, where he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel.

There were numerous synagogues in Izmir. Bikkur Holim, one of the earliest, was founded in 1690 by Solomon de Ciaves, a Dutch merchant who settled in Izmir. The Shalom or Ayndilis synagogue, also known as Shabbetai Zvi synagogue or Kahal de abacho, is thought to have been founded in the 17th century. The Portuguese synagogue was established in 1710, The Mahazikei Torah in 1722, the Algazi also known as Kahal de ariva, in 1728. The Segnora (Geveret) synagogue was named after Dona Gracia Mendes and believed to have been founded by her. However, the natural catastrophes that repeatedly hit the city destroyed the original buildings. New synagogues were established in the 19th century, among them the Shalom synagogue (1800), the Forasteros, and Beth Levi (1898). Many of the old synagogues of Izmir are distinguished by a unique architectural style. Their praying hall is either rectangular or square and divided into nine equal sections by four ceiling supporting columns situated in the
center. The interior decorations are generally of wood and reflect local decorating traditions common to Western Anatolia and the adjacent Greek islands of eastern Aegean Sea. It should pointed out that the building of the Mahazikei Torah synagogue, also known as the Sonsino synagogue, provoked the anger of the local Turkish authorities who subsequently ordered its demolition because of its alleged resemblance to the local Hisar Cami mosque. It took the community many efforts to cancel this edict. By the end of the 19th century in the Shalom, Talmud Torah and other synagogues belonging to this architectural style, the tevah was been moved towards the western wall reflecting an Italian influence. Beth El synagogue, the largest and most elegant in Izmir, was built by specially employed Italian artisans in the 1900s. It shows modern European influences, notably by the location of the tevah close to the Holy Ark towards the eastern wall. By the end of the 19th century, there were in
Izmir a total of ten synagogues and eight prayer-houses.

During the 19th century, the cultural activity diversified with the publication of the first Jewish newspaper - Puerta del Oriente - founded by Pincherle in 1846. It was followed in the 19th century by at least other five periodicals, among them La Buena Esperanza (1871-1910), El Novelista (1889-1922), and El Messerret (1897-1922), all published in Ladino, the language of the local Jews. After 1838, more than 110 books were published in Ladino, and by the end of the 19th century, many were volumes of poetry, novels, and stories, besides religious works. The Jewish traditional education and learning declined with fewer yeshivot and students; however, in 1847 Abraham Enriquez founded a new Talmud Torah that was subsequently enlarged in 1871. The first Alliance Israelite Universelle school for boys of was opened in 1878 followed a year later by a school for girls. A second vocational school for girls with 34 students was opened in 1884. By 1895 there were in Izmir four Jewish schools
for boys with about 2,500 students and two Jewish schools for girls with some 500 students

The first Jewish hospital was opened in 1805; after 1840, the Rothschild family of Vienna enlarged and financed it for some years. The Rothschild hospital was closed in 1911, but three years later, a new Jewish hospital was opened in the Karatas district. During the 19th century, several charitable volunteer associations fulfilled many of the social and welfare activities of the community. Bikkur Holim and Bikkur Holim shel Nashim served as a Hevra Kadisha, while Hevra Kedosha shel Gvarim was responsible with the maintenance of the cemeteries. The needy families received financial support from Ozer Dalim association, and Hachnasat Orchim was in charge of foreign Jewish visitors to Izmir. There were additional associations who carried for orphans, underprivileged brides and needy patients. Part of the expenses of the Talmud Torah and the Jewish hospital were met from the revenues generated by a lottery organized by Gemillut Hassadim association. In addition, the community received
substantial financial support from a number of donors: a new cemetery in the neighborhood of Burnabat was purchased with the help of Alexander Sidi while Nissim Crispin dedicated his efforts to the benefit of the Alliance schools. The Barons Edmond de Rothschild and Maurice de Hirsch, too, contributed to the welfare of the Jewish community of Izmir.

The leadership of the community consisted of two main bodies: the Beth Din who acted as a legal court and dealt with the civil and commercial disputes among Jews and sometimes also with disputes between Jews and non-Jews. It generally had between three to seven members and sometimes was headed by the chief rabbi of Izmir. The Community Council, on the other hand, had twelve members elected annually. The Council was responsible with the administrative functions of the community, including collecting the taxes. In the second half of the 19th century, the community adopted new and more democratic methods of governing. They lead to an increased participation of the community members in the decision making process and on the other hand to the introduction of some limits to the authority of the chief rabbi.

The earliest Jewish cemetery located in Barhi Baba had been in use since the 17th century until the early 19th century, it was destroyed in early 20th century to make room for the new urban developments. In addition to the Burnabat cemetery, the Gurt Cesme cemetery was used between the end of the 19th century until the 1930s. The new cemetery still in use opened in the 1930s.

The 19th century saw a degradation of the general relations between the Jewish community and the Greek population of Izmir. Already in the late 18th century anti Jewish accusations had been vociferated by some sections of the Greek population; during the second half of the 19th century there was an upsurge in blood-label accusations with six cases between 1864 and 1901. The Ottoman police interfered to protect the Jewish population, most notably in 1872, when two Jews were murdered because of the Greek attacks, and in 1901, when the Greek mob threatened to storm the Jewish neighborhoods.

During the 19th century some Jews managed to obtain the protection of European powers, especially there was a significant number of families who became Italian nationals, followed by small numbers of French citizens while others, like the Palache and the Leon families, acquired the protection of the Netherlands.


The 20th Century

The Jewish population of Izmir has been since the middle of the 19th century in a steadily decline. Out of about 40,000 Jews in 1868, making Izmir the third largest Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire, after Salonika and Istanbul, there remained only 25,000 in the early years of the 20th century. The second number included a small Ashkenazi community founded by Jewish refugees from Russia in 1905. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the ensuing Turko-Greek war (1919-1921) that had ravaged the region of Izmir and badly damaged the city, brought about a renewed exodus of the local Jews with many moving to Greece or emigrating to France, the United States, and Argentina. In 1927, there were about 17,000 Jews in Izmir, and twenty years later approximately 15,000. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, some 10,000 Jews of Izmir made aliyah. In the early 1960s, there were less than 2,000 Jews in Izmir, but later their number grew to about 3,000 in the 1970s. There are
now about 2,400 Jews in Izmir out of a total population of 2,300,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest Jewish community in Turkey, after Istanbul.

There were a number of volunteer associations active in the Jewish community of Izmir: Liga de Pas ("The Association of Peace and Solidarity"), known after 1925 by its Turkish name – Yardim ve Kardeslik Cemiyeti ("The Brotherhood Association of Assistance"), was founded in 1909 and devoted its activities to the modernization of the community.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), the Jewish community of Izmir was instrumental in rescuing about one thousand Jews from the German occupied Greek Aegean islands. After December 1943, with the help of Greek partisans, groups of Greek Jews had been smuggled to Turkey in small boats. The Jewish community of Izmir offered to shelter them until the British authorities in Istanbul issued them the necessary authorizations to emigrate to Palestine.

The dramatic decline in population during the early 1950s caused the shutting down of several community institutions, among them the Alliance Israelite Universelle school, though it was opened again in 1959. In the 1960s there functioned only one Jewish school and two synagogues, the community still maintained a hospital and a rabbinical court headed by Chief Rabbi Moreno Siegora until his death in 1966. In 1970, there were still some organized youth activities.

Most of the Jews who remained in Izmir during the last decades of the 20th century were active as merchants, some of them exporters and industrialists. The general economic situation of the community was good and they enjoyed good relations with the local Turkish population, except for some attacks on Jewish shops during the demonstrations connected with the problem of Cyprus in September 1955.

The current religious life of the Izmir community is concentrated mainly around two synagogues: the Beth El synagogue and Shaar Hashamaym, a new synagogue located in the modern district of Alsancak that also houses the offices of the local rabbinate and community. The cultural activities are promoted by the Liga benevolent association established in 1990. However, the veteran Talmud Torah school was closed in 1998 and the remaining students transferred to the local American school. Some 150 children attend a Jewish elementary school with Turkish as the language of instruction and Hebrew taught for 15 hours a week. The Jewish hospital in Karatas now admits non-Jewish patients as well. An old age home is located in an adjoining building.

Toledo

City in Castile, central Spain; capital of Spain until 1561.

According to a Jewish tradition dating from the period of Muslim rule, the Jewish settlement in Toledo was the most ancient in the Iberian Peninsula. This tradition was accepted by Isaac Abrabanel who states (in his commentary to the book of Kings, at the end, and to Obadiah, 20) that the first settlers in Toledo were exiles from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Jews probably established themselves there when the town became the capital of the Visigoths, or during the fourth to fifth centuries c.e.

Toledo is one of the few towns of Spain where remnants of Jewish edifices have been preserved. Toward the close of the 15th century the sources mention ten synagogues and a further five battei midrash. Toledo also has many remnants of Jewish tombstones, some of which are preserved in the archaeological museum of the town.

During the 11th century, when Toledo was ruled by the Muslims, it had a large Jewish population of about 4,000, divided into separate communities generally according to place of origin and a group who were of Khazar descent.
Toledo was also the center of the Karaites in Spain. Jewish occupations included textile manufacture, tanning, and dyeing, military professions and commerce. Toledo became a center of Jewish scholarship, translation, and science; the astronomer Zarkal (Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ben Yachya) lived there for a time in the mid-11th century, and the biblical commentator Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Bal'am was born and educated in Toledo in this period. The situation of the Jews in Toledo remained unchanged after the town was conquered by Alfonso VI in 1085. During the 12th century it continued a center of learning and Jews and apostates were among those who translated works of mathematics, astronomy, and other subjects from Arabic into the spoken vernacular and from that language into Latin. From then on, the community developed until it became the most prominent in the kingdom of Castile and one of the most important in Spain. During this period some of the most distinguished who apparently left the town in 1119; Moses Ibn Ezra who stayed there; and Joseph Ibn Kamaniel, the physician, one of the wealthiest members of the community who was entrusted with an important diplomatic mission to the king of Portugal. The language spoken by the Jews of Toledo and employed in their documents during the 11th to 13th centuries was partly Arabic; they customarily wrote their documents in Arabic with Hebrew characters. These sources reveal a well-developed economic life. Jews of Toledo are recorded as having sold or purchased land, as lenders and borrowers, and are also found in partnerships with Christians in real estate transactions and in commerce.

The administrative organization of the community does not appear to have changed throughout its existence. There is no information on the administrative organization during Muslim rule, but a responsum, attributed to rabbi Joseph Ibn Mega, mentions the existence, in the early 12th century, of an organization headed by seven notables and elders and a bet din. The procedure for solving problems was to be taken by decision of four elders, Muqaddimun of the community, and two Jews chosen by the archbishop.

A period of crisis occurred at the time of the revolt of crown prince Sancho against his father (1280-81). A contemporary author relates that the community of Toledo was shaken "as Sodom and Gomorrah". Alfonso X ordered the imprisonment of the Jews in their synagogues, from which they were not to be released until the community paid him a special tax. Notables of the community remained in prison for many months. Attempts were even made there to convert them and several were executed.

During his own lifetime, Maimonides was challenged in Toledo by a notable adversary, Meir rabbi Todros Ha-Levi Abulafia, whose opinions were shared by the physician Judah B. Joseph Al-Fakhar, and Joseph Ben Todros Ha-Levi. They regarded the writings of Maimonides to be dangerous in that they could undermine faith. The controversy over the study of the writings of Maimonides received particular impetus in Toledo in 1304-05, at the time of the publication of the correspondence between Solomon Ben Adret and Abba Mari Astruc on the subject of the cherem issued against the study of the guide of the perplexed.

At the beginning of the 14th century, an attempt was made by the clergy in Toledo to compel the Jews to cease from engaging in moneylending; they also compelled the Jews to return the interest which they had taken and to cancel the obligations of payment which Christians had undersigned.
Ferdinand IV notified the clergy that he would bring them to account if they continued to impose a boycott on the Jews or sought to persecute them before the church tribunals. Nevertheless in a number of cases the king accepted the arguments of the clergy, and Jewish moneylenders of Toledo were arrested, tried before Christian judges, and condemned to lengthy terms of imprisonment.

The Black Death (1348) took a heavy toll among the community of Toledo. During the reign of Pedro the Cruel (1350-60), Don Samuel Ben Meir Ha-Levi Abulafia acted as chief agent and treasurer of the king. In 1358 he left for Portugal to negotiate a political agreement, and he was signatory to several royal edicts. He was suddenly arrested in 1360 upon the order of king Pedro, and removed to Seville, where he died at the hands of his torturers. Other Jews after him were lessees and courtiers, more particularly members of the Ha-Levi and Beneveniste families of Burgos.

In 1355, when the king entered Toledo, Christians and Muslims attacked the Jewish quarters. The town changed hands several times; when Pedro once more besieged the city, in 1368-69, 8,000 Jews perished. While the Toledo community was still endeavoring to recover from the effects of the civil war, it was overtaken by the persecutions which swept Spain in 1391 and brought down upon it ruin and destruction. The riots against the Jews in Toledo broke out on 17 Tammuz. Almost all the synagogues were destroyed or set on fire, and the battei midrash became mounds of ruins. Many abandoned Judaism at that time, and Toledo became filled with Conversos. The community of Toledo did not recover throughout the 15th century. Vicente Ferrer visited Toledo in 1411. He entered the Jewish quarter with an armed escort and converted the Ibn Shoshan synagogue into a church. There is reason to believe that a number of Jews converted to Christianity as a result of the sermon he delivered. When Isabella ascended the throne and the country became united with the kingdom of Aragon, Jews of Toledo again held important positions in the kingdom as lessees and courtiers. However, while in Toledo in 1480, the catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella decided on their anti-Semitic policy.

Jews were living in Toledo as forced converts during two periods. The first was under the Visigoths, and the second period of religious persecution and forced apostasy was from the end of the 14th century. The Conversos of Toledo continued to live in the quarters they had formerly occupied as Jews, until the 1480s. Many pamphlets of satire which ridiculed the Conversos were composed, while forged letters were circulated of a supposed correspondence between Chamorro, the "head" of the community of Toledo, with Yusuf, the "head" of the Jews of Constantinople, concerning a project to destroy Christianity. Attempts to conduct inquiries in Toledo against suspected heresy, in inquisition style, were inspired by the monk Alfonso de Espina during the 1460s. In 1485 the rabbis of Toledo were ordered to proclaim a cherem against the Jews who refused to testify before the inquisition if they knew of Conversos who observed the Jewish precepts. In 1486, and the beginning of 1487, 4,000 of the inhabitants of the town and the vicinity were involved in five autos-da-fe; some of them returned to the fold of the church and others were burned at the stake.

The Jews of Toledo were expelled with the other Jews of Spain in 1492, and the last exiles left Toledo on the seventh of Av. They left behind them the debts owed to them by Christians, and the government determined the procedure for their collection.

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

South Africa

Republic of South Africa (RSA)

The southernmost country in Africa.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 69,000 out of 56,500,000

South African Jewish Board of Deputies

Telephone: +27 11 645 2523
Fax: +27 11 640 1662
Email: sajbd@sajbd.org
Website: www.sajbd.org

President: Mary Kluk, also WJC Vice-President
National Chairman: Jeff Katz
National Director: Wendy Kahn

Egypt

مَصر‎ 

Arab Republic of Egypt

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 100 out of 94,000,000

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Egypt 

586 BCE | Fleeing South to Freedom

The founding story of the Jewish people is the biblical Book of Exodus. “In each and every generation,” the Haggadah says, “one must regard oneself as though he himself came out of Egypt” - a statement which can be interpreted as release from mental molds, from our internal Egypt, binding us and inhibiting us on our way to freedom.
But let us leave the psychology aside and move on to history: researchers speak of an ethnic group known as the Habiru (or Hebrews) who left Egypt around the 13th century BCE. Some scholars identify this group with our ancestors and the Biblical Exodus narrative.
The next mention of Jews in Egypt comes in 586 BCE, when the Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem and brought about the Babylonian exile.
In Jeremiah 43 it is told that the Babylonians appointed one Gedaliah Ben Achikam as governor of the small Judean population remaining in the country. Due to internal conflict, Gedaliah was murdered. His killing is considered the first political assassination in Jewish history. Following the murder and the Jews' fear of revenge, a group headed by the prophet Jeremiah got together and fled to Egypt and to freedom.

410 BCE | Soldiers Of Fortune

One of the most intriguing mentions of Jews in Egypt refers to an ancient and mysterious city named Elephantine (Yeb, in Hebrew). This city sat on an island in the Nile, at a strategic location – just south of the major city of Aswan. Records unearthed in archaeological excavations indicate that the Jews of Elephantine made their living mostly as mercenaries. Historians believe that the Persian Empire, which then ruled Egypt, hired a rather large group of Jews to defend the southern border of the Land of the Nile. These Jewish warriors were tasked with killing anyone trying to enter Egypt uninvited.
In memory of the ritual of animal sacrifice, the members of the Jewish warrior community built their own temple, to replace the one that was destroyed in Jerusalem. But close to the Jewish temple sat an Egyptian one, the abode of the Egyptian god Khnum, who according to Egyptian mythology was in charge of source of the Nile, among other things. The Egyptian neighbours took a dim view of the foreign Jewish temple, and in the year 410 BCE they burned it to the ground.

200 BCE | The 70 Faces of Torah

Towards the end of the third century BCE Ptolemy II, then King of Egypt, gathered seventy of the wisest men of the Jewish community in Alexandria and asked them to join in a great undertaking of translating the Jewish Torah into Greek, in order to make it accessible to the world.
This translation, known as the Septuagint, is famous to this day for its accuracy, its rich language, its historical value and most of all, the legend claims, for the fact that each of the seventy scholars translated the Torah on his own – and miraculously, all the translations came out identical to one another.
Legends aside, the project indicates a vibrant Jewish community living in Alexandria. This community, numbering in the tens of thousands, partially adopted the Hellenistic culture, including Greek names, use of the Greek language, daily visits to the baths and an obsession with physical culture. But not all the Jews of Alexandria were Hellenized. Many maintained their own heritage, and the authorities, whose Hellenism included a policy of religious toleration, gave them the right to establish their own autonomous system, under which they could live by their own rules, choose their own leaders and even be tried at their own tribunals.

170 BCE | Another Temple in Egypt

In the run-up to the Maccabean revolt (aka the story of Hanukkah), the ancient line of High Priests known as The House of Zadok was dispossessed of that all-important position, and the last legitimate High Priest, Onias (Honyio) III, was murdered in Antioch. His son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt, where he built a precise replica of the temple in Jerusalem in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis, which stood for about 240 years, presided over by the descendants of Onias and the House of Zadok.
The Sages of the Mishna were of two minds about this competition to the holy site in the Holy City. They conceded that Onias built his temple “for the sake of heaven” and that both the place and the work done there were ritually correct, and they also viewed it as a fulfillment of bibilical prophecy, which predicted that “on that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of Egypt (Isiah 19:19). But some took issue with the fact that it was built outside of Jerusalem, outside of Israel, and in Egypt of all places. However, the fear of competition proved overblown. The temple in Heliopolis served local needs only, and the one in Jerusalem remained the undisputed heart of Jewish life.
In 73 CE, shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered the one in Egypt destroyed too, for fear that Jewish zealots, who had fled the failed revolt to Egypt, would rally around it.

45 BCE | The Jewish Plato

The man who best personified the synergy between the precepts of Hellenism and Judaism was Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who lived between 25 BCE-50 CE. In Philo's family tree one can find branches of Roman aristocracy alongside Jewish Hasmonean nobility. He was born in Alexandria to a rich family and his brother is described as “exceeding all others in wealth and good breeding.”
From a young age this prodigy displayed an interest in philosophy and natural science (then far closer pursuits than now), and most of all was interested in the tension between these and the Jewish faith, to which he adhered with all his heart.
The image arising from his many works is that of an original thinker interested in a wide array of topics: Philo pondered the meaning of death 1900 years before the Existentialist philosophers, interpreted the Torah according to Greek philosophical principles 1200 years before Maimonides, and predates most of the Sages with deep observations on human nature, penned 200 years before the sealing of the Mishna.

115 CE | The Diaspora Revolt

The Kitos War, known in Jewish historiography as “The Diaspora Revolt”, broke out in 115 CE, lasted for two years, and is seen as sort of a forgotten “sandwich child” between its better known siblings – The Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE). The main causes for this revolt, which as the name indicates took place outside the Land of Israel, were religious zealotry, discriminatory laws and frustration following the failure of the Great Revolt and the destruction of the Temple. In addition, horror stories by refugees regarding the cruelty of Roman troops towards the defeated Judean population also inflamed passions, which were running high anyway due to tensions between the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures. The rebelling Jews “piggybacked” on a larger war taking place at the time, between the hated Romans and the Parthian Empire, which ruled modern-day Iran and Iraq, seizing what they saw as a historic opportunity to rise up. The revolt began in Cyrene, in modern-day Libya, but quickly spread to Egypt, and mostly to Alexandria. Despite initial victories, the Romans suppressed the revolt, and the Alexandrian community, the richest and most flourishing in all the diaspora at the time, was destroyed and mostly annihilated.

641 | The Arab Conquest

Ask the average person, and it would take them a few moments to recall that Egypt was not always an Arab country. But the truth is that only in 641, as Islam spread from the Arabian Peninsula, did Egypt become a majority Arabic speaking Muslim country.
Like many other countries under Muslim sovereignty, the Jews were treated as a protected minority – dhimmi, in Arabic. The dhimmi arrangement was simple: The Jews (and Christians) were required to acknowledge the supremacy of Islam, to pay a poll tax (called jeziah), where special clothing indicating their status and other restrictions. In return they enjoyed autonomy in family, personal, and religious matters, and were also permitted to adjudicate internal disputes before Jewish courts. This arrangement with the Jews was meticulously upheld, save for a few episodes, such as that of the sixth Fatimid Caliph Ali Mansur al-Hakim who was known for cruelty. This ruler forced the Jews to convert, and even burned down the Jewish quarter in the city of al-Jawardia.

882 | Karaites and Rabbis

The history of religious sects in Judaism has known bitter struggles – Sadducees and Pharisees, Hasidim and Misnagdim, Haredis and Secular and more. One of the best known was the dispute between the Karaites and the Rabbanites, which took place in full effect in Egypt. Religious, the difference between the two camps is that Karaites adhere strictly to the text of the Torah, whereas proponents of rabbinical Judaism believe that those ordained as rabbis are empowered and even obligated to interpret the Torah so as to fit the times, an authority the Karaites vehemently denied.
Researchers estimate that the Karaite community lived and worked in Fustat (ancient Cairo) from the dawn of the Muslim occupation. Around the year 882 the Karaites in Fustat founded Beit Ezra, the synagogue where in 1896 the rich archive known as the Cairo Geniza was discovered. Among many treasures revealed in this trove, shedding light on trade, relations, intimate and family relations and the music of the Jews of Egypt and neighboring countries, were also the fierce debates which the Karaites waged against the Rabbanites. One of these, Rabbi Saadia Gaon, was born in Egypt and was one of the chief adversaries of the Karaites. Later he moved to the rabbinical academies in Babylon and became one of the great geniuses of the age.

1050 | The Triple Thread

In the mid 11th century the largest Jewish community in Egypt was centered in Fustat, or ancient Cairo. The well-respected, well-to-do community was divided in two: The “Babylonians”, who originated in modern-day Iraq and followed the legal and halachic authority of the great yeshivas of Babylon, and the Jerusalemites, who followed the wise men of the Land of Israel. Both centers of learning were financially dependent upon the rich Jews of Fustat.
Add the fact that Fustat was the epicenter of the struggle for a monopoly on rabbinical authority between Babylon and Jerusalem, and we see a loaded triple thread, which gave rise to much political friction. One of the most famous personal contests was between Ephraim Ben Shmaryah, leader of the Jerusalemites, and Elhanan Ben Shmaryah, leader of the Babylonians. Among the documents in the Cairo Geniza is one detailing a dream had by Ephraim Ben Shmaryah, in which Moses himself came to him at night and bestowed the chief authority in Fustat upon him.

1165 | From Moses to Moses, There Was None Like Moses

One cannot speak of the history of Jews in Egypt without discussing “The Great Eagle,” the man who did it all: philosopher, legal scholar, religious authority, physician, nutritionist and moralist, the genius Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimom, better known as Maimonides, or by his Hebrew acronym, the Rambam, who settled in Cairo in 1165.
Maimonides was the great architect of Jewish thought. He cracked the genome of the Jewish world-view in his composition “Moreh Nevochim” (“Guide to the Perplexed”), strengthened the foundations of faith in the “Epistle to Yemen”, and simplified halacha in his monumental work “Mishne Torah”, (literarily “Secondary Torah”), which was subtitled “HaYad HaChazaka”, in a typical rabbinical wordplay, reflecting the 14 (“yod-dalet” in Hebrew, which spells “Yad”) volumes encompassing all of Jewish law up to his time. Maimonides wrote several books on philosophy, but was also a leading medical authority, leaving behind many writings on proper nutrition and preventive medicine. His immense output is particularly astonishing when one considers that by day he was physician to the Sultan, and in the evening, as head of the Jewish community, received visits from his parishioners.
The greatness of the Rambam was immortalized in the saying “From Moshe (Rabeinu) to Moshe (Ben Maimon) there has been none like Moshe”.

1312 | Prophecy Is Given to the Wise

According to the wisdom of King Solomon, one of the things that “makes the earth tremble” is that of a slave become king (Proverbs, 30:21), meaning one who goes straight from servitude to the highest power, without learning the ways of ruling first. Solomon's prophecy came true 2.300 years later, when the Mamluks, slave-soldiers in service of the Arab Abbasid Empire, took over the Middle East in 1250 and established a tyrannical kingdom in the lands of Egypt, Israel, Syria and other countries in the region.
Historian Eliyahu Ashtor writes in his acclaimed book “History of the Jews in Egypt and Syria” that the rise of the Mamluks ended the golden age for Jews in Egypt and marked the beginning of “the decrease in creative force in Arab culture”. Ashtor quotes philosopher Joseph Caspi, the famed Jewish biblical interpreter, who came to Egypt in 1312 to study philosophy, but was thoroughly disillusioned after meeting the local Jews. “They are all righteous,” Caspi wrote, “but in no wisdom did they engage, nor were there any wise men in all of the east, and I called upon myself: 'Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help' (Isiah 31:1), and I returned to my homeland in disgrace.”

1604 | Twin Communities

For hundreds of years the Land of Israel and Egypt were under the same sovereignty – from the Fatimid dynasty, through the Mamluks to the Ottoman Empire, which took over the Land of the Nile in 1517. Due to this, symbiotic relations developed between the Jewish communities in Israel and Egypt. These relations manifested in mutual migration, in families that lived part time in each country and in trade relations mostly indicating a dependence of the smaller community in Israel on its wealthier southern counterpart.
Another stream of Jews arrived in Egypt following the Spanish expulsion of 1492. Among these were famous men such as David Ben Zimra, a rich merchant and religious ruler who was head of the Jewish community in Egypt, and Avraham David, a rich businessman who gave much of his money for Torah study and community causes.
In the early 17th century the Ottoman Empire suffered a severe economic crisis. This crisis greatly affected the Jewish community and shrunk its population. Testament of this can be found in a missive sent by the leaders of the Jewish community in Safed in 1604. “Egypt is lost to our brethren,” the Jews of Safed write, “for those who were of aid to our supporters in the land of Egypt have fallen most low, for their dealings are greatly diminished.”

1805 | An Ashkenazi, a Sephardi and a Karaite Walk Into a Bar

The dry period in Jewish history in Egypt ended with the great wave of immigration that flooded the Land of the Nile in the 19th century upon the rise of Muhammad Ali, who came to power in 1805. This ruler was responsible for the modernization of Egypt. He is credited with infrastructure development, farming innovations, the paving of roads and byways, establishing centralized authority and more. In the middle of the 19th century there were but 6,000 Jews living in Egypt, and in less than 70 years that number rose to 60,000. The Jews were divided into four groups: Sephradi, Karaite, Egyptian Jews and a group of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Egypt from the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe during the 19th century.
Thus did Egypt, and particularly Cairo, become a cosmopolitan mosaic, so multi-cultural that anyone walking around Cairo at the time could encounter Jews holding lively discussions in Ladino, Yiddish, French, Italian or Arabic.

1865 | Class Warfare

Would you be surprised to learn that tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardi - “The sectarian demon” as they are known in modern-day Israel – existed in Egypt as well? Well, they did, from 1865, when immigration from Eastern Europe began by Jews fleeing the rampant anti-Semitism of the time. The Ashkenazi group, which at its height numbered 10,000 souls, belonged at first to the lower-middle classes, but soon they advanced up the social ladder and managed to free themselves of the crowded, poverty-stricken “Harat al-Yahud” (The Jewish quarter) and move to the more upscale neighborhoods of Cairo. The attempts by the Ashkenazis to mold the face of Egyptian Jewry in their own image were met with strenuous opposition from the Sephardis, the descendants of those expelled from Spain, who constituted the elite of the Jewish community. The Sephardis spoke French, sent their children to British schools and lived in the affluent parts of Cairo. To the authorities, they alone represented the Jews. But strong cultural tensions seethed under the surface. The Sephardis were contemptuous of the Ashkenazis, who could not even speak French with a proper accent, whereas the Sephardis scorned the “easternized” Sephardis, and viewed them as uncivilized, materialistic and lazy. All of which just goes to show that stereotypes do not die, and often do not even shift.

1917 | National Coexistence

The seeds of Zionism in Egypt were sown by Joseph Marco Barouch, a colorful and multidimensional figure – poet and anarchist, teacher and journalist, and most of all an energetic Zionist activist who, had he not taken his own life due to unrequited love at the tender age of 27, there is no telling the heights he may have achieved.
Barouch founded the Bar Kokhba Society in Cairo, a Zionist non-profit organization which operated a library, a coffee shop, a vibrant Zionist clubhouse and more. His Zionist activity increased upon the establishment of the Zionist Organization of Egypt, a branch of the Maccabi organization, and the Hebrew Scouts Movement. The local Zionist organization, like many others around the world, was greatly impacted by the enthusiasm that swept across the Jewish world in 1917, following the Balfour Declaration.
These Zionist initiatives were joined by Jewish businessmen such as Felix de-Menashe and Jacques Mosseri, who made great contributions to the building of Israel and whose philanthropy established several settlements, including the moshav Kfar Yedidiah.
This was also the time in which a large Egyptian national movement, al-Wafd, was growing, calling for Egyptian territorial sovereignty. The fact that these two national movements did not come into conflict is a testament to the rare pluralism typical of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Egypt in the 1920s.

1939 | The True Spring of Nations

The darkness that descended upon humanity in the 1930s, with the rise of Nazism and the various fascist movements throughout Europe, did not skip Egypt. Racist propaganda and xenophobia spread among Egyptian students and military officers, who loathed British colonialism and viewed Hitler as their savior. The fact that the Nazi race theory ranked Arabs only a tiny bit higher than Jews did not stem the radicalization. Finding a common enemy, as the wise Jew Sigmund Freud said, is the best way to unite two adversaries. The moderate national sentiment that characterized the 1920s turned into a pathological nationalism, which rejected anyone deemed not a “true” Egyptian and anyone who was not a Muslim, or in other words Jews and Copts (the Christians of Egypt).
The flag of nationalism was carried by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Egypt movement, fueled by texts translated into Arabic, among them “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. But the Jewish community did not sit still. Jewish journalists risked their livelihoods to publicly reject the false propaganda, and the Jewish community of Egypt boycotted German goods from 1933 to 1939.

1956 | The End

The UN resolution to partition the Land of Israel in November 1947, and the Israel War of Independence that followed, heralded the end of the Jewish community in Egypt. The Egyptian government used martial law to assault its perceived opponents, and confiscated their property (an issue still being handled with the Egyptian authorities to this day).
Despite protestations of loyalty, the Jewish community fell victim to incitement by the press and the authorities. Between June and September 1948 sections of the Jewish quarter in Cairo were destroyed. The violent demonstrations, acts of arson and bombings ravaged movie theaters, department stores and other businesses owned by Jews.
Between 1948 and 1952 some 20,000 Jews left Egypt. Later, with the rise to power of Gamal Abd al-Nasser, who implemented socialism and Pan-Arabism, another 30,000 Jews followed. In 1967 only around 3.000 Jews remained in Egypt, and their numbers dwindled over the years. In 2014 there were only 360 Jews living in the country.
Is this the end of the long ties between the Land of the Nile and the Chosen People? In 1979 a historic peace agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt. Since then, the Israel's border with Egypt has been respected, and many Israelis have visited the Land of the Nile as tourists, the place their ancestors left thousands of years ago to fulfill their destiny and become a nation.

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The Jewish Community of Manissa

Manissa

Identical with the ancient Magnesia, today the chief town of the Turkish province bearing the same name, N.E. of Izmir.

A Jewish community probably existed in Manissa from the first century C.E., but there is no extant information on it. During the Byzantine period, there was a congregation in the town and a synagogue, Etz Ha-Chayyim. After 1492 groups of Jews expelled from Spain arrived in Manissa; they founded two congregations and two synagogues, Lorca and Toledo. Later, as a result of a dispute which broke out in the town, a third congregation, Shalom, was established. At the end of the 15th century, there were more than 100 Jewish families in the town. With the rising importance of Izmir, and as a result of a plague which broke out in the town in 1617, many families left for Izmir. During this period the local rabbi was Rabbi Aaron Lapapa. At the beginning of the 19th century, the synagogues were renovated and a plot of land was consecrated for a new cemetery. In 1837 200 Jews died of the plague. In 1838 the Jewish community numbered about 1,200. There were blood libels against the Jews in the town in 1883 and 1893.

In 1891 the first school for boys was founded, and in 1896 this was followed by a school for girls. Both were administered by the Alliance Israelite Universelle. At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community numbered about 2,000, out of a total population of some 40,000. During this period two additional synagogues were built. After the conquest of the region by the Greeks in 1919, the Jews continued to support the Turks. They did not fly the Greek flag on their institutions and did not attend the Congress (August 1922) which demanded autonomy for Izmir and its surroundings.

When the Greeks retreated in 1922, a great fire broke out in the town, as a result of which a number of Jewish institutions, including the yeshivah, were destroyed. In the late 1930s the community numbered only 30 families. The principal occupations of the Jews were commerce - the export of agricultural products (fruit, tobacco, and raisins) and the import of manufactured goods - and crafts - tailoring, shoemaking, money changing; there were also some farm owners. A few Jews served as physicians in the government hospitals, as judges, and as translators in the foreign consulates of the town. In the mid-20th century many families emigrated to the USA, South Africa, Egypt, and Israel. By 1970 no Jews were living in Manissa.

Written by researchers of ANU Museum of the Jewish People

Egypt
South Africa
United States of America (USA)
Toledo, Spain
Izmir
Turkey

Egypt

مَصر‎ 

Arab Republic of Egypt

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 100 out of 94,000,000

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Egypt 

586 BCE | Fleeing South to Freedom

The founding story of the Jewish people is the biblical Book of Exodus. “In each and every generation,” the Haggadah says, “one must regard oneself as though he himself came out of Egypt” - a statement which can be interpreted as release from mental molds, from our internal Egypt, binding us and inhibiting us on our way to freedom.
But let us leave the psychology aside and move on to history: researchers speak of an ethnic group known as the Habiru (or Hebrews) who left Egypt around the 13th century BCE. Some scholars identify this group with our ancestors and the Biblical Exodus narrative.
The next mention of Jews in Egypt comes in 586 BCE, when the Babylonian Empire destroyed Jerusalem and brought about the Babylonian exile.
In Jeremiah 43 it is told that the Babylonians appointed one Gedaliah Ben Achikam as governor of the small Judean population remaining in the country. Due to internal conflict, Gedaliah was murdered. His killing is considered the first political assassination in Jewish history. Following the murder and the Jews' fear of revenge, a group headed by the prophet Jeremiah got together and fled to Egypt and to freedom.

410 BCE | Soldiers Of Fortune

One of the most intriguing mentions of Jews in Egypt refers to an ancient and mysterious city named Elephantine (Yeb, in Hebrew). This city sat on an island in the Nile, at a strategic location – just south of the major city of Aswan. Records unearthed in archaeological excavations indicate that the Jews of Elephantine made their living mostly as mercenaries. Historians believe that the Persian Empire, which then ruled Egypt, hired a rather large group of Jews to defend the southern border of the Land of the Nile. These Jewish warriors were tasked with killing anyone trying to enter Egypt uninvited.
In memory of the ritual of animal sacrifice, the members of the Jewish warrior community built their own temple, to replace the one that was destroyed in Jerusalem. But close to the Jewish temple sat an Egyptian one, the abode of the Egyptian god Khnum, who according to Egyptian mythology was in charge of source of the Nile, among other things. The Egyptian neighbours took a dim view of the foreign Jewish temple, and in the year 410 BCE they burned it to the ground.

200 BCE | The 70 Faces of Torah

Towards the end of the third century BCE Ptolemy II, then King of Egypt, gathered seventy of the wisest men of the Jewish community in Alexandria and asked them to join in a great undertaking of translating the Jewish Torah into Greek, in order to make it accessible to the world.
This translation, known as the Septuagint, is famous to this day for its accuracy, its rich language, its historical value and most of all, the legend claims, for the fact that each of the seventy scholars translated the Torah on his own – and miraculously, all the translations came out identical to one another.
Legends aside, the project indicates a vibrant Jewish community living in Alexandria. This community, numbering in the tens of thousands, partially adopted the Hellenistic culture, including Greek names, use of the Greek language, daily visits to the baths and an obsession with physical culture. But not all the Jews of Alexandria were Hellenized. Many maintained their own heritage, and the authorities, whose Hellenism included a policy of religious toleration, gave them the right to establish their own autonomous system, under which they could live by their own rules, choose their own leaders and even be tried at their own tribunals.

170 BCE | Another Temple in Egypt

In the run-up to the Maccabean revolt (aka the story of Hanukkah), the ancient line of High Priests known as The House of Zadok was dispossessed of that all-important position, and the last legitimate High Priest, Onias (Honyio) III, was murdered in Antioch. His son, Onias IV, fled to Egypt, where he built a precise replica of the temple in Jerusalem in the Egyptian city of Heliopolis, which stood for about 240 years, presided over by the descendants of Onias and the House of Zadok.
The Sages of the Mishna were of two minds about this competition to the holy site in the Holy City. They conceded that Onias built his temple “for the sake of heaven” and that both the place and the work done there were ritually correct, and they also viewed it as a fulfillment of bibilical prophecy, which predicted that “on that day there shall be an altar to the Lord in the land of Egypt (Isiah 19:19). But some took issue with the fact that it was built outside of Jerusalem, outside of Israel, and in Egypt of all places. However, the fear of competition proved overblown. The temple in Heliopolis served local needs only, and the one in Jerusalem remained the undisputed heart of Jewish life.
In 73 CE, shortly after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Roman Emperor Vespasian ordered the one in Egypt destroyed too, for fear that Jewish zealots, who had fled the failed revolt to Egypt, would rally around it.

45 BCE | The Jewish Plato

The man who best personified the synergy between the precepts of Hellenism and Judaism was Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who lived between 25 BCE-50 CE. In Philo's family tree one can find branches of Roman aristocracy alongside Jewish Hasmonean nobility. He was born in Alexandria to a rich family and his brother is described as “exceeding all others in wealth and good breeding.”
From a young age this prodigy displayed an interest in philosophy and natural science (then far closer pursuits than now), and most of all was interested in the tension between these and the Jewish faith, to which he adhered with all his heart.
The image arising from his many works is that of an original thinker interested in a wide array of topics: Philo pondered the meaning of death 1900 years before the Existentialist philosophers, interpreted the Torah according to Greek philosophical principles 1200 years before Maimonides, and predates most of the Sages with deep observations on human nature, penned 200 years before the sealing of the Mishna.

115 CE | The Diaspora Revolt

The Kitos War, known in Jewish historiography as “The Diaspora Revolt”, broke out in 115 CE, lasted for two years, and is seen as sort of a forgotten “sandwich child” between its better known siblings – The Great Revolt (66-70 CE) and the Bar Kokhba Revolt (132-135 CE). The main causes for this revolt, which as the name indicates took place outside the Land of Israel, were religious zealotry, discriminatory laws and frustration following the failure of the Great Revolt and the destruction of the Temple. In addition, horror stories by refugees regarding the cruelty of Roman troops towards the defeated Judean population also inflamed passions, which were running high anyway due to tensions between the Hellenistic and Jewish cultures. The rebelling Jews “piggybacked” on a larger war taking place at the time, between the hated Romans and the Parthian Empire, which ruled modern-day Iran and Iraq, seizing what they saw as a historic opportunity to rise up. The revolt began in Cyrene, in modern-day Libya, but quickly spread to Egypt, and mostly to Alexandria. Despite initial victories, the Romans suppressed the revolt, and the Alexandrian community, the richest and most flourishing in all the diaspora at the time, was destroyed and mostly annihilated.

641 | The Arab Conquest

Ask the average person, and it would take them a few moments to recall that Egypt was not always an Arab country. But the truth is that only in 641, as Islam spread from the Arabian Peninsula, did Egypt become a majority Arabic speaking Muslim country.
Like many other countries under Muslim sovereignty, the Jews were treated as a protected minority – dhimmi, in Arabic. The dhimmi arrangement was simple: The Jews (and Christians) were required to acknowledge the supremacy of Islam, to pay a poll tax (called jeziah), where special clothing indicating their status and other restrictions. In return they enjoyed autonomy in family, personal, and religious matters, and were also permitted to adjudicate internal disputes before Jewish courts. This arrangement with the Jews was meticulously upheld, save for a few episodes, such as that of the sixth Fatimid Caliph Ali Mansur al-Hakim who was known for cruelty. This ruler forced the Jews to convert, and even burned down the Jewish quarter in the city of al-Jawardia.

882 | Karaites and Rabbis

The history of religious sects in Judaism has known bitter struggles – Sadducees and Pharisees, Hasidim and Misnagdim, Haredis and Secular and more. One of the best known was the dispute between the Karaites and the Rabbanites, which took place in full effect in Egypt. Religious, the difference between the two camps is that Karaites adhere strictly to the text of the Torah, whereas proponents of rabbinical Judaism believe that those ordained as rabbis are empowered and even obligated to interpret the Torah so as to fit the times, an authority the Karaites vehemently denied.
Researchers estimate that the Karaite community lived and worked in Fustat (ancient Cairo) from the dawn of the Muslim occupation. Around the year 882 the Karaites in Fustat founded Beit Ezra, the synagogue where in 1896 the rich archive known as the Cairo Geniza was discovered. Among many treasures revealed in this trove, shedding light on trade, relations, intimate and family relations and the music of the Jews of Egypt and neighboring countries, were also the fierce debates which the Karaites waged against the Rabbanites. One of these, Rabbi Saadia Gaon, was born in Egypt and was one of the chief adversaries of the Karaites. Later he moved to the rabbinical academies in Babylon and became one of the great geniuses of the age.

1050 | The Triple Thread

In the mid 11th century the largest Jewish community in Egypt was centered in Fustat, or ancient Cairo. The well-respected, well-to-do community was divided in two: The “Babylonians”, who originated in modern-day Iraq and followed the legal and halachic authority of the great yeshivas of Babylon, and the Jerusalemites, who followed the wise men of the Land of Israel. Both centers of learning were financially dependent upon the rich Jews of Fustat.
Add the fact that Fustat was the epicenter of the struggle for a monopoly on rabbinical authority between Babylon and Jerusalem, and we see a loaded triple thread, which gave rise to much political friction. One of the most famous personal contests was between Ephraim Ben Shmaryah, leader of the Jerusalemites, and Elhanan Ben Shmaryah, leader of the Babylonians. Among the documents in the Cairo Geniza is one detailing a dream had by Ephraim Ben Shmaryah, in which Moses himself came to him at night and bestowed the chief authority in Fustat upon him.

1165 | From Moses to Moses, There Was None Like Moses

One cannot speak of the history of Jews in Egypt without discussing “The Great Eagle,” the man who did it all: philosopher, legal scholar, religious authority, physician, nutritionist and moralist, the genius Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimom, better known as Maimonides, or by his Hebrew acronym, the Rambam, who settled in Cairo in 1165.
Maimonides was the great architect of Jewish thought. He cracked the genome of the Jewish world-view in his composition “Moreh Nevochim” (“Guide to the Perplexed”), strengthened the foundations of faith in the “Epistle to Yemen”, and simplified halacha in his monumental work “Mishne Torah”, (literarily “Secondary Torah”), which was subtitled “HaYad HaChazaka”, in a typical rabbinical wordplay, reflecting the 14 (“yod-dalet” in Hebrew, which spells “Yad”) volumes encompassing all of Jewish law up to his time. Maimonides wrote several books on philosophy, but was also a leading medical authority, leaving behind many writings on proper nutrition and preventive medicine. His immense output is particularly astonishing when one considers that by day he was physician to the Sultan, and in the evening, as head of the Jewish community, received visits from his parishioners.
The greatness of the Rambam was immortalized in the saying “From Moshe (Rabeinu) to Moshe (Ben Maimon) there has been none like Moshe”.

1312 | Prophecy Is Given to the Wise

According to the wisdom of King Solomon, one of the things that “makes the earth tremble” is that of a slave become king (Proverbs, 30:21), meaning one who goes straight from servitude to the highest power, without learning the ways of ruling first. Solomon's prophecy came true 2.300 years later, when the Mamluks, slave-soldiers in service of the Arab Abbasid Empire, took over the Middle East in 1250 and established a tyrannical kingdom in the lands of Egypt, Israel, Syria and other countries in the region.
Historian Eliyahu Ashtor writes in his acclaimed book “History of the Jews in Egypt and Syria” that the rise of the Mamluks ended the golden age for Jews in Egypt and marked the beginning of “the decrease in creative force in Arab culture”. Ashtor quotes philosopher Joseph Caspi, the famed Jewish biblical interpreter, who came to Egypt in 1312 to study philosophy, but was thoroughly disillusioned after meeting the local Jews. “They are all righteous,” Caspi wrote, “but in no wisdom did they engage, nor were there any wise men in all of the east, and I called upon myself: 'Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help' (Isiah 31:1), and I returned to my homeland in disgrace.”

1604 | Twin Communities

For hundreds of years the Land of Israel and Egypt were under the same sovereignty – from the Fatimid dynasty, through the Mamluks to the Ottoman Empire, which took over the Land of the Nile in 1517. Due to this, symbiotic relations developed between the Jewish communities in Israel and Egypt. These relations manifested in mutual migration, in families that lived part time in each country and in trade relations mostly indicating a dependence of the smaller community in Israel on its wealthier southern counterpart.
Another stream of Jews arrived in Egypt following the Spanish expulsion of 1492. Among these were famous men such as David Ben Zimra, a rich merchant and religious ruler who was head of the Jewish community in Egypt, and Avraham David, a rich businessman who gave much of his money for Torah study and community causes.
In the early 17th century the Ottoman Empire suffered a severe economic crisis. This crisis greatly affected the Jewish community and shrunk its population. Testament of this can be found in a missive sent by the leaders of the Jewish community in Safed in 1604. “Egypt is lost to our brethren,” the Jews of Safed write, “for those who were of aid to our supporters in the land of Egypt have fallen most low, for their dealings are greatly diminished.”

1805 | An Ashkenazi, a Sephardi and a Karaite Walk Into a Bar

The dry period in Jewish history in Egypt ended with the great wave of immigration that flooded the Land of the Nile in the 19th century upon the rise of Muhammad Ali, who came to power in 1805. This ruler was responsible for the modernization of Egypt. He is credited with infrastructure development, farming innovations, the paving of roads and byways, establishing centralized authority and more. In the middle of the 19th century there were but 6,000 Jews living in Egypt, and in less than 70 years that number rose to 60,000. The Jews were divided into four groups: Sephradi, Karaite, Egyptian Jews and a group of Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Egypt from the Pale of Settlement in Eastern Europe during the 19th century.
Thus did Egypt, and particularly Cairo, become a cosmopolitan mosaic, so multi-cultural that anyone walking around Cairo at the time could encounter Jews holding lively discussions in Ladino, Yiddish, French, Italian or Arabic.

1865 | Class Warfare

Would you be surprised to learn that tensions between Ashkenazi and Sephardi - “The sectarian demon” as they are known in modern-day Israel – existed in Egypt as well? Well, they did, from 1865, when immigration from Eastern Europe began by Jews fleeing the rampant anti-Semitism of the time. The Ashkenazi group, which at its height numbered 10,000 souls, belonged at first to the lower-middle classes, but soon they advanced up the social ladder and managed to free themselves of the crowded, poverty-stricken “Harat al-Yahud” (The Jewish quarter) and move to the more upscale neighborhoods of Cairo. The attempts by the Ashkenazis to mold the face of Egyptian Jewry in their own image were met with strenuous opposition from the Sephardis, the descendants of those expelled from Spain, who constituted the elite of the Jewish community. The Sephardis spoke French, sent their children to British schools and lived in the affluent parts of Cairo. To the authorities, they alone represented the Jews. But strong cultural tensions seethed under the surface. The Sephardis were contemptuous of the Ashkenazis, who could not even speak French with a proper accent, whereas the Sephardis scorned the “easternized” Sephardis, and viewed them as uncivilized, materialistic and lazy. All of which just goes to show that stereotypes do not die, and often do not even shift.

1917 | National Coexistence

The seeds of Zionism in Egypt were sown by Joseph Marco Barouch, a colorful and multidimensional figure – poet and anarchist, teacher and journalist, and most of all an energetic Zionist activist who, had he not taken his own life due to unrequited love at the tender age of 27, there is no telling the heights he may have achieved.
Barouch founded the Bar Kokhba Society in Cairo, a Zionist non-profit organization which operated a library, a coffee shop, a vibrant Zionist clubhouse and more. His Zionist activity increased upon the establishment of the Zionist Organization of Egypt, a branch of the Maccabi organization, and the Hebrew Scouts Movement. The local Zionist organization, like many others around the world, was greatly impacted by the enthusiasm that swept across the Jewish world in 1917, following the Balfour Declaration.
These Zionist initiatives were joined by Jewish businessmen such as Felix de-Menashe and Jacques Mosseri, who made great contributions to the building of Israel and whose philanthropy established several settlements, including the moshav Kfar Yedidiah.
This was also the time in which a large Egyptian national movement, al-Wafd, was growing, calling for Egyptian territorial sovereignty. The fact that these two national movements did not come into conflict is a testament to the rare pluralism typical of the cosmopolitan atmosphere of Egypt in the 1920s.

1939 | The True Spring of Nations

The darkness that descended upon humanity in the 1930s, with the rise of Nazism and the various fascist movements throughout Europe, did not skip Egypt. Racist propaganda and xenophobia spread among Egyptian students and military officers, who loathed British colonialism and viewed Hitler as their savior. The fact that the Nazi race theory ranked Arabs only a tiny bit higher than Jews did not stem the radicalization. Finding a common enemy, as the wise Jew Sigmund Freud said, is the best way to unite two adversaries. The moderate national sentiment that characterized the 1920s turned into a pathological nationalism, which rejected anyone deemed not a “true” Egyptian and anyone who was not a Muslim, or in other words Jews and Copts (the Christians of Egypt).
The flag of nationalism was carried by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Young Egypt movement, fueled by texts translated into Arabic, among them “Mein Kampf” and “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion”. But the Jewish community did not sit still. Jewish journalists risked their livelihoods to publicly reject the false propaganda, and the Jewish community of Egypt boycotted German goods from 1933 to 1939.

1956 | The End

The UN resolution to partition the Land of Israel in November 1947, and the Israel War of Independence that followed, heralded the end of the Jewish community in Egypt. The Egyptian government used martial law to assault its perceived opponents, and confiscated their property (an issue still being handled with the Egyptian authorities to this day).
Despite protestations of loyalty, the Jewish community fell victim to incitement by the press and the authorities. Between June and September 1948 sections of the Jewish quarter in Cairo were destroyed. The violent demonstrations, acts of arson and bombings ravaged movie theaters, department stores and other businesses owned by Jews.
Between 1948 and 1952 some 20,000 Jews left Egypt. Later, with the rise to power of Gamal Abd al-Nasser, who implemented socialism and Pan-Arabism, another 30,000 Jews followed. In 1967 only around 3.000 Jews remained in Egypt, and their numbers dwindled over the years. In 2014 there were only 360 Jews living in the country.
Is this the end of the long ties between the Land of the Nile and the Chosen People? In 1979 a historic peace agreement was signed between Israel and Egypt. Since then, the Israel's border with Egypt has been respected, and many Israelis have visited the Land of the Nile as tourists, the place their ancestors left thousands of years ago to fulfill their destiny and become a nation.

South Africa

Republic of South Africa (RSA)

The southernmost country in Africa.

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 69,000 out of 56,500,000

South African Jewish Board of Deputies

Telephone: +27 11 645 2523
Fax: +27 11 640 1662
Email: sajbd@sajbd.org
Website: www.sajbd.org

President: Mary Kluk, also WJC Vice-President
National Chairman: Jeff Katz
National Director: Wendy Kahn

United States of America (USA)

A country in North America

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 5,700,000 out of 325,000,000 (1.7%). United States is the home of the second largest Jewish population in the world. 

Community life is organized in more than 2,000 organizations and 700 federations. Each of the main religious denominators – Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist – has its own national association of synagogues and rabbis. 

American cities (greater area) with largest Jewish populations in 2018:

New York City, NY: 2,000,000
Los Angeles, CA: 662,000
Miami, FL: 555,000
Philadelphia, PA: 275,000
Chicago, IL: 294,000
Boston, MA: 250,000
San Francisco, CA: 304,000
Washington, DC & Baltimore, MY: 217,000

States with largest proportion of Jewish population in 2018 (Percentage of Total Population):

New York: 8.9
New Jersey: 5.8
Florida: 3.3
District of Columbia: 4.3
Massachusetts: 4.1
Maryland: 4
Connecticut: 3.3
California: 3.2
Pennsylvania: 2.3
Illinois: 2.3

Toledo

City in Castile, central Spain; capital of Spain until 1561.

According to a Jewish tradition dating from the period of Muslim rule, the Jewish settlement in Toledo was the most ancient in the Iberian Peninsula. This tradition was accepted by Isaac Abrabanel who states (in his commentary to the book of Kings, at the end, and to Obadiah, 20) that the first settlers in Toledo were exiles from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin. Jews probably established themselves there when the town became the capital of the Visigoths, or during the fourth to fifth centuries c.e.

Toledo is one of the few towns of Spain where remnants of Jewish edifices have been preserved. Toward the close of the 15th century the sources mention ten synagogues and a further five battei midrash. Toledo also has many remnants of Jewish tombstones, some of which are preserved in the archaeological museum of the town.

During the 11th century, when Toledo was ruled by the Muslims, it had a large Jewish population of about 4,000, divided into separate communities generally according to place of origin and a group who were of Khazar descent.
Toledo was also the center of the Karaites in Spain. Jewish occupations included textile manufacture, tanning, and dyeing, military professions and commerce. Toledo became a center of Jewish scholarship, translation, and science; the astronomer Zarkal (Abu Ishaq Ibrahim Ben Yachya) lived there for a time in the mid-11th century, and the biblical commentator Judah Ben Samuel Ibn Bal'am was born and educated in Toledo in this period. The situation of the Jews in Toledo remained unchanged after the town was conquered by Alfonso VI in 1085. During the 12th century it continued a center of learning and Jews and apostates were among those who translated works of mathematics, astronomy, and other subjects from Arabic into the spoken vernacular and from that language into Latin. From then on, the community developed until it became the most prominent in the kingdom of Castile and one of the most important in Spain. During this period some of the most distinguished who apparently left the town in 1119; Moses Ibn Ezra who stayed there; and Joseph Ibn Kamaniel, the physician, one of the wealthiest members of the community who was entrusted with an important diplomatic mission to the king of Portugal. The language spoken by the Jews of Toledo and employed in their documents during the 11th to 13th centuries was partly Arabic; they customarily wrote their documents in Arabic with Hebrew characters. These sources reveal a well-developed economic life. Jews of Toledo are recorded as having sold or purchased land, as lenders and borrowers, and are also found in partnerships with Christians in real estate transactions and in commerce.

The administrative organization of the community does not appear to have changed throughout its existence. There is no information on the administrative organization during Muslim rule, but a responsum, attributed to rabbi Joseph Ibn Mega, mentions the existence, in the early 12th century, of an organization headed by seven notables and elders and a bet din. The procedure for solving problems was to be taken by decision of four elders, Muqaddimun of the community, and two Jews chosen by the archbishop.

A period of crisis occurred at the time of the revolt of crown prince Sancho against his father (1280-81). A contemporary author relates that the community of Toledo was shaken "as Sodom and Gomorrah". Alfonso X ordered the imprisonment of the Jews in their synagogues, from which they were not to be released until the community paid him a special tax. Notables of the community remained in prison for many months. Attempts were even made there to convert them and several were executed.

During his own lifetime, Maimonides was challenged in Toledo by a notable adversary, Meir rabbi Todros Ha-Levi Abulafia, whose opinions were shared by the physician Judah B. Joseph Al-Fakhar, and Joseph Ben Todros Ha-Levi. They regarded the writings of Maimonides to be dangerous in that they could undermine faith. The controversy over the study of the writings of Maimonides received particular impetus in Toledo in 1304-05, at the time of the publication of the correspondence between Solomon Ben Adret and Abba Mari Astruc on the subject of the cherem issued against the study of the guide of the perplexed.

At the beginning of the 14th century, an attempt was made by the clergy in Toledo to compel the Jews to cease from engaging in moneylending; they also compelled the Jews to return the interest which they had taken and to cancel the obligations of payment which Christians had undersigned.
Ferdinand IV notified the clergy that he would bring them to account if they continued to impose a boycott on the Jews or sought to persecute them before the church tribunals. Nevertheless in a number of cases the king accepted the arguments of the clergy, and Jewish moneylenders of Toledo were arrested, tried before Christian judges, and condemned to lengthy terms of imprisonment.

The Black Death (1348) took a heavy toll among the community of Toledo. During the reign of Pedro the Cruel (1350-60), Don Samuel Ben Meir Ha-Levi Abulafia acted as chief agent and treasurer of the king. In 1358 he left for Portugal to negotiate a political agreement, and he was signatory to several royal edicts. He was suddenly arrested in 1360 upon the order of king Pedro, and removed to Seville, where he died at the hands of his torturers. Other Jews after him were lessees and courtiers, more particularly members of the Ha-Levi and Beneveniste families of Burgos.

In 1355, when the king entered Toledo, Christians and Muslims attacked the Jewish quarters. The town changed hands several times; when Pedro once more besieged the city, in 1368-69, 8,000 Jews perished. While the Toledo community was still endeavoring to recover from the effects of the civil war, it was overtaken by the persecutions which swept Spain in 1391 and brought down upon it ruin and destruction. The riots against the Jews in Toledo broke out on 17 Tammuz. Almost all the synagogues were destroyed or set on fire, and the battei midrash became mounds of ruins. Many abandoned Judaism at that time, and Toledo became filled with Conversos. The community of Toledo did not recover throughout the 15th century. Vicente Ferrer visited Toledo in 1411. He entered the Jewish quarter with an armed escort and converted the Ibn Shoshan synagogue into a church. There is reason to believe that a number of Jews converted to Christianity as a result of the sermon he delivered. When Isabella ascended the throne and the country became united with the kingdom of Aragon, Jews of Toledo again held important positions in the kingdom as lessees and courtiers. However, while in Toledo in 1480, the catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella decided on their anti-Semitic policy.

Jews were living in Toledo as forced converts during two periods. The first was under the Visigoths, and the second period of religious persecution and forced apostasy was from the end of the 14th century. The Conversos of Toledo continued to live in the quarters they had formerly occupied as Jews, until the 1480s. Many pamphlets of satire which ridiculed the Conversos were composed, while forged letters were circulated of a supposed correspondence between Chamorro, the "head" of the community of Toledo, with Yusuf, the "head" of the Jews of Constantinople, concerning a project to destroy Christianity. Attempts to conduct inquiries in Toledo against suspected heresy, in inquisition style, were inspired by the monk Alfonso de Espina during the 1460s. In 1485 the rabbis of Toledo were ordered to proclaim a cherem against the Jews who refused to testify before the inquisition if they knew of Conversos who observed the Jewish precepts. In 1486, and the beginning of 1487, 4,000 of the inhabitants of the town and the vicinity were involved in five autos-da-fe; some of them returned to the fold of the church and others were burned at the stake.

The Jews of Toledo were expelled with the other Jews of Spain in 1492, and the last exiles left Toledo on the seventh of Av. They left behind them the debts owed to them by Christians, and the government determined the procedure for their collection.

Izmir

Also known as Smyrna

Early History

Izmir (historically Smyrna) is the principal seaport of Western Anatolia on the coast of the Aegean Sea and provincial capital of the Turkish Vilayet (province) of Aydin, the third largest city in the Republic of Turkey.

The city had a Jewish population in the antiquity, as mentioned in the New Testament (Rev. 1:11; 2:8). Apparently, the Jews had some influence on the local pagan population with some of them converted to Judaism; however, the appearance of Christianity had reduced the power of the Jewish community, although only a minority of the local Jews accepted the new religion. A Jewish community in Smyrna is mentioned again in Christian sources narrating the martyrdom of Polycarp in the second century. Additional archeological evidence of Greek inscriptions from the second and the third century C.E. indicate that the community had the authority to punish any person who displayed disrespect toward it. Another inscription mentions Rufina, a woman described as the "Mother of the Synagogue". A depiction of a menorah similar to the one represented on the Triumphal Arch of the Roman Emperor Titus in Rome appears on a seal discovered in the proximity of Izmir. There are almost no mentions of a
Jewish settlement in Smyrna during the Byzantine times and it is possible that the local Jewish community disappeared for most of the medieval epoch, although Jewish communities continued to subsist in a number of neighboring towns. Smyrna, at the time an unimportant town, became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1424, following its capture from the Byzantines. Testimonies of Sephardi Jews arriving in Smyrna during the 16th century suggest the existence of a local small Romaniot Jewish community. The first Jews arrived in Izmir in the 1530s, following their expulsion (surgun, in Turkish) by the Ottomans from Belgrad, Serbia, in 1521, and Buda, Hungary, in 1524. Gravestones with Jewish motifs dating from 1540 and 1565 and found in Izmir indicate a Jewish presence in the city during the 16th century. It appears that a Jewish Sephardi-Portuguese community made up of Jewish immigrants from other cities in Asia as well as from Northern Africa and Venice was established in 1569, although
there is no evidence of its existence or of any other organized Jewish community in contemporary Ottoman documents. The great wave of Sephardi immigration into the Ottoman Empire skipped over Izmir for most of the 16th century; they began to settle in any significant numbers only towards the end of the 16th century, when gradually Izmir turned into a major Ottoman seaport.


The Golden Age of the 17th Century

The development of the Jewish community of Izmir started in the early 17th century corresponding with the increased economic status of the city as a major transit seaport, especially for the commerce with Anatolia and the countries beyond the eastern border of the Ottoman Empire. At the time, Izmir was included into the Sanjak (province) of Sigala, one of the most prosperous in the empire. The new Jewish settlers came mainly from among Sephardi refugees, although the great majority arrived in Izmir after first settling in other cities in the Ottoman Empire. A major group of settlers came from Istanbul; they were joined by Jewish immigrants from small Jewish communities in Western Anatolia as well as from Crete, Corfu, Janina (now in Greece), Ankara, and especially Salonika. Etz Hayim, Portugal, and Gerush, were among the first congregations to have been established in Izmir in the early 17th century, possibly consisting of descendants of 16th cent. settlers. The majority of Jewish
inhabitants were Ottoman subjects and according to the Muslim law were considered ahl al-dhimma - protected non-Muslims, an inferior status in the Muslim society. Jews enjoyed relative religious freedom and were able to administer separate educational and judiciary institutions. The community, known in Turkish law as taifa or kamat, and after mid 19th century, as millet, was free to collect taxes from its members in order to support its activity. Resulting from their status as dhimmis, Jews were compelled to pay a special tax – jizya (cizye or harac, in Turkish) – to the Ottoman authorities that promised them protection of their lives and property. For practical reasons, the community paid the jizya in one inclusive sum for all its members. However, the Muslim law was not strictly enforced and the Jews of Izmir were allowed to build new synagogues, of which there were already six by the mid years of the 17th century, despite a regulation permitting only renovation of exiting
synagogues and forbidding the building of new ones.

Jewish merchants of Portuguese extraction including many former conversos who returned to Judaism and settled in Italy and other European countries before immigrating to the Ottoman Empire, were called Francos and formed a distinct group within the Jewish community. During the 17th century the Francos of Izmir generally enjoyed the protection of European powers, for instance they were under the protection of France until 1693, and then for short periods under that of the Dutch consul. The Ottoman authorities regarded the Francos as musta'min – foreigners living in a Muslim country, and tended to turn them into dhimmis, especially after 1696. The Jewish community did not recognize and difference in the status of the Francos, although they tried to evade some of their obligations towards the community.

R. Yitzhak Meir HaLevy (d.1634) of Constantinople was the first rabbi in Izmir in 1606. The 1620s saw the influx of many new Jewish settlers from Salonika. Rabbi Joseph Escapa of Salonika (d.1662) was appointed the first rabbi of the Salonikan Jews, in c1620. After 1631, there was in Izmir a chief rabbi over all local congregations, whose number grew to six by 1644. They were mostly of Sephardi origin, but the city also had a small Ashkenazi congregation. Following the death of R.Y. Meir HaLevy in 1634, another rabbi from Salonika, Azariah Joshua Ashkenazi (d.1647), came to Izmir and was elected a colleague to R. J. Escapa, the chief rabbi. Following a bitter controversy that arose between the two rabbis, the community split into two factions, each supporting one rabbi. The dispute reflected differences in the way Salonikan Jews interpreted and practiced certain Jewish traditions concerning dietary laws, mourning practices, the counting of the Omer, ritual slaughter and Tisha Be-Av,
among others, as opposed by the traditions of the immigrants from Istanbul. It was only after the death of R. A.J. Ashkenazi in 1647 and the intervention of the chief rabbi in Constantinople that all congregations in Izmir once again recognized R. Escapa’s authority. The fingerprint of R. Escapa's administrative activities was evident for many generations thanks to the takkanot concerning taxes that he issued and that were respected by the Jews of Izmir and the surrounding towns. He was instrumental in consolidating Jews of various backgrounds and traditions into a common community. R. Escapa's achievements were pursued by a series of distinguished rabbis including R. Aaron Lapapa (d.1667), R. Solomon Algazi, and R. Hayim Benveniste (1603-1673) that helped transform the Jewish community into a major Jewish center of the 17th century. Its significance became evident in the important halakhic studies composed by local rabbis, especially Knesset Ha-Gedolah ("Great Assembly"), a
commentary by R. Hayim Benveniste on the Shulkhan Aruch, and the ethics treatise Shevet Musar ("Staff of Reproof") by R. Eliyah HaKohen (d.1729) of Izmir. The community comprised many affluent members that supported large yeshivot and Jewish schools. It also excelled as a center of Jewish learning: the prestige of its religious leaders having been recognized by many other Jewish communities in Anatolia, a Hebrew printing press established in 1657 and several celebrated physicians contributed to the fame of the Izmir community. Izmir was the birthplace of Shabbetai Zvi (1626-1676), the false messiah who received the support of large sections of the Jewish people all over the Diaspora. A student of R. Joseph Escapa, Shabbetai Zvi traveled to a number of Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire. His return to Izmir in September 1665 caused a great furor in the community when a majority of the local Jews converted to his teachings – ma'aminim ("believers") in the Shabbatean terminology.
They included R. Hayim Benveniste, one of the chief rabbis of Izmir. The opponents of Shabbetai Zvi grouped around R. Aaron Lapapa, the other chief rabbi, who was subsequently expulsed from Izmir leaving R. Benveniste the sole chief rabbi of the city. Throughout the four months of Shabbetai Zvi's sojourn in Izmir during the fall of 1665, the city became a centre of Messianic enthusiasm counting at least 150 "prophets", with the regular economic activities interrupted by a succession of festive days of dancing and processions intermingled with days of collective penitence. Whoever opposed the Shabbatean movement was persecuted and some had to flee the city, as did Solomon Algazi, himself an important scholar and renowned kabbalist, who was forced to take refuge in the nearby community of Magnesia. Following Shabbetai Zvi's apostasy, it took some time for the Jewish community of Izmir to settle down the virulent conflicts brought about by the false messiah.

Most Jews in Izmir were active as traders, agents, translators, and artisans. Their commercial ties extended from Persia and Syria in the East, to the countries of Western Europe, and especially to the main seaports of the Mediterranean that used to have important Jewish communities of their own. In 1688, an earthquake destroyed Izmir and killed some 400 Jews, among them the chief rabbi Aaron ben Hayim.


The 18th and 19th Centuries

During the 18th and the 19th centuries, the Jewish community of Izmir continued to flourish as its economic activity moved to the manufacture, especially of wool from goat's fleece, and of carpets. The European trade of the local Jews flourished after 1774, with many acting as exporters of cereals, figs, oil, raisins, carpets, licorice and beans. Jews also acted as dragomans (translators and local agents) for European merchants, banking houses and consulates. A special mention should be made of Moshe Soncino who was controller of the customhouse in 1718 and Moshe Arditi, a governmental treasurer in 1812. During the 19th century, especially after the liberal reforms known as Tanzimat were introduced in the Ottoman Empire bringing about an end to the formal discrimination against the dhimmis, an increasing number of Jews held various positions in the local municipal government and judicial court. There had also been numerous Jewish physicians and surgeons in the Jewish community of
Izmir, some of them plague specialists. However, the fortunes of the Jewish community of Izmir were impaired by frequent disasters: great fires (1743, 1772, 1841, and 1881), at least eleven epidemics of cholera between 1770 and 1892, and a number of powerful earthquakes. The great fire of 1772 was particularly destructive leaving the community for 28 years with no standing synagogue, until the Ottoman authorities issued authorizations for new buildings. During this long period, the Jews of Izmir were constrained to pray in specially adapted private houses.

The intellectual life of the community was bolstered with the establishment of a printing house in 1657 by Abraham ben Jedidiah Gabbai, an immigrant from Livorno, Italy. Rosh Yosef by R. J. Escapa was the first book published in Izmir. In addition to several Hebrew books, Gabbai printed a second edition of Mikve Yisrael – Esperanza de Israel ("The Hope of Israel") by R. Manassh Ben Israel and Apologia por la noble nacion de los Judios, by Eduardo Nicholas, both books in Spanish with Latin characters, the last one being a translation from English by R. Manasseh. Izmir became the third printing center in the Ottoman Empire, after Constantinople and Salonika. More than 400 titles, mostly of rabbinical literature were printed in the Izmir from the 18th until the early 20th century by twelve various printers, Ben Senior (1913-1922) being the last one. Local rabbis were the authors of many of the works printed in Izmir. R. Joseph ben Elijah Chazzan's commentaries Ein Yosef were published
in Izmir already in 1675, it was followed by R. Aaron Alfandari's Yad Aharon (Izmir, 1735), and R. Abraham ibn Ezra's Battei Knessiyot (Salonika, 1806). Other important authors include R. Isaac B. Moshe Nunez Belmonte and R. Isaac Di Mayo (d.1810), who both composed commentaries on Maimonides' Yad Hazaka: Sha'ar ha- Melekh (Salonika, 1801) and Shorashei Ha-Yam (Salonika, 1807), respectively. R. Hayim Palaggi (Palache) (1788-1868), chief rabbi of Izmir and of another six neighboring communities after 1855 and appointed Hakham Bashi of Izmir by the Ottoman authorities in 1856, is the author of over more than 70 works, most of them have been published. R. Joseph Hazzan's (1741-1820) seven-volume collection of response Chikrei Lev (Salonika, 1806) and R. Nissim Abraham Ashkenazi's Nechmad le-Mareh commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud (Salonika, 1832) are additional important works composed by the Izmir rabbis. Several important rabbis of Izmir emigrated to the Land of Israel: R. Hayim b.
Jacob Abulafia (d. 1744), a native of Tiberias, was chief rabbi of Izmir from 1720 to 1740, when he returned to Tiberias along with his disciples and restored the Jewish settlement in that city, having received the assistance of the Istanbul Committee Officials of the Land of Israel that were in charge of organizing immigration and pilgrimages to the Land of Israel. Other rabbis of Izmir who settled in the Land of Israel include R. Hayim Moda'i (d. 1794), a Safed-born chief rabbi of Izmir from 1776 till 1793, when he returned to Safed, and R. Joseph Hazzan (1741- 1820) who settled in Hebron in 1813 and then in Jerusalem, where he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the Land of Israel.

There were numerous synagogues in Izmir. Bikkur Holim, one of the earliest, was founded in 1690 by Solomon de Ciaves, a Dutch merchant who settled in Izmir. The Shalom or Ayndilis synagogue, also known as Shabbetai Zvi synagogue or Kahal de abacho, is thought to have been founded in the 17th century. The Portuguese synagogue was established in 1710, The Mahazikei Torah in 1722, the Algazi also known as Kahal de ariva, in 1728. The Segnora (Geveret) synagogue was named after Dona Gracia Mendes and believed to have been founded by her. However, the natural catastrophes that repeatedly hit the city destroyed the original buildings. New synagogues were established in the 19th century, among them the Shalom synagogue (1800), the Forasteros, and Beth Levi (1898). Many of the old synagogues of Izmir are distinguished by a unique architectural style. Their praying hall is either rectangular or square and divided into nine equal sections by four ceiling supporting columns situated in the
center. The interior decorations are generally of wood and reflect local decorating traditions common to Western Anatolia and the adjacent Greek islands of eastern Aegean Sea. It should pointed out that the building of the Mahazikei Torah synagogue, also known as the Sonsino synagogue, provoked the anger of the local Turkish authorities who subsequently ordered its demolition because of its alleged resemblance to the local Hisar Cami mosque. It took the community many efforts to cancel this edict. By the end of the 19th century in the Shalom, Talmud Torah and other synagogues belonging to this architectural style, the tevah was been moved towards the western wall reflecting an Italian influence. Beth El synagogue, the largest and most elegant in Izmir, was built by specially employed Italian artisans in the 1900s. It shows modern European influences, notably by the location of the tevah close to the Holy Ark towards the eastern wall. By the end of the 19th century, there were in
Izmir a total of ten synagogues and eight prayer-houses.

During the 19th century, the cultural activity diversified with the publication of the first Jewish newspaper - Puerta del Oriente - founded by Pincherle in 1846. It was followed in the 19th century by at least other five periodicals, among them La Buena Esperanza (1871-1910), El Novelista (1889-1922), and El Messerret (1897-1922), all published in Ladino, the language of the local Jews. After 1838, more than 110 books were published in Ladino, and by the end of the 19th century, many were volumes of poetry, novels, and stories, besides religious works. The Jewish traditional education and learning declined with fewer yeshivot and students; however, in 1847 Abraham Enriquez founded a new Talmud Torah that was subsequently enlarged in 1871. The first Alliance Israelite Universelle school for boys of was opened in 1878 followed a year later by a school for girls. A second vocational school for girls with 34 students was opened in 1884. By 1895 there were in Izmir four Jewish schools
for boys with about 2,500 students and two Jewish schools for girls with some 500 students

The first Jewish hospital was opened in 1805; after 1840, the Rothschild family of Vienna enlarged and financed it for some years. The Rothschild hospital was closed in 1911, but three years later, a new Jewish hospital was opened in the Karatas district. During the 19th century, several charitable volunteer associations fulfilled many of the social and welfare activities of the community. Bikkur Holim and Bikkur Holim shel Nashim served as a Hevra Kadisha, while Hevra Kedosha shel Gvarim was responsible with the maintenance of the cemeteries. The needy families received financial support from Ozer Dalim association, and Hachnasat Orchim was in charge of foreign Jewish visitors to Izmir. There were additional associations who carried for orphans, underprivileged brides and needy patients. Part of the expenses of the Talmud Torah and the Jewish hospital were met from the revenues generated by a lottery organized by Gemillut Hassadim association. In addition, the community received
substantial financial support from a number of donors: a new cemetery in the neighborhood of Burnabat was purchased with the help of Alexander Sidi while Nissim Crispin dedicated his efforts to the benefit of the Alliance schools. The Barons Edmond de Rothschild and Maurice de Hirsch, too, contributed to the welfare of the Jewish community of Izmir.

The leadership of the community consisted of two main bodies: the Beth Din who acted as a legal court and dealt with the civil and commercial disputes among Jews and sometimes also with disputes between Jews and non-Jews. It generally had between three to seven members and sometimes was headed by the chief rabbi of Izmir. The Community Council, on the other hand, had twelve members elected annually. The Council was responsible with the administrative functions of the community, including collecting the taxes. In the second half of the 19th century, the community adopted new and more democratic methods of governing. They lead to an increased participation of the community members in the decision making process and on the other hand to the introduction of some limits to the authority of the chief rabbi.

The earliest Jewish cemetery located in Barhi Baba had been in use since the 17th century until the early 19th century, it was destroyed in early 20th century to make room for the new urban developments. In addition to the Burnabat cemetery, the Gurt Cesme cemetery was used between the end of the 19th century until the 1930s. The new cemetery still in use opened in the 1930s.

The 19th century saw a degradation of the general relations between the Jewish community and the Greek population of Izmir. Already in the late 18th century anti Jewish accusations had been vociferated by some sections of the Greek population; during the second half of the 19th century there was an upsurge in blood-label accusations with six cases between 1864 and 1901. The Ottoman police interfered to protect the Jewish population, most notably in 1872, when two Jews were murdered because of the Greek attacks, and in 1901, when the Greek mob threatened to storm the Jewish neighborhoods.

During the 19th century some Jews managed to obtain the protection of European powers, especially there was a significant number of families who became Italian nationals, followed by small numbers of French citizens while others, like the Palache and the Leon families, acquired the protection of the Netherlands.


The 20th Century

The Jewish population of Izmir has been since the middle of the 19th century in a steadily decline. Out of about 40,000 Jews in 1868, making Izmir the third largest Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire, after Salonika and Istanbul, there remained only 25,000 in the early years of the 20th century. The second number included a small Ashkenazi community founded by Jewish refugees from Russia in 1905. The collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the ensuing Turko-Greek war (1919-1921) that had ravaged the region of Izmir and badly damaged the city, brought about a renewed exodus of the local Jews with many moving to Greece or emigrating to France, the United States, and Argentina. In 1927, there were about 17,000 Jews in Izmir, and twenty years later approximately 15,000. Following the establishment of the State of Israel, some 10,000 Jews of Izmir made aliyah. In the early 1960s, there were less than 2,000 Jews in Izmir, but later their number grew to about 3,000 in the 1970s. There are
now about 2,400 Jews in Izmir out of a total population of 2,300,000 inhabitants, making it the second largest Jewish community in Turkey, after Istanbul.

There were a number of volunteer associations active in the Jewish community of Izmir: Liga de Pas ("The Association of Peace and Solidarity"), known after 1925 by its Turkish name – Yardim ve Kardeslik Cemiyeti ("The Brotherhood Association of Assistance"), was founded in 1909 and devoted its activities to the modernization of the community.

During the Second World War (1939-1945), the Jewish community of Izmir was instrumental in rescuing about one thousand Jews from the German occupied Greek Aegean islands. After December 1943, with the help of Greek partisans, groups of Greek Jews had been smuggled to Turkey in small boats. The Jewish community of Izmir offered to shelter them until the British authorities in Istanbul issued them the necessary authorizations to emigrate to Palestine.

The dramatic decline in population during the early 1950s caused the shutting down of several community institutions, among them the Alliance Israelite Universelle school, though it was opened again in 1959. In the 1960s there functioned only one Jewish school and two synagogues, the community still maintained a hospital and a rabbinical court headed by Chief Rabbi Moreno Siegora until his death in 1966. In 1970, there were still some organized youth activities.

Most of the Jews who remained in Izmir during the last decades of the 20th century were active as merchants, some of them exporters and industrialists. The general economic situation of the community was good and they enjoyed good relations with the local Turkish population, except for some attacks on Jewish shops during the demonstrations connected with the problem of Cyprus in September 1955.

The current religious life of the Izmir community is concentrated mainly around two synagogues: the Beth El synagogue and Shaar Hashamaym, a new synagogue located in the modern district of Alsancak that also houses the offices of the local rabbinate and community. The cultural activities are promoted by the Liga benevolent association established in 1990. However, the veteran Talmud Torah school was closed in 1998 and the remaining students transferred to the local American school. Some 150 children attend a Jewish elementary school with Turkish as the language of instruction and Hebrew taught for 15 hours a week. The Jewish hospital in Karatas now admits non-Jewish patients as well. An old age home is located in an adjoining building.

Turkey

Türkiye Cumhuriyeti - Republic of Turkey

A country in southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe. 

21st Century

Estimated Jewish population in 2018: 15,000 out of 82,000,000 (0.01%).  Main Jewish organization:

Jewish Community of Turkey
Website: www.turkyahudileri.com

 

HISTORY

The Jews of Turkey

1923 | Father of the Turkish Nation

WW1 heralded the end of the great empires era – the Czarist Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and the enormous Ottoman Turkish Empire, which at various times stretched from Southeastern Europe to North Africa.
The collapse of the Turkish giant and the disintegration of the empire were fertile ground for mayhem and friction between many different ethnic groups, mostly Turks and Greeks.
On July 24th, 1923, in the picturesque Swiss city of Lausanne representatives of the Turks, the British, the French, the Italians and the Greeks met to put the Asia Minor puzzle back together again following the end of the Ottoman Empire.
The Treaty of Lausanne set the borders of modern Turkey, which turned from an Empire with a religious and traditional character to a democratic, secular, and national, even nationalistic state.
Under the new ruler, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey underwent an aggressive process of modernization and secularization. The institution of the caliphate, the title of Pasha, the madrassas (religious schools) and Sharia, or Islamic law, were all abolished and relegated to the past. Ataturk (which means “Father of the Turks” in Turkish) believed in ethnic homogeneity, and therefore the Lausanne treaty included mass population exchanges, in which over two million Greeks and Turks were uprooted from their homes.
Under the treaty, the Turkish regime was required to allow minorities the right to maintain their culture. Ataturk was not impressed by this obligation. He banned the display of religious symbols in public and among other steps, restricted the teaching of Hebrew at schools. Despite this, many of the Jews of Turkey identified with the patriotic wave washing over the country and gave up the characteristics that defined them as a minority.

1926 | Princes of High Tide and Low

The US Consul in Istanbul, Bey Randall, aptly described the state of the Jews in the early years of Ataturk's rule: “During the Ottoman period”, he wrote, “while Jews managed to obtain basic political rights, they were generally treated as one of the lowest groups in the empire. Upon the establishment of modern Turkey Jews won a place in all walks of Turkish life: as stock brokers, bankers, practitioners of free professions, clerks and officials, and even won key positions in the trade unions.” However, historians mark 1926 as the end of the high tide for Turkish Jews and the beginning in the low, reaching a nadir during WW2.
Like any country during a war, let alone a world war, even neutral Turkey needed cash. To that end, the Turkish authorities levied a differential tax upon its populace – a tax not set by a citizen's income, but by their ethnicity. Muslims paid less. Others – and most of all the Jews – paid more. Much more.
The tax laid very heavily on the Jews and expedited their departure from the country, and in addition, the Turkish press at the time was pro-Nazi and claimed that the Jews have “foreign blood” and are “Turkish in name only”. Expressions of anti-Semitism soon followed. And yet, during WW2 Turkey gave shelter to a small number of Jewish refugees.
Towards the end of the war, as it became clear that the Axis Powers were facing defeat, the discriminatory tax was repealed and the remaining debts incurred under it were expunged.

1948 | We Hereby Declare!

In 1948 David Ben-Gurion declared the foundation of the State of Israel and the Turkish government declared another expansion of religious freedoms. Some 35,000 Jews made aliyah from Turkey that year; the children of those who stayed were allowed to study basic Hebrew at one of the five Jewish schools in Istanbul. However teaching of general studies was permitted only in Turkish.
In those years the Jewish cultural circle in Turkey expanded, including among other manifestations three Jewish periodicals. Two of them - “Shalom” and “La Vera Luz” were printed in Ladino, and the third, “HaMenorah”, was published by the Bnei Brith organization and was distributed in three languages: Hebrew, French and Ladino. These were also the years that saw the work of Jewish poet Joseph Habib Gerez, whose writing extolled the greatness of Istanbul, and Avraham Galanti – a columnist, historian and prolific researcher, who wrote many books about the Jews of Turkey.
Turkish Jews also left a mark on the country's plastic arts. In the first half of the 20th century Ataturk invited painting teacher Leopold Levy to head the Istanbul Art Institute. Levy, who believed in the heritage of European impressionism and expressionism, breathed life into the moribund art world of Istanbul, and the greatest Turkish painter owe him a great debt for doing so.
The economic situation of the Jews also improved markedly compared to that during WW2. Many of them engaged in commerce and art, served as government officials and practiced various free professions. In the 1950s and 1960s the Jews of Turkey lived with their neighbors in peace, save for a few anti-Semitic outbursts following Israel's victory over the Arab states in the Six Day War of 1967.

1970 | Wanted: A Language Reviver

In the early 1970s there were 30-35,000 Jews living in Turkey, mostly in Istanbul. 95% of them were descendants of the Spanish Expulsion, and the rest scions of Jews who immigrated from Poland and Austria in the 17th and 18th centuries.
The Austrian-descended Jews, who were considered the elite of the community, founded the great synagogue of Istanbul among others, which was known as the “Austrian Synagogue”. In 1951 the Sephardi community founded another famous Istanbul synagogue, Neve Shalom, which in 1986 was the scene of a horrific attack, when two terrorists entered it in the guise of reporters and murdered 22 worshipers.
For hundreds of years, the heart and soul of the Sephardi community in Turkey was the Ladino language, but nothing lasts forever. While in 1927 84% of Jews in Turkey declared Ladino to be their mother tongue, in a 1955 survey that figure dropped to 64%, and in 2013 Jewish-Turkish author Mario Levy told the daily “Israel Hayom” that his twin daughters, then 25 years old, do not know a word of Ladino. As of 2015, Ladino culture in Turkey is dying out.

2015 | Tense Relations

In 2014 Turkey was home to approximately 17,000 Jews, most in Istanbul and about 2,000 people in Izmir and other cities. Many of the Jews of Turkey maintain the flames of Jewish tradition to this day. Istanbul has 16 synagogues and a well-kept cemetery, tightly guarded from hostile actions.
Due to the harsh relations between Israel and Turkey in the past ten years, especially since the “Mavi Marmara” affair in 2010 and the recalling of the Turkish Ambassador from Israel, anti-Semitism has been on the rise in the country. Jews report a growing fear of walking the streets in clothing indicative of their Jewish origins, and many are leaving the country, mostly to the United States and Europe.

Rabbi Chaim Nahum Effendi

Chaim (Haim) Nahum (Nahoum) (1872-1960), rabbi, born in Manissa (Magnesia), Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire). He was educated in Tiberias, before going back to Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey), where he attended high school, and Istanbul where he studied law. From 1893-97 he studied in Paris, France, where he was ordained at the rabbinical seminary. Back in Istanbul, Nahum worked for the community and was deputy director of the rabbinical seminary as well as teaching history at the Military Academy. A supporter of the Young Turk movement, he was appointed Hacham Bashi - Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire after the Young Turks came to power in 1908. When they lost power in 1920, he moved to Paris and five years later was elected Chief Rabbi of Cairo, Egypt, where he remained until his death. In 1931, the king of Egypt appointed him to the senate and in 1933 Nahum became a member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo. He published works of historical research.

Rabbi Chaim Nahum Effendi

Chaim (Haim) Nahum (Nahoum) (1872-1960), rabbi, born in Manissa (Magnesia), Turkey (then part of the Ottoman Empire). He was educated in Tiberias, before going back to Smyrna (now Izmir, in Turkey), where he attended high school, and Istanbul where he studied law. From 1893-97 he studied in Paris, France, where he was ordained at the rabbinical seminary. Back in Istanbul, Nahum worked for the community and was deputy director of the rabbinical seminary as well as teaching history at the Military Academy. A supporter of the Young Turk movement, he was appointed Hacham Bashi - Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire after the Young Turks came to power in 1908. When they lost power in 1920, he moved to Paris and five years later was elected Chief Rabbi of Cairo, Egypt, where he remained until his death. In 1931, the king of Egypt appointed him to the senate and in 1933 Nahum became a member of the Arabic Language Academy in Cairo. He published works of historical research.