Last Century of a Sephardic Community - The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943.
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The Sephardic Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943. A web companion to a new history.

Monastir's first Sephardim were part of the large wave of Jewish exiles from Spain and Portugal who arrived in the Ottoman Empire, and specifically in Salonika, at the end of the 15th century.

The Spanish expulsion

The Jewish expulsion from Spain was ordered on March 31, 1492, by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The emigration began in July, and about 175,000 Jews left Spain that year.

Of these, perhaps 120,000 sought refuge in neighboring Portugal, where they faced forced conversion in 1497 and persecution as New Christians in 1506. Thousands left Portugal for the Ottoman Empire through 1521, when the Portuguese forcibly stopped the exodus.

As a result of the Spanish expulsion and the attacks in Portugal, about 60,000 Sephardim arrived in the Ottoman Empire during the late 15th and early 16th centuries.

Arrival in Ottoman lands

Salonika was one of the closest Ottoman sea ports for those arriving from the west, and in 1519 an Ottoman census found that it was home to a large Sephardic community of 17,000.

Salonika´s Jewish population declined slightly over the next century as some left the city for towns in the Macedonian interior. Jews expelled from Sicily and Naples in 1492 and 1511 also settled in Macedonia after arriving at Albanian seaports.

Monastir was a rising Macedonian town in the late 15th century, and it attracted some Sephardim. Rabbi Joseph Ben Lev was born there in 1502, and he later became a famous scholar in Salonika. By 1544, there were about 300 Jews in Monastir.

The allure of Monastir

Since antiquity, Monastir's key assets had been its central location and rich countryside. Set halfway between the ports of Thessaloniki on the Aegean and Albanian Durres on the Adriatic, the city's importance to overland travel long pre-dated the Ottoman period.

The city also enjoyed abundant supplies of water and good soil, and the city and its plain are thoroughly encircled by mountain peaks that protected the city from attack.

All these advantages helped Monastir become a successful Ottoman city. The mid-1500s was the period of the great Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleyman "the Magnificent," and it was an active time in Monastir. In 1558-59 the Jeni mosque and its 131-foot minaret rose over the city and proclaimed the victory of Islam in Christian Europe.

Just two years later, in 1561, the Empire´s greatest architect, Mimar Sinan, built the Ajdar Kadi mosque in Monastir. Islamic culture flourished and the city was home to a noted poet, Sulayman Ayani, who died in 1603.


Last Century of a Sephardic Community - The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943.

Last Century of a Sephardic Community - The Jews of Monastir, 1839-1943.
by Mark Cohen

LIST PRICE: $34.95


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