Istanbul Jewish History Articles by Louis Fisman

Istanbul Jewish History

TIMELINE — Articles by Louis Fisman

Early Settlement

From 4th Century BCE Archaelogical findings indicate Jewish settlement in the Aegean region of Anatolia. From 220 BCE There are Jewish settlements in Sardes , Miletus , Prien , Bursa in the southeast and along the Aegean ,Mediterranean and Black Sea coasts. A bronze column found in Ankara confirms the rights the Emperor Augustos accorded the Jews of Asia Minor.

Ottoman Period

1299 – 1492 As the Ottoman Empire expands more and more Jewish populations , mostly Romaniot ( Greek-speaking Jews who lived in the Roman Empire ) are incorporated into Ottoman lands. They are officially recognised as dhimmi,a protected non-Muslim community.

1326 The Ottoman capture Bursa and make in their capital. They find a Jewish community oppressed under Byzantine rule.The Jews greet the Ottomans as saviours.

1365 Edirne becomes the Ottoman capital . Jews from Europe including Karaites,migrate there. In the later 14th and 15th centuries ,Jews expelled from Hungary,France,Sicily,Thessalonica(then under Venetian control ) and Bavaria,also find refuge in the Ottoman empire.

1453 Following the conquest of Constantinople,Sultan Mehmet II transfers Jewish populations to their new capital .

1477 Jewish make up % 11 of the total population ( 1,647 households ) of Constantinople..

1492 Sultan Bayezid II welcomes Jews fleeing the Spanish inquisition; in Istanbul , the Jewish population double and Salonika becomes a major Jewish centre.

1516 – 1517 The Ottoman conquest of Palestine and Egypt leads to the strengthening of Jewish communities in their ancient homeland of Eretz Israel.

1535 Approximately 56,000 Jewish live in Istanbul

1556 Sultan Suleyman ‘ the Magnificent’ write a letter to Pope Paul IV asking for immediate release of the Ancona Conversos whom he declared to be Ottoman citizens. The Pope complies.

1626 Shabatai Zvi is born in Izmir. He is to claim himself Messiah and create havoc in the Ottoman lands. Eventually he converts to Islam with his Jewish followers creating a new sect by accepting Islam outwardly but practising a new type of ‘ Sabbatean Judaism ‘ eventually leaving the realm of the Jewish community.

1839 – 1876 The Tanzimat reforms lead to the application of news laws,bringing equality to all Ottoman citizens,regardless of religion.

1870s The French Jewish school network Alliance Israelite Universelle expands throughout the Ottoman Empire in cities with large Jewish populations with a mission to modernise the Jewish communities of the East.

1881 Despite an official Ottoman policy against the modern migration of Jews to Palestine,Russian Jews are welcomed to migrate to the heartland of Ottoman Anatolia (Asia Minor ) where they set up farming communities lasting until World War I .

1908 The Young Turk revolution is supported by a wide coalition of Muslims,Jews,Armenians and Greek who unite under the French slogan of liberte,egalite and fraternite against Sultan Abdulhamid II. Jews enter the public political sphere,with Jews from Salonika,Izmir,Istanbul and Baghdad elected to the Ottoman parliament.Numerous Jewish newspapers are launched in multiple languages such as Judeo-Spanish,French,Turkish and Hebrew..


1918 WWI sees the demise of the Ottoman Empire.

1920s The Jewish population is at it is maximum at around 150.000

1922-23 Hayim Nahum Turkey’s Chief Rabbi is an adviser to the Turkish delegation to the Lausanne Conference.

1923 The Turkish Republic is founded under the preseidency of Mustafa Kemal ATATURK . The caliphate is abolished and a secular constitution adopted . Non-Muslims become Turkish citizens ushering in Turkification policies. Over time Judeo-Spanish would be phased out and Turkish takes hold as the Jewish communities mother tongue.

1933 Turkey recruits German Jewish academics facing Nazi discriminative policies in order to strengthen Istanbul and Ankara universities.

1934 As a result of pogroms in Edirne and Canakkale the majority of the Jews ıf Thrace migrate to Istanbul.

1940s Turkey stays neutral in World War II

1942 Wealth tax ( varlık vergisi ) places a disproportionately heavy burden on non Muslim communities and sets off a massive migration of Jews to Palestine . Some Jews and other non-Muslims are forced to work in labour camps to pay off debts to the Government.

1948 Israel declares independence leading to continuous immigration throughtout the following years.

1949 Turkey officially recognises the State of Israel.

1951 The grand Neve Shalom synagogue opens in the Jewish neighbourhood of Galata .

1955 Pogroms targeted at the Greek comminity also effect the Jewish comminity and lead to a new round of migration of Israel

1986 Neve Shalom synagogue is attacked by Palestinian terrorists killing 22

1989 The Quincentennial Foundation made up of Turkish Jews and Muslims is established three years before the 500th anniversary of Sephardi life in Ottoman lands and Turkey.

1990s Relations between Turkey and Israel become stronger when a strategic military bond between the two countries emerges.

1994 A modern Jewish school in Ulus opens its doors replacing the former school located in the old Jewish neighbourhood of Galata..

2001 The Zulfaris Synagogue is turned into the Quincentinal Foundation Museum of Turkish Jews providing space to commemorate Jewish Life in the former Ottoman lands and the modern Turkish state.

2002 Ishak Haleva is pronounced Chief Rabbi when Rabbi David Asseo dies after serving for more than 40 years.

2003 16 November Neve Shalom and Bet Israel synagogues are attacked during Shabbat prayers killing 23 people including six Jews . Five days later the British Consulate and HSBC headquarters are bombed. A Turkish militant Islamic group claims responsibility for the attacks but the level of sophistication suggest involvement of international terror organizations.

2004 The European Day of Jewish Culture opens synagogues for the first time to the general Turkish public offering musical and educational activities.

2009 The Jewish community of Turkey stands at about 20,000 . There are 21 synagogues functioning year round another three in the summer. There are 7 in Izmir , 2 in Bursa and one in Ankara and on in Antioch. With the introduciton of a new political order which criticises Turkey’s strong ties to the Jewish state and with popular expressions of antisemitism entering the public sphere Turkish Jews are left questioning what the future will hold……..

Dr. Louis Fishman is assistant professor of Middle East history at Brooklyn College City University of New York.

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