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Carmona Family

(856 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Carmona family produced a number of prominent Jewish political, economic, and social figures during the last two centuries of the Ottoman Empire and was part of the Jewish elite of Istanbul. The family probably originated in the city of Carmona in southern Spain, but little is known about it until the eighteenth century, when mention is made of the scholar Rabbi Abraham Carmona, who died in Jerusalem in 1739. His contemporary in Istanbul, Isaac Carmona, had two sons, Moses and Elia.  The elder son, Moses, engaged in the textile trade in Salonica and then founded a bank, a…

Dragomans (Tercuman; Translators)

(1,394 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The influx of European Jews into the Ottoman Empire following the expulsion from Spain provided the state with a valuable source of loyal citizens who spoke useful foreign languages and had personal or commercial ties to both Christian courts and Jewish communities in their countries of origin. Many Jews exploited their talents to achieve important positions in the Ottoman court, particularly in its international relations, often starting their careers as   dragomans (translators/interpreters, from Trk. tercuman, itself borrowed from Ar. root t-r-j-m,to translate). Aware of …

Ibn Borgil, Abraham ben ʿAzīz

(202 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Abraham ben ʿAzīz Ibn Borgil (d. ca. 1595) was a rabbi and religious teacher in the Ottoman Empire. He may have been born in Salonica, where he studied with the renowned Samuel ben Moses de Medina (known as the Maharashdam, 1506–1589). However, for most of his life he headed a yeshiva in Nikopol (Bulgaria). Borgil was a prominent scholar of Talmud. His chef d’oeuvre was the Leḥem Abbirim (Bread of the Mighty; Venice, 1605), published after his death by Joseph ben Judah de Novis. The book reflects his deep knowledge of all matters relating to the Talmud and cont…

Capital Tax Law (Varlik Vergisi, 1942)

(1,337 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
The Capital Tax Law (Turk. Varlık Vergisi kanunu) was a wealth levy enacted by the Turkish Grand National Assembly on November 11, 1942 as Law No. 4305. Although its ostensible purpose was to raise funds against Turkey’s possible entry into World War II, it really was intended to destroy the economic position of non-Muslim minorities in the country and reinforce the ongoing process of economic Turkification. The Varlık Vergisi law was the final act in the pattern of anti-Jewish and anti-minority measuresadopted in the early years of the Turkish Republic. Such action…

Usque, Solomon

(788 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Solomon ben Abraham Usque, also known as Salusque Lusitano (ca. 1530–ca. 1596), was a Portuguese marrano author, playwright, printer, and Ottoman courtier during the second half of the sixteenth century. A member of the distinguished Usque family from Huesca, Spain, Solomon Usque was born in Portugal around 1530. His father, Abraham ben Solomon Usque, took the family to Ferrara in Italy in the 1540s because of the growing pressure upon marranos in Portugal. In Ferrara, Abraham (also known by his Christian name, Duarte Pinhel) set up a printing press th…

Carmona, Elia Rafael

(1,022 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Elia Rafael Carmona, born October 21, 1869 in Istanbul, was a writer and journalist, who died in 1935. He was the author of many dozens of novellas in Judeo-Spanish and edited the humoristic weekly El Jugeton for over twenty years (1908–1931). A member of the distinguished Carmona family, he was the grand-nephew of the banker Bekhor Isaac David ben Elia Carmona (1773–1826) through the latter’s younger brother Hezekiah. Although Elia Carmona was raised in penury because of his parents’ economic difficulties, his connection with more illustrious Carmonas opened do…

Carasso (Karasu), Albert

(514 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Albert Carasso (Karasu, 1885–1982)was a  Jewish journalist and political scientist in Turkey. Born in Salonica, Carasso learned French from his parents and then attended the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po). After completing his studies, Carasso moved to Istanbul, where in 1918 he founded and edited the French-language daily Le Journal d’Orient (1918–1924, 1926–1971). Carasso intended the newspaper to reach an elite audience in Istanbul; its readership, particularly in later years, consisted mostly of minorities. Albert Av…

Gatigno, Elyakim Ben Isaac

(202 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Elyakim ben Isaac Gaṭigno (d. 1781 or 1795) was a rabbi and scholar in Izmir (Smyrna) in the eighteenth century. A scion of the Gaṭigno (Gaṭṭigno, Gaṭeigno) rabbinical family of Iberian origin, he was born in Salonica, but spent most of his life in Izmir, where he was a leading rabbi in the Jewish community until his death. Gaṭigno authored a number of works, including Toʿafot Reʾem (The Lofty Horns of the Wild Ox; Livorno, 1761), a commentary on the commentary on Rashi by Rabbi Elijah ben Abraham Mizraḥi, known as the Reʾem (d. 1526); Agura be-Ohalekha (I Will Abide in Thy Tabernacle; Sal…

Levi (Ha-Levi), Moshe

(1,203 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Moses Levi (Moshe ha-Levi) (c. 1827 - 21 July 1910) served for more than three decades, from 1872 to mid-1908, as acting chief rabbi of the Ottoman Empire, a tenure defined by his own conservatism and that of the Ottoman regime with whom he maintained close ties. Born in Bursa around 1827, Levi was educated at the city’s rabbinic seminary. On the death of Yaqir Geron (Guéron, r. 1863–1872), Levi succeeded to the office of chief rabbi after several days of stormy discussions between various factions in the Jewish community of Istanbul. The appointment of a ch…

Ḥayyim, Samuel

(673 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Samuel ben Moses Ḥayyim (ca. 1760–ca. 1842) was a rabbinical jurist ( dayyan) and teacher in Istanbul, and a chief rabbi ( haham başi) of the Ottoman Empire. One of the city’s most learned scholars, Ḥayyim studied in a yeshiva where his teachers were Rabbis Elijah Palombo (b. 1762), Menahem Ashkenazi, and Raphael Jacob Asa. He spent most of his life in Balat, the Jewish quarter in the Fatih district of Istanbul, where he headed his own seminary. As early as 1798, he was recognized as an authority on the laws of divorce ( giṭṭin), and in consequence he supervised many such cases in the bet din headed…

Sasson, Aaron Ben Joseph

(352 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Aaron ben Joseph Sasson(1550 or 1556–1626) was a  rabbinical scholar and author in the Ottoman Empire. A native of Salonica, he studied in the yeshivot of that city and became an outstanding student of Mordechai Maṭalon (d. 1580). Counted as one of Salonica’s foremost scholars, Sasson was a respected teacher and rabbi, as well as an adjudicator ( poseq) of questions of religious law. Petitions reached him from cities near and far, and his opinions were cited by many of Salonica’s rabbis, particularly Solomon ben Isaac ha-Levi(le-Vet ha-Levi, 1532–1600), his father-in-law. The …

Salem, Emmanuel Raphael

(1,077 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Emmanuel Raphael Salem (1859–1940) was a lawyer and specialist in international law, as well as an active member of the Jewish communities of Salonica and Istanbul during the final decades of the Ottoman Empire. Named after his ancestor Rabbi Emmanuel Salem, he was born to Raphael Salem, a moneychanger, and Flor née Carasso; through his mother, he was related to the political activist and fellow Salonican lawyer Emmanuel Carasso (Karasu, 1862–1934). His early education consisted of both traditional religious studies and modern subjects, and he had mastered Turk…

Sciuto, Lucien

(935 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Lucien Sciuto (1868–1947) was a journalist, poet, and writer who was active in the last years of the Ottoman Empire and afterwards in Egypt. Born into a religious family in Salonica in 1868, he received his primary education at the Alliance Israélite Universelle (AIU) school there, continuing his studies independently after leaving school at the age of fourteen. He began his literary career in 1884 with Poèmes misanthropiques, and another volume of poetry in French that included the satirical “l’Or.” In 1894, he published Paternité (Paris, 1894), which included a poem dedicated…

Yehoshuʿa, Azariah (Joshua Ashkenazi)

(706 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Azariah Yehoshuʿa (d. 1648), also known as  Joshua Ashkenazi, was a rabbi and scholar, and one of the early leaders of the Jewish community of Izmir (Smyrna). He was born and educated in Salonica, where he attended its noted seminaries and was taught by its leading rabbinic figures. He moved to Izmir during the 1620s, preceded by another native of Salonica,  Joseph Escapa (1572–1661), who had studied and worked in Istanbul under Joseph ben Moses di Ṭrani the Elder (1569–1639) and had become acquainted with several younger scholars, such as Ḥayyim ben Isra…

Amatus Lusitanus (Amato Lusitano)

(1,555 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Amatus Lusitanus (also Amato Lusitano or Ḥaviv ha-Sephardi) (1511–1568) was a noted Jewish physician and marrano  who achieved renown throughout Western Europe before fleeing antisemitic persecution to settle in the Ottoman Empire toward the end of his life. Born in 1511 in Castel-Branco, Portugal, to marrano parents who had survived severe persecution, he grew up with a knowledge of Jewish religion, culture, and tradition that remained with him throughout his life; he also learned Hebrew from his parents. In his works, he mentions two bro…

L’Aurore (Istanbul)

(625 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
L’Aurore (1908–1920, 1924–1931) was a French-language pro-Zionist newspaper, initially a bi-weekly and then a weekly, that was published first in Istanbul, and later in Cairo. Its founder and publisher, the Salonica-born poet and writer Lucien Sciuto (1868–1947), saw L’Aurore as a newspaper for Jewish readers that would promote Zionism and Ottomanism, which he saw as complementary movements. The first issue came out one day after the proclamation of the 1908 Ottoman constitution and opened with a quotation from Theodor Herzl (1860–1904). L’Aurore quickly established itself a…

Usque, Samuel

(983 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Samuel Usque, in the mid-sixteenth century, was a noted marrano poet and the author of a classic work of Portuguese literature. He emigrated to the Ottoman Empire and lived in Safed and Istanbul. Few details of his life are known; he belonged to the distinguished Usque family, from the Spanish city of Huesca, and was born in Lisbon around the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, the persecution of marranos and Jews compelled him to settle in Ferrara by mid-life (perhaps the 1540s). He lived there at the same time as Amatus Lusitanu…

Shaul, Moshe

(283 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Moshe Shaul (b. 1929) is a journalist whose career has been devoted to the preservation and propagation of the Judeo-Spanish cultural heritage. Born in Izmir (Smyrna) in 1929, he immigrated to Israel in 1949, where he joined the Ladino department of Kol Israel(Voice of Israel) broadcasting in 1954. In 1959, he graduated from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with degrees in sociology and political science. From 1977 to 1994, Shaul headed the Ladino department at Kol Israel. In 1979, he founded Aki Yerushalaim: Revista Kulturala Djudeo-Espanyola as a supplement to his broadcast…

Levi, Shabbetai

(583 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Shabbetai Levi (Istanbul, April 10, 1876 – Ḥaifa, November, 1, 1956) was a noted early Zionist leader. As the first Jewish mayor of Haifa, he oversaw the city’s rapid development during the first half of the twentieth century. Born in Istanbul on April 10, 1876, to Siman-Ṭov Nathan ha-Levi, a merchant and businessman, and Sarah née Pereṣ, he received both a traditional and a modern education and graduated from the Faculty of Political Science and Administration at Istanbul University. He moved to Palestine in 1894 a…

Fua, Albert

(963 words)

Author(s): D Gershon Lewental
Albert Fua was a noted early Jewish member of the Young Turk movement and was active in the constitutionalist movement during the last decades of the Ottoman Empire. Originally from Salonica, Fua settled in Paris, where he lived for many years, writing and maintaining contacts with Ottoman liberals. His birth and death dates are unknown. The Paris branch of the Committee of Union and Progress (CUP), the party of the Young Turk movement, published an official organ, the Turkish-language Meşveret (Consultation), which included a French-language supplement, Mechveret Supplément Fran…
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