Intrigue and Revolution

Chief Rabbis in Aleppo, Baghdad, and Damascus, 1744-1914

By Yaron Harel

Contributions by: Yehonatan Chipman

This is a book of unexpected drama: all eleven chief rabbis appointed in this period of unprecedented change in the Jewish communities of the Fertile Crescent became the subject of controversy and were subsequently dismissed. This took place against a background of events rarely discussed in the context of Jewish society: crime, hooliganism, slander, power struggles, sexual promiscuity, and even assaults and assassination attempts on rabbis. Using a wide range of testimonies gleaned from Ottoman Jewish, Arabic, and European sources, author Yaron Harel paints a colorful picture of these upheavals set firmly in the social and political context of the time and far removed from the commonly accepted image of Jewish communities in the Ottoman empire. Jews were also affected by modernization and political conflict in the wider society of the time, and these too gave rise to power struggles. The chief rabbis were at the forefront of these confrontations, especially those that resulted from the new inclination towards Western culture. Most of them acknowledged that the challenges of modernization had to be met, although preferably in a way that did not endanger religious principles. Their openness to change stemmed from a concern for the future of the communities for which they were responsible, but they were often vociferously opposed by those who were unencumbered by such responsibility. The communal politics that ensued were sometimes heated to the point of violence. In the latter years of the empire, many Jews came to support the Young Turks, with their promise of liberty and equality for all. Rabbis therefore had to develop political awareness and engage in Ottoman politics, which added a new layer of tension within the community. This lively and fascinating study, based on little-known sources, offers a lens through which to view the Jewish society of the Ottoman empire at a time when all the traditional norms were being challenged. [Subject: History, Jewish Studies, Religious Studies]

Publication Date: 7/23/2015
Format: Cloth
ISBN: 9781904113874