Diario Judío México - EARLY HISTORY

Around 1900, Adrianople was city in European Turkey with a population of 70,000, of whom about 8,000 were Jews. The first trace of a Jewish settlement in this city – according to a somewhat doubtful source found in E. Deinard’s “Massa Krim” (Burden of the Crimea, p.13, Warsaw, 1878) – was during the reign of Theodosius I in the year A.D. 389. Here they dwelt for a long time, suffering the oppression of the Byzantine emperors, chiefly inaugurated by the codes of Theodosius II (438) and of Justinian I (527-565), which not only prohibited them from celebrating the festival of the Passover prior to the Christian Easter, but compelled them also to make use of the Greek and Latin translations of the Holy Scriptures in their Sabbath readings.

Both Benjamin of Tudela (about 1171) and Judah Al-Kharizi (about 1225) visited Constantinople, but neither of them makes any mention of the Jews of Adrianople. There is no doubt that such a colony existed about this time, for family names such as Callo, Policar, Papo, Filosof, Hoursi, Zaffira, and even common Judeo-Spanish words such as pappou (grandfather), mana (mother), papas (priest), triandafila (rose), skoularitza (earring), etc. — plainly of Greek origin — are prevalent to the present day.

Moreover, there exists also a synagogue of the “Gregos”, or Greek-speaking Jews, having a special ritual, concerning which there is the following legend of Byzantine times:

The sexton of a neighboring church noticed that after the ceremony of the “Havdalah”, formerly held in the synagogue itself, the wine-filled chalice used in the service was kept in a closet. He therefore clandestinely entered the synagogue and substituted blood for the wine; then he hastened to inform the judge of the blood-filled chalice and to accuse the Jews of ritual murder. During the same night the beadle of the synagogue had a dream in which the scheme was revealed to him, and he hurried to refill the chalice with wine — thus enabling the Jews to establish their innocence!

RABBINICAL COLLEGE

The rich Jews of Adrianople and other cities of the interior became wearied with the exactions of the governors of the province and the zealous proselyting of the priests of the Greek Orthodox Church. Accordingly, they gradually emigrated to the cities along the coast, where they could live in comparative quiet and greater comfort and security.

In 1361, when Ottoman Sultan Mourad I conquered Adrianople, he found there only a small and impoverished Jewish community, which hailed as their savior a conqueror whose religion so nearly resembled their own. They appealed to their coreligionists of Brussa to come and settle in this new Ottoman capital and teach them the Turkish language of their new rulers. The rabbi appointed by the Sultan with administrative and judicial powers over the communities of Rumelia, established in Adrianople a rabbinical college. This college also received students from Russia, Poland, and Hungary.

A group of Jews, expelled from Hungary in 1376 by Louis I, took refuge there under the protection of the Crescent. To this Hungarian influx, the Synagogue “Budin” (Buda) owes its existence. This name, like the still existing family names “Madjar” or “Machoro”, indicate the origin of the congregation.

The Jewish soldiers who began to serve in the Turkish army from the beginning of the Ottoman empire, were enrolled among the “ghuraba” (non-Muslims, or strangers) troops organized by Mourad II (1421-51). During the rule of Mohammed I (1413-21), the members of the Jewish community took no part in the dervish uprisings fomented by Sheik Bedreddin, a resident of Adrianople, who was assisted by his disciple, Torlak Kemal, a converted Jew.

The Jews of Adrianople have always remained loyal to the sultans, and many of them have become distinguished scientists. Mohammed II (1453) even made a Jew, Hekim Ya’akub, his physician, and afterward appointed him as Minister of Finance (“Defterdar”).

KARAITE COMMUNITY

The Karaite community of Adrianople, one of whose members was Judah b. Eliahu (1363-90); originated from Crimea (see Deinard, “Massa Krim,” p. 66), and through further arrivals from Crimea and the south of Poland, greatly increased its numbers. Through the teachings of its rabbis as well as constant contact with Rabbinical-Jewish scholars such as Hanoch Sasportas of Catalonia, and especially the tolerant Mordecai ben-Eliezer Comtino (1460-90), an astronomer, mathematician, and logician, the Karaite community was aroused from its spiritual lethargy.

Spurred on by leaders such as Menachem Bashyazi; his sons Moses, Menachem Morali, Michael the Elder; and Michael’s son Joseph; this Karaite community instituted a reform in their ritual, permitting the use of a lighted lamp on Friday evenings and a fire on the Sabbath — a reform which triumphed over all the objections of the conservatives.

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the members of the Karaite community emigrated from Adrianople to the new Ottoman capital, leaving behind them no traces of their former presence, other than the epitaph on a tombstone dated Tuesday, 9th of Heshvan, 5463 (1702) in the Rabbanite cemetery, of a certain Moshe Yerushalmi Min-ha-Karaim (“of the Karaites”).

GROWTH OF THE COMMUNITY

The Rabbanite community, on the other hand, remained at Adrianople and flourished in numbers and in influence. Suffering under the burden of persecutions and attracted by the glowing accounts of the kindness of the sultans including the liberties and favors which the Jews enjoyed in Turkey — graphically described in letters from Rabbi Isaac Sarfati in 1454 — the Ashkenazim flocked to Adrianople from Bavaria, Swabia, Bohemia, Silesia and elsewhere, and founded the city’s “Ashkenazi” synagogue.

Traces of the presence of Ashkenazic Jews appear in certain Judeo-Spanish words of Judeo-German origin, such as “roubissa” (“Rebbezin” – rabbi’s wife), “boulissa” (“Balabuss” – landlady), and in family names such as “Ashkenazi”, as well as in ritual usages. The only actual proof, however, is to be found in the epitaph of Moshe ben-Eliakim Levi Ashkenazi Ha-Nasi (the Prince) (1466 or 1496).

These settlers, together with a contingent which some years later arrived from Italy and founded the three synagogues called “Italy”, “Apulia”, and “Sicily”, joined forces with the Jews expelled from Spain in 1492, who founded seven other synagogues under the names of “Aragon”, “Catalonia”, “Evora”, “Gerush” (Exile), “Majorca”, “Portuguese”, and “Toledo”. This inflow increased the number of synagogues to thirteen.

INFLUENCE OF THE SEPHARDIM

The Sephardim imposed upon the native Romaniotes and the more-recently arrived Ashkenazic Jews, the language, manners and customs of Spain, which were adopted by all refugees arriving after the Spanish Jews.

Such arrivals included the family “Alaman”, which on account of the valuable services of its head, Joseph ben-Solomon, toward the capture of the city of Budapest by Suleiman II (the Magnificent) in 1526, obtained special exemption from Ottoman taxes and duties, in perpetuity for his descendents. In hte early 1900’s, offsprings of this family still lived in Adrianople.

Influenced by these immigrants, the students gradually lost interest in Talmudic studies and were thoroughly captivated by the Kabalah, one of whose representatives, Abraham ben-Eliezer ha-Levi, was the author of several mystic works. The ground was now prepared for the reception of the seed of the Messianic ideas of the dreamer Solomon Molcho, who in 1529, came to Adrianople to win over Joseph Caro, the legendary talmudist, who was a friend of Aaron de-Trani, the president of the college, and perhaps also of Yom-Tov Cohen and Abraham Sebba, rabbis of the time.

In 1522 Caro began his commentary (“Beth-Yosef”) on the “Turim” of Jacob ben-Asher, which was completed later in Safed. A printing-press, established by the brothers Solomon and Joseph Jabez, existed at Adrianople before 1555. Subsequently it was transferred to Salonica, on account of a plague raging in Adrianople. No other printing-press was established in the city until 1888, when “Yosef Da’at” (El Progreso), a periodical, appeared.

The study of history was encouraged at Adrianople. Joseph ibn-Verga, a Talmudist, finished there the famous chronicle (“Shevet Yehudah”) begun by his grandfather, Judah, and continued by his father, Solomon. This was a timely work, for the “autos-da-fe” which it recorded were renewed in Ancona in 1556, and aroused the indignation of the Jews in Turkey. In order to penalize Pope Paul IV, they followed Joseph Nassi’s suggestion to cease shipping their merchandise to the port of Ancona and to transfer their commerce to the port of Pesaro.

Neither Joseph Sarfati, author of sermons (“Yad Yosef,” 1617), nor Judah Bitton (1568-1639) witnessed the Messianic agitation instigated by Shabbetai Sevi. All this came to an end at Adrianople, when both Sevi and his wife were formally converted to Islam (Sept. 21, 1666) in the presence of Sultan Mohammed IV, of which fact legends are rife to this day.

Among the rabbis who opposed the beliefs propagated by Shabbetai Sevi and the agitation fomented by his prophet, Nathan of Gaza, who had been expelled from Ipsala and Comargena, were: Abraham Amigo, Eliahu and Jacob Obadia, Jacob Danon, Israel Adato, Pinchas Cohen and Shimon Pinchas. Abraham Magrisso (died 1682 or 1687) appears to have been a staunch anti-Sabbetean, despite the presence in town of Samuel Primo, who died in Adrianople (1708) after having served as Deputy and Master of Ceremonies to the pretended Messiah.

The annals of the community in Adrianople spread over many years, and furnish only the names of rabbis, viz.: Abraham ben-Solomon Katan, 1719; Abraham Sarfati, 1722; Eliezer Nahum, 1663-1743, author of a commentary on the Mishnah, “Hazon Nahum”.

There are, however, two families, who for nearly two centuries, have supplied two parallel dynasties of rabbis:

To the BEHMOIRAS, of Polish origin, belonged:

  • Menachem I, ben-Isaac (1666-1728);
  • Mordechai I (died 1743 or 1748);
  • Menachem II (died in 1776 or 1781);
  • Mordechai II, Chelibi (died 1821);
  • Raphael I, Moses (died 1878);
  • Raphael II (died 1897).

There were also three non-officiating rabbis of this family:

  • Salomon, author of “Hashak Shlomo” (Constantinople, 1767) and “Michtav Sholomo” (Salonica, 1870)
  • Shimon, author of “Mateh Shimon” (Salonica, 1819)
  • Menachem, author of “Divrei Menahem”.

T

he family GUERON, of Catalonian origin (from Gerona), furnished:

  • Raphael Jacob Abraham I (died 1751), author of “Itur Sofrim” (Constantinople, 1756);
  • Eliakim I (died in Constantinople, circa 1800);
  • Yakir I (Preciado Astruq, died in Jerusalem, 1817);
  • Jacob Abraham II (Cornorte or Menahem, died 1826), author of “Abir Ya’akov” (Salonica, 1838);
  • Bechor Eliakim II (died circa 1835);
  • Yakir II (Preciado; born in 1813; died in Jerusalem, 1874; Chief Rabbi of the Ottoman Empire, 1863- 1872);
  • Jacob Abraham III
  • Mordechai (died 1889).

Besides these two families, which for nearly two hundred years divided between them the honors of governing the community of Adrianople and the region, there were also some able secretaries who efficiently aided in this task. They were:

  • Eliya Perez (died 1763);
  • Abraham Perez;
  • Isaac Altabev (died after 1831);
  • Samuel Dannon (adviser to Yakir II Gueron), who in 1850 played a prominent role in the foundation of the Jewish community schools.

The Jewish Community schools were first under the management of Joseph Halevy, later professor at the Sorbonne, Paris. They were afterward administered by directors assigned by the Alliance Israelite Universelle headquarters in Paris, France.

Around 1900, besides a school accommodating 380 pupils, there were also a Talmud Torah with 880 children; a private school (Tif’eret Yisrael) with 200 pupils; a Jewish Alliance School with 470 girls; a Jewish club, a small hospital, and several benevolent and debating societies. Adrianople had to endure its share of disasters: a fire in 1846; the cholera in 1865; and, finally, the calumny of ritual murder in 1872.

The Alliance Israelite also maintained a school for boys (founded 1867), which in 1897 had 305 pupils. A rabbinical seminary was founded in Adrianople in 1896 by Rabbi Abraham Danon in conjunction with the Alliance, but a year later was transferred to Constantinople under his direction.

Source: Written in 1901 by RABBI ABRAHAM DANON (1857-1925) – Turkish-Jewish scholar and educator; Director, Rabbinical Seminary of Istanbul

Translated from French and published in “Jewish Encyclopedia” (New York, 1901-1906)
Edited and adapted for publication by Marc Gueron (2004)


Bibliography:

Franco; “Essai sur l’Histoire des Israélites de l’Empire Ottoman”; pp. 204, 205, Paris, 1897;

“Bulletin de l’Alliance Israélite Universelle”; 1897, series 11, No. 22, p. 85.

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