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Bassan Yeḥiel

(238 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Jehiel ben Ḥayyim Bassan was born into a Romaniot family in Rhodes in 1550, and moved to Istanbul in the 1580s after his wife died. He became one of the prominent rabbis of the city, and possibly also the head ( av bet din) of its rabbinical court during the first quarter of the seventeenth century. Together with Elijah Mizraḥi, Bassan disagreed with Samuel de Medina in a controversy over the right of a majority to impose its will upon the minority with regard to a communal ordinance (Heb. haskama) that had negative financial consequences for the minority. Bassan held that it was im…

Bekemoharar Family

(518 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Bekemoharar family of rabbis and scholars was descended from Menahem ben Isaac Ashkenazi (1666–1733), who was born in Timişoara (Temesvár) near the border between present-day Romania and Serbia. His family moved to Edirne (Adrianople) in the heartland of the Ottoman Empire when he was two years old. When the chief rabbi of Edirne, Abraham ben Isaac Ṣarfati, died in 1722, the city’s thirteen congregations could not agree on a candidate to replace him. Seven congregations favored the late rabbi’s son-in-law Abraham Geron (d. 1751), but the other six chose Ashkenazi as thei…

Haskama

(1,048 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
From the sixteenth century on, the fundamental rules guiding the life of the Jewish community in the Ottoman Empire were based upon legal decrees known as haskamot (sing. haskama,also askama) or taqqanot (sing. taqqana). Both terms were used in medieval Iberia and were carried over into the Sephardi diaspora following the expulsion. Taqqanot (Heb. ordinances) formulated to cope with new needs and changing realities organized and ensured the management and proper functioning of the community for the benefit of its members. The most important taqqanot determined the unchallengeab…

Ḥazzan family

(1,029 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Ḥazzans (Ḥazan) were a Sephardi rabbinical family first mentioned in seventeenth-century Izmir (Smyrna). Several members of the family served as rabbis in communities of the Ottoman Empire from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century.  Joseph ben Elijah Ḥazzan (d. after 1694) was a pupil of Joseph di Ṭrani (Mahariṭ; d. 1638) in Istanbul. After some time in Izmir, he settled in Jerusalem. He was the author of several works, including ʿEn Yosef (The Face of Joseph; Izmir, 1675), a collection of homilies on the weekly Torah portions,and ʿEn Yehosef (The Face of Jeho…

Handali, Esther

(321 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Esther Kira Ḥandali (Esther Kyra), the wife of Elijah Ḥandali, was one of the best-known Jewish women to bear the title kira (Turk. dame, lady). These women exercised political influence through her contacts with women in the harems of four Ottoman sultans: Süleyman I the Magnificent (r. 1520– 1566), Selim II (r. 1566– 1574), Murat III (r. 1574–1595), and Mehmet III (r. 1595–1603). Esther was regularly admitted to the harem to sell jewelry, perfumes, and other items, and she also ran errands or performed services for the women outside the palace. Thanks…

Ibn Yaḥya, Gedaliah ben Jacob Tam

(316 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Gedaliah ben Jacob Tam ibn Yaḥya (d. 1575), born into a distinguished Sephardi family of rabbis, intellectuals, and literati that originated in Spain, was one of the leading rabbis of Salonica during the second half of the sixteenth century. His father, Rabbi Jacob Tam ben David ibn Yaḥya (ca. 1475–1542) was a notable rabbi and intellectual, and the author of a book of responsa entitled Sheʾelot u-Teshuvot Ohale Tam (Responsa Tents of Uprightness). Both Gedaliah and his brother Joseph (d. 1534) studied medicine, Joseph apparently becoming one of the personal physicians of…

Alsheikh, Moses ben Ḥayyim

(386 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Moses ben Ḥayyim Alsheikh (Alshich, Alshekh), a prominent rabbinic scholar and author, was born in Edirne (Adrianople) around 1520. In his youth, Alsheikh studied under Joseph ben Samuel Taitatzak (ca. 1465–1546/50) and later under Joseph Caro (1488–1575). He then moved to Safed and, except for journeys abroad on behalf of the community, lived there for the rest of his life. Distinguished for his scholarship, he wrote dozens of halakhic works and commentaries on the Bible. Alsheikh was one of the select few to receive the ancient traditional ordination (Heb. semikha) revived by Jacob B…

Homosexuality in Jewish society

(1,771 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Human sexual activity is influenced by its surroundings, and whether it is labeled as “normative” or “deviant” depends upon the norms relative to the place and time, the social and cultural contexts, and the standing of the individual. The study of homosexuality among Jews in the Ottoman Empire and in the lands of Islam, and also of the attitude of Jewish society, amply demonstrates this. Like Judaism (Lev. 18:22 and 20:13), Islam strictly forbids sexual relations between males (Qur’an 7:81, 26:165, 27:55; and even more explicitly in the ḥadīth), but in actuality, the official stan…

Pallache, Ḥayyim

(432 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Ḥayyim ben Jacob Pallache (Palache, Palaggi), known by the Hebrew acronyms Ḥabif and Maharḥaf, was a chief rabbi of the Ottoman city of Izmir (Smyrna). Born in Izmir in 1788, he was educated by his father, who was a well-known rabbi and kabbalist, as well as by his grandfather Joseph Raphael ben Ḥayyim Ḥazzan (Ḥazzan, 1741–1820), who was also a chief rabbi of Izmir. Ḥayyim Pallache was already a rabbi in 1813, when he was but twenty-five years old; by the time he reached forty in 1828, he had been appointed head of the Bet Yaʿaqov rabbinical seminary. Ten years later, he became the head …

Taytaṣak, Joseph

(545 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Joseph ben Solomon Taytaṣak was a scholar and rabbi, active from the late fifteenth to the mid-sixteenth century, who excelled both in traditional Jewish subjects and in secular subjects. As a young man in Castile, where he was born in 1465, Taytaṣak caught the attention of Rabbi  Levi ibn Ḥabib (Ralbaḥ, ca. 1480–1545). He moved from Spain to Portugal but fled to Italy after the expulsion edict in 1497. Taytaṣak lived in Salonica during the first decade of the sixteenth century, and later spent time in Yanina (Ioannina) and Serres. He was considered one of Saloni…

Modaʽi, Ḥayyim

(381 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Born apparently in Istanbul in 1720, Ḥayyim ben Elijah Moda‘i moved to the Holy Land during his childhood, where he lived in Safed. After having resided there for twenty-five  years, he left the town for Europe as a rabbinical emissary (Heb. shadar or meshullaḥ) in order to collect donations. After this journey he settled in Istanbul (1749), where he was appointed one of the city’s rabbis. At the same time he also served as a member of the Committee of Officials in Safed ( vaʿad peqide ṣefat). After the destruction of Safed by the earthquake of 1760, he once again traveled to Eur…

Ashkenazi, Judah Ben Joseph

(338 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Judah ben Joseph Ashkenazi, born ca. 1730, was one of the most notable scholars of Izmir (Smyrna) during the eighteenth century. His father, Joseph, immigrated from Vienna to Izmir around 1700. Judah was the son-in-law of Rabbi Barzilay Ya‘beṣ, a scholar and communal leader. From various sources, it appears that Judah was known for his sharpness of mind, his profilic literary output, and his accomplishments as a teacher. He grew up among the students of the Maḥziqe Torah seminary and eventually became an outstanding scholar and teacher. Rabbi Ḥayyim ben Jacob Pallache (known by the…

Caro, Joseph Ben Ephraim

(1,127 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Joseph ben Ephraim Caro (1488–1575), known also by his Hebrew acronym as the Riq, was one of the most important halakhic adjudicators of all time. Honored with the title maran (Heb. our master) or maran ha-meḥabber (Heb. our master the author) for his monumental compilation, the Bet Yosef, he was born in 1488, apparently in the city of Toledo in the Kingdom of Castile. In 1492, when the Jews of Spain were expelled, his family went to Portugal, but after only a few years they were forced to flee eastward and headed to the Ottoman Empire. Caro…

Israel family

(580 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Israel family, noted for producing many prominent rabbis, flourished in Alexandria, Rhodes, and Palestine in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest distinguished member of the family, Moses Israel, was born in Jerusalem around 1670 and died in Alexandria in 1740. Perhaps descended from earlier rabbis whose names are unknown, he was a pupil of Abraham ben David Yiṣhaqi (1661–1729) and married Hannah, the daughter of Moses ben Solomon ibn Ḥabib (ca. 1654–1696), one of the foremost rabbis of Jerusalem during that period. From 1710 to 1713, Moses…

Shabbetay (Shabbati), Ḥayyim

(327 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Ḥayyim ben Moses Shabbetay(Shabbati) was a noted rabbi of Salonica from the mid-sixteenth to the mid-seventeenth century. Born around 1555, Shabbetay (known also by the Hebrew acronym Maharḥash) was the pupil of Aaron ben Joseph Sasson (1550 or 1555–1626) and of Solomon ben Abraham ha-Kohen (Maharshakh, d. 1602). By the last decade of the sixteenth century, Shabbetay had already achieved recognition as one of the leading rabbinical scholars in Salonica. In 1615, he succeeded Samuel Florentin as marbiṣ tora (teacher of Torah study), i.e., rabbi, of the Qahal Qadosh Shalom; succeede…

Mizraḥi, Elijah ben Abraham

(471 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Elijah ben Abraham Mizraḥi (d. before 1527), generally known by the Hebrew acronym Reʾem,  was one of the greatest rabbis of the Romaniot community of Istanbul. Born there around the middle of the fifteenth century, he headed a yeshiva and apparently figured as the leader of the city’s rabbinical community. Modern scholarship tends to dismiss the claim that he was formally styled chief rabbi ( haham başı ), however, although this was assumed in the past. Aside from being an adjudicator (Heb. poseq) of Jewish law, Mizraḥi possessed broad general knowledge on numerous subjects,…

Castro, Jacob

(287 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Jacob ben Abraham Castro was one of the most important  rabbis of Egypt during the sixteenth century and the first decade of the seventeenth. Born in 1525, either in Egypt or Jerusalem, into a family of Iberian origin, Castro (known by the acronym Mahariqas) was a pupil of both Levi ben Ḥabib (Ralbaḥ, ca. 1483–1545) and David ibn Abi Zimra, (Radbaz, 1479–1573). Castro stood at the head of the community of Mizraḥi Jews ( Musta‘ribūn) in Egypt throughout the second half of the sixteenth century until his death in either 1612 or 1610. A leading halakhic authority in his …

Sassoon Family

(1,509 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
The Sassoons (Sasons, Sassons) are a prominent Jewish family of Baghdadiorigin whose commercial and financial networks dominated trade in India and the Far East at the height of the British colonial period. Members of the family engaged in philanthropic and scholarly enterprises throughout the Jewish world. The Sassoons were typical of the Jewish notable families that prospered in business and finance in the late Ottoman period cities likeIstanbul (the Zonana, Aciman/Adjiman, Camondo/Kamondo, and Gabbai families), Izmir (Smyrna), Damascus, and Acre (Akko, the Farḥi family), a…

Ashkenazi Jews in the Ottoman Empire

(954 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe migrated to the Ottoman Empire in a series of waves that began as early as the fourteenth century. In part they were motivated by repeated invitations from Romaniot Jews urging them to escape the difficult conditions in Christian Europe by settling in the safer, more accommodating Ottoman realm. Rabbi Isaac Ṣarfati in Edirne, for instance, sent a missive to this effect to the Jewish communities of Germany in the fifteenth century. In addition to  Ashkenazi Jews who moved into Ottoman territory of their o…

Almosnino, Joseph ben Isaac

(289 words)

Author(s): Yaron Ben Naeh
Joseph ben Isaac Almosnino (1642–1689) was a noted rabbi of the late seventeenth century. Born in Salonica, Almosnino (the surname also appears as Almoshnino or Almoshnini) was the nephew of Rabbi Judah ben Samuel Lerma. He studied in Jerusalem at the Bet Yaʿaqov seminary of Israel Jacob ben Samuel Ḥagiz (1620–1674). In 1666, he went to Belgrade to continue his education under Simḥa ben Gershon ha-Kohen, the rabbi of the local community and the head of its seminary, as well as the author of Shemot ha-Giṭṭin. Shortly thereafter, Almosnino married his teacher’s daughter, Leah. She…
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