By Saffet Emre Tonguc
Masterès Thesis, Boğaziçi University, 2002
Abstract: This study aims to question the widely accepted assertion that the Jewish population of the Ottoman Empire experienced a “Golden Age” after 1492, when the Sephardic Jews that were expelled from Europe were welcomed by the Empire. Neither the life of the Jews in the Empire in the 15th century prior to the immigration, nor that afterward, seems to deserve such an, epithet; at best, and only relative to the Jewish experience in Europe, can the Jewish experience in the Empire be regarded as positive, and even then it is more accurate to call it “gilded”, not “golden”.
To fulfil the aforementioned aim, this study will proceed in four steps: first, it will examine the doctrinary approach of Islam to Jews and Judaism, thereby laying out the foundations of possible prejudice or sympathy on behalf of Muslims with respect to Jews; second, it will discuss the state of the Jews in the Ottoman Empire before the exodus -here the focal point will be the conquest of Istanbul and its aftermath. but other towns, especially Selonika, will also come into focus; third, it will concern itself with the exodus, its causes and mechanism; and fourth, it will assess the impact of the exodus on the Ottoman social structure – this it will do by examining the following relations: State-Jews; Jews-Jews; Jews-other communities; laws, social identity, integration, visibility, language, education and social life in general will be instrumental for this examination.