Avigdor Levy. "The Structure of the Jewish Community"

Chpt 3 of his The Jews of the Ottoman Empire, Darwin Press, Princeton, 1994, pp. 42-70.

The Ottoman Millet System

Community life of the non-Muslim religious minorities in the Ottoman Empire was governed by what has become known as the millet system. Under this order, minorities enjoyed a wide latitude of religious and cultural freedom, as well as considerable administrative, fiscal, and legal autonomy under their own ecclesiastical and lay leaders. The term millet originally meant both a religion and a religious community. In the nineteenth century, while still retaining its original meanings, it also came to denote such modern concepts as nation and nationality. The Ottoman millet system had its origins in earlier Middle Eastern states, both Muslim and non-Muslim, and it was not, therefore, an Ottoman innovation. The Ottoman contribution was mainly to regulate and institutionalize it and to pay greater attention to its proper operation.

The millet system was, in effect, an extension of Ottoman general administrative practices. In an age that lacked modern technologies of administration, communication, and control, the Ottomans, like other contemporary states, had little choice but to deal with the masses of their population corporatively, allowing each group wide latitude in the conduct of its internal affairs. The same principle was also applied to minorities. On the other hand, the impulse to control their population as much as possible brought the Ottomans to develop hierarchical governmental structures, where each man's place was precisely defined. Superiors were held accountable for the performance and conduct of those under their authority, and the discharge of governmental responsibility was closely regulated. It was, in effect, a system intended to centralize government in an age that lacked modern technologies of governance. The system appeared to be very rigid, but in reality it was not. As an imperial power, the Ottomans quickly realized that to control diverse groups of subjects, flexibility and pragmatism were important. Nowhere were these techniques better demonstrated than in the way in which the Ottomans conducted the affairs of their minority communities. Other than in certain areas of great importance to the state, such as security and taxation, the Ottomans were generally prepared to adopt a policy of laissez-faire in the internal affairs of minority communities.

Until recently it was generally believed that, following the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, Mehmed the Conqueror molded the Ottoman millet system into its definitive form. According to this traditional version, Mehmed established separate, parallel, and autonomous organizations for his Orthodox, Armenian, and Jewish subjects. These were supposedly similar, statewide structures with well-defined hierarchies, controlled from Istanbul by their respective ecclesiastical leaders, the Greek and Armenian Patriarchs and the Jewish Chief Rabbi. Recently, however, this portrayal of the millet system has been shown to be greatly oversimplified and incorrect. The Ottomans, it appears, did not develop rigidly uniform structures for their minorities. Rather, their pragmatism and laissez-faire attitudes allowed for the emergence of flexible arrangements, resulting in the development of diverse structures of self-government. These arrangements took into account the needs and interests of the state, as well as the particular circumstances of each of the minority communities.

The case of the Orthodox Church came closest to the millet model as traditionally described. Mehmed the Conqueror's appointment of Gennadios Scholarios as Patriarch of Constantinople did indeed create for all the Orthodox subjects in the empire a titular head and a statewide authority. Although the Greek Patriarch of Constantinople still had to continue to contend with various centrifugal forces from within his church, under Ottoman rule, his authority was greatly enhanced, compared to what it had been in Byzantine times, in two important ways. First, in addition to religious and spiritual affairs, the Patriarch's authority was now expanded to include also administrative, financial, and legal responsibilities of a civil nature. Second, his authority was now extended over millions of Orthodox Slav communicants of the Balkans, who had previously belonged to the independent Bulgarian and Serbian churches. In the sixteenth century, his authority would be extended also over the Orthodox communities in the Arabic-speaking lands. In the case of the Orthodox church, the centralizing impulse of the state coincided with the ecumenical traditions and ambitions of the Greek clergy of Constantinople.

As for the Armenians, the realities of their organization were quite different. Prior to the Ottoman conquest, there was no Armenian patriarch in Constantinople and probably few Armenians The two important Armenian ecclesiastical centers were in Etchmiadzin and Cilicia both beyond the Ottoman boundaries of that period. To curtail the potentially hostile influence of these foreign centers on Ottoman Armenians as well as to develop and strengthen the Ottoman capital, Mehmed adopted two measures. He forcibly settled Armenians in Istanbul and its environs and he created the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople. Unlike its Orthodox counterpart however the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople lacked the historical and religious legitimacy to claim supremacy over other long-established ecclesiastical centers. Consequently the authority of the Patriarch of Constantinople for a long time remained limited to Istanbul and adjioming areas. As Ottoman rule, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, expanded to include additional Armenian centers, the latter were recognized as autonomous entities, not dependent on the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Thus, the Armenian Patriarch of Istanbul was initially only one of several Armenian ecclesiastical leaders. In time, however, the growing importance of the Armenian community of the capital, its proximity to the central Ottoman government and its activities as an intermediary between the Ottoman government and the outlying Armenian communities--all enhanced the position of the Patriarch of Constantinople. By the eighteenth century, although he continued to be regarded as the spiritual subordinate to the Catholicos of Etchmiadzin and the Catholicos of Sis, in effect, the Armenian Patriarch of Constantinople became the administrative head and representative of all the Armenians in the Ottoman Empire. Thus, the creation of the Armenian Patriarchate of Constantinople in the fifteenth century and its evolution over time represented a compromise between the Ottoman imperial imperative on the one hand, and Armenian traditions and the changing power structure within the community, on the other.

Jewish Community Structures in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

It is reasonable to assume that from the Ottoman perspective, the same imperial considerations, which impelled them to strengthen the Orthodox and Armenian centers in their capital, would also apply to the Jews. True, the condition of the Jews was dissimilar to that of the other minorities. In the first place, they were much smaller in numbers; there were no large Jewish communities under hostile rule in areas immediately adjacent to Ottoman territories, as was the case with the Orthodox and the Armenians in the mid-fifteenth century; unlike the Christians, the Jews were overwhelmingly an urban, peaceful element, with a proven record of loyalty to, and preference for, Ottoman rule. Consequently, the same political and security considerations, which militated in favor of creating strong centers in the Ottoman capital to attract the allegiance of the Orthodox and the Armenians, did not apply in the case of the Jews. Still, it is necessary to take into account Mehmed the Conqueror's ambition to turn Istanbul into a great imperial metropolis and the role which he assigned to the Jews in his plans. As noted above, Mehmed transferred to Istanbul large numbers of Jewes. It is reasonable to assume, therefore, that the orderly administration of the Jewish community was a matter of some importance to the Ottoman government. In addition, there were immediate practical considerations. The transfer of thousands of Jews required some central authority, familiar with the Jews' language, customs, and requirements, to administer and supervise the processes of their settlement and integration in the new Ottoman capital. Beyond that, there wee the general tendencies of Ottoman imperial policy to centralize government under well-defined hierarchical structures. From the Ottoman perspective, therefore, there were present important considerations favoring the establishment of a central authority for the Jewish population of the empire.

On the Jewish part, however, there were no well-defined and widely-accepted traditions of central authority and hierarchical organization. Such offices as the Exilarch of Babylonia and the Negid of Egypt were known in Jewish history, but they emerged as a result of unique circumstances, which did not apply to the realities of Jewish life in the Ottoman Empire. In medieval Europe, as of the eleventh century, in England, France, Spain, Portugal, and Germany, one encounters the positions of "chief rabbi" and "head of the Jews." These offices were generally created by the authorities for their own convenience, primarily for purposes of taxation. They were imposed on the Jews, who accepted them, sometimes with grat reluctance. These offices were not necessary for the practice of Judaism or the life of the community. In fact, one authority has described the institution of chief rabbi as "not based on a true conception of Judaism, but . . . a product of assimilation to the Christian concept of hierarchical organization." To understand the institutions of Jewish autonomy in the Ottoman Empire, and how they evolved over time, it is necessary to look at the Jewish community structures not from the top, but rather from the bottom, from the perspective of their basic building blocks.

The most basic unit of Jewish self-government, and from the perspective of daily life also the most important, was the individual congregation (Hebrew kahal, sing., kehalim, pl.; Turkish cema'at). The congregation was a voluntary association of families and individuals centered around its synagogue. Congregations varied in size from a few hundred families to several dozen and even less. In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Jewish congregation in the Ottoman Empire was most typically formed on the basis of place of origin. The Romaniot Jews transferred to Istanbul after 1453, formed congregations based on their town of origin, as indicated by their names: Dimetoka, Ohri, Tire, and so on. Congregations founded after 1492, by immigrants from abroad, bore names such as Portakal (Portugal), Cordova, Calabria, Ashkenaz-Alman (German), Macar (Hungarian), and so on. The reasons why place of origin was so crucial in the initial formation of congregations are easy to understand. These congregations were founded by families that were related to each other by kinship and marriage, or by business interests, friendship, and mutual acquaintance. They also shared a cultural-religious legacy of language, dialect, and particular customs connected with their ritual.

Each congregation's leadership was divided between religious and lay leaders. The lay leaders were elected by the tax-paying members of the congregation, and they formed the congregation's executive council (often known as ma'amad, meaning deputation or assembly). Since taxation in the Ottoman Empire was based on wealth, with three categories of "high," "middle," and "low" tax brackets, the executive council often consisted of representatives of all three "classes." Each congregation was free to select and appoint a rabbi to serve as its spiritual leader and minister to its needs, according to its customs and traditions. Large congregations could appoint two, or more, rabbis, of which one was ranked above the others. Conversely, poor congregations could join their resources and appoint one rabbi to serve in two, or more, synagogues. The Hebrew word for rabbi was rav and its use was common among most Jewish groups, including the Romaniot, Ashkenazi, Italian, and French Jews. The Sephardic Jews, however, preferred to use the title hakham, meaning wise or learned man, reminiscent of the Islamic term 'alim (Arabic, 'ulama, pl.; Turkish, ulema). Rabbis could be appointed for a limited, but renewable, term of a number of years, or for life. The rabbi's most important duties consisted of the administration of justice according to Jewish Law (halakhah). In this capacity he acted as dayyan, or judge. The rabbi also acted as teacher (marbitz torah), thereby preserving the law by imparting it to others. Rabbis were also expected to deliver sermons on Sabbaths and holidays. An outstanding rabbi whose scholarship was widely recognized could also act as posek, or decisor, making pronouncements on difficult or controversial issues, where the law was not always clear-cut. Above all, the rabbi served as spiritual mentor and guide to his congregants, collectively and individually.

Central to every congregation was a primary school (talmud torah), and many congregations, and individuals, also supported ad vanced religious schools (yeshivah, sing; yeshivot, pl.). These schools were generally located within, or near, the synagogue building. Each congregation also supported various benevolent societies, for the burying of the dead, ministering to the sick and poor, and for other charitable purposes.

The congregation was also a fiscal entity. This was a central factor in its day-to-day affairs, often determining its size and structure, and the services it could offer its members. The congregation was responsible for collecting from its members state taxes, as well as internal dues, necessary to support Jewish institutions and activities. For these purposes, the congregation appointed tax assessors and collectors, who operated under the supervision of its executive council. This became, in fact, a major congregational responsibility, and the tax-collection apparatus emerged as one of the congregation's most permanent and regular features.

On the face of it, the responsibilities of the rabbi and the lay leaders were distinct and clearly defined: the former was to take care of all religious and spiritual needs and the latter were responsible for all financial and administrative matters. In reality, however, there existed a great measure of overlapping interests and authority, with a considerable potential for conflict between the religious and lay leadership. The rabbi was certainly not a disinterested party when it came to allocating funds for the support of the congregation's institutions and activities, including his own salary. As judge, the rabbi was also called upon to arbitrate disputes arising from the assessment of taxes. He was also required to decide on conflicts stemming from a wide range of purely secular matters, such as business transactions, partnerships, and questions pertaining to property ownership and possession.

In principle, the lay leaders could dismiss their rabbi or not renew his contract, and some such incidents were indeed recorded. In reality, however, once appointed the rabbi wielded considerable powers. His authority derived from the fact that he was the interpreter and executor of the Holy Law and the living representation of all that Judaism stood for. The degree of his authority, however, varied, depending on his scholarship, reputation for integrity, political acumen, leadership abilities, and the popular support that he enjoyed among the rank and file of his congregants.

In towns with several congregations, the Jews generally formed a town-wide organization, which brought together all, or most, of the congregations. Congregations thus united formed an institutionalized community, or kehillah. The existence of the kehillah was predicated on the presence of two basic elements: supracongregational institutions (such as courts, tax committees, schools, and benevolent societies) and a unified representation vis-a-vis the authorities. Hence, the kehillah also required the presence of some form of community leadership. It was rare, though not unknown, that in one town more than one institutionalized community was present. In Istanbul, for example, it appears that two institutionalized communities emerged in the course of the sixteenth century. In a number of towns-Salonica and Jerusalem, for example-the small Ashkenazi congregations remained independent of the larger Sephardic kehillah and were recognized by the Ottomans as separate entities. In the eighteenth century, congregations of European Jews, "Francos"--in Salonica, Izmir, and Aleppo, for example--did not become fully integrated into the locally organized kehillah, but maintained a degree of autonomy. Even in such relatively exceptional cases, however, the Jewish groups cooperated with each other in various areas and thus formed an ad hoc community.

Jewish local organization in the kehillah was motivated, perhaps even necessitated, by Ottoman administrative and tax structures, as well as by Jewish interests. The Ottomans collected their taxes locally, by province, district, and town. For reasons of convenience, in each town the Ottoman tax officials assessed the Jewish community as a whole a total amount, based on the number and wealth of the individual Jewish tax-payers. The Jewish community then apportioned the taxes to each of its member-congregations, and the latter collected the taxes from the individual tax-payers. This pattern of tax collection also operated to the advantage of the Jewish community. For whenever disputes arose between theJews and the Ottoman tax authorities, the collective bargaining power of the community as a whole was greater than that of the individual congregations. This was also true for other purposes requiring negotiation with the authorities, such as on matters of security, or the repair and construction of houses of worship, allocation of land for Jewish cemeteries, and the like. Additionally, there were internal reasons why the Jews needed town-wide community organizations. The larger resources of the kehillah made it possible to maintain institutions, which the individual congregation could support only with difficulty, or not at all, such as schools and charitable societies. Additionally, disputes among members of different congregations, or among different Jewish groups and interests, necessitated the establishment of Jewish courts whose authority was recognized by the entire community. In spite of these strong incentives for close cooperation, the Jews in the Ottoman urban centers were very reluctant to surrender their congregational autonomy to the authority of the kehillah. This was due not only to the absence of strong hierarchical traditions, but also because in the importent formative period, in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, Ottoman Jewry constituted, by and large, a heterogeneous immigrant society, hailing from different countries. Each group (edah, sing; edot, pl.) clung to its own ritual, traditions, customs, and legal practices. The last aspect was of primary importance, since each edah adhered to different legal practices, especially in matters of personal law. At that time, particularly sensitive legal problems arose as the result of the forced conversion of large numbers of Iberian Jews to Catholicism and the subsequent return of many of those to Judaism. The Sephardic rabbis generally demonstrated great understanding and flexibility in these matters. Sephardic Jews were concerned that rabbis from different backgrounds might be less sensitive to these issues. Consequently, in areas other than tax collection, where a more or less standing organization existed by necessity, the Jewish population generally preferred to set up loose, ad hoc community superstructures, rather than establish a regular and well-defined central leadership. This became the dominant pattern of Jewish self-government in the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, and in many places it lasted well into the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries.

In Salonica, Istanbul, Safed, Lepanto, and probably other towns, delegations representing all of the town's congregations used to meet periodically to discuss issues of importance to the entire community. Thus, a loosely structured local Jewish council came into existence. This council was sometimes described in the Hebrew sources as ma'amad kolel, meaning the general deputation or assembly. Referring to its representative structure, Rabbi Moses Almosnino, writing in the 1560s, described the Jewish community of Salonica as a ''republic." The organization, structures, and methods of operation of these councils must have varied from one place to another and over time. It is known, however, that their primary responsibilities were to supervise the collection of taxes and appoint committees and functionaries to administer a wide range of public affairs.

The council also appointed of ficials to represent the Jewish community before the Ottoman authorities. These representatives were most commonly lay leaders, who in their private lives were usually engaged in business activities. Whenever necessary and possible, these official representatives would avail themselves of the assistance and intercession of highly placed Jews. It appears that the Jewish communities generally preferred that representation before the authorities be carried out by ad hoc committees, responsible to, and controlled by, the councils. In some instances, however, the official representation of the community was carried out by single individuals, sometimes known by their Ottoman title kethuda (pronounced kakya), meaning steward. The title may suggest that these individuals attained some form of official recognition by the authorities. In those few instances in which information is available, it appears that the kethudas tended to accumulate in their hands g;reat power, and the relations between them and the community leaders at times became strained. The best-known case was that of She'altiel, who served as kethuda of the Jewish community in Istanbul for a long time, from the 1490s to some time after 1520. In 1518, the Jewish community dismissed Shetaltiel, due to complaints regarding his high-handed methods and alleged wrongdoings. A year and a half later, however, in 1520, the community decided to reinstate She'altiel after he had promised to consult more fully with the leaders of the community. It has been speculated that government pressure, or intercession, also served to convince the community to reverse its decision. Similar incidents with high-handed kethudas were recorded in the first half of the sixteenth century in Salonica and Rhodes, and in the 1670s in Izmir. Kethudas, and Jewish official representatives recognized by the authorities under various other titles, served also in other communities. From the relatively few instances of conflict mentioned in the sources, we may perhaps conclude that, in general, the communities were able to control the activities of their official representatives to the authorities.

Another form through which the institutionalized community asserted its presence was by legislation, that is, the development of a system of internal regulations (haskamah, sing.; haskamot, li., literally meamng agreements), which could govern a wide range of issues, both religious and secular. A haskamah could be adopted within a single congregation through some form of majority decision requiring acceptance, or acquiescence, by all its members. However, haskamot adopted by the town-wide community necessitated voluntary acceptance by each congregation, since each congregation considered itself autonomous. Haskamot dealing with matters that fell clearly within the purview of the religious law necessitated the approval of the community's rabbis only. Haskamot dealing with secular issues often had to be approved by the rabbis, as well as the lay leaders. Rabbinic sanction was, however, crucial, and a haskamah was not considered binding without it. In the mid-sixteenth century the rabbis of Salonica, Istanbul, and Safed-the largest and most important Jewish communities in the Ottoman Empire at that time-approved a haskamah that absolutely prohibited Jews to turn to non-Jewish-that is, Muslim-courts in matters of family law, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance. Since the rabbis of these three cities were considered the preeminent legal authorities throughout the empire, this act amounted to an attempt to establish a statewide consensus, and through it to exert great moral compulsion in a matter that was of great concern to the Jewish community, but regarding which there were, apparently, numerous infractions on the part of individual Jew. It is most striking that the rabbis of the Ottoman Empire did not feel constrained, in this and in other matters, to challenge the authority of the Muslim courts, which were, after all, not only religious institutions, but also the official courts of the state. True, the competency of the Jewish courts in the Ottoman Empire was ill-defined and wrought with many uncertainties. Cases of intervention by the Ottoman authorities in the activities of the Jewish courts were not infrequent. Still, the ability of the Jewish communities to legislate for themselves town-wide, and, admittedly very rarely, even statewide, regulations, was an indication of the great relative freedom and sense of security in which they lived. In spite of many uncertainties, compared to conditions in most European countries, the Jews of the Ottoman Empire enjoyed wide judicial autonomy and the privilege to be tried by their own authorities and according to their laws in a wide range of areas.

From time to time, certain individuals were recognized as holding particularly important leadership positions within the community. In Salonica, for example, in the early years of the sixteenth century, three rabbis were considered as the community's leading spiritual authorities, and it is possible, as Rosanes suggests, that around 1514 they were formally so recognized. They were Jacob ibn Habib of Castile (ca. 1445-1515/16), Solomon Taitatzak of Portugal (dates unknown), and Eliezer (or Elazar) Hashim'oni (died ca. 1530), an Ashkenazi rabbi. Of the three, Jacob ibn Habib was the best-known scholar, and his response were cited at great length in the works of his contemporaries. He served as rabbi of Congregation Gerush, one of the largest in Salonica, and he also headed an important yeshivah. Hashim'oni, although an Ashkenazi rabbi, served as spiritual leader to both the Ashkenazi congregation and the Sephardic Congregation Catalan, also one of the city's largest.

In the second half of the sixteenth century, a towering figure in Salonica was Rabbi Samuel de Medina (1506-89), also known by the Hebrew acronyms Rashdam and Maharashdam. He was considered one of the most prominent Ottoman Jewish scholars of all times, and his response made a great impact on rabbinic literature in his and in future generations. He headed a major yeshivah, supported by Gracia Nasi Mendes, which graduated many disciples who went on to play an important role in Jewish scholarship and community leadership. Medina also served as the rabbi of the largest and most important Sephardic congregations in Salonica. He headed delegations sent to Istanbul by the community to plead its case before the Ottoman government. His authority as judge was widely accepted and he was called upon to arbitrate some of the most difficult disputes, which arose in Salonica and other communities. This was probably the highest position an individual could attain at that time within the community. It is clear, however, that Medina's authority derived from his personal reputation for scholarship and integrity, that it was accepted voluntarily and was limited. As a community leader, Medina exercised essentially moral authority, but he was not in any sense the official head of the community. Nor was anyone else.

From the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, Ottoman Jewry was able to support a wide range of community activities in the religious, legal, educational, and welfare spheres, while maintaining a vigorous intellectual and spiritual life, for the most part without well-defined structures and a strong executive leadership beyond the level of the individual congregation. These fluid and completely decentralized structures were chaotic in appearance and sometimes outright unmanageable. They also contained, however, many strengths and benefits. In Baron's words, "in the long run Ottoman Jewry learned to live with an increasing variety of groups and approaches and, perhaps because of that plurality, was able to develop an even more flourishing and pulsating cultural life." It needs to be remembered that such a state owed much to the Ottoman policy of laissez-faire, the minimal pressure that the authorities exerted on the community, the relatively few instances of intervention in its internal affairs, and the overall sense of security in which the community lived.

The Question of the Chief Rabbinate in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries

There are indications that in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, the Ottoman authorities tried to encourage, or impose on, the Jews hierarchical structures. The nature of all these reports is vague and uncertain. The most that can be said with some degree of confidence is that on the Ottoman part there was a motive and an interest in forming such institutions, while on the Jewish side there was reluctance and perhaps even resistance. At the end, however, the Ottoman policy of laissez-faire allowed for internal developments within the Jewish community to determine the nature of its own institutions.

The generally well-informed Rosanes has stated that already in the first half of the fifteenth century, during the reign of Murad II (1421-51), the authorities appointed Rabbi Isaac Tzarfati as chief rabbi in Edirne, then the Ottoman capital. This claim has remained unsubstantiated by contemporary sources. From an Ottoman perspective, however, such an appointment would have been desirable for a number of reasons which later developments have made more apparant. First, there was the Ottoman imperial impulse to centralize au- thority and establish well-defined hierarchical structures. Second, the Jewish community of Edirne consisted at the time of three distinct groups, which founded their separate congregations: established Romaniots and newly arrived Ashkenazi and Italian Jews. It would have been in the Ottoman interest to deal collectively with these dis- parate groups. This same condition, however, would have militated against the emergence of a well-defined central authority, because it would have been unlikely that the differentJewish groups would have submitted to a strong central authority; and considering the general Ottoman attitudes of laissez-faire, it is doubtful that the authorities would have insisted on imposing such an institution on an unwilling community. At the present stage of our knowledge, it may be prudent to accept the view that Tzarfati was a leading, perhaps even the preem- inent, rabbi of the community, but not its "chief rabbi," namely its head in spiritual and civil matters.'95 Next, and of greater significance, is the question of the appointment of Rabbi Moses Capsali as chief rabbi following the conquest of Constantinople. The existence of such a position appears to be supported not only by contemporaryJewish sources, but also by at least one entry in the official Ottoman records, which identifies Capsali as "rabbi and metropolitan (ray ve metropolid) of the dews of Istanbul." The sources, however, are not without their ambiguities, which has resulted in uncertainty and controversy as to what exactly did the responsibilities of Rabbi Capsali entail.

The main references in theJewish sources describe Rabbi Capsali in the following terms: "The rabbi who leads (ha-ray ha-manhig) all the congregations [of Istanbul]"; "ha-ray ha-shofet," which could be understood either as "the rabbi who administers justice" or "the ruling rabbi"; "head of the court of justice" (rosin loeit din); and "he who decides all the city's regulations (tikbunim) and practices (minhagim)."

It has been argued that the term haham basi, meaning chief rabbi in Turkish, does not occur in the contemporary sources and, therefore, the office did not exist. This argument overlooks the simple fact that the term haham basl represents a much later nomenclature. It came into official use only in the nineteenth century. Only the Sephardic Jews referred to their rabbis by the title hakham, which served as the basis for the Turkish term. However, the Romaniot, Ashkenazi, French, and Italian Jews all used the Hebrew title ray. Thus, in the mid-fifteenth century, before the mass influx of SephardicJews, the common Hebrew term for rabbi was rav. Consequently, the absence of the title haham basl in the fifteenth century cannot be taken as an indication that the of fice of chief rabbi did not exist under a different nomenclature.

Indeed, the Jewish sources make it clear that Capsali was the leading rabbi of all the congregations in Istanbul, the community's chief justice and the final authority who decided on all rules and regulations. From the Jewish perspective, these were the most important responsibilities of a spiritual and civic leader. Furthermore, at this time only Capsali is known to have been granted official recognition by the government, which apparently also placed at his disposal a small police detachment to help him enforce his authority. Indeed, the Jewish sources depict Capsali as rushing about town, settling dis- putes, and trying to solve problems arising from the resettlement of the Jews in the Ottoman capital. In view of all this, it is difficult to see how else to describe Capsali other than as chief rabbi.

True, theJewish sources are unclear as to Capsali's responsibilities in two important areas: tax collection and representation of the community before the authorities.203 This may be explained by the following arguments. First, the response literature and the Jewish sources, in general, were primarily concerned with the internal life of the community and were vague on matters pertaining to its external relations. Second, Rabbi Capsali could have been held accountable in these areas, but delegated his responsibilities to subordinate officials dependent on him.

Another issue that needs to be clarified is whether the autllority of Capsali was statewide, as most historians believed until recently, or was it limited to Istanbul only. The references in the foregoing contemporary Jewish sources, as well as other examples, strongly suggest that Capsali's authority was limited to Istanbul and its environs only. This is further supported by the term "metropolitan," which the Ottomans used as Capsali's title. The absence of a Jewish religious hierarchy meant that there was also no accepted nomenclature to define the position that the Ottomans sought to create. Perhaps in order to streamline, and create parallel structures for, the administration of their religious minorities, the Ottomans borrowed the term metropolitan from Greek usage. The Greek Patriarch was the head of the Orthodox Church throughout the empire and a metropolitan was the spiritual leader of a province or a city. Thus, the Ottoman term and, in fact, the entire tenor of the entry, seem to further support the hypothesis that the Ottomans recognized Capsali's authority as limited to Istanbul only, and it was not statewide. This is what most scholars believe today.

It has been argued that, whereas Mehmed the Conqueror transferred to Istanbul the majority of the Ottoman Jews, no other Jewish leader enjoyed a status comparable to that of the head of the Istanbul community. Consequently, Capsali "was recognized by the Ottoman government as the unqualified leader of the Ottoman Jewish community." While it is true that until the end of Capsali's life (he died in the late 1490s), the Istanbul community was by far the largest and most important Jewish center in the Ottoman Empire, this argument overlooks the fact that, during the second half of the fifteenth century, the Ottoman Jewish population increased considerably, largely outside Istanbul, in two ways. First, through new Ottoman conquests in Greece, the northern Balkans, Anatolia, and the Crimea, a significant number of additional Jewish communities were incorporated under Ottoman rule. Many, if not most, of these were not transferred to Istanbul. The second source of Jewish population growth was through immigration, which increased in the 1480s and peaked after 1492. Even more important than the question of numbers is the substantive issue. Did the Ottomans aim to support a statewide Jewish authority, as in the case of the Orthodox Church, or did they intend to establish a strong center in the capital only, as in the Armenian model, and allow the internal dynamics within the community to determine its future development? The case of the Jews appears to approximate that of the Armenians, namely, the creation of a local center. This was important for the future development of Ottoman Jewry. Rabbi Capsali, like his Armenian counterpart, attempted to extend his authority beyond the confines of Istanbul. However, in the absence of a strong hierarchical tradition in Judaism, and perhaps more important, without active government support, his efforts met with little success. In a well-publicized dispute with several Sephardic leaders from Salonica, the latter flatly rejected Capsali's demands that they accept his authority.

Following the death of Moses Capsali in 1496 or 1497, Rabbi Elijah Mizrahi emerged as the leading rabbi of the community in Istanbul. During his time large numbers of immigrants, primarily Sephardic and Italian Jews, settled in Istanbul, introducing change and new tensions in the established order. These are believed to have further strengthened the centrifugal forces within the community and undermined the chances for the continuity of a strong central authority. Mizrahi was a renowned legal expert and much is known about his scholarly activities. The information on his official leadership responsibilities is, however, sketchy. It is generally believed that Mizrahi's position as a community leader was considerably weaker than that of Capsali. This assumption is based primarily on the fact that during Mizrahi's time, the responsibilities for the community's fiscal administration and representation before the authorities were assumed by the Kethuda She'altiel. Due to She'altiel's long tenure of office, and because of his intimate relations with the authorities, he commanded great power within the community, which eclipsed Mizrahi's position.

The rabbinic literature of the period makes it abundantly clear that Mizrahi was considered the preeminent spiritual leader and legal scholar in Istanbul. He also labored energetically to help in the resettlement of the Sephardic refugee influx, which peaked during his tenure of office. For all these reasons, even the newly arrived Sephardic rabbis accepted his authority in legal matters. It is known that he acted, at least periodically, as the head of the highest Jewish court in the city. He was called upon to arbitrate difficult disputes, which arose between different congregations, and to pass judgment on public issues that concerned the entire community. The rabbinic literature is replete with references to him as a great scholar. Still, the Jewish sources do not refer to him in such terms, as in the case of Capsali, that would suggest that he held an official appointment as chief rabbi. Neither has there been discovered any evidence in the Ottoman records. It is not even certain that he acted as chief judge on a regular basis. It is possible, therefore, that his position as the leading rabbi in Istanbul rested only on his reputation for scholarship and personal integrity and not because he held an official appointment.

Following Mizrahi's death in 1526, no single individual emerged as holding a position of sole leadership in the community, either on the model of Capsali or on that of Mizrahi. The two most respected scholars in Istanbul after 1526 were Mizrahi's disciples, Rabbi Elijah ha-Levi and Rabbi Tam ibn Yahya. After them, other scholars assumed leading positions and each of them had their own following, but none was recognized as the sole spiritual leader of the entire community.

To sum up, the current state of our information suggests that between approximately 1454 to 1526, the case of the Jewish community of Istanbul was atypical of Jewish structural patterns throughout the Ottoman Empire. Following the conquest of Constantinople, the state appears to have intervened and imposed on theJews an ecclesiastical authority reminiscent of the Armenian model. Rabbi Capsali served as an officially-appointed chief rabbi of Istanbul, that is, the religious and probably civic head of the community, most likely until his death in 1496 or 1497. Rabbi Mizrahi, on the other hand, was acknowledged by the community as its spiritual leader, but the question of his civic responsibilities and official appointment by the authorities remains moot. In the meanwhile, the influx of European Jews changed the power structure within the community. The distinctiveness and individualism of the single congregations, and the centrifugal forces inherent in them, successfully countervailed the centralizing imperial impulse of the Ottoman state. After 1526, the organizational structures of the Jewish community of Istanbul resembled those of Salonica and other Jewish communities; namely, the individual congregations enjoyed a great measure of autonomy, and there was no strong central authority, but only loose community superstructures. Jewish tradition, and the internal dynamics within the community, channeled the development of Jewish structures of self-government towards a high degree of decentralization, a model totally different from those prevailing in the Orthodox and Armenian communities.

The Ottoman authorities accepted the new status quo in Istanbul, as they had done elsewhere in the empire. They no longer granted official sanction to the appointment of any specific individual as chief rabbi, but they continued to recognize the principle of Jewish autonomy and self-government. For the privilege to conduct their own internal affairs and maintain their autonomous legal and administrative institutions, under their self-designated leadership, the Jewish communities of Istanbul and other towns had to pay a special tax, known as the rabbi's tax (ray ah,cesi or cizye-i ray, in Turkish). This tax was similar to a payment made by Christian church officials, known as piskes (peskes), at the time when their appointment was officially confirmed by the Ottoman government. There was, however, an im portant difference. In the case of the Christian prelates, the payment was linked to the appointment of a specific individual. In the case of theJews, it was probably originally linked to the appointment of Rabbi Capsali, but with the demise of the office of chief rabbi, it was paid simply in return for the privilege of self-government and it became, apparently, an annual tax.

Jewish Acculturation and the Consolidation of Community Structures (Sixteenth to Eighteenth Centuries)

In fact, it appears that during the sixteenth century the Jews of Istanbul coalesced into not one, but two loosely organized communities, each with its own distinctive leadership and institutions. This development seems to have been the result of two factors. First, it was due to the tax arrangements, which the Ottoman authorities had imposed on the Jewish population; second, it was the outcome of internal processes of acculturation and integration affecting the Jewish community from within.

Apparently, during the reign of Mehmed the Conqueror (1451- 81), the poll tax payments of all the Jewish congregations of Istanbul were assigned as income to support a charitable foundation (imaret), which the sultan established to develop Istanbul. This included the taxes of the Byzantine Jewish congregations found in the city at the time of the conquest, as well as those communities transferred there from other towns under a surgun (transfer) order.

However, the taxes of Jewish congregations largely founded by immigrants from abroad after 1481 were kept apart and earmarked for other purposes. This fiscal separation was maintained at least until the latter part of the seventeenth century. In time, however, to simplify matters, in crfficial documents the Ottomans began identifying all the Romaniot congregations of Istanbul, including the former congregations of Byzantine Constantinople, as Surgun (or Surgunlu), namely "transferred." At the same time, the new congregations were designated as Kendi Gelen, literally meaning "those coming of their own free will," or immigrants. It has been noted that meeting the tax obligation was a major responsibility of the institutionalized Jewish community, leading to the establishment of the strongest regular supracongregational organization within it. Hence, the fiscal separa tion between the "transferred" and "immigrant" congregations contributed to the foundation of two institutionalized Jewish communities in Istanbul, each with its own tax collection apparatus. The second factor had to do with socioeconomic and cultural processes that operated within the Jewish population.

One of the most important reasons usually cited to explain the rise of the Sephardic Jews to a position of predominance within Ottoman Jewry and the adoption of Judeo-Spanish culture by most other groups is the numerical argument. The Sephardim, it is said, overwhelmed the local RomaniotJews by sheer numbers. This may have been true for the Ottoman Empire as a whole, and especially in the Balkans, western Anatolia, Palestine, and perhaps even Cairo, Aleppo, and other Syrian communities. It has been noted, however, that Sephardic immigrants constituted a minority among Istanbul's Jewish population as late as 1623. Thus, the argument of numerical superiority must be supplemented by other factors.

The most important cause for the ascendancy of the Sephardim appears to be that they brought with them higher educational and cultural standards. The majority of the most respected rabbis and legal scholars active in the Ottoman Empire in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries appear to have been of Sephardic origins. The same was true with respect to the most distinguished Jewish physicians, scientists, entrepreneurs, and courtiers. In addition, throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, the Sephardim were strengthened by a continuous flow of immigration from abroad and their numbers steadily increased. The later immigrants, many of them Marranos, were a particularly cultured and dynamic element. Consequently, the Sephardim were able to capture a dominant economic position within the community, as reflected in the Ottoman tax registers. Thus, the higher social, cultural, and economic position of the Sephardic congregations attracted members of other groups.

Nevertheless, there was also resistance to Sephardic domination. This was supported by the general conservatism of the society and the desire of each group to maintain its unique heritage and identity and pass them on to the next generation. To these were added also important financial considerations. Since each congregation also acted as a fiscal unit, responsible for the collection of state taxes, as well as internal dues, the defection of its members was likely to impose a greater financial burden on the remaining congregants. This could place in jeopardy the group's ability to maintain its institutions and activities. For this reason, the Jewish leadership generally frowned upon, and outright discouraged, the defection of members from one congregation to another, and several important regulations were issued to that effect.

While the foregoing reasons encouraged resistance to Sephardic domination on the part of all other Jewish groups equally, the Romaniots of Istanbul were supported by a number of particular factors. In the first place they, and their descendants, formed until well into the seventeenth century the largest group of the city's Jewish population. Additionally, they took great pride in the fact that they were the "native sons," so to speak, of the country, who welcomed, and assisted in the settlement of, all the others. This pride of origin was strengthened by the fact that Greek was a popular language in Istanbul (and elsewhere). It was spoken by the large Greek community, which was particularly prominent in commerce and finance, areas of prime economic importance for the Jews as well. This encouraged the Romaniots to hold fast to the use of their Judeo-Greek language, and they offered the Sephardim the greatest degree of resistance.

Consequently, Sephardic influence in Istanbul first spread among the other immigrant groups, the Italian and Ashkenazi Jews. This pattern was facilitated, or perhaps even determined, by Ottoman tax arrangements, which forced all immigrant congregations to come together in order to discharge their tax obligation. Consequently, in the course of the sixteenth century, two Jewish communities, each with its distinct leadership and institutions, coalesced in Istanbul. On the one hand were the long-established Romaniots, identified in Hebrew as Benei Romania and in Turkish as Surgun; and on the other hand were all the immigrant congregations, united under the leadership of the Sephardim and identified in Hebrew as Benei Sepharad and in Turkish as Kendi Gelen. Thus, both Jews and Ottomans created the nomenclature, which reflected the dual character of the Jewish population of Istanbul.

The Jews considered each community autonomous and coequal. Each community had its own spiritual leadership, courts, schools, and charitable societies. However, because all the Jewish groups lived intermingled with each other, problems of daily life forced the two communities to cooperate among themselves. Regulations applicable to the entire Jewish population of Istanbul had to be approved by the religious leadership of both communities. Indeed, in 1576/77, the religious readerships of the two communities approved a major internal regulation (hashamah) governing real estate transactions and forbidding Jews to take their disputes in these matters to Muslim courts. To implement this regulation, the two communities appointed magistrates (memunnim shel ha-hazahot), with authority over all the Jews of Istanbul. In addition, the two communities appointed joint "morality boards" (memunnim shel ha-aveirot) to oversee the proper religious practice and ethical behavior of the entire Jewish population. Still, each community maintained its administrative and religious autonomy. The leading rabbinic authority in Istanbul at that time was Rabbi Elijah teen Hayyim (ca. 1530-1610), a native of Edirne who moved to Istanbul in the 1570s. He apparently became the spiritual leader of the Sephardic congregations. He was asked to intervene in an internal dispute that erupted within the Romaniot community, but he refused. As is reported, he explained his position, saying: "Should an outsider intervene in the affairs of the [Romaniot] community (edah), he will prove to be not only unhelpful, but he may even cause outright damage and disunity."

The forces of acculturation and integration were, however, at work almost from the beginning. In the first place, the various Jewish groups lived intermingled with each other and there was considerable intermarriage among them. These processes, while operating to integrate growing segments of the Jewish population, also presented numerous problems for the Jewish courts, since the various groups followed different legal practices in matters of family law and inheritance. Consequently, there was a growing need to adopt some standardized legal practices. The predominance of Sephardic rabbis, both numerically and qualitatively, probably operated to favor the gradual adoption of Sephardic practice and ritual. Additionally, general processes of change, or "the flow of time," as Rosanes phrased it, also favored the gradual submersion of the Romaniots within Sephardic society and culture, as of the seventeenth century.

Devastating conflagrations (in 1633 and 1660, for example, which destroyed old neighborhoods), the construction of new roads and quarters, and urban growth and development, in general, resulted in considerable internal migration of Istanbul's Jewish population. The old order, in which congregations were primarily organized on the basis of their ancestral country or city of origin, gradually gave way to a new order, in which congregations formed increasingly on a spatial basis of neighborhood, quarter, and the actual place of residence. These processes broke down the old congregational barriers even further. Congregations continued to maintain their old names, but their membership had become mixed, and this further accelerated the ascendancy of Sephardic ritual and culture. This was obviously a slow and gradual process whose date of completion cannot be established with certainty. It probably accelerated in the early decades of the seventeenth century, but continued well into the eighteenth and even nineteenth centuries. Although the population had become much more integrated and homogeneous in its culture and outlook, a certain awareness of its diverse origins still persisted for a long time. It is significant that, well into the nineteenth century, the Jewish court of Balat maintained two separate lists of congregations identified as Surgunlu, namely, Romaniots, and Kendi Gelen (in Hebrew, reflecting the Jewish pronunciation, Kendi Yelen), or Sephardim. These lists were intended to assist the courts in deciding cases of inheritance in accordance with the customs of the individual congregations. Additionally, in some Romaniot synagogues in Istanbul (as well as in Edirne, Sofia, and possibly other places) elements of the old Romaniot ritual remained until the turn of the twentieth century.

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Due to its size, but more importantly, because of its large Romaniot element, the Jewish community of Istanbul was not typical of the great majority of Jewish communities in the Balkans and Anatolia. Still, the processes described before for Istanbul, probably reflected in their broadest lines the sociopolitical dynamics experienced by other Jewish communities. These changes varied, no doubt, in substance and pace, from one community to another, depending on the make-up of its various components, the balance between them, and other local factors. On the whole, the processes through which Sephardic ritual and culture gained ascendancy throughout the Balkans and Anatolia appear to have proceeded at a faster pace than in Istanbul. This, however, was not uniformly so. In some Greek-speaking areas, the Romaniots emerged as the dominant element, and the Sephardim were absorbed by them. In the communities of Kastoria, Yanina, Arta, and Chalcis, for example, Judeo-Greek, supported by the local language and culture, became dominant and was used by all segments of the community, including the Sephardim. Some small Ashkenazi communities of central and east European origins were also successful in preserving their distinctive character. As of the late seventeenth or early eighteenth century, small Italian-speaking groups, known as Francos (consisting of Italian and other West Euro- pean Jews), were also to be found in some of the main commercial centers of the empire (Salonica, Istanbul, Izmir). Nevertheless, in the core territories of the Ottoman Empire, in the Balkans and western Anatolia, the Sephardim had gradually established themselves as the dominant element.

Under the Sephardic patina, however, there was, in fact, an amalgam that represented, in varying degrees, the contributions of the different Jewish groups. Judeo-Spanish became the dominant language in mostJewish communities, but it absorbed some of the Judeo-Greek vocabulary of the Romaniots. In fact, spoken knowledge of Greek continued to be widespread among Ottoman Jews until the twentieth century. To the diverseJewish components that contributed to the emergence of this new cultural synthesis were added elements-Turkish, Greek, Slav-which the Jews absorbed from the local environment. These affected their language, cultural tastes, and daily life. Thus, in the course of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, out of this fusion of diverse Jewish elements and the impact of the local environment, a new society emerged, whose culture, institutions, and outlook on life were uniquely Judeo-Ottoman.

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In the Ottoman Arabic-speaking provinces, the impact of the Sephaldic immigrants was at first considerable, but with few exceptions, it eroded over time. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Sephardic Jews often occupied leadership positions in these communities, and they were able to preserve their culture. With time, however, they became culturally absorbed by the local Arabic-speaking Jews (known as Musta'riba in Arabic and Turkish; Mista'arvim in Hebrew). The Sephardim gradually gave up speaking Judeo-Spanish and instead adopted Arabic. As in the case of Romaniot domination in some Greek-speaking areas, this was probably due to the fact that Arabic-speaking Jews had become largely integrated into the local majority culture and were supported by it in their cultural confrontation with the Sephardim. In some cities, such as Cairo, Damascus, and Aleppo, which due to their commercial importance experienced for a long time a more or less steady trickle of Sephardic settlers, the Sephardim were able to maintain their distinctive character well into the eighteenth century. In the towns of Palestine, however, in Jerusalem, Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron, due to an almost continuous flow of Sephardic settlers over the ages and their contacts with, and dependence on, the large Jewish centers in the Ottoman Empire, the Sephardim emerged as the dominant element, and the Arabic-speaking Jews tended to adopt their language and culture.

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It has been noted that it was in the interest of the Jewish population itself to form local institutionalized communities with town-wide structures. What prompted the Jews to keep these structures as loose as possible, from the fifteenth to the seventeenth centuries, was the reluctance of the various groups, organized in different congregations, to surrender their autonomy, and with it their distinctiveness, to the authority of the town-wide community, the kehillah. By the seventeenth century, however, in many communities the processes of acculturation and social integration had become sufficiently advanced that these considerations were no longer valid. At the same time, the Jewish community was coming under increasing pressure from both the state and general society.

Since the latter part of the sixteenth century, when the Ottoman Empire first began experiencing a revenue crisis, it responded by gradually increasing the burden of taxation imposed on the general population. The Jewish communities, as well as the other segments of society, were now faced with rising tax obligations. This was coupled with a slow process of general Ottoman economic stagnation and decline and the gradual impoverishment of society as a whole. These processes also affected the Jewish population and they placed on the Jewish community additional burdens to care for the growing numbers of the poor. Additionally, as of the end of the sixteenth century, unrest and disorder began to spread to increasingly wider areas of the empire, also adversely affecting the Jewish community's security and economic stability. In the face of rising external pressures, on the one hand, and diminishing resources, on the other, greater unity became imperative: first, in order to administer the existing levels of community services more effectively; later, to supervise necessary cuts and savings; and, finally, by the end of the eighteenth century, to maintain those basic services and institutions without which organized community life could not survive. As a result of all these changes, more centralized community structures began to make their tentative appearance.

It would appear that it was relatively easier for compact and homogeneous Jewish communities to integrate and form more centralized structures. This process was often linked to the presence and actions of especially forceful personalities. The transformation, however, was often hesitant and tentative, characterized by fits and starts.

In the mid-sixteenth century, the town of Patras (Balyabadra) had a Jewish population of close to three hundred households, divided into four congregations: two Sicilian, one Sephardic, and one Romaniot. It appears that at some point in the mid-sixteenth century, the four congregations agreed to recognize Rabbi Moses Hanin as spiritual leader and chiefjudge of the entire community. In the early 1560s, upon the death of Hanin, Rabbi Joseph Formon attempted to take over the same position. The two Sicilian congregations, as well as the Sephardic one, recognized Formon as their spiritual leader, but the Romaniot congregation refused to acknowledge his leadership. This resulted in bitter disputes within the community, which lasted for many years.

In Bitola (Manastir), the two small Sephardic congregations agreed in 1575 to join forces financially and administratively, but to continue to maintain two separate houses of worship. The immediate motive for this union appears to have been a fire, which burned down both synagogues and imposed a heavy financial burden on the community, which was required to rebuild them. It is not clear, however, whether this union was long-lasting.

Around 1614, the two congregations of the town of Rhodes agreed to appoint Rabbi Moses Hacohen, originally from Salonica, as spiritual leader of the entire community for a period of ten years. His most important civic duty was to serve as sole judge of the entire community. A few years following his appointment, however, Hacohen became involved in disputes with some local rabbis, and he left Rhodes before the expiration of his contract. Sometime later, the community appointed Rabbi Moses de Vushal to the same position. Vushal was born in Sidon and grew up in Safed. His tenure of office was apparently more peaceful and lengthy than that of his predecessor. He died while in office in the second half of the seventeenth century.

The community of Izmir, which became one of the most prominent Jewish centers in the Ottoman Empire, was unique from several important aspects. First, it developed only in the seventeenth century, when Izmir emerged as a major Ottoman port and commercial center. In other words, it rose a century, or more, after the establishment of the other major Jewish centers. Second, unlike the order Jewish com- munities, most of the Jewish settlers in Izmir were not immigrants from abroad (although some were), but internal migrants, coming from other Ottoman towns. Stated differently, these were acculturated Ottoman Jews; and although they were undoubtedly distinguished from each other by customs and traditions, which they had brought with them from their particular places of origin, these were much less pronounced than those differences that characterized the older Jewish centers during the early stages of their development. It is perhaps due to this greater degree of acculturation that, of the main Jewish centers, Izmir became the first Jewish community to develop centralized structures, which later served as general models for other communities. This development was undoubtedly due also to the activities of some key individuals.

Around 1630, Izmir's two most distinguished rabbis, Joseph Eskapa and Azariah Yehoshua, agreed to form a joint spiritual leadership. In the 1640s, when the city had six congregations, each of them controlled three. In addition, regulations pertaining to the entire community required the approval of both. Thus, in effect, a joint chief rabbinate for the community of Izmir was established. The two chief rabbis probably did not receive official sanction from the Ottoman government. Their authority simply rested on a consensus reached voluntarily by the Jewish community itself, and, once again, the Ottomans did not interfere in the community's internal affairs. Later, other major communities adopted similar leadership structures. The Hebrew term increasingly used now to designate the new institution of chief rabbi was rav ha-kolel, literally meaning the rabbi of the entire community, as distinguished from lesser rabbis.

The emergence of patterns of shared leadership suited the Jewish population, because it permitted for the representation of various interest groups within the community, and that was a prerequisite for attaining an internal consensus voluntarily. At the side of the chief rabbinate operated a committee of lay leaders, whose responsibilities included overseeing the relations with the authorities, tax collection, and administering the community's institutions. This committee was often known as kolelut, a term which was used also to designate the entire community leadership, religious and lay. For this period, the information on the structure and activities of the lay leadership is even more sketchy than that which is available regarding the religious leadership. What is clear, however, is that during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the Jewish communities exhibited unmistaken trends toward administrative centralization.

In Izmir, the joint leadership of Rabbis Eskapa and Yehoshua lasted until the death of Rabbi Yehoshua in 1648, when Rabbi became sole chief rabbi of the entire community, until his death in 1661. As sole leader, Rabbi Eskapa introduced community-wide regulations, dealing not only with religious matters, but also with a wide range of secular issues, including taxation and real estate. The impact of this legislation was to shift power from the individual congregations to more centralized community authorities. The organizational patterns laid down by Rabbi Eskapa were amended and changed over the years, but they served the community until the end of the Ottoman era Following the death of Eskapa in 1661, the chief rabbinate was again shared by two rabbis. For the most part, the chief rabbinate of Izmir, as in other communities, continued to be held jointly by two, and sometimes three, rabbis until the nineteenth. In Salonica, an early attempt in the mid-seventeenth century to establish a regular rabbinic council to administer the community had failed. It was only in the last quarter of that century, perhaps in response to the crisis caused by the Shabbatean controversy, that a chief rabbinate finally emerged in the form of a three-member rabbinic council. Each of the three was designated as chief rabbi (ray ha-kolel) and his appointment was for life. A new rabbinic council was installed only following the death of the last member of the previous triu nvirate. Consequently, the number of chief rabbis in Salonica varied between one and three. This arrangement appears to have lasted until the nineteenth century.

The first reliable information regarding the existence of a chief rabbinate in Edirne is from the early eighteenth century, although there had been earlier attempts to establish such an institution. In 1722, Rabbi Abraham Geron and Rabbi Menahem Ashkenazi formed a joint chief rabbinate, dividing between them the control of the city's thir~een congregations. These two rabbis founded "dynasties," whose descendants continued to share the chief rabbinate until late in the nineteenth century.

Similar trends for a stronger leadership appeared also in other Jewish communities throughout the empire in the course of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. Details on the activities of a kolelut are available for Aleppo, beginning with the second half of the seventeenth century; for Jerusalem, since the latter years of the seventeenth century; for Safed, in the eighteenth century.

There is some evidence to suggest that in Istanbul, too, a unified comnunity under one central leadership emerged as early as the second half of the seventeenth century. It was certainly true for the eighteenth century (for which period more details are available). At that time the community had a unified religious leadership, consisting of a collective chief rabbinate of three, and sometimes four, members. Each held the title of rav ha-kolel, although one had precedence over the others. Financial and administrative matters, and the representation of the community before the authorities were supervised by a central committee of lay leaders, which usually numbered seven officials. In addition, there existed a ma'amad, a general assembly of representatives of the various Jewish quarters and neighborhoods, rather than congregations. The responsibilities of the ma'amad included the election of committees to administer various aspects of community life. The membership of the ma'amad reflected the new spatial organization of the community. Neighborhood institutions now occupied an intermediate level between the individual congregations and the city-wide community leadership. In each of the Jewish quarters operated a local rabbinate, in addition to the rabbis serving in the individual congregations of the quarter. The local rabbinates, with the help of lay leaders, coordinated and supervised matters affecting all the Jews in their quarters. In principle, the local rabbinates were under the authority of the chief rabbinate, although they appear to have enjoyed considerable autonomy. The local Jewish administrations in the quarters established their own networks for collecting funds for the support of charitable foundations within the quarters. These operated side by side with the central, and traditional, networks managed by the community's central leadership for the collection of state and community taxes from the individual congregations. Jewish courts operated in each of the two largest Jewish quarters, Balat and Haskoy. Above them was a superior court (belt din rabba) with authority over the entire community.

Thus, by the eighteenth century, the Jewish community of Istanbul had become more homogeneous, better integrated, and more tightly organized. It also developed institutions that were uniquely adjusted to the topography, administrative structures, and general character of the city. From the fifteenth to the eighteenth century, the population of Istanbul increased several times over and with it came a great urban expansion. The metropolitan area of Istanbul, dissected by several bodies of water and with a steep, hilly terrain, comprised widely flung quarters and suburbs, where daily life centered around strong neighborhood institutions. The Jews who lived in many of the city's quarters adjusted their community institutions to the city's general structures. The local Jewish representatives in each quarter communicated with the quarter's authorities on local issues. They were also accountable to the central administration of the Jewish community, which, in turn, represented the entire community before the Ottoman government.

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1. What was the institutional arrangement that the Ottomans made with non-Muslim minority communities?
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