All About Turkey

The Jews of Turkey

There has been a Jewish community in Turkey (Asia Minor) since the 4th century B.C. such as in Sardis. According to the Old Testament, the prophet Abraham was born in Ur in Chaldea. Near the Euphrates (Firat) river, there is a historic and ancient city called Sanliurfa whose initial name was Ur. Jewish communities in Asia Minor continued to prosper throughout the Turkish conquest under Seljuks and Ottomans.

In modern times after the Republic, in the late 1930's and early 1940ís, Turkey again opened its homes and universities to Jews who had fled from Nazi oppression and persecution. In 1933 Ataturk invited to Turkey many university professors of Jewish origin who were threatened by Nazi cruelty. In the beginning of the 19th Century Turkey was home to more than 100,000 Jews.

Jews landing in Istanbul in 1492Today Turkey's total Jewish population is around 26,000 (the second largest Jewish community in a Muslim country, being the first is Iran), with a great majority living in Istanbul. In 1992 the community celebrated the 500th anniversary of its existence in Turkey since the spring of 1492, when they came to Istanbul and accepted by the sultan Beyazit II shortly after the Moors were driven out of Granada, Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain expelled all the Jews from their lands and ended the largest Jewish settlement in Europe. The community is 96% Sephardi, the rest is Ashkenazis. There are also about 100 Karaites live in Turkey, but usually they don't consider themselves a part of the Jewish community and don't take any part in its activities.

The Jewish people in Turkey contributed immensely to the economic, cultural and political life during the times of the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic after the War of Liberation led by Ataturk.

The Jewish community of Turkey is recognized by the State through its Chief Rabbinate, and Chief Rabbi is called "Haham Basi" in Turkish.

Ankara

There are only about 100 Jews in Ankara.

Samanpazari Synagogue is opened only for wedding ceremonies, funerals and special occasions. Birlik Sokak, Samanpazari. Tel: +90 312 3116200.

Israel Legation, Vali Dr. Resit Caddesi, Farabi Sok No.43, Cankaya. Tel: +90 312 4264993.

Bursa

After the conquest of Bursa in 1324, ottoman sultan Orhan Gazi ordered that the Jews of Bursa could build a synagogue, and thus the Etz ha-Hayyim used for over 600 years. Today there are only about 140 Jews left in the town and only two synagogues remain active.

Gerush Synagogue, Altiparmak Caddesi No.20A, in the old Jewish quarter. Services on Friday evening, Shabbat morning & festivals.

Istanbul

About 24.000 Jews live in Istanbul.

Chief Rabbinate of Turkey: Yemenici Abdullatif Sokak 23, Beyoglu - Istanbul

Tel: +90 212 2448794 / Fax: +90 212 2441980

Community Center: Buyuk Hendek Sokak, No.61, Galata. Tel: +90 212 2937566.

Synagogues:

Bima of Ahrida Synagogue in Balat There are several old synagogues in the Balat and Haskoy areas of the Golden Horn which are worth a visit. Today there is a total of 16 Synagogues in use in Istanbul, all Sephardi except one.

  • Ashkenazi Congregation, Yuksek Kaldirim No.37, Galata. Tel: +90 212 2442975
  • Italian Congregation, Okcu Musa Caddesi No:29, Galata. Tel: +90 212 2937784.
  • Neve Shalom Synagogue: it is the largest and most famous synagogue in the city.
  • Buyuk Hendek Caddesi No.61, near the Galata Tower. Tel: +90 212 2937566.
  • Beth Israel Synagogue, Efe Sokak No.4, Osmanbey-Sisli. Tel: +90 212 2406599.
  • The Synagogue at the summer resort of Buyukada lsland, is open from June till end-September, as well as for the High Holidays.
  • Yanbol Synagogue: Vodina Street, No.16, Balat.
  • Ahrida Synagogue: Vodina Street, No.9, Balat. Dating from the early 15th century, its most outstanding section is its Bima (Teva), built to resemble the prow of a ship, traditionally symbolizing Noah's Ark which landed on Ararat or the ships that brought Jews to Turkey who fled from Spain in 1492. Destroyed by a fire in the late 17th century, but reconstructed immediately during the Ottoman Tulip period. It's the oldest Synagogue in Istanbul.
  • Etz Ahayim Synagogue: Muallim Naci Caddesi 38, Ortakoy (on the Bosphorus). Built in 1660 and destroyed by a fire in 1941, than reconstructed. The marble ark survived and remains are in the garden as a historic monument.

Quincentennial Foundation has opened a unique museum in Istanbul. The museum contains material relating to the Jewish members of the Ottoman Parliament, physicians at the Imperial Court, diplomats, academicians, police officers and civil servants.

Tel: +90 212 2753944 / Fax +90 212 2742607.

Kosher meat can be found at Istanbul and Izmir, the Chief Rabbinate can supply information about a kosher restaurant.

A Weekly newspaper called "Shalom" (Turkish & Ladino) with 8 pages, and a monthly journal in Turkish called Tiryaki are published as well.

Izmir

This community in Izmir, numbering around 2,300, is the second largest in Turkey. The dramatic decline in population during the early 1950s caused the shutting down of several community institutions. In the 1960s there functioned only one Jewish school and two synagogues, the community still maintained a hospital and a rabbinical court.

Jewish Community Council: Azizler Sokak 920/44, Guzelyurt.

Synagogues:

  • Beth Israel, Mithatpasa Caddesi No.265, Karatas (near the Asansor-Lift).
  • Shaar Ashamayan, a new synagogue located in the modern district of Alsancak that also houses the offices of the local rabbinate and community. 1390 Sokak 4/2, Alsancak.

Bikur Holim Hospital, Esrefpasa Caddesi No.3, Karatas. The Jewish hospital now admits non-Jewish patients as well.

For Kosher meat, please inquire at the Synagogue.

All About Turkey © Burak Sansal 1996–2014, a certified professional tour guide in Turkey. Contact Burak at buraksan@superonline.com for all kinds of regular and/or private travel services throughout the country.