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CHAPTER 7 A Different Voice: Jewish Women in the Lands of Islam (1492-1750) OVERVIEW Once a strong and united territory, the lands of the Islamic Empire had begun to separate and weaken even before the year 1000 (see chapter 3). The separation of Spain and then North Africa from the Abbasid Empire was only the beginning of this trend. In the West, the Spanish Caliphate divided into small principalities, ruled by warring potentates. In the East, the Mongol invasion of 1258, the Bedouin attacks in North Africa, and the Crusades hastened disintegration.l By the end of the thirteenth century, what had been a strong and glorious empire was fragmented and weak; power and prestige were passing to western European Christian leaders. The Jews in Muslim lands suffered severely as wars and persecutions wreaked havoc with once thriving economies. Many Jews left the Middle East altogether. Then, in the middle of the fifteenth century, the Ottomans appeared, offering a chance for a better life. The Ottoman Empire The Ottoman Empire began with one Turkish tribe that established a bridgehead in Anatolia in approximately 1300. They "expanded relentlessly " from there, north into the Balkans as far as the Danube River, finally capturing Constantinople, the seat of the Christian Byzantine Empire, in 1453.2 As part of their policy of populating cities with groups of people who were favorable to them, the Ottomans forcibly transferred Jews from the Balkans into Constantinople, now called Istanbul, as well as into other newly conquered areas such as Salonika and Rhodes. This demographic 165 166 The JPS Guide to Jewish Women policy, coupled with the immigration of Spanish Jews, caused the Jewish populations ofIstanbul and Salonika to double and triple.3 With the expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492 and the forced conversion of Portuguese Jews in 1497, the steady trickle became a flood. The hundreds of thousands of Jews who were expelled from Spain were turned away from one port after another. Thousands died on the ships without ever reaching a safe haven. Some went to the land of Israel, still under Mameluke rule, but a great number of these refugees, sometimes alone, sometimes in family groups, were welcomed into the newly ascendant Ottoman Empire throughout the sixteenth century.4 Known variously as New Christians, conversos, or crypto-Jews, many had lived a full generation pretending to be believing Catholics, waiting for an opportunity to escape Catholic Spain and Portugal to a more tolerant environment. The Ottomans were Muslims and believed in separating and secluding women. Many Jews tended to follow this custom. However, a few Jewish women found broadened opportunities in Ottoman lands, in service to the women of the sultan's court. This handful of women, called kieras,s became well known and, depending on the power of their noble patrons, sometimes exercised considerable public power themselves. After the Ottomans conquered the Mamelukes in 1516-17, the Empire expanded still further to include Iraq, Syria, and the land of Israel, making the Jewish population of this growing empire one of the largest in the world and certainly the most heterogeneous.6 Ottoman Jews could be divided into several groups, each with its own language, distinctive culture , and customs. Throughout the sixteenth century, waves of conversos (converted Jews and their descendants) who managed to escape from Christian Spain and Portugal followed the initial Sephardic immigration. They viewed the lands of the Ottoman sultan as a place "where the gates of liberty are always wide open for you that you may fully practice your Judaism."7 THE VARIED JEWISH POPULATION IN THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE • Romaniot: Greek-speaking Jews of the Balkans and western Asia Minor. • Musta'rabs: Indigenous, Arabic-speaking Jews of the Middle East, living in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and the land of Israel. • Ma'aravis (Maghrebis): Jews of North Africa. • Ashkenazim: Yiddish-speaking Jews from Germany and central Europe. A small number had settled in Egypt and the land of Israel. • Sephardim: the Jews from Spain and Portugal who spoke their own language (Ladino) and established Sephardic customs wherever they went. • Kurdish- and Aramaic-speaking Jews from eastern lands. A Different Voice 167 For their part, Ottoman sultans, eager to expand, hailed Jewish immigration and Jewish skills as an unexpected but welcome benefit. Sultan Bayezit II (1481-1512) was quoted as saying: "Can you call such a king [as Ferdinand of Spain] wise and intelligent? He is impoverishing his country and enriching my kingdom.liS During the early sixteenth century...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780827609747
Related ISBN
9780827607521
MARC Record
OCLC
676699912
Launched on MUSE
2012-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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