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(1,296 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Bucharest (Turk. Bükresh; Rom. București) was founded sometime in the fourteenth century, and was first mentioned in correspondence issued by Vlad III, the ruler of Wallachia, in 1459. Although the Ottomans conquered some parts of Wallachia in the early fifteenth century, they did not take Bucharest itself until 1554. It became the capital of the province of Wallachia in 1659. The Ottomans controlled the province through local vassals until 1716. Afterwards, it was ruled by Phanariotes, or Greek Ottoman subjects from Istanbul. Phanariote rule continued until 1821, when…

Academic Study of Ottoman Jewry

(6,592 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
The academic study of Jews living in the Ottoman Empire is a subfield of the academic study of Islamicate Jewry. Compared to the general study of Jews under Islam, a field that has grown tremendously since the 1970s, our understanding of Ottoman Jewry is still in its nascent stage. The pre-Ottoman Geniza period is relatively well studied, and in recent years there has been a growing number of works on Ottoman Jews in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Yet the middle Ottoman period, fr…
Date: 2013-05-06


(2,352 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Safed (Heb. Ṣefat, Ar. Ṣafad) is a town in the Upper Galilee area in Israel, situated about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of Tiberias. Jews have lived in Safed at least since the eleventh or twelfth century, and the town was a major center of Jewish commercial and scholarly activity during most of the sixteenth century, when it boasted a large Sephardic community. The Jewish presence declined thereafter, and until the second half of the eighteenth century only a few hundred Jews resided the…

Laniado Family

(1,322 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
The Laniado family probably arrived in the Ottoman Empire soon after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. Rabbis from the family appear to have played a central role in Aleppo in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, for they are frequently mentioned and quoted by other scholars throughout this period. Most of what information there is about the lives and official positions of the Laniado rabbis, however, is derived from works by members of the family and therefore is of questionable reliability. This applies most especial…


(1,562 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
The Hebrew term parnas (pl. parnasim), which first appears in rabbinic sources (BT Sanhedrin 82a), denotes leadership status. In medieval Europe, the parnas was the head of the community, elected for a fixed period that, depending on locality, could be as brief as a month or as much as several years. In the eastern Mediterranean and the Arab world, the parnasim were lay leaders of the community who functioned alongside the rabbis. Their position was therefore similar in many ways to that of “the seven good men of the city” ( shivʿa ṭove ha-ʿir) in the Talmud (BT Megilla 26a–27a). Parnasim are …

Greece (pre-1824)

(1,485 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Greece (Gr. Ellada; Heb. Yavvan; Tur. Yunanistan) is a country in southeastern Europe. The area that constitutes present-day Greece was under Ottoman rule from the second half of the fourteenth century to 1832 (a period known in Greek historiography as the Tourkokratia), when Greece officially obtained its independence. Jews have been living in Greece at least from the third century B.C.E. Since then, and through the Roman and Byzantine periods, Jews have resided in various locales on the Greek mainland, as well as on some of the islands, including Rhodes, Kos, Crete, and Cyprus. Under By…

Comtino, Rabbi Mordecai ben Eliezer

(592 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Mordecai ben Eliezer Comtino (1402–1482) was a rabbi, philologist, philosopher, astronomer, and mathematician. Born in Constantinople, he studied under Hanoch Saporta, a distinguished Catalonian rabbi, and was greatly influenced by Sephardic culture and tradition even though he himself was a Romaniot or perhaps even of French origin. He left Constantinople in the early 1450s on the pretext of a plague epidemic and settled for a while in Edirne (Adrianople). He returned to the new Ottoman capital sometime after the conquest (May 29, 1453), and remained there until his death. In his t…

Berab, Jacob

(742 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Jacob Berab (Beirav) was born around 1474 in Maqueda, a town located northwest of Toledo in Spain. After the expulsion of 1492, he moved to Morocco, and according to his own statement was appointed the rabbi of the community of Fez soon after his arrival there, at the age of eighteen. Berab’s stay in Fez was of short duration. After a few years, he left for Egypt for business reasons, whence he made visits to Jerusalem, Damascus, and Aleppo. In 1524, and possibly earlier, he settled in Safed, where he established a yeshiva that attracted many students and scholars from all over th…

Luria, Isaac

(920 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi (1534–1572), also known as ha-Ari (The Lion; acronym for ha-Elohi [the Godly] Rabbi Yiṣḥaq) was born to a father of Polish or German origin who settled in Jerusalem in the early sixteenth century and there married a Sephardi woman. Luria’s father died shortly after he was born, and his mother took him to  Egypt, where he was brought up and educated. Luria studied under David ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz; d. 1573) and Bezalel Ashkenazi(d. ca. 1594). By the age of twenty, he was already a learned scholar, familiar with rabbinic…


(387 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon
Kamishli (Ar. al-Qāmishlī) is a city in northeastern Syria on the Turkish border, founded in 1926 as a station on the Taurus railway. It has a mixed population of Kurds, Armenians, and Assyrian Christians. Little is known about its Jewish population. Jews arrived in the city in the late 1920s, mostly from neighboring Nusaybin (now in Turkey), where a community had existed for centuries. During the French mandate over Syria, there were about two hundred Jewish families in Kamishli. The number dropped sharply after the establishment of Israel in 1948, as the town’s Jews moved to the la…


(9,241 words)

Author(s): Abraham Marcus | Yaron Ayalon
1. Medieval Aleppo (Ar. Ḥalab) is a city in northwestern Syria. Jews first settled there in the Hellenistic period. Between the Arab and Ottoman conquests, i.e., from the seventh to the sixteenth century, the Aleppine Jewish community maintained loose ties with the gaonic centers in Palestine and Babylonia, and elected its own religious and lay leaders. In Jewish tradition, Aleppo is identified as Aram Ṣova (Aram-Zobah), a city conquered in the days of King David (II Samuel 10:6 ff.). The Al-Ṣafra synagogue in Aleppo, said to date to…
Date: 2015-09-03


(4,343 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ayalon | Ariel I. Ahram
1. Medieval Baghdad was founded by the caliph al-Manṣūr (r. 754–775) as the new capital of the Abbasid state and served as the seat of the caliphs till the Mongol conquest in 1258. Jews apparently settled in Baghdad from the very beginning, most of them arriving at first from neighboring towns in Iraq, and later from distant lands as well. At some point in the eighth century, Baghdad became the largest Jewish center in Iraq. Although most of the Jews in Baghdad were concentrated in the Dār al-Yāhūd quarter, many, especially merchants and tradesmen, lived elsewhere. Al-Karkh, a co…