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Gabbay, Moris

(626 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Moris Gabbay, born into a Sephardic family in Istanbul in 1922, is a Turkish Jewish left-wing political activist, writer, and public intellectual. In his childhood and youth, he witnessed the transformation of the multi-ethnic and multi-religious Ottoman Empire into the Turkish Republic, a period during which non-Muslims were expected to give up their religious autonomy and linguistic traditions and become “new citizens” of a homogeneous nation-state.Gabbay received his religious and elementary school education in the Jewish Primary School, and then moved on …

Aciman, Isaiah (Yeşaya)

(351 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Isaiah (Yeşaya) Aciman (d. 1826 in Istanbul) was a scion of the well-known Aciman (Adjiman) family. Like his father and uncles, he pursued a career in finance, and from 1808 he served as a banker to Sultan Mahmud II (r. 1808–1839), and at the same time as a money-changer for the Janissaries. Two of his contemporaries were Solomon Camondo and Ezekiel Gabbai, very influential Jewish bankers in the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire. A powerful and wealthy man, Isaiah was a generous benefactor of Jewish communities in Istanbul and elsewhere in the empire.…

Nasi, Gad

(267 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Gad Nasi, born into a Sephardic family in Istanbul in 1937, is a psychiatrist, author, researcher, and public activist who now lives in Israel. Nasi graduated from Galatasaray High School and then from the Faculty of Medicine at Istanbul University. He began writing for local magazines while he was in high school and also translated popular articles from French and English into Turkish. During his university studies, he served as director of Şalom , the newspaper of the Jewish community of Turkey, and as a correspondent for various foreign publications. He also direc…

Behar, Cem

(243 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Cem Behar, born into an illustrious Sephardi family in Istanbul in 1946, is an economist and a musician. He received his high school education at RobertCollege, and his baccalaureate and master’s degree from the University of Paris. Behar completed his Ph.D. in demography and economics at the Université de Paris–I (Panthéon-Sorbonne). He then taught as a visiting professor at Paris and Cambridge universities. From 1988 to 1994 and again from 1998 to 2001, he was head of the Department of Economics at Boğaziçi (Bosporus) University in Istanbul. Since 2004, he has been provost and …

Evliya Chelebi

(397 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Evliya Çelebi, also known as Derviş Mehmed Zillî, was born in Istanbul in 1611 and died on his way back from Egypt in 1682. The most famous of Ottoman travelers, he journeyed for fifty years in the lands of the Ottoman Empire and beyond, and compiled a nine-volume memoir entitled Seyahatname (Trk. Book of Travels). In his youth, Evliya attended a madrasa and memorized the Qurʾān, learned calligraphy, and studied music. Thanks to his uncle Melek Ahmet Paşa, a senior Ottoman official, Evliya was recruited for the enderun-i hümayun (Trk. inside service), a system of palace schools, an…


(252 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Yahudihane (Turk. Jews’ house) is synonymous to Ladino cortejo and Turkish aile evleri (family houses). It designates the type of multi-story tenement houses where scores of poor Jewish families lived together in major centers of the Ottoman Empire. Yahudihanes were either specifically built for poor Jews in crowded neighborhoods or were converted existing large buildings. To cite but one example, the famous Tekfur Sarayı (Tekfur Palace) in Istanbul was converted into a yahudihane in the nineteenth century.An entire yahudihane or its individual rooms could belong to eithe…

Abravanel Family

(444 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
The Sephardi family name Abravanel, first mentioned around 1300, became famous among Jews in Spain in the fifteenth century. After the expulsion in 1492, members of the family were scattered in Italy, North Africa, and the Ottoman Empire. Others were baptized in Portugal at the time of the forced conversion of 1497 but as marranos preserved the name clandestinely and revived it in the seventeenth century in the Sephardi communities of Amsterdam, London, and the New World.One of the largest branches of the Abravanel family settled in Naples, where throughout the fifteenth and early…

Aciman (Acıman, Adjiman) Family

(466 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
The Acimans (Adjimans) were a family of Sephardi bankers and diplomats who attained great importance in the Ottoman Empire, especially during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The family settled in Turkey after the expulsion from Spain in 1492 and was part of the Sephardi elite, also including the Camondo and Gabbai families, that rose to prominence in the Ottoman world. Acimans served at the Ottoman court as financial consultants to the sultan and as merchants or bankers for the Janissaries ( Ocak Bâzergânı or Ocak Sarrâfı). Working with the royal elite had its risks. In…

Jacopo of Gaeta (Hekim Yakub)

(459 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Jacopo (or Giacomo) of Gaeta, who was also known as Hekim Yakub, was born around 1430 into a Jewish family in the Italian town of Gaeta and died in Istanbul in 1484. A convert to Islam, he was an influential Ottoman physician, diplomat, and court official during the reign of Sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror. Where Yakub obtained his medical knowledge, when he settled in Istanbul, and the circumstances of his conversion to Islam are all uncertain. Historical sources suggest that he must have studied medicine inItaly, moving to the Ottoman Empire after Pope Nicholas V’s abolition of …

Bali, Rifat

(452 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Rifat Bali, born into a Sephardi family in Istanbul in 1948, is an independent scholar specializing in minority issues and the history of Turkish Jews and the Turkish Republic. He received his primary education in a Jewish school, and his secondary and high school education in the French lycées Saint-Michel and Saint-Benoît respectively. From 1970 and until the late 1990s, he worked as a sales executive and later on was a self-employed businessman. Always longing for intellectual activity, he be…
Date: 2015-09-03

Hamon Family

(366 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
The Hamons were the most prominent Ottoman Jewish family of physician-diplomats. The family was originally from Spain, where Isaac Hamon had been a physician at the court of ʿAbd Allāh (Boabdil), the last Nasrid amīr of Granada (r. 1482–1484, 1487–1492), but they settled in Turkey after the 1492 expulsion. As was true for many other Jewish families, medicine was the hereditary profession of the Hamons. This was an era when marranos and professing Jews who had studied at the universities of Christian Europe were bringing their expertise to the Ottoman …


(4,761 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
1.   Antiquity and Byzantine EraArchaeological evidence indicates that Izmir (Smyrna) has been inhabited by different ethnic and religious groups since 3000 B.C.E. Traces of the first Jewish inhabitants date back to the second century, as indicated by the New Testament (Revelation 1:11, 2:8) and Greek inscriptions. Jews disappeared from the city in medieval times, but reappeared in the sixteenth century, an era in which Izmir was undergoing a transformation from a border town to a cosmopolitan city of the Ottoman Empire.According to Herodotus, Smyrna was founded by Aeolians b…


(434 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
The town of Hasköy is located at the upper part of the Golden Horn in Istanbul, facing the Balat quarter. Its history dates back to the early Byzantine period. Over the centuries, a number of Jewish communities are known to have resided there. Karaites seem to have been the first Jewish settlers, and their old underground synagogue still functions as the only Karaite synagogue in Istanbul. The town’s Jewish presence grew significantly in the Ottoman period with the arrival of Sephardi expellees after 1492. By the seventeenth century, Hasköy had the larg…

Galante, Abraham (Avram)

(947 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Abraham (Avram) Galante (usually with Gallicized spelling: Galanté), the scion of a distinguished Sephardi family in Bodrum, Ottoman Turkey, was a historian of Jewish and Eastern peoples, a linguist, journalist, educator, and social activist, and an exponent of the Ottoman Jewish Haskala. Born in 1873, Galante never married and devoted his entire life to intellectual and political pursuits. He was proficient in Turkish, Judeo-Spanish, Hebrew, Persian, Arabic, German, French, English, Greek, and Armenian. He died in Istanbul in 1961.Galante received his primary education…

Hamon, Aaron

(377 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Aaron ben Isaac Hamon, who lived in Istanbul and Edirne (Adrianople) in the first half of the eighteenth century, was a poet, composer, and physician. He was a descendant of the famous Hamon family, which produced many court physicians and diplomats in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Unlike his forefathers, Aaron was more famous as a musician, and in the world of Turkish music he was better known as Yahudi Harun (Aaron the Jew). He was one of many renowned composers produced by Ottoman Jewry from the seventeenth century…

Hamon, Joseph

(240 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Joseph Hamon (d. 1517/18), born and raised in Granada, was the founder of the Hamon family in the Ottoman Empire. He settled in Istanbul after the 1492 expulsion, and as a son of the famous Andalusian court physician Isaac Hamon, he became a physician at the imperial court (see Court Jews). It is unknown where he received his medical education, but various sources suggest that he studied medicine either in al-Andalus or Christian Europe. Sultan Bayazid II (r. 1481–1512) is said to have urged him to embrace Islam, but it appears that he preferred to remain Jewish.Some Italian sources accuse…

Ebüzziya Tevfik

(434 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Ebüzziya Tevfik, who was born in Istanbul in 1849 and died in 1913, was an Ottoman journalist, encyclopedist, and publisher. Early in life he entered upon a career in newspapers and publishing, through which he met fellow intellectuals and others associated with the Young Ottomans and soon joined their movement. In 1873 he was exiled to Rhodes because of his political activities. Upon his return three years later, he joined the group that was writing the first Ottoman constitution, the Kanuni Esasi. Ebüzziya was exiled several more times after Abdülhamid II abolished the constitutio…

Christian Missionary Schools in the Ottoman Empire

(742 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Private and organized missionary activities in the Ottoman Empire date back to as early as the sixteenth century. They gained momentum when the Jesuits reorganized, and English and American Protestant churches joined the missionary activities in the empire in the nineteenth century. The main purpose of the missionaries was to revive “pure” Christianity among the “corrupt” Eastern Christian denominations—Greek, Armenian, and Bulgarian Orthodox, Jacobites, Nestorians, Copts, and Maronites—and to disseminate Christianity to non-Christians, especially Jews. Since pro…

Abravanel, Moses ben Raphael

(736 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Moses ben Raphael Abravanel (d. 1692) was born in Istanbul at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Not much is known about his family background, but various sources suggest that he was a member of the prestigious marrano branch of the Abravanel family and was aware of the marrano experience. His talent in medicine earned him a position at court (see Court Jews). In 1669 he converted to Islam, taking the name Hayatizâde Mustafa Efendi, and became the chief physician of the Ottoman palace. After a long and successful service, as will be explained below, he…

Hamon, Moses

(866 words)

Author(s): Cengiz Sisman
Moses Hamon (d. 1554) was the most influential of the Ottoman Jewish court physicians of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Born around 1490 in Granada, he was the chief Jewish physician of Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent (r. 1520–1566) as well as a medical scholar, patron of Hebrew learning, and a leader of the Jewish community. His father, Joseph Hamon, and other members of his family also served as court physicians.Historical sources imply that Moses became one of the team of court physicians right after the death of his father in 1518, but the earliest…