The Sephardic Community of Gallipoli (Gelibolu)

(Kahal Kadosh Gallipoli)

Page 1.

Contributed by Dr. David Sheby


Gallipoli was conquered by the Ottoman Turks in 1354, providing them with their first foothold in Europe, and a base for expansion into the Balkans. Prior to 1354 Gallipoli was a Byzantine naval base, with a small Romanoit (i.e., Greek-speaking) Jewish community. Sephardic Jews arrived in Gallipoli in the early 16th century. Clashes soon erupted over tax obligations [1] between the new and larger Sephardic community and the Romanoit community. Typically Ottoman cities' Jewish populations were divided among two or more kahals ("communities"): a Jewish citizen would, by some criteria, belong to a specific kahal to which community taxes would be paid and from which community benefits were received. Gallipoli's Sephardic-Romanoit disputes were submitted to Jewish courts in other cities for resolution. Of importance are the responsa from Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham HaKohen (the "Maharshach"; born: 1520, died: 1601) whose decisions appear to have resulted in a unified Jewish community for which Gallipoli would be known. The responsa detailing the disputes are available through Bar Ilan University's Respona Project (see: ).

Gallipoli's Jewish community's allegiance to the concept of a unified community would manifest itself 400 years later in New York City, in which newly arrived Sephardic immigrants from the Ottoman Empire were attempting to establish themselves in a new country. Rabbi Marc D. Angel has written [2] about the unrealized efforts of Moise Gadol, a Bulgarian Sephardi, to forge these early 20th century Ottoman Sephardic immigrants to New York City into a single, unified community to care for their combined educational, religious, and social needs. Gadol's effort failed: the Sephardim remained loyal to institutions formed around their cities of residence in Turkey [See for a brief history of some of these groups]. There was one group who unhesitantly unhesitantly supported Gadol's efforts, i.e., the immigrants from Gallipoli. The support for this is found in two (2) passages in Rabbi Angel's book:

"In the same year .." (i.e., 1915) " . the Haskalah (Enlightenment) Club was formed by Sephardim who were mainly from Gallipoli. Gadol praised it for not identifying itself with its native city in its title and for reaching out to serve the entire community. In 1916 the Gallipoli Progressive Club was established with forty-three members. It sponsored lectures and conferences of interest to young people. Gadol, while pleased with its aims, urged it drop "Gallipoli" from its name." (p.30)

"Gadol intensified his efforts to get a Sephardic Community started ... Gadol found a sympathetic audience among the members of the Gallipoli Progressive Club. He attended a meeting of this society on Saturday night, March 24, 1917, to which nearly two hundred people came. Gadol called for a Sephardic Community with its own independent office. He asked that the Gallipoli Progressive Club take the initiative and call a meeting of all clubs and societies to form this Community. The Gallipoli Progressive Club accepted the challenge and a meeting of more than one hundred people was held on Saturday night, June 30, 1917". (p. 81)

Gallipoli Today

The Jewish community of Gallipoli no longer exists. In 1990 three Jews lived in Gallipoli [3]. Some of the community's religious objects have been sold to private collectors. Figure 1 shows two sets of Torah crown ornaments (i.e., "finials" or "rimonim"), from Gallipoli described as "Two Turkish silver Torah finials, Gallpoli, both 19th century" that are in a private collection [4]. The Hebrew date on the finials is equivalent to 1883. These particular Torah ornatments reappear in Yeshiva University Museum's 1992 catalogue [5] and are described as "on loan from a private collection" (Figure 57 on page 110 and described as items 42 and 43 on page 205). In the Yeshiva catalogue additional information about the finials are provided (with an incorrect Hebrew date):

a. one of the finials is "dedicated from the charity box of Shuva la - Asot". The text briefly explains "Shuva la - Asot" as "the organization "return to do".

b. one of the finials is dedicated from "the charity box of the K. K. Gallipoli" (K.K.= Kahol Kadosh, or "holy community").

Figure 1. At least two sets of Gallipoli's Torah finials are now privately owned [4]. Red and green lines show location of the word "Gallipoli" on each finial. The green underlined spelling uses a single "alef-lamed" ligature instead of a two-letter "alef-lamed" sequence (as in red underlined spelling) to represent the letters "A" and "L" in "Gallipoli". Photo reprinted with permission of Thames and Hudson.

The Yeshiva University Museum catalogue reveals (page 223, Item 123) the existence of a silver bowl used by Gallipoli's burial society dating to the 16th century. The inscription on the bowl reads "This is the vessel presented by the Rabbi Mordekhai son of Yaakov Mori of blessed memory to the burial society of graves from the holy community of Gallipoli".


The Jewish Community of Gallipoli lived a multi-lingual world characterized by Ladino written in solitreo and Ottoman Turkish written in osmanlica Figure 2 shows "Gallipoli" handwritten in Sephardic cursive script on a 1896 Ottoman postal correspondence. Figure 3. shows the sanjak of Gallipoli and its vilayet of Edirne handwritten in osmanlica on a 19th century Ottoman birth certificate. The osmanlica is compared to spellings Ottoman postal cancellations of "Gallipoli" and "Edirne" for spelling.

Solitreo Sample
Handwritten Osmanlica Entry for the Sanjak of Gallipoili
Figure 2. "Gallipoli" handwritten on an 1896 Ottoman post card in Sephardic cursive script (i.e., solitreo)

Figure 3. The handwritten osmanlica entries for the sanjak of Gallipoli (Gelibolu) in the vilayet of "Edirne" written on a late 19th century Ottoman birth certificate, with comparison spellings from Ottoman postal cancellations.


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