Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World

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Executive Editor: Norman A. Stillman

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The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online (EJIW) is the first cohesive and discreet reference work which covers the Jews of Muslim lands particularly in the late medieval, early modern and modern periods. The Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World Online is updated with newly commissioned articles, illustrations, multimedia, and primary source material. 

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(613 words)

Author(s): Onur Yildirim
In the Ottoman Empire of the late eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, a berat was a document issued by the Ottoman government upon the recommendation or at the request of a foreign consul that conferred certain legal, fiscal, and commercial privileges upon the holder, or beratli, normally a non-Muslim Ottoman subject employed by the consul. The privileges included exemption from taxes and from the jurisdiction of local courts. Beratlis were originally recruited to serve as vice-consuls, interpreters ( dragomans), commercial agents, and in various menial capacities, but …

Berber Jews

(847 words)

Author(s): Daniel Schroeter
From the early Islamic period until the mid-twentieth century, Jews were scattered among the Muslim Berber-speaking populations of the Maghreb: in rural Morocco, especially in the Atlas Mountains and the south, Kabylia and Mzab in Algeria, Jerba in Tunisia, and the Jebel Nafusa in Libya. While contemporary evidence is lacking, it is likely that some Berbers converted to Judaism in late antiquity, before the expansion of Islam in the Maghreb. The idea that the Jews who lived in these regions were themselves part of the indigenous Berber population …

Berdugo Family

(549 words)

Author(s): Moshe Bar-Asher
The rabbis of the Berdugo family flourished in Meknes from the end of the fifteenth century to the mid-twentieth century. Like the Toledanos, another family of Spanish exiles who arrived in Morocco at the end of the fifteenth century, the Berdugos were one of the most distinguished Jewish families in Meknès. Almost all of our information about these two great families dates from the eighteenth century and thereafter.Many households in Meknès bore the name Berdugo, but the family’s prestige and glory derived most especially from the great scholars who emerged during the course of i…

Berdugo, Raphael ben Mordechai

(795 words)

Author(s): Moshe Bar-Asher
Raphael ben Mordechai Berdugo (1747–1821) was the most important scholar in the entire history of the Meknes Jewish community and one of the foremost religious figures in all of Morocco since the Spanish expulsion (1492). A member of the noted Berdugo family, Raphael attained a reputation as a great scholar and adjudicator (Heb. poseq) of Jewish law even as a youth. For a time, he served as head of the rabbinical court (Heb. bet din) in Meknès.Berdugo’s literary output included commentaries on the Bible, halakha, and aggada. He wrote three commentaries on the Bible: (1) Me Menuḥot (Still W…

Berdugo, Serge

(347 words)

Author(s): Mohammed Hatimi
Serge Berdugo was born in 1938 into a distinguished Moroccan Sephardi family of rabbis, merchants, and communal leaders in Meknes. He studied at the Institut de Sciences Politiques, and earned a law degree. A Jewish community leader and politician, he has been vice-president of external relations for the Conseil des communautés israélites du Maroc since 1977, and became its secretary-general in 1987. As such, he also heads the World Assembly of Moroccan Jewry. Under his presidency, the Conseil des communautés created the Foundation for Moroccan Jewish Heritage, which restores…

Bereshit-nāma ('The Book of Genesis')

(401 words)

Author(s): Vera B. Moreen
As far as is known, Judeo-Persian belles-lettres began with the works of Mowlānā Shāhīn-i Shīrāzī (Our Master, the Royal Falcon of Shiraz), who flourished in the fourteenth century in Iran. Only the pen name of the poet is known and the fact that he lived during the reign of the Ῑl-khānid ruler Abū Saʿīd (1316-1335), to whom he dedicated a panegyric. Shāhīn's surviving oeuvre consists of two major epic cycles, the first of which, known only as [ Bereshit-] n āma (The Book of Genesis), a name bestowed upon it by scholars, consists of versifications of selected narrative part…

Bertinoro, Obadiah da

(927 words)

Author(s): Abraham David
Obadiah ben Abraham Yare da Bertinoro (ca. 1450–before 1516) was an Italian rabbi and commentator on the Mishna. The name Yare is an acrostic of the Hebrew y ehi reṣuyeḥav (Let him be the favored of his brethren, Deut. 33:24). Little is known of his family, which derived from the town of Bertinoro in northern Italy. At some time he apparently lived in Città di Castello, where he was a banker. His best-known teacher was Joseph Colon, the greatest halakhic figure in Italy in the second half of the fifteenth century.Much more is known about Obadiah after he left Città di Castello, as three letters …

Bessis, Albert

(415 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Albert Bessis was born in Tunis on January 16, 1885. Educated at the Lycée Carnot in Tunis and at a law school in Paris, he was admitted to the Tunis bar in 1907 and was its president  from June 1952 to June 1954. He was also vice-president of the Fédération des Oeuvres Mutualistes (Federation of Mutual Benefit Companies) and president of the Organization for the Protection of Jewish Young Women from 1913 to 1920, a member of the Office of War Orphans from 1919, and a board member of the Alliance Française. He taught maritime law at the Center of Legal Studies in Tunis and was a delegate to the Tunis…

Bessis, Eugène

(257 words)

Author(s): Habib Kazdaghli
Eugène Bessis (1871–1951) was a Tunisian civil servant and served three terms as president of the Conseil de la Communauté Israélite. In this capacity he was a principal signatory of a published appeal to Tunisian Jews to support the Jewish National Fund (JNF) to further the Zionist enterprise in Palestine. In June 1932 he spoke at a large public meeting in Tunis protesting the government’s cancellation of a lecture by Nathan Halpern of the JNF.Bessis became a unionist in 1930 and wrote for the union newspaper Revendiquons, which was sympathetic to the Communists. He joined the Communist P…

Bet Din (Turkish Republic)

(400 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
After the proclamation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, the Jewish community of Turkey ceased to have a separate legal council and the responsibilities of its bet din were strictly limited to religious matters. The chief rabbinate and the bet din, which formerly had dealt with legal issues in addition to religious issues, no longer acted as the community’s civil court.   The Turkish bet din has changed in many ways since its inception in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Initially it consisted of a panel of three rabbinic judges who judged unlawful ac…

Bet El Kabbalists

(951 words)

Author(s): Pinchas Giller
The Bet El yeshiva was founded in 1737 by Rabbi Gedaliah Ḥayyun in the Old City of Jerusalem as a part of the general flowering of Kabbala in eighteenth-century Jerusalem. The yeshiva was galvanized by its second leader, the Yemenite kabbalist Shalom Sharʿabi (1720-1780, also known as RaSHaSH). Sharʿabi bequeathed a system of contemplative kabbalistic prayer that has been the school's defining system ever since and is responsible for its preeminence among practitioners of the most arcane systems of Lurianic Kabbala.The early Bet El group left a number of documents. The most signifi…

Beth Israel Synagogue (Şişli, Istanbul)

(254 words)

Author(s): Aksel Erbahar
The Beth Israel Synagogue, located on Efe Street, Şişli, is one of several synagogues in Istanbul. The building was erected in the 1920s and was originally used partly as a synagogue and partly as an auto repair garage. The part that was used as a synagogue and two nearby houses were bought in 1947 in order to enlarge the synagogue. With the supervision of contractor Aram Deragobyan and architect Jak Pardo, construction began in 1952 and the synagogue was named the Beth Israel Synagogue.            Unlike most other synagogues in Istanbul, Beth Israel has no historical or arti…

Bet Israel Synagogue, Karataş , Izmir

(276 words)

Author(s): Leslie Abuaf
The Bet Israel Synagogue is located in the Karataş quarter of the Turkish city of Izmir (formerly Smyrna). The city’s largest synagogue, it was built to accommodate the growing population in the area, which in the late nineteenth century was known as the Jewish quarter.Ottoman law required government permission to restore or build new synagogues. The request for the construction of Bet Israel was submitted in 1904 to Sultan Abdülhamid II; the following year permission was granted and construction began. The synagogue was opened for worshi…
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