Ottoman Sultans and Their Jewish Subjects

by Harry Ojalvo of Istanbul

A listing of all the Sultans of the former Ottoman Empire (1299 CE - 1923 CE), and their individual relations with their Jewish subjects and officers. This data has been provided by the Quincentennial Foundation of Istanbul.

Please note: The text is "as written" in the original commemorative book.


OSMAN GAZI (Born) 1258 - (Deceased) 1326 CE

Osman Gazi was the youngest of three sons born to Ertugrul Gazi, he prepared the basis for an Empire of which the world trembled.


ORHAN GAZI (Born) 1281 - (Deceased) 1360 CE

After the conquest of Bursa, in 1326 Orhan Gazi issued a Royal Decree for the building of a synagogue, the "Etz Ha Hayim" synagogue which was in service until 50 years ago. The oppressed Jewish community, thanks to Orhan Gazi could breathe again. When Bursa was declared the capital, Jewish tradesmen were invited to Bursa and thanks to the climate of freedom, Jews came even from Arabia.


MURAD I. HUDAVENDIGAR (Born) 1326 - (Deceased) 1389 CE

Murad I. settled the Jews who fled Hungary in Thrace and Anatolia. When the Ottomans conquered Edirne, the capital was transferred from Bursa to Edirne. The Jewish community of Edirne spoke only Greek. Therefore Jews from Bursa were invited to Edirne to teach Turkish to their kinsman. Learning of the tolerance and liberty the Jewish people enjoyed under the Ottoman crescent, the oppressed Jews from the Balkans came to Edirne.


SULTAN YILDIRIM BAYEZID (Born) 1360 - (Deceased) 1403 CE

In 1394 Sultan Yildirim Bayezid invited the French Jews who were molested by King Charles VI, to the Ottoman Empire. They were settled in Edirne and the Balkans. The French Kings had the habit of inviting the Jews to establish commerce and borrowing money from them. However often, when payment was due, they expelled them; only to reinvite them when they nedded further financing.


CELEBI SULTAN MEHMED I (Born) 1389 - (Deceased) 1421 CE

His reign is marked by two important events: The conquest of Izmir and the Seyh Bedreddin revolution; there was a small Jewish community in Manisa that grew after the Ottoman conquest. The Seyh Bedreddin revolution: Aman called Seyh Bedreddin with a Jew, Samuel from Manisa, known as Torlak Kemal, organized a revolt. Torlak Kemal at the head of 3000 dervishes started spreading communist ideas saying that except wives everything belonged to the people. The movement started from Izmir and spread to Thrace. Saruhan Bey fought against him and was beaten. Ali Bey took ovet and had no success. Prince Murad at the head of a new army brought victory and consequently Seyh Bedreddin and Torlak Kemal were executed.


SULTAN MURAD II (Born) 1402 - (Deceased) 1451 CE

In 1421 he accepted to Adrianople and Salonica the German Jews who fled persecutions. In 1444 Sultan Murad abdicated in favour of his son Mehmed II, however, on account of war, upon the latters's request, he came back to power and resumed his reign in 1446. During the reign of Murad II, Ishak Pasa was appointed as chief doctor of the palace and a firman was issued in his family's favour exempting them from all taxes. The Jewish doctor Yakup also served in the palace.


FATIH SULTAN MEHMED (Born) 1429 - (Deceased) 1481 CE

MEHMED II, THE CONQUEROR (FATIH) Reigned from 1444 to 1446 until his father took over on account of war. He came again to throne in 1451. He conquered Constantinople in 1453. The oppressed Jews were relieved to see him occupy the city. He allowed Jews from today's Greek Islands and Crete to settle in Istanbul. Fatih's declaration is as follows: "Listen sons of the Hebrew who live in my country...May all of you who desire come to Constantinople and may the rest of your people find here a shelter". The Bavarian King Ludwig the III, under the influence of the Italian Monk Jean de Capistrano expelled the Jews out and forced them to settle on the banks of the Danube River, Capistrano helped John Hunyadi in 1456 when the Ottomans besieged Belgrade. In 1410 Jean Huss was excommunicated and burned on order of the pope Alexander the V. The pope Nicholas the V, summoned Jean de Capistrano to go to Slovakia and fight the followers of Jean Huss. Of course Capistrano did not forget the Jews and as a result, by order of the Sultan, a regiment called "The sons of Moses" was formed. Since Capistrano also prepared a crusade against the Ottomans, the same regiment participated in the war which ensued. The doctors Isak Pasa Galeon and Ribbi Sonsino were also appointed to that regiment. Before being killed, Ribbi Sonsino chopped away the head of Jean de Capistrano and the church declared the latter a saint. After the war Mehmed II (Fatih) invited the Ashkenazi Jews of Transylvania and Slovakia to the Ottoman Empire. The synagogues Ahrida, Karaferya, Yanbol and Cuhadji which were damaged due to a fire have been repaired on Fatih's order. According to a votive foundation document dated 1451-1481, the doctors Moses Hamon, Isak Pas a Galeon, Hekim Yakup, Ephraim Sandji and Hekim Abraham were appointed as palace doctors.


SULTAN II BAYEZID (Born) 1447 - (Deceased) 1512 CE

During the years 1490 to 1497 Sultan Bayezid II accepted the exiled Jews from Italy, Spain and Portugal. In 1492 Kemal Reis and his fleet were sent to Cadiz to take the Jews in charge. During the reign of Bayezid II, the king and queen of Spain, Ferdinand and Isabella, signed an edict of expulsion for the Jews. The edict was issued under the pressure of the church on the 31st of March 1492 and the Jews had to leave the country until the 2nd of August 1492. The last lot of Jews gathered in the port of Cadiz faced a dilemma: Those who left port were attacked by the pirates, those who went on land were burned at the stake by the inquisition. About a thousand people waited in anguish. At the last minute arrived a small fleet manned by the Turkish admiral Kemal Reis who took the refugees under his protection. Thus organizing a convoy of Jewish immigrants towards the Ottoman empire. Of the approximately 600,000 Spanish Jews, half were baptized, 100,000 went to Portugal, some went to the Netherlands, Italy, North Africa and the New World. But, the biggest lot reached the Ottoman Empire, numbering about 150,000 people. When the Jews who went to Portugal were exiled too in 1497, a big majority of them found refuge in the Ottoman Empire. Whereas the migration of forcibly converted Jews to Ottoman lands lasted several decades. In 1501 he accepted the Jews who fled from France. At a later period, the Jews of Spanish and Portuguese origin who went to Brazil were tracked by the inquisition who persecuted and compelled them to emigrate to New Amsterdam, today's New York. The immigrants met in the Ottoman Empire about 50,000 Romaniot, Karaite and Ashkenazi Jews. The Jews which may have entered Anatolia following the collapse of the Khazars; those who may have followed Alp Arslan after his entry to Anatolia and the communities which existed in the south-east since ancient times are not part of the estimated figures.


YAVUZ SULTAN SELIM (Born) 1470 - (Deceased) 1520 CE

By conquering Egypt, he had put an end to the "Law of no return" issued by the Roman Senate in the year 60 AD. The expulsion process was completed in the year 120. Meaning it took 60 years from Titus to Hadrian. Jews could travel freely for 400 years until the British conquered Palestine in 1917 and restricted again the entry of Jews into Palestine. The "Law of no return" comprised an order of throwing overboard all Jews found on a ship sailing for the Holy Land. The reason for the law of expulsion, was that the Jews were undermining the "Pax Romana" as they were in constant rebellion. The Roman emperors considering themselves gods, wanted to establish their statues in the Temple and the Jews fought them. All occupiers of the land of Israel applied the law of no return. Meaning the Romans, the Byzantines, the Mameluks, the Arabs who came from the south, the crusaders, and the British in 1917. It is unfortunate to say that this caused the death of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust. At that time the palace doctors were Joseph Hamon and his son Moses Hamon, Joseph Hamon was killed during the conquest of Palestine in 1516. Sultan Selim had borrowed money from a Jewish banker for his Egyptian campaign, but the banker passed away before payment was due and his minister of finance reported the death to the Sultan adding that there was no need for payment. The Sultan wrote the following phrase under the report: "May the dead rest in peace, his orphans live in good health, his belongings prosper and curse upon the intriguer." Yavuz Sultan Selim who abrogated the Roman edict of no return has to be honored as the Sultan who paved the way for today's Israel.


KANUNI SULTAN SULEYMAN (Born) 1495 - (Deceased) 1566 CE

(SOLIMAN THE MAGNIFICENT) Built the city walls of Jerusalem and ordered the settling of thousands of Jews on the shores of Lake Kinnereth in Tiberias and the north of Jerusalem. His reign is marked as the most powerful and prosperous period of the Ottomans. During the reign of Soliman The Magnificent, Dona Gracia and Joseph Nassi, came to Turkey. Thanks to his connections and agents in Europe, Nassi was appointed as political advisor to the Sultan. The pope Paul IV, wanted to hand over the Jews of Ancona to the inquisition but the timely opposition of the Sultan saved the Jews. Moses Hamon, Avram Levi Migas, Tam Ben david Yahya and his sons Gedalya Yahya and Joseph Yahya, Yehuda de Kugers, Moiz Butaril and doctor Menashe, served as palace physicians. During the war against Iran Gedalya Yahya, and during the war for the conquest of the island of Rhodes, Dr. Menashe was killed.


SULTAN SELIM II (Born) 1524 - (Deceased) 1574 CE

After the conquest of Cyprus he established 500 Jewish families on the Island and appointed Joseph Nassi as duke of Naxos. The German King Maximilian II asked Nassi to interfere in favour of Alexander Lapusneanu who was in disgrace. In 1569 Nassi had a treaty signed between Charles 9, of France and Selim II. In 1574, the palace doctor Solomon Nathan Eskenazi was sent to Venice as ambassador. The treaty between the Ottomans and Spain being under discussion, the Spaniards tried to btibe Eskenazi. Eskenazi gave them a lession in honesty and the treaty was signed in favour of Turkey.


SULTAN MURAD III (Born) 1546 - (Deceased) 1595 CE

During the reign of Sultan Murad III, the son of Joseph Amon (killed during the campaign for the conquest of Egypt) Izak Amon was appointed adviser to the divan. Doctor Domenico Yerushalmi and doctor Eliezer Iskenderi were appointed to the palace. In the official list of Jewish doctors 40 names are mentioned.


SULTAN MEHMED III (Born) 1566 - (Deceased) 1603 CE

During the reign of Sultan Mehmed III, Gabriel Buonaventura was appointed ambassador and established contacts with Spain. Solomon Eskenazi was still in office. The doctors Benveniste and Moshe Korina were in palace service and in 1597 Solomon Abenyaes (Marrano Name: Alvaro Mendez) prepared a treaty with England against king Philip of Spain.


SULTAN AHMED I (Born) 1590 - (Deceased) 1617 CE

Sultan Ahmed I, ordered to build the Mosque that bears his name which is famous for its blue tiles, the 4 elephantine columns on which rests the dome and its six minarets. At that time, small pox was a deadly sickness, and it so happened that the Sultan caught it. The treatment applied by the palace doctors giving no result, the widow of Solomon Eskenazi was called and she saved the Sultan. The palace doctors of the time were Solomon Eskenazi Avraham Levi Migas, and Naftali Ben Mansur. Upon the death of Solomon Eskenazi his widow Buha Eskenazi replaced him.


SULTAN MUSTAFA I (Born) 1592 - (Deceased) 1639 CE

At the beginning of the 17th century had started the decline of the Empire. This was also to be said for the Jewish community. No more doctors were at the palace and the foreign affairs were manned by other elements. The Jews had entered a closed shell, they stayed in their synagogues.


SULTAN OSMAN II (Born) 1604 - (Deceased) 1622 CE

The situation was no better and decline continued. The Jews concentrated on religion and stayed in their synagogues, as if they were mourning Sultan Osman.


SULTAN MURAD IV (Born) 1612 - (Deceased) 1640 CE

Sultan Murad is known for prohibiting to the people what he daily did. During his reign the Jewish community with great timidity tried to get out of its shell. We see again doctors in palace service as Moiz Amaradji and Yakup Abbasoglu Musa. Some historians say that Rabbi Yehuda Kovo from Salonica came to Constantinople to pay taxes and that he was executed. The story of Rabbi Kovo is quite different: At that time, the fabric for uniforms of the army was manufactured by the weavers of Salonica who worked at home and sold to the army great quantities of fabric. The army refused the fabrics that were below standards. All of Salonica's Jews faced the danger of bankruptcy. That is how Rabbi Kovo was involved just to help the people and he was accused of delivering faulty material to the army. That caused his execution. Due to the crisis that broke, good many families from Salonica moved to Izmir which at that time had a small Jewish community.


SULTAN IBRAHIM (Born) 1616 - (Deceased) 1648 CE

During the reign of Sultan Ibrahim the Jewish community is still timid. Doctor Moshe Raphael Abravanel is appointed to the palace and he changes his name to Hayati Zade.


SULTAN MEHMED IV (Born) 1641 - (Deceased) 1693 CE

During the reign of Sultan Mehmed IV, on the demand of King Charles August of Sweden a treaty is signed against Russia and Moses Beberi is appointed ambassador to Sweden, after his death in 1674 his son Yehuda is appointed ambassador. In 1648-1658 two major events occured: The first one is a revolution in Poland. A petty aristocrat by the name of Bogdan Chmielnitzki kills the land owners, the priest and the Jews. 300 communities disappear 150,000 jews are killed, money is gathered all over Europe and a slave market starts in Crimea. Jews are exported like cattle. With the acceptance of Mehmet IV, Jews are settled on the banks of the Danube in Morea, Kavala, Istanbul and Salonica. The second event happens in 1666. Rabbi Sabetay Sevi declares himself messiah and causes turmoil. The sultan calls him to the palace, his head is in danger. Doctor Abravanel (Hayati Zade) asks for his pardon. Sabetay Sevi changes his name to Mehmet Efendi, he is now a Moslem. From Warsaw to Cairo thousands follow his example.


SULTAN SULEYMAN II (Born) 1642 - (Deceased) 1691 CE

During the reign of Soliman II the doctors Hayati Zade (Abravanel) and doctor Levi are of service at the palace. All is calm for the Jewish community.


SULTAN AHMED II (Born) 1643 - (Deceased) 1695 CE

During the reign of Sultan Ahmed II, doctor Hayati Zade in disgrace is thrown in jail at Yedikule prison where he dies. Doctor Levi on duty; concerning the Jewish community, nothing to record.


SULTAN MUSTAFA II (Born) 1664 - (Deceased) 1704 CE

Belgrade is re-conquered in 1690 and Jews return to the city. Doctor Nuh efendi, Doctor Levi, Doctor Tobias Cohen and Doctor Israel Koenigland are appointed palace doctors.


SULTAN AHMED III (Born) 1673 - (Deceased) 1763 CE

Chief doctor Daniel Fonseka obtains support from Sweden against Russia, (1709 Poltava) and the Pasarovtcha treaty signed with Austria helped a lot of Jews in Vienna. Palace doctors Daniel Fonseca and Tobias Cohen are in office.


SULTAN MAHMUD I (Born) 1696 - (Deceased) 1754 CE

Under the reign of Mahmut I, the tteaty of Belgtade was signed (September 18th, 1739). This gave rights to the Ottoman Jews. Their situation was so good that Austrian Jews applied for Ottoman citizenship. Under the influence of the church, Marie Therese did her best to pressure the Jews. Finally the Jews asked the palace banker Yehuda Baruh to explain the situation to the Sultan. The Sultan gave an ultimatum saying that he was taking back his subjects to Turkey and the Austria should do likewise. The queen said that there was a misunderstanding and the case was closed. The doctors Isaac Tchelebi and hekim Joseph were appointed at the palace.


SULTAN OSMAN III (Born) 1699 - (Deceased) 1757 CE Under the Sultan Osman III, the Jews keep a low profile, though the Doctors Isaac Tchelebi and Doctor Joseph are in service at the palace. On the 6th of July 1756 a fire burns down 8000 houses.


SULTAN MUSTAFA III (Born) 1717 - (Deceased) 1774 CE

Doctor Isak Tchelebi and Doctor Joseph are still in office, stagnation continues.


SULTAN ABDULHAMID I (Born) 1725 - (Deceased) 1789 CE

Doctor Joseph and Doctor Cohen from Salonica were in office at the palace. The empire fights the 1775 war against Iran, in 1787 the German war and the Crimean situation gives way to awakening, things start moving in the community.


SULTAN SELIM III (Born) 1761 - (Deceased) 1808 CE

Sultan Selim II, had a passion for music, good many composers of Turkish classical music composed for him. He took music lessions from Isaac Fresco Romano. As for the palace, Doctor Kohen from Salonica was in office. Kabakci Mustafa instigated a revolt in the course of which the Sultan was murdered.


SULTAN MUSTAFA IV (Born) 1779 - (Deceased) 1808 CE

In 1807 the English fleet attacks Istanbul, the people are mobilised, Napoleon wants the Sultan on his side. In the course of the uheaval Mahmud II becomes Sultan.


SULTAN MAHMUD II (Born) 1785 - (Deceased) 1839 CE

During the reign of Sultan Mahmud two bad situations occurred: The Greek Patriarch who was too close to a Greek organization working against Turkey was condemned to death, and the prime minister Benderli Ali Pasa personally assisted to the execution which took place at the gate of the Patriarchate. Among the onlookers three Jews were spotted and ordered by Benderli Ali Pasa to drag the body and throw it to the sea. When the news reached Athens, the rumour was that the Jews had murdered Gregorius. As a result, 5000 Jews were murdered in Morea and all the Jewish passengers of a Greek ship were thrown overboard. As for the second catastrophe, Mahmud II, having suppressed the janissaries at the same period and the disgrace of the protector of the Jewish bankers Halet Efendi, on the one hand; the fact that the bankers had given money (through pressure) to the janissaries and due to the denunciation to the Sultan by their competitor the Armenian banker Artin Kazaz, the Jewish banker Izak Adjiman, Tchelebi Bohor Carmoma and Yehezekiel Gabay were executed. During the reign of Mahmut II Doctor Uziel and Doctor Admiral Elias Pasha Cohen were of service at the palace.


SULTAN ABDULMECID (Born) 1823 - (Deceased) 1861 CE

The declaration of equality for all Ottoman subjects is tarnished by blood libel accusations in Syria and Rhodes. Europe pressures Mohammed Ali out of Syria and Palestine thus restarting immigration to Palestine. At the university we see Jewish Professors as Dr. Spitzer and Isaac Shalom. In 1857 the same Doctor Spitzer is appointed political representative in Naples and slowly but surely the Jews start again serving the country as before...


SULTAN ABDULAZIZ (Born) 1830 - (Deceased) 1876 CE

With his firman dated April 5th, 1870, the Sultan Abdul Aziz allocated the "Alliance Israelite Universelle" 2600 dunams of land east of Jaffa for the establishment of a school of agriculture and also granted permission for importing all kinds of tools and machinery free of taxes and customs. As Ben Gouriion, said: "I doubt that the Israeli dream would have been realized if the farm school of Mikveh Israel had not existed." Among Jews that served during the reign of Sultan Aziz: The palace intendent Baruh Cohen, Dr. Mordohay Levi in different cities. In the army admiral Dr. Isaac Pasha Molho, Fr. Menetes Pasa Galimidi, Dr. Isaac Pasa Galimidi and admiral Elias Pasa Cohen. Upon recurrence of blood libel accusations, Sultan Aziz issued the attached firman dated July 11th, 1866 taking the Jews under his protection. Thanks to this firman the Greek Orthodox patriarchate had to issue encyclicals to all churches, forbidding such practices.


SULTAN MURAD V (Born) 1840 - (Deceased) 1904 CE

The Sultan Murad V, was a music amateur but this was not enough for him to keep the throne and after 93 days he had to leave the throne to Abdul Hamid II.


SULTAN ABDULHAMID II (Born) 1842 - (Deceased) 1918 CE

Following Ottoman territorial losses in the Balkans owing to the Turco-Russian war and the ensuing Berlin Treaty, mass immigration of Turks and Jews starts towards Turkey. The Jews prepare festivities for the 400th anniversary of their arrival from Spain. Abdulhamid is making plans for installing 200,000 Jewish immigrants from Russia in the south east, but this remains as a project. The Jews are out of their shell. In the 1887 parliament we see Jewish parliament member. Abraham Adjiman, Menahem Salah Pasa, Ziver, Davitchon Levi and David Karmona. In the 1908 parliament Vitali Faradji Alberta Fua, Emmanuel Carasso, Nisim Mazliyah, Yehezkel Sasson and at the senate Bohor Eskenazi. After the Alfred Dreyfus case, the arrival of the Hungarian born Theodor Herzl from the leading Viennese newspaper "Neue Freie Presse" to Istanbul takes place. He comes first in 1898 then in 1901 and a third time in 1902 and tries to obtain an audience with the Sultan Abdulhamid. It is on his third voyage that he is finally gtanted one through the head Rabbi Moshe Levy. The Sultan receives him, and through the conversation Herzl tries to obtain a Jewish homeland under the protection of the Sultan and under the same statutes as the Island of Crete.


SULTAN MEHMED RESAD (Born) 1844 - (Deceased) 1918 CE

Sultan Mehmed Resad's reign is marked by the Balkan war in 1912, the first world war 1914-1918 and the collapse of what remained of a world empire. The only gain was the return to Turkey of the Kars and Ardahan provinces. In foreign affairs, 3 consul generals, 10 consuls, a court interpreter, 2 ministerial advisers, 1 consulate inspector and some embassy secretaries are members of the Jewish community. Government paid doctors in the provinces, and at the Dardanelles the head doctor of the Red Crescent hospital colonel Behor Kamhi, serving in different places, navy major palace dentist Sami Gunsberg, Dr. David Hayon, Colonel Menahem Bey Hodara, Colonel Rafael Bey, Dalmedico, Lt. Colonel Isaac Ojalvo, Lt. Colonel Alfandari, Major Adjubel, Major Nissim Maden, Major Yerushalmi, Avram Bey Matalon, Captain Bensussen and many others of which we can count the fallen at the front in 1914-1918: Major Isaac Adjubel, Captain Albert Cohen, Captin Izidor Shalom, Captain Zavarro, Captain Albert Menashe, Captain Pepo Akshiote, Captain Siyaves, Captain Albagli, Captain Asa, Captain David Feder and Captain Pharmacist Behor Alfandar.


SULTAN MEHMED VAHDEDDIN (Born) 1861 - (Deceased) 1926 CE

The impossible task of assembling the pieces of the Empire and the remainder of the Ottoman people was the lot of Sultan Mehmed Vahdeddin. As a result the war of independence and the declaration of the republic. Among those who continued to serve: The minister of telegraph Yusuf Franko Pasa. During the armistice in parliament Mishon Ventura, Colonel Professor Samuel Abrevaya and Professor Avram Galante as translator of the foreign press news for the Ankara government. Among the doctors who joined the libetation forces Captain Hazmonay Bensusen and from page 135 of our book "Turkish Jews" the picture of Jewish orphans of the fallen during the war of independence is self explanatory.


From the book: Ottoman Sultans and Their Jewish Subjects. Quincentennial Foundation, Istanbul, Turkey: 1999.

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