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Skopje (Üsküb)

(978 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Skopje (Turk. Üsküb), today the capital of the Republic of Macedonia, is a city on the banks of the Vardar River at a major Balkan crossroads of the north-south route between Athens and Belgrade. Its Jewish community may have originated in Roman times, when the city was known as Scupi. The community consisted of Romaniot Greek-speaking Jews during the Byzantine period (up to 1282) and afterwards under Serbian rule (ca. 1282–1392). The Bet Aharon synagogue was built in 1366. Skopje became Ottoman in 1392 and over the next two centuries developed into one of the most importan…

Socialism, Socialists, Jewish Role in

(1,457 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Socialism is a social and economic doctrine that prefers public to private control of property and resources, according to the principle that everyone who contributes to production is entitled to a share in the profits. Socialism is considered to contradict capitalism, wherein private ownership and choices, as well as a free market, determine how goods and services are distributed. Jews were active in socialist movements in Ottoman Greece, North Africa, and Arab countries from the nineteenth to the mid-twentieth century. In Greece, Jewish involvement in socialist movements i…

Valona (Avlonya, Vlora)

(362 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Valona (Alb. Vlora; Ott. Turk. Avlonya; Heb. Avilona; other renderings include Vlone, Vlore, and Avlona) is an ancient port city in southern Albania. Historical accounts indicate that Jews have been residing in the city since Roman times. Valona was ruled by the Ottomans from 1417 to 1912, except for a brief Venetian occupation in 1690. During the period of Ottoman rule, the town accommodated numerous Jewish refugees from Spain and Portugal, especially at the end of the fifteenth century. Turkish sources state that 528 of the 945 families residing in the city …

Plovdiv (Filibe)

(2,134 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Plovdiv, today the second-largest city in Bulgaria, is located on the banks of the Maritsa River, approximately 152 kilometers (94 miles) southeast of Sofia. Called Philippi in Roman times and Filibe under the Ottomans, it may already have had a Jewish community in the time of the New Testament (see Philippians 1:28). In the Byzantine period, the Jews resided in a special quarter of the city. Sometime before the fall of Constantinople in 1204 and the founding of the Latin Empire of the West, Ric…

Buda (Budīn), Budapest

(722 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Jews may have lived in the territory known as Hungary as early as Roman times. The first historical reference to Jews in Hungary is found in the letter Ḥasday ibn Shaprūṭ, the Jewish courtier in Umayyad Cordova, wrote to King  Joseph of the Khazars around 960. The community in Buda was established at least in the eleventh century. Since then, and during the Ottoman period, which began in 1526, Jews have lived in Buda almost without interruption.    Parts of Hungary fell into Ottoman hands after the Hungarian defeat in the Battle of Mohács in August 1526, but the Ottomans did n…

Larissa (Yenishehir-i Fenari)

(942 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Larissa is the industrial center of the Thessaly region northwest of Athens, and has been the crossroads for commerce between the cities of Macedonia and Epirus with Morea (the Peloponnesus) since the fifth century. Its Jewish community dated to at least the early Byzantine period, as indicated by a Jewish inscription in Greek, “To the nation peace,” apparently a variant of the Hebrew saying “Peace unto Israel.” Situated in the midst of an agricultural region, Larisa was rebuilt several times in the Byzantine period. Conquered and annexed in 1423, it remained p…

Monastir (Bitola, Manastir)

(1,843 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Situated in Macedonia in the western Balkans on the Via Egnatia route from the Adriatic coast to Salonica, Monastir (Turk. Manastır) was an important Ottoman administrative, military, and commercial center. Jews first began to settle in the town in the thirteenth century. The Ottomans conquered the region in 1381 to 1382, and it remained part of their empire until 1913. In the early years of Ottoman rule, the Jewish community of Monastir was predominantly Romaniot.   After 1466, as part of the series of population transfers known as the sürgün implemented by Sultan Meḥmed II, many of t…

Albania

(778 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Albania is a Balkan country on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea. Evidence for Jewish settlement there exists from the late Second Temple period, and a Byzantine synagogue was found in Saranda (Sarandë). When Benjamin of Tudela visited the area around 1169 or 1170, he found Jews in the region. In the late thirteenth century, Jewish merchants in Durazzo (Durrës) traded salt and sheepskins with Venice and Ragusa (Dubrovnik). Some Hungarian Jews migrated to Albania in the wake of the Black Death in the fourteenth century. Toward…

Sofia

(1,799 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Sofia (Ott. Tur. Ṣofya), today the capital and largest city of Bulgaria, lies in the west-central part of the country in the southern part of the Sofia plain at the foot of Mount Vitosha. Jews already lived in Sofia (called Serdica by the Romans, Triadica by the Byzantines, and Sredec by the Slavs) at the end of the first century. In 1376, the city acquired the name Sofia (Gk. Wisdom). In the time of King Simeon in the early tenth century, Byzantine Jews fleeing persecution settled in Bulgaria. Toward the end of the century, they founded a Romaniot synagogue in Sofia  which was historically…

Belgrade

(934 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Belgrade (Serb. Beograd; Ott. Turk. Belghād, and occasionally Belghād Üngürüz to distinguish it from other Balkan towns with the same name) is a city in southeastern Europe, situated at the confluence of the Sava and Danube rivers, and the capital of Serbia. Jews have lived in Belgrade at least since the period immediately following the Black Death (1346–1350). In 1376, Ashkenazi Jews expelled from Hungary moved there. They were later joined by Jews from Bavaria (1470) and Italy, many of the lat…

Morea

(2,736 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The Peloponnesus region of southern Greece was known as the Morea in medieval and early modern times. The area was under Byzantine rule until 1204, when Frankish knights of the Fourth Crusade, diverted to the Morea, captured Modon and its environs. Most of the area was Byzantine again from 1262 to around 1460. In the early fifteenth century the southern part of the Morea came under Venetian rule. The  Ottomans launched several military campaigns to conquer the Morea in the fourteenth century but did not a…

Navpaktos (İnebahtı, Lepanto)

(930 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Navpaktos (Tur. İnebahtı; It. Lepanto) is a Greek port town on the northern coast of the Gulf of Corinth about 215 kilometers (134 miles) southeast of Athens and about 15 kilometers (9 miles) southwest of Patras. A Romaniot community existed in Byzantine times, and after the arrival of the Sephardim, its synagogue was known as Qahal Qadosh Grego or Qahal Qadosh Toshavim. Benjamin of Tudela found about a hundred Jews in Navpaktos around 1170. For most of the fourteenth century the Jews enjoyed economic prosperity. The town was taken over by the Albanians in…

Varna

(602 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Varna is a major Bulgarian port city on the Black Sea. The country’s third-largest city after Sofia and Plovdiv, Varna was named Odessos in ancient times and Stalin from 1949 to 1956. It was captured by the Ottomans in 1399 and remained under Turkish suzerainty until 1878. By making Varna one of their four main strongholds in Bulgaria, along with Shumla, Silistre, and Ruse, the Ottomans contributed significantly to the city’s economic development. The first Jewish inhabitants of Varna were Romaniots.  After 1492, Sephardi Jews began arriving in the city and soon outnumbered …

Thebes (Istifa)

(682 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The city of Thebes in the Boeotia region of Greece, northwest of Athens, has been an administrative center since the tenth century and was known for its silk production, an industry in which the local Jews took an active part. In 1147 George of Antioch attacked the city and expelled or enslaved many of the local Jews, sending them to Sicily to work in silk manufacturing. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited Thebes in 1167, reported that it had two thousand Jewish inhabitants, and a number of first-class talmudic and rabbinic scholars who engaged in congenial disput…

Romania (Ottoman)

(4,166 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The Ottoman Empire gained control of what is now Romania, including the principalities of Moldavia, Wallachia, Transylvania, and the Banat, in the mid-sixteenth century. By the turn of the eighteenth century, it was forced to withdraw from some of these territories: Alba Iulia in Transylvania (at that time the only officially recognized Jewish community) in 1711, and Temeşvar in the Banat in 1716, but it held Moldavia and Wallachia until 1878. The overwhelming majority of the Jews in the Romanian principalities lived in Moldavia (now Moldova) and Wallachia. Until t…

Balkans

(4,393 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
1. Ottoman Period The Balkan Peninsula was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. From then until the Ottoman retreat due to military defeats and the rise of nationalism in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the Jews of the Balkans lived under Muslim rule. Before the Ottoman conquest, small Romaniot communities existed under the Byzantines, and the Romaniot rite remained dominant under the Ottomans until the arrival of masses of Sephardim in the aftermath of the expulsions from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497). Sephardi co…

Serres (Siroz)

(1,734 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
The town of Serres(Gk. Serrai; Turk. Siroz) in eastern Macedonia was known as Siris in Antiquity and Dirra in Byzantine times. Jews may have lived in Serres throughout the Byzantine period, but there are only a few references to a Jewish presence there in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.  Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the region around 1167, mentions the towns of Demitrizi with fifty Jews and Drama with 140, either of which might have been Serres. The names of local Romaniot families included Galimidi, Meshulam, Mizrahi, and Ḥazzan.  The Ottomans conquered Serres, which the…

Trikala (Terhala)

(1,099 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Trikala(Tur. Terhala), a town in western Thessaly,  is now part of Greece but was under Ottoman rule from the 1390s until 1881. It may have had a Jewish presence in antiquity, and Byzantine sources of the fourteenth century mention Jews on the outskirts of the town, but the earliest tangible evidence of Jewish life dates to the first half of the fifteenth century. Between 1421 and 1451, there were 387 Jewish families in the town and the surrounding area, mostly Judeo-Greek-speaking Romaniots. After the Ottoman conquest of Istanbul in 1453, some of them were relocated to the …

Bosnia, Bosnia-Herzegovina

(889 words)

Author(s): Yitzchak Kerem
Bosnia-Herzegovina is a country on the Balkan Peninsula in southeastern Europe, bordered by Croatia on the north, west, and south, Serbia on the east, and Montenegro on the south. Jews are known to have resided in the area that is now the state of Bosnia-Herzegovina since at least the late fifteenth century. The Ottoman Empire advanced into Bosnia in the 1450s, founded modern Sarajevo (Turk. Bosna Saray) in 1461, and finalized the conquest of the region in 1463 by establishing the sanjak of Bosnia, followed by the sanjak of Herzegovina in 1470. After the expulsion in 1492, Jews fr…