Jews, Turks, Ottomans
This volume, long-awaited by those interested in the topic, represents a major and stimulating contribution to the scholarship on what may be the most undervalued and instructive case in the long history of Muslim-Jewish relations: that of the Ottoman Empire and Republican Turkey. It represents one of the finest, most encouraging, and most absorbing volumes on a Jewish or an Islamic topic to be published in years.
Levy, professor of Near Eastern and Judaic studies at Brandeis, has brought together outstanding and fresh essays. Israel Ta-Shma deals with late Byzantine and early Ottoman rabbinic literature, Levy himself with a Jewish view of the siege of Edirne of 1912-13, and Donald Quataert, a leading Ottomanist, with the working class in Salonika. Of particular note is Feroz Ahmad's essay on Jewish involvement in the Committee of Union and Progress.
These and other chapters offer provocative observations as well as solid research. Levy's piece on Edirne, for example, is based on a newly-researched source, the journal of a Jewish resident of the city. Thanks to the journal of Angèle Guéron and its use by Levy, we now have a remarkable account of the patriotic support for the Ottoman authorities forthcoming from the ranks of Edirne Jews.
Ahmad's paper covers one of the most relevant issues in the general history of modern Islam. Islamists have painted a distorted, conspiratorial picture of the Ottoman Jews' influence in the reform movement that led to the end of the Ottoman Empire. To this day, the Saudi state educational system teaches that the fall of the Ottoman caliphate (to which the house of Saud and the Wahhabi sect assisted avidly, by the way) was caused by Ottoman Jews. Ahmad reproves—gently but firmly—Aron Rodrigue and Esther Benbassa for their widely-cited, but perfunctory and second-rate historiography of the Ottoman Sephardim.
Halil Inalcık, the doyen of Ottoman history, writes something in the book's first chapter that should be read every few months by students of Jewish and Islamic history. The restrictions on dhimmis (Christians and Jews living under Muslim rule) were "ordinarily … overlooked by the Ottoman authorities." He deems it "an exaggeration to interpret these social limitations as reducing non-Muslims under Islam to the status of second-class subjects."
My only criticism of Jews, Turks, and Ottomans is the absence of studies on Bosnia-Hercegovina or today's Macedonia.
 Sephardi Jewry: A History of the Judeo-Spanish Community, 15th to 20th Centuries, University of California Press, 2000.
Related Topics: Muslim-Jewish Relations, Sephardic Judaism, Turkish Islam receive the latest by email: subscribe to the free center for islamic pluralism mailing list
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