MembersJewish Legacy in Anatolia and Today’s Turkey

Jews have been living in what is now modern Turkey since the destruction of the Second Temple

By Rachel Avraham | | Topics: Turkey
Antakya Synagogue serves a tiny community of about 60 Jews.
Antakya Synagogue serves a tiny community of about 60 Jews. Photo: Prometheus72/Shutterstock

Director and curator of the Museum of Turkish Jews in Istanbul Nisya Allovi explained that the original Turkish Jews were Romaniot Jews who spoke Greek and lived among the Byzantines. In 1492 they were joined by Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition: “120,000 Sephardic Jews came. Sultan Bayazid II welcomed the Jews.”

Allovi noted that many of the Sephardic Jews in Turkey have family names that are essentially Spanish cities, such as De Toledo. She noted it was these Jews who brought the printing press into the Ottoman Empire and wrote Me’am Loez, the famous Ladino language commentary on the Tanakh, which “explained the religious laws in a simple language.” She added that some Turkish Jews are also Ashkenazi, who are descended of Jews who fled the pogroms of the Russian tzars.

According to Allovi, under Ottoman rule, there were blood libels against Jews in places like Damascus and Rhodes. However, she stressed that the Ottoman authorities were opposed to these blood libels, and they were mainly orchestrated by local Christians: “The Ottomans issued the Blood Libel...

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