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Sephardi Mizrahi Studies Caucus Discussion List - Week of June 5, 2005

Minna Rozen, The Last Ottoman Empire and Beyond: The Jews of Turkey and the Balkans, 1808-1945 (Table of Contents and Introduction are below)

Table of Contents

Acknowledgements 11

Remarks on the Method of Transliteration 13 Introduction 19

Chapter 1: Thoughts about Modern Nationalism 23

Chapter 2: Turkish Nationalism and Other National Movements at the Twilight of the Ottoman Era 41

Chapter 3: The Reforms in the Ottoman Empire and the Status of the Jews 53

Chapter 4: The Impact of the Reforms on the Social and Spiritual World of the Empire’s Jewry 65

Chapter 5: The Istanbul Community between the Hatt-? Serif of Gulhane and the Treaty of Lausanne (1839-1923) 77

Chapter 6: The Balkan Nations’ Wars of Independence and the Fate of the Jewish Communities 131

Chapter 7: The Jewish Community of Salonika between the Hatt-? Serif of Gulhane and the Treaty of Lausanne (1839-1923) 137

Chapter 8: Balkan Jewry from the Establishment of the Nation States to the End of World War I 183

Chapter 9: Between the Two World Wars 223

Chapter 10: The End of a Diaspora 333

Epilogue: Rethinking Nationalism 369

Appendix 1 381

Appendix 2 385

Bibliography 393

Indexes 441

Table of Contents


One stifling summer afternoon in early July 1993, in the dimness of the main synagogue of Plovdiv, Bulgaria (known in Ottoman times as Filibe), home of the Philipopoli community of Greek-speaking Jews who faded from history centuries ago, my eye fell upon a remarkable object lying among the ravaged, moth-eaten stacks of holy books and crumbling Torah scrolls. It was a reddish velvet cover for the bimah (pulpit) bearing an inscription embroidered in silk thread: “Dedicated by the parents of the departed to the Yeshurun Congregation in memory of Mordekhai Hayim Tajer, killed on 3 Nisan 5681 (1) in Jaffa while defending the honor of our people.” The elegant, but disintegrating ornamentation of this huge, neglected sanctuary, built in the finest tradition of late nineteenth-century Austro-Hungarian architecture, reverberated with the echoes of a rich Ottoman past. Here in the heart of the Balkans —where Bulgarians, Serbs, Croatians, Macedonians, Bosnians, Albanians, Greeks, and Turks had all been ready and willing to slaughter each another (and some were in fact doing just that even as I stood gazing at this scrap of velvet) —this cover was an unexpected message from another place and another violent struggle over a different piece of land, the one fromwhich I had journeyed. Mordekhai Hayim Tajer had been one of the victims of the Arab attack on the Jews of Jaffa in 1921. Yet, this piece of velvet was surprising not only for the foreign scents and scenes that it evoked — oranges and a Mediterranean port — but also for what it conveyed. Tajer’s parents were the descendants of Jews who had lived for centuries in multicultural surroundings that encouraged their religious and cultural separateness as long as they maintained a low profile. They were also the

(1) The Hebrew year 5681 (1921) is rendered as [Hebrew font], a play on the Hebrew word for “glory” (rather than the usual form of [Hebrew font]), an allusion to the family’s belief that their son’s death was a source of glory to his people.



heirs of a society whose forefathers, expelled from Spain, saw the act of dying for the sanctification of God’s name as the embodiment of an ideal. All they asked from life was to be allowed to maintain their religious identity and observe the divine commandments in peace. Suddenly this covering, extricated from a pile of ruins and discarded prayer books, recounts to us that the parents of Mordekhai Hayim Tajer were proud of the way in which their son had died — not as a martyr but as a Jew defending the honor of the Jewish people. And where? In Erez ? Yisrael. It seems, then, that simply being a Jew, in the sense of leading a Jewish religious and social life, was not enough for these parents; this alone ceased to be the ideal that guided them. Woven among the silken threads embroidered on the velvet cover is the message of Jewish nationalism, the desire for a Jewish homeland. Tajer’s parents found comfort in the conviction that they belonged to a people with a land and with honor, and that their son had fallen while defending that honor. But when did all this happen? When and why did Ottoman Jewry cast off the warm, protective cloak of the world in which it had dwelled for 500 years in relative peace and tranquility, and exchange it for the flimsy shelter of nationalism? In many ways, this velvet cover, discarded among the ruins of the Plovdiv synagogue, represents the essential theme of this work. I have chosen to answer these questions by examining, on a theoretical level, the manner in which the fate of the eastern centers of Sephardi Jewry in Europe and Asia Minor was determined in recent generations. In order to achieve this aim, I have mapped out the following analytical framework: 1. Presenting the currently accepted theories dealing with the study of nationalism; 2. Analyzing central events and processes throughout the period in question, presenting major approaches in the historiography of the period, and comparing these approaches with the aforementioned analysis; 3. Testing the above against the analysis of the prevailing theories in the study of nationalism, which is highly significant for the following reasons: A. The history of the 137 years under discussion here is, in many senses, the history of the creation of the modern nationalist movements in this part of the world, by virtue of the fact that the emergence of these movements represented a force of enormous magnitude, which altered the personal fate of most of the people born in these countries. The historiography of


this period is generally that of the nationalities that were formed in this region. As such, it does not constitute historiography in the ideal sense of the term but rather a nation’s retelling of the myth of its own creation. Among the pressures that encroach upon the writing of history under such conditions are the numerous difficulties involved in composing a study that even comes close to grasping the totality of the forces and relationships that emerged in this region. This includes the difficulty of addressing the fate of a group (the Jews) scattered throughout the nation-states that arose from the ruins of the Ottoman Empire, while encompassing — separately and together — all the members of that group within all the political frameworks in which they were found. A theoretical examination of the fate of this group can, to a certain extent, provide a general perspective on the region as a whole. B. If one could identify a common theoretical framework applicable to the set of processes that changed the face of southeastern Europe and Asia Minor during the period in question, this might offer a solution to specific hypothetical questions such as: Could the course of history have been different for the dispersed Jewish communities in these regions? And even questions of a more global, far-reaching nature, for example: Under other conditions, would it have been possible to consider a different portrayal of the course of history with respect to the Ottoman Empire and its peoples? The qualifier “if” at the beginning of this section must be stressed at this juncture, for the huge rewards attending the discovery of such a theoretical basis should certainly spur the historian to further inquiry. Nevertheless, the present undertaking and the effort invested in the search offer no guarantee of success. C. A comparative study of the fate of these communities and the emergence of nationalism within them has yet to be undertaken.(2) What is being proposed here is not a balanced history of the Jewish communities of Turkey and the Balkans, or even a cursory history of the unfolding of Zionismin the region. This is not only due to an imbalance in the

(2) The first modern research aspiring to encompass the whole geopolitical space to which we are relating is E. Benbassa and A. Rodrigue’s work, Juifs des Balkans: espaces judeo-ibériques, XIV eyXXe siècles (Jews of the Balkans: Judeo-Iberian spaces, fourteenth-twentieth centuries) (Paris, 1993), which dealt with the subject of the disappearance of the Jewish communities in this part of the world as a matter of fact, and as an inevitable consequence of the Holocaust and the foundation of the State of Israel.


supply of relevant sources for the various states but also due to the ultimate objective. Certain aspects of the history of the Jewish communities in these countries are addressed here because of their potential to shed light on issues that historical research has left unsolved, or only partially solved, and whose solution is vital to securing the ultimate goal. These questions are examined within the overall historical framework of the period, out of a desire to understand the connection between the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and the emergence of the nation-states, on the one hand, and the fate of the Jewish communities of these regions, on the other. In particular, specific questions are examined, because I believe that they can be transformed into tools for better understanding this connection, with the aid of new sources in our possession. The present study makes use of the findings of previous studies. I will be referring primarily to the works of: Avner Levi, Esther Benbassa, Aharon Rodrigue, Rena Molho, Paul Dumont, Jacob M. Landau, Jennie Lebel, Alexander Matkovski, Hayim Keshales, Yaqir Eventov, Zvi Loker, Avigdor Levy, Stanford Shaw, Bernard Lewis, and numerous others, including the contributors to the second volume of this work. They provided many of the ideas for this volume, even if my interpretation of events described by them is different, to a greater or a lesser extent, than their own. Large sections of this work are based on primary research, particularly with respect to the history of the Istanbul community from 1833 to 1922; the history of the Salonika community between 1920 and 1941; and the history of Bulgarian Jewry from 1878 to 1950.

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