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Saporta, Ḥanokh

(332 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Ḥanokh Saporta (Ṣaporta, Sasportas) was a scholar from the Iberian Peninsula who moved to the Ottoman Empire before the expulsion of 1492. Born into one of Catalonia’s foremost Jewish families, Saporta first settled in Edirne (Adrianople) together with other distinguished rabbis from Spain and Portugal who became the leaders of the local Romaniot, Ashkenazi, and Italian congregations. Around 1481, sometime after the arrival of Isaac Ṣarfati from Germany, Saporta moved to the new Ottoman capital of Istanbul. There he headed a yeshiva whose students came from many different …

Kalef (Kalev), Yehoshua

(1,018 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Yehoshuʽa Yuda Kalef (Eshua Kalev, Joshua Kalef, Josué Caleb) (1875–1943), a lawyer and journalist, was an early member and leader of the Zionist movement in Ottoman and independent Bulgaria. Descended from the respected Kalef and Romano families, he received a traditional Jewish education before attending the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) school in his native Plovdiv, where he studied French and developed an appreciation for French culture that remained with him throughout his life. His childhood also nurtured in him a strong sense …

Miṭrani, Barukh ben Isaac

(976 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Barukh ben Isaac Miṭrani (1847–1919) was a rabbi, educator, writer, Hebrew reformer, and noted precursor of Zionism in Edirne during the second half of the nineteenth century. A precocious child, he received a specialized education from both his father, a Hebrew teacher, and another noted Sephardi intellectual figure, Joseph Halévy (1827–1917). The latter recognized his ability and mentored him; Miṭrani would become his spiritual successor, carrying on, expanding, and building upon his ideas throughout his life. After traditionalist opponents…

Capital Tax Law (Varlik Vergisi, 1942)

(1,337 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Capital Tax Law (Turk. Varlık Vergisi kanunu) was a wealth levy enacted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on November 11, 1942 as Law No. 4305. Although its ostensible purpose was to raise funds against Turkey’s possible entry into World War II, it really was intended to destroy the economic position of non-Muslim minorities in the country and reinforce the ongoing process of economic Turkification. The Varlık Vergisi law was the final act in the pattern of anti-Jewish and anti-minority measuresadopted in the early years of the Turkish Republic. Such action…

El Progresso (Yosef ha-Daʿat)

(307 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
El Progresso, also known as  Yosef Daʿat (Increase of Knowledge) was a Hebrew and  Judeo-Spanish bimonthly, published in Edirne (Adrianople) from March to December 1888 by Rabbi Abraham Danon, an exponent of the Haskala. The first Jewish periodical to appear in Edirne, it reflected Danon’s lifelong effort to synthesize traditional learning with modern ideas. The paper was sponsored by the Ḥevrat Shoḥare Tushiyya (Society of the Proponents of Wisdom), also called Doreshe ha-Haskala (Seekers of Enlightenment), which he founded in 1879. It was printed both in Judeo-Sp…

Qimḥi (Kamḥi), Solomon Ben Nissim

(326 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Solomon ben Nissim Joseph David Qimḥi was a rabbi who sparked an anti-Karaite dispute within the Jewish community of Istanbul during the mid-nineteenth century. Qimḥi was born into a noted family of scholars, dating back to the Iberian Peninsula and Provence, but little is known about his personal life. He was a follower of  Rabbi Isaac ben Abraham Akrish(d. 1888?), the leader of an anti-modernist movement in Istanbul. Akrish’s influence undoubtedly prompted Qimḥi’s publication of Melekhet Shelomo (The Work of Solomon; Salonica, 1862), a  pamphlet declaring that the Karaites we…

Kalai, Mordechai Ben Solomon

(482 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Mordechai Bekhor ben Solomon Kalai (Qalaʽi, ca. 1556–1647) was a rabbi and scholar in the Ottoman Empire. Born in Salonica, he received his education from such renowned rabbis as Aaron ben Joseph Sasson (1550 or 1555–1626), Aaron ibn Ḥason, and Isaac Franco. Although not of Sephardi extraction (he was perhaps Romaniot or Ashkenazi), Kalai was trained in the Sephardi tradition and eventually headed the yeshiva and synagogue of the Portugal Yaḥiyya congregation. A pious and humble scholar, he taught numerous students, many of whom went on to become noted figures in…

Nahmias Family

(1,432 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Naḥmias (also Ibn Naḥmias) was a common Sephardi family name in various parts of the Ottoman Empire from the late fifteenth century on. Individuals bearing the name have been found in Istanbul, Salonica, the Holy Land, Morocco, and elsewhere. While it is possible that the Naḥmias families, particularly the ones in Istanbul and Salonica, were related, scholarly research has so far failed to demonstrate any familial ties. Various Naḥmias families have attributed their origins to different cities in the Iberian Peninsula, including Toledo, Lisbon, and Majorca. The name Naḥmias first…

Gatigno Family

(1,029 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Gaṭigno (Gaṭṭigno, Gaṭeigno) family, of Iberian origin, produced numerous rabbis and scholars who held leadership positions in Salonica and Izmir (Smyrna) from the seventeenth century on. Originally from Aragon, the Gaṭignos lived in Denmark before settling in Salonica in the early seventeenth century, when Moses Gaṭigno served as rector of the Majorca synagogue. Ḥayyim Abraham (I) ben Benveniste Gaṭigno (1672–1730) was a kabbalist who studied under his uncle Joseph ben Abraham (d. Jerusalem, 1709) before becoming a  rabbi and communal leader in Salonica. He authored Ṭirat Ke…

Levi (Le-Vet Ha-Levi) Family, Salonica

(2,002 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Sephardi family known as  ha-Levi or le-Vet ha-Levi (Heb. of the House of Levi) produced a number of leading scholars and communal leaders in Salonica during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Originating in the Portuguese city of Évora, Solomon (I) ben Joseph (d. ca. 1538), a physician and rabbi, made his way to the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the fifteenth century. He traced his ancestry back to several other distinguished and wealthy physicians, including his grandfather, Moses ben Solomon ben Isaac, and the latter’s great-grandfather, Joseph. Solomon had tw…

Primo, Samuel

(706 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Samuel Primo (Cairo, ca. 1635 or 1640–Edirne, 1705 or 1708) was a rabbinical scholar who served as a scribe to the false messiah Shabbetay Ṣevi (1626–1676) and remained a secret adherent to Sabbateanism in his later life, Born in Cairo in either 1635 or 1640, Primo was one of the brightest pupils in the yeshiva of Judah Sharaf. He moved to Jerusalem around 1662 and  represented the city’s Jewish community in a lawsuit against Judah ben David Ḥabillo (d. 1661) to obtain the funds collected in Izmir by his father. When Shabbetay Ṣevi arrived in the city in June 1665, Pr…

La Boz de Izmir

(355 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
La Boz de Izmir (The Voice of Izmir) was a Judeo-Spanish political and literary weekly published in Izmir (Smyrna) from 1910 to 1922. Printed in Rashi script, it began under the editorship of Bekhor Ḥannah, who also edited the journal Bayram (The Feast), but from 1916/1917 until 1918/1919, he was replaced by B. Luria. Ḥannah had worked for many years as a clerk for the Austrian Post in Izmir, and later for the Ottoman Post after the Capitulations were abolished. Ḥannah produced La Boz de Izmir with the assistance of Jacques (Ya‘aqov) Ben-Senior, who also wrote for several other Judeo…

Fonseca, Daniel de

(721 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Daniel ben Abraham de Fonseca (ca. 1668–ca. 1740) was a Jewish physician of Iberian origin who achieved prominence for his involvement in Ottoman diplomacy. Born into a marrano family in the Portuguese city of Porto, Fonseca grew up as a Christian after  his grandfather and uncle were burned at the stake and his father fled the country. Although he was baptized and joined the priesthood, he practiced the Jewish faith secretly and eventually went to France, where he studied medicine in Bordeaux and Paris. Sometime between 1680 and 1702, he arrived Istanbul, where he reverted to Judais…

Usque, Samuel

(983 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Samuel Usque, in the mid-sixteenth century, was a noted marrano poet and the author of a classic work of Portuguese literature. He emigrated to the Ottoman Empire and lived in Safed and Istanbul. Few details of his life are known; he belonged to the distinguished Usque family, from the Spanish city of Huesca, and was born in Lisbon around the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, the persecution of marranos and Jews compelled him to settle in Ferrara by mid-life (perhaps the 1540s). He lived there at the same time as Amatus Lusitanu…

Shaul, Moshe

(283 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Moshe Shaul (b. 1929) is a journalist whose career has been devoted to the preservation and propagation of the Judeo-Spanish cultural heritage. Born in Izmir (Smyrna) in 1929, he immigrated to Israel in 1949, where he joined the Ladino department of Kol Israel(Voice of Israel) broadcasting in 1954. In 1959, he graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with degrees in sociology and political science. From 1977 to 1994, Shaul headed the Ladino department at Kol Israel. In 1979, he founded Aki Yerushalaim: Revista Kulturala Djudeo-Espanyola as a supplement to his broadcast…

Carmona, Bekhor Isaac David

(938 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Bekhor Isaac David ben Elia Carmona (1773–1826)was  an important merchant, courtier, Jewish community leader, and political figure in the Ottoman Empire whose influence reached its peak under Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839). Born in Istanbul to the distinguished Carmona family, which produced a number of prominent figures on the Ottoman political, economic, and social scene during the empire’s last centuries, Carmona built upon the financial and political success of his uncle Moses ben Isaac Carmona, who had founded a bank and obtained a concession for the sale of alum ( şap), succee…

Maʿamad

(523 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The maʿamad (Heb. assembly; rendered in Latin characters by western Sephardi communities as mahamad) was an executive council that managed the secular affairs of many Jewish congregations in the Ottoman Empire and other parts of the Sephardi Diaspora. Usually made up of seven members (the so-called seven best men of the city; Heb. shivʿat ṭove ha-ʿir), although some councils were smaller, it functioned alongside the community’s spiritual leadership. Tax-paying members of the congregation elected aldermen (Heb. parnasim, sing. parnas) at public gatherings in a fairly democ…

Club des Intimes, Salonica

(855 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Club des Intimes was a Jewish cultural association in Salonica from 1873 through the 1910s. Under its original name, Cercle des Intimes, it was founded by a group of intellectuals and leaders as a secular club to promote Jewish cultural activities and philanthropy, and became known for its famous library. The initial membership, reflecting the club’s elitist name, was made up of economic leaders, merchants, and foreign-educated intellectuals. One member, Samuel Tiano, was an important local manufacturer and donated great sums of money to further the club’s reformist …

Kira (Kiera, Kyra)

(1,619 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The term kira ( kyra, kiera, chiera, chierara, chirazza) was applied to certain female functionaries who served the women of the imperial harem in the Ottoman Empire in various capacities. Scholars have disputed the origin of the term . The likeliest explanation is that it derived from the Greek κυρία/ kyria (lady), despite an imaginative Spanish origin proposed by Rosanes. During the second half of the sixteenth century, a period known as the Kadınlar Saltanatı (sultanate of the women), the combination of weak sultans and rampant intrigue at court provided an opening for the women of th…

Ḥayyim, Samuel

(673 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Samuel ben Moses Ḥayyim (ca. 1760–ca. 1842) was a rabbinical jurist ( dayyan) and teacher in Istanbul, and a chief rabbi ( haham başi) of the Ottoman Empire. One of the city’s most learned scholars, Ḥayyim studied in a yeshiva where his teachers were Rabbis Elijah Palombo (b. 1762), Menahem Ashkenazi, and Raphael Jacob Asa. He spent most of his life in Balat, the Jewish quarter in the Fatih district of Istanbul, where he headed his own seminary. As early as 1798, he was recognized as an authority on the laws of divorce ( giṭṭin), and in consequence he supervised many such cases in the bet din headed…
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