The Jews of Ottoman Izmir: A Mod­ern History

Dina Danon

  • From the Publisher
January 14, 2020

By the turn of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, the east­ern Mediter­ranean port city of Izmir had been home to a vibrant and sub­stan­tial Sephar­di Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty for over four hun­dred years, and had emerged as a major cen­ter of Jew­ish life. The Jews of Ottoman Izmir tells the sto­ry of this long over­looked Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty, draw­ing on pre­vi­ous­ly untapped Ladi­no archival material.

Across Europe, Jews were often con­front­ed with the notion that their reli­gious and cul­tur­al dis­tinc­tive­ness was some­how incom­pat­i­ble with the mod­ern age. Yet the view from Ottoman Izmir invites a dif­fer­ent approach: what hap­pens when Jew­ish dif­fer­ence is total­ly unre­mark­able? Dina Danon argues that while Jew­ish reli­gious and cul­tur­al dis­tinc­tive­ness might have remained unques­tioned in this late Ottoman port city, oth­er ele­ments of Jew­ish iden­ti­ty emerged as pro­found sites of ten­sion, most notably those of pover­ty and social class. Through the voic­es of both beg­gars on the street and mer­can­tile elites, shoe-shin­ers and news­pa­per edi­tors, rab­bis and house­wives, this book argues that it was new atti­tudes to pover­ty and class, not Judaism, that most sig­nif­i­cant­ly framed this Sephar­di com­mu­ni­ty’s encounter with the mod­ern age.

Discussion Questions