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

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Ottoman Attitudes toward the Modernization of Jewish Education · 19

and early nineteenth centuries. But contrary to common belief, even dur-
ing this period there were always Jews, or Jewish converts, who were in
the forefront of Ottoman science, medicine, and secular education. This
was an important factor as the Ottoman Empire entered the period of
reform, the Tanzimat, which actually began in 1826 with the suppression
of the Janissaries, the main obstacle to reform, by Sultan Mahmud II. And
this greatly influenced Ottoman attitudes toward the modernization of
Jewish education. But there were also other factors.
The Greek uprising (1821–32) and the emergence of an independent
Greek state (1832) through European intervention demonstrated to the
Ottoman ruling elite the existential threats of separatist nationalism. It
was immediately apparent that Greek independence could set a prec-
edent for other separatist national movements, for further European
intervention, and for the eventual dismemberment of the empire. To
counter this threat, the Ottoman government articulated an official ide-
ology of Ottomanism, or Ottoman patriotism, intended to assure the non-
Muslim minorities that their future within the Ottoman state was secure
and preferable to what it might be in the small national successor states.
Equally, or perhaps even more importantly, the European Powers had to
be convinced of that. Thus, among the main principles of Ottomanism
were pluralism and equality before the law. On November 3, 1839, in an
impressive ceremony attended by the foreign diplomatic corps, the Ot-
toman government proclaimed the Imperial Rescript (Hatt-ı Hümayun),
also known as Noble Rescript (Hatt-ı Şerif) of Gülhane. This document
formally introduced the new policy of Ottomanism. It included a com-
mitment to equal justice for all Ottoman subjects, regardless of religion,
and the “perfect security” of their lives, honor, and property. The stated
purpose of the rescript was to promote every subject’s “devotion to the
state (devlet)... and love of country (vatan mahabbeti).”^11
Sometime in the mid-nineteenth century, and perhaps as early as 1835,
a new term, milel-i erba ̔a, entered the Ottoman political lexicon. Liter-
ally meaning “the four communities,” it came to denote the officially
recognized four religious communities that constituted the Ottoman
polity—”Muslims, Jews, Armenians, and Greeks” was apparently the of-
ficial order.^12 The purpose of this term was to denote that the Ottoman
Empire, while a Muslim state, was also a plural society within which the
minorities’ special status was officially recognized.
The need to redefine the nature of the Ottoman polity on the basis of

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