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I plan to collect historical documents and articles by various authors in this blog, usually without comments. Opinions expressed within the articles belong to the authors and do not always coincide with those of mine.

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Your cries and sobs reached us..."

Mark Alan Epstein, The Ottoman Jewish Communities and their Role in the Fifteenth and Sixteenth Centuries, Klaus Schwarz Werlag, Freiburg (1980).

Page 19:

"During the fifteenth century, when the Ottomans were struggling to reestablish themselves in the Balkans, there was considerable turmoil among the Jewish communities in Central and Western Europe. Even if the difficulties of the darker centuries immediately preceding the fourteenth are minimized, it is easy to understand the attraction which Ottoman life, particularly when compared to life in Europe, held for the Jews. There is no way to tell how many Jews left Christendom for the realm of the rising Muslim Ottomans, but with each account of persecution in or expulsion from Christian countries it is recorded that some Jews fled to Ottoman territory. The regularity of these reports suggests that the Ottomans were considered reasonably tolerant protectors and that there was a regular trickle of Jewish families moving southward and eastward from Western and Central Europe. (...) It is evident that the effects of plague, late crusades, and the general intolerance and persecution of Jews in Christian Europe resulted in the redirection of the whole focus of Jewish life which, for more than two centuries, was to be oriented toward Muslim East."

Page 21:

"In the second quarter of the sixteenth century the foremost official in the Edirne Jewish community was Rabbi Yitzhak Sarfati the Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of the city. He was the most important rabbi in the city and the author of an important letter which tells us something of the situation of the Edirne Jewry in the fifteenth century. Sarfati himself was from Christian Europe and supposedly wrote this letter at the behest of two recent arrivals from there, who, upon seeing the prosperity and freedom of the Ottoman Jews, prevailed upon him to write their European coreligionists apprising them of the situation and urging them to migrate. This remarkable letter advised its recipients not only of the pleasant conditions in the Ottoman domains, but described as well the ease of travel to Palestine and the holy places, an attraction to those who would make a pilgrimage or choose to be buried there."

Professor Stanford J. Shaw reports Rabbi Sarfati's [Tzarfati] letter as given below:

"Your cries and sobs reached us. We have been told of all the troubles and persecutions which you have to suffer in the German lands... I hear the lamentation of my brethren...The barbarous and cruel nation ruthlessly oppresses the faithful children of the chosen people... The priests and prelates of Rome have risen. They wish to root out the memory of Jacob and erase the name of Israel. They always devise new persecutions. They wish to bring you to the stake... Listen my brethren, to the counsel I will give you. I too was born in Germany and studied Torah with the German rabbis. I was driven out of my native country and came to the Turkish land, which is blessed by God and filled with all good things. Here I found rest and happiness; Turkey can also become for you the land of peace... If you who live in Germany knew even a tenth of what God has blessed us with in this land, you would not consider any difficulties; you would set out to come to us... Here in the land of the Turks we have nothing to complain of. We possess great fortunes; much gold and silver in our hands. We are not oppressed with heavy taxes, and our commerce is free and unhindered. Rich are the fruits of the earth. Everything is cheap, and every one of us lives in peace and freedom. Here the Jew is not compelled to wear a yellow hat as a badge of shame, as is the case in Germany, where even wealth and great fortune are a curse for a Jew because he therewith arouses jealousy among the Christians and they devise all kinds of slander against him to rob him of his gold. Arise my brethren, gird up your loins, collect your forces, and come to us. Here you will be free of your enemies, here you will find rest.."

Source: Israel Zinberg, A History Of Jewish Literature. vol.V. The Jewish Center of Culture in the Ottoman Empire, Hebrew Union College Press, Ktav Publishers, New York, 1974.

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