The Influence and the Role of the Jewish Community in Ancient and Contemporary Turkey
A Jewish community has existed in the land that is modern day Turkey for many centuries. In fact, many important figures of the Old Testament lived in Turkey during at least part of their lives. Abraham was born in Ur of Chaldea, according to the Old Testament, which is believed to be the Turkish city Sanhurfa (located close to the Euphrates River) (G 3). It is also believed that Abraham lived in Harran in the 18th century BC. Jacob sought refuge in Turkey when he was escaping from his brother Esau and his well is still found there today. Noah and his family ran aground on Mount Ararat (Agri Dag), which is located in eastern Turkey near Dogubayazit. Noah's descendents would become the Hittites who ruled central Anatolia (modern day Turkey), the Assyrians, and Abrahams ancestors among others (Burke 1).
Due to multiple invasions of Palestine, many Jews were forced into exile. These Jews, and subsequently all Jews residing abroad, or "dispersed", were referred to as the Jews of the Diaspora or simply the Diaspora. In 560 BCE, Babylon conquered Judah and a relatively small number of Jews were exiled. Some would eventually return to Jerusalem but others built centers of Jewish culture throughout Mesopotamia (Burke 1). The remnants of Jewish settlement have been discovered in the Aegean Region that date to the 4th century BCE confirming Josephus Flavius' records of Aristotle having met and exchanged ideas with some Jewish people in Asia Minor. Other Jewish settlements have been found in various parts of modern Turkey that date to the third century BCE most notably the remains of an ancient synagogue in Sardis (Guleryuz 1-2). Many of these settlements might have come about after the conquests of Alexander the Great conquered Palestine. The Greeks encouraged the Jews to migrate from Palestine. Estimates exist that would number the Jews living in Asia Minor during the second century CE at one million (Burke 3).
Jewish Communities under the Ottoman Empire
The Ottomans and the Jews have a historically been seen as living in harmony and welcoming of each other. The Ottomans captured Bursa in 1324 relieving the Jewish community there from centuries of Byzantine rule in which they had been persecuted (Jewish Communities 1). The Ottomans became known for welcoming persecuted Jews from Christendom. Sultan Orhan even gave the Jews permission to build the Etz-ha-Hayyim synagogue. In 1492, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand placed an edict on all Jews either forcing them to convert or die. Approximately 150,00 of these Sephardim Jews escaped (Burke 2). Other groups of Jews from Europe migrated to Europe in the face of persecution. In 1477, there were 1,647 Jewish households in Istanbul. By 1527, there were 8,070 Jewish houses in Istanbul (Guleryuz 3).
These massive immigrations were brought about by a generous and willing Ottoman...