Ottoman lands provided safe haven for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain

Driven out of their homelands, thousands of Sephardic Jews found shelter in Ottoman lands 530 years ago.

Ottoman lands provided safe haven for Sephardic Jews expelled from Spain

The infamous edict of expulsion signed by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile in 1492 following the Reconquista (reconquest) left Spanish Jews with no choice. They had to convert to Christianity or leave their homeland.

Worst of all for these Spanish Jews, also called Western Sephardim, was the possibility of facing the Inquisition court.

Seen as one of the most cataclysmic events of Jewish history, the Alhambra Decree ordered Jews "to depart and never to return or come back to" Spain.

The decree signed on March 31, 1492 was an edict to expel every Jew from Spain by Aug. 2, 1492.

Driven out of their homelands, numerous Sephardic Jews found shelter in Ottoman lands 530 years ago.

Tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews settled in Ottoman territories mainly Istanbul and Thessaloniki upon the invitation of Ottoman Sultan Bayezid II.

Although the numbers differ, as 13,000 Jews were executed in Spain, tens of thousands of Sephardic Jews set sail for Ottoman territories in ships sent by Sultan Beyazid II.

When it comes to the reasons why Ottomans were so generous in welcoming Sephardic Jews to their lands, late Turkish historian Halil Inalcik wrote in his book: “In the Ottoman mind, Spain was a major antagonist, and the Ottomans made little distinction between the plight of the Andalusian Muslims and that of the Jews when both communities were threatened by Spain and both appealed for Ottoman aid and protection.”

Jewish expulsion from Spain to the Ottoman lands also triggered change in the Jewish community's demographic in the empire.

Israeli Historian Eli Barnavi noted in his book that with the several migration waves from Spain to mainly Ottoman territories due to forced migration, Iberian Jews outnumbered the local Jews who resided in Ottoman lands.

Some 90% of Jews who lived under Ottoman rule were of Sephardic origin. During Suleyman the Magnificent's era, around 40,000 out of the 500,000 population of Istanbul was Jewish.

The Spanish Parliament in 2015 approved a measure to atone for the exodus of Spanish Jews. With the measure, Jews whose families were expelled from Spain in the 15th century got the right to acquire Spanish citizenship.

Hüseyin Demir

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