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During the sovereignty of Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand of Spain, Jews were forced to either accept Christianity or to flee the country leaving their land, property, and belongings behind. Therefore the Jews that left Spain in 1492 were welcomed by the Ottoman Empire. From then on Jews reconstructed their lives on the land of the Ottoman Empire and later in the Republic of Turkey without any interference in their religion and beliefs.

In 1992, Turkish Jews celebrated not only the 500th anniversary of this cordial welcome, but also the noteworthy spirit of acceptance that has distinguished the whole Jewish experience in Turkey. As a whole, the celebration aimed to demonstrate the richness and security of life Jews have found in the Ottoman Empire and the Turkish Republic over more than five centuries, and shows that indeed it is not impossible for people of different creeds to live together peacefully under one flag.

The present size of the Jewish Community in Turkey is estimated to be about 26.000. The vast majority live in Istanbul, with a community of about 2.500 in İzmir and other smaller groups located in Adana, Ankara, Bursa.

Although the 99% of the population is Muslim, Turks show respect forother religious beliefs. Some Turks consider it improper or rude to call Jews Yahudi so they call them Musevi (the people who believe in the prophet Moses). There is even an anectode on the subject: When famous Yehudi Menuhin (his proper name) came to Turkey for several concerts in 1970s, one of the newspapers had a headline “Musevi Menuhin was in town for a concert”. The person editing the text thought that it would be impolite to write "Yehudi" and must have changed “Yehudi” to “Musevi”.

Turkish Jews are legally represented, as they have been for many centuries, by the Hahambaşı, the Chief Rabbi. Isak Haleva, Chief Rabbi since elected in 2002, is assisted by a religious Council made up of a Rosh Bet Din and three Hahamim. Thirty five Lay Counselors look after the secular affairs of the Community and an Executive Committee of fourteen, the president of which must be elected from among the Lay Counselors, runs the daily affairs.

Chief Rabbi is the only authorized person for the Jewish Community in Turkey
Yemenici Sokak 23, 80050 Beyoğlu Istanbul
Tel: (212) 293 87 94-5, Fax: (212) 244 19 80

Jews can obtain the weekly Shalom Newspaper and Monthly Tiryaki Magazine either from the office of Shalom Newspaper (212) 240 4144 or Remzi Kitapevi.

Customs, Traditions and Symbols

Şabat: It is believed that God created the earth in 6 days and rested on the 7th day. Jews don't work on Saturdays as it is their day of rest. The Friday prior to Şabat all Jews gather in their homes and have a special dinner. Some pious Jews, prefer to walk to the Synagogue for Saturday prayer, instead of driving their cars.

Faşadura: A ceremony for the 3rd month of pregnancy. A member of the family whose parents are alive cuts the cloth to be sewed as the first gown of the baby. Prayers are said and candles thrown over the cloth and clothing of the expected baby. This ceremony is always followed with a decadent tea party.

Berit Milla: Male babies are circumcised on the 8th day following their birth. A banquet is organized after the circumcision. It is customary for the baby to be carried by one of the grandfathers. The lips of the baby are moistened with a few drops of wine to ease the pain and calm the baby.

Vijola: A name giving ceremony for newborn girls.

Barmitzva: According to religion, “13” is the age at which a boy is considered an “adult”. At least 10 religious male adults should be present at each prayer, “Minyan”. Even if there are 100 women present during this ceremony the prayers are not accepted!! After the ceremony the family usually arranges a lightly catered party in the Synagogue. Finances permitting, guest may be offred an invitation to another place, on the same night. If you are invited to a Barmitzva you would be well advised take a valuable gift and dress formally. For the Synagogue, women will need a scarf and men will need a hat.

Batmitzva: Ih the Jewish faith, when a girl reaches the age of 12, her family organizes a celebration in her honor.

Mariage: Before the marriage ceremony ketuba takes place between the couples. This is the determination of the drahoma (dowry) to be given to the groom's family by the bride's family. In case of divorce the groom's family should return this dowry. During the marriage prayer, the bride and the groom are blessed by 7 prayers. A bulb or a glass is broken in memory of the bad events in Jewish history and also to signify the husband's dominance. One week after the marriage ceremony, the groom visits the synagogue for a special benediction.

Tefilin: One of the most important symbols among Jews. Every man older than 13 years old should wear it on his left arm during the morning prayers.

Mezuza: Every Jewish house has this symbol with the Şema prayer and Ten Commandments in it. It is believed that God protects their houses with this symbol. Everyone entering or leaving the house kisses this symbol and says a short prayer.

Kosher Restaurants of the city

The oldest Kosher restaurant in İstanbul. Open only for lunch between 12:00-15:00 on weekdays. Home delivery is available.
Tahmis Kalçın Sokak, Çavuşbaşı Han 23/10
Tel: (212) 512 11 96

The newest Kosher Restaurant in town and it's located Ortaköy. Open everyday from 12:00 till midnight. Closed Friday from 15:00 until Saturday 17:00. Take away service is available.
Muallim Naci Caddesi, 41/10, Ortaköy
Tel: (212) 260 84 25

The only Kosher restaurant on the Anatolian side. Offers catering and home delivery services. Open everyday from 12:00 to 22:00. Closed on Fridays from 15:00 to Saturday 17:30.
Ömerpaşa Sokak 63/1-2, Erenköy
Tel: (216) 357 04 62

Some of the Kosher Butchers of the city

Avni Yeşil Bursa
Zeytinoğlu Caddesi, Yaren Sokak, Evrim Çarşısı No. 12, Akatlar
Tel: (212) 351 98 44
Balıkçı Sokak, 21, Büyükada (open only in summer)
Tel: (216) 382 68 88

Bankalar Kasabı
Hasat Sokak No. 1/5, Şişli
Tel: (212) 247 90 19

Doğu Kasabı
Hasat Sokak No. 52, Şişli
Tel: (212) 225 15 66

Istanbul Kasabı
Müderris Salih RüştüBey Sokak Ethem Zengin Blokları1/5 2. Ulus, Etiler
Tel: (212) 278 65 97-98
Isa Çelebi Sokak, 13, Büyükada (open only in summer)
Tel: (216) 282 20 54

Santral Kasabı
Hamam Sokak 33/29, Göztepe
Tel: (216) 358 38 03

Say Kasabı
Vefa Bey Sokak 11/2, Gayrettepe
Tel: (212) 275 66 29

Trakya Tavukevi (only chicken)
Hacı Emin Efendi Sokak 4/6 Nişantaşı
Tel: (212) 241 68 93

Major Jewish Festivals

Roş Aşana: New Year festival lasts 2 days in memoriam to the creation of the world and also is a time for reflection and self-evaluation. It is the time that Jews are forgiven for their sins in the sight of God. All family members come together at a dinner. The meal consists of dishes made with early fruits and vegetables like leek ball, cabbage salad, and quince dessert. The purpose of these choices is to greet the New Year with new and sweet tastes.

Yom Kipur: This is known as “The Great Fast” and it is celebrated on the 10th day of the New Year. The faithful fasts between two sunsets and much of the day is spent in prayer. The fast ends when the first star appears. First a piece of bread with olive oil is eaten following with soup.

Sukot: Known as the Tent Fest. After leaving Egypt the Jews had to spend 40 years wandering in the deserts having only rough shacks as shelters. This is an 8-day festival in memory of this event in history.

Hanuka: Candle Fest is an 8-day festival. A candle is lit with the accompaniment of prays in memoriam to a miracle that occurred in a holy temple in Israel. The miracle is that a one-day- candle burned for 8 days. On each day of the festival one more of the eight candles in the nine-candle menorah are lit with the central candle.

Purim: Not all the Jews living in Turkey are of Spanish origin. The roots of Jews residing in Anatolia reaches further back and most of them have come from Northern Europe and Mediterranean countries. This is a festival in memory of the Jews rescued from a massacre in Iran, as a result of a miracle. Many people fast the day before the holiday. A special sweet called Aman'ın Kulakları (Aman's Ears-Oreja de Aman) can be found inseveral pastry shops.

Pesah: The word means “pass by”. This festival is celebrated in commemoration of their freedom from Egyptian domination. In memory of this event the first-born male of each family fasts on the day before the beginning of this 8-day festival. During this period, the faithful eat “matza”, a cracker like bread resembling the unleavened bread the Jews ate in the desert as they fled from Egypt.

Şavuot: A very special festival for the celebration of the day on which the Old Testament and The Ten Commandments were completed. The synagogues are embellished with flowers and milk-based foods are eaten. It represents a harvest festival.

Holy Days
Mourning Rituals
Turkish Coffee
Kirkpinar Oil-Wrestling
Traditions & Habits
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Islam in Turkey
Istanbul's Holy Places
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Special Tastes
Hubble-bubble (Nargile)
Rakı and Meyhane
Hamam - Turkish Bath
Luck Games
A Little Turkish Fun

Latest comments about this article

 By nikigamm  31.8.2010

Undoubtedly people have already pointed out that David Asseo died in 2002. His successor is Ishak Haleva.

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