The Divergence of Judaism and Islam. Interdependence, Modernity, and Political Turmoil

(Joyce) #1


Ottoman Attitudes toward the
Modernization of Jewish Education in
the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

Avigdor Levy

Jews have traditionally occupied a significant, and sometimes even dom-
inant, place in several areas of Ottoman science, medicine, culture, and
education. In the sixteenth century, Jews introduced to Ottoman society
new forms of the performing arts, printing, and a range of new tech-
nologies and methods of production. These were used by the Ottomans
in the exploitation of mineral resources and the manufacture of textiles,
arms, munitions, and other products.^1 However, the area particularly
dominated by Jews for a long time, from the fifteenth through the mid-
seventeenth centuries, was medicine. The well-known sixteenth-century
travelers Nicholas de Nicolay and Pierre Bellons de Mans reported that
Jewish physicians dominated the field of medicine in the Ottoman Em-
pire and that they were more knowledgeable and numerous than the
physicians of any other group.^2 Many Jewish physicians and scientists
served in the Ottoman court. A few had established dynasties of physi-
cians. Most famous was the Hamon family, whose sons served Ottoman
sultans for some two hundred years, from the early sixteenth century into
the eighteenth.^3
During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, a period considered
to be one of decline for both the Ottoman Empire and its Jewish commu-
nity, Jews lost their primacy in the field of medicine. Still, even then, in-
dividual Jews continued to occupy a disproportionately important place
in the Ottoman medical profession, serving the court, the government,

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