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Encyclopaedia Judaica

Jews in Ottoman Empire 07: Decomposition and anti-Jewish laws

Luxury and inefficiency -  restrictions against the Jews - Adrianople - house regulations and dress laws - inner quarrel

from: Ottoman Empire; In: Encyclopaedia Judaica 1971, vol. 16

presented by Michael Palomino (2008)




Decline of the Political and Economic Status of the Jews.

[Decomposition of the army - inefficiency of the state - arrogance and luxury - exploitation and revolts in the occupied regions - bribery and state robbery]

After the peak military, political, and economic era of the sultans *Selim I, his son Suleiman, and Selim II, the gradual eclipse of the empire began during the rule of *Murad III and his son. The strict discipline introduced into the janissary army by Selim I was destroyed, and the army became a constant source of danger to the sultans because of frequent revolts and exaggerated demands for remuneration and various bonuses. Breaches occurred in the feudal arrangements of the army of sipahim.

The tax burden increased and the foundations of rule and order were undermined. In the courts of the sultans and the lords, luxuries and extravagance spread like a malignant plague. The cruel exploitation of the conquered regions caused revolts in all quarters of the empire which the rulers only with difficulty succeeded in crushing.

Bribery was one of the most certain methods of arranging all matters at the court, as well as with its representatives in the provinces. Sheikhs and minor rulers enriched themselves on the ruin of the Ottoman Empire. (col. 1537)

[Dress restrictions to the Jews under Murad III]

When the sultan Murad III learned that Sephardi girls were wearing choice garments and ornaments with precious stones, he issued a decree to exterminate all Jews throughout all the provinces of his empire. Through the influence of the sultan's mother, the decree was revoked, but an order was given that Jews must wear, in place of the yellow turban, a peculiar and strange tall hat, pointed above and wide below, like those of the Spaniards. Jewish women were forbidden to walk in the streets of Turkish towns wearing silk gowns and clothes. As a result of this decree caused by the great extravagance of Jewish women, the rabbis issued an ordinance which added to the royal decree:

"women and girls are not to go out wearing velvet garments and ornaments of gold and precious stones."

[More restrictions to the Jews under Murad IV: execution of Judah Kovo]

The situation of Jews in Constantinople and throughout the empire deteriorated. *Murad IV (1623-40), known for his cruelty and the bloodshed he caused, ordered the execution of Judah Kovo, the chief of the Salonika delegates who came to pay "the clothes tax" (paid annually), in 1636; there was no Jew powerful enough to influence the sultan to rescind the decree.

[Ibrahim I: partial occupation of Crete - new capital Adrianople with many Jews]

During the rule of Ibrahim I (1640-48) the Turks attacked the island of *Crete, which belonged to Venice, and conquered part of it (1646); the war for its complete capture was a prolonged one. The sultan's court was transferred from Constantinople to Adrianople, and as a result of this transfer many Jews who had business dealings with the sultan also transferred their residences there. Nevertheless the situation of the Jews deteriorated.

[18th century: anti-Jewish decrees in the Ottoman Empire: House regulations - restrictive dress laws]

The Turkish empire gradually lost the states it had conquered. In the time of Ahmed III (1703-30) a decree was issued (1728) that all the Jews living in the capital in the street of the fish market - near the mosque of the sultan's mother - must sell their houses and possessions to Muslims in order not to contaminate the streets.

During the rule of 'Uthman III (1754-57), the ministers oppressed the Jews and limited their rights. An ancient decree was renewed which stated that Jews could not build houses above the height of 18 feet (c. 6m.), while Turks could build up to 24 feet (c. 8m.).

In 1758, on the order of Mustafa III, the decree that Jews could not wear clothes nd hats like those of the Muslims was revived, and the hat merchants were ordered to be careful about who their customers were. The decree of 1702 of the vizier Daltaban Pasha, forbidding Jews to wear shoes and hats other than black ones, was revived.


[Mahmud II: inner quarrel between the sultan, the janissaries, and the wealthy philanthropic Jews]

Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39) in his desire to inaugurate reforms in the empire fought against the janissaries, who were opposed to this. The vizier Bayrakdar Mustafa Pasha spoke out harshly against the wealthy philanthropic Jews of the capital, who conspired with and supported the janissaries, among them the chelebi [[
Turk. "gentleman"]] Bekhor *Carmona, the brothers Adjiman, and Gabbai. They supported the janissaries not from love but in order to defend themselves and their property; nevertheless, they were sentenced to death.> (col. 1538)

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