Friday, 18 November 2011

Jews in the Mediterranean, 1818

Letter from Rev. William Jowett to the London Society for Promoting Christianity amongst the Jews. Malta, August 4, 1818. I think he gives at interesting insight into the state of Jewish communities in the Mediterranean at the end of the Napoleonic Wars.

“When I was at Corfu, in the autumn of 1816, I was very intimate with the most learned of the Jews in those parts, rabbi Lazzaro Mordos. He is an old man, nearly blind, and quite deaf, a physician; … He has no Hebrew books of English typography. For this part of the world, Venice formerly, but latterly Vienna, have been the chief place for Hebrew printing: and still more recently, Leghorn.

[He comments on how well the Jews in Ionia got on with the French, and that they are now protected from the Greeks by the British.]

I have been credibly informed, that the condition upon which the Jews enjoyed toleration at Rome, was – beside payment of money – an attendance upon a weekly lecture delivered by some learned priest in one of the churches; in which the question between the Jews and Christians was regularly discussed. The attendance of the Jews residing at Rome was obligatory:

I would here observe, that beside the thousand Jews at Corfu, they are numerous in Albania, Thessaly, Venice and northwards towards Constantinople. At Salonica they are said by some, to be more numerous even than the Turks and Christians put together. At Yannina, the metropolis of Ali Pasha, they have much influence, a Jew being the treasurer of that Pasha; liable, of course, to heavy exactions, all which however that oppressed people have too long learned to bear. In Athens, where I was lately, they informed me there are no Jews; but in the neighbourhood, in Livadia and northward, they abound.

In Smyrna, the Jews and Armenians are the principal brokers to the Frank merchants, and discharge their trust in such a manner as to raise their character somewhat high. I have heard merchants speak with great respect of their fidelity, as well as diligence. The number of these brokers, however, must be small in comparison with the bulk of the Jewish people there. In must also strike you, that there are often circumstances in which it is more for a person’s immediate interest to be honest, than to be roguish. It is to be lamented that the Jews have seldom been dealt with on this footing: they have been unfairly treated, and have seldom enjoyed the equal rights of humanity.

At Scio [Chios] there are not above 60 or 70 Jews; and these live for the sake of security within the walls of the Turkish fortress, They fled thither during some disturbances, in which the Christians were ill using them; and having found safety there, they do not stir out, but give themselves to handicraft trades.

The number of Jews in Malta is at present very small; not more I am told than fifteen or twenty families.

It is not thus with the Jews of Leghorn and Triest. As far as I have seen or heard of these, they have a liberality bordering on infidelity; something very much of the Sadducee character. There may be 15,000 at Leghorn; they are rich and enterprising. They have a synagogue one of the most splendid in the world. They print largely here, and in all respects enjoy great liberty. At Trieste they had about three years ago a a distinguishing mark of the emperor’s favour: he visited their synagogue in person, which event they commemorated by a Hebrew inscription.

I have received several very interesting notices respecting this people from Dr. Richardson, an English physician, just returned from his travels in Egypt and Syria. At Cairo they have seven synagogues; at Jerusalem they have two, but poor-looking. At Damascus, the population of which he thinks to be upwards of 300,000 the Jews are numerous. At Tiberias – once so highly famed for Hebrew literature – he visited a college which still exists there. Here he found five rabbies (sic), living apparently in learned leasure, with a library of no mean size, well supplied with Hebrew Scriptures and commentators. One of these was in great repute for learning. … The late Djezza, that terrible character, the Pasha of Acre, had a Jew for his principle Minister: with his well known brutality he cut off the man’s nose, put out one eye, and otherwise mutilated and disfigured his face.

I will add an article which I received from an English gentleman, intimately acquainted with the state of that regency [Tripoli]. “Their number in Tripoli is estimated at 3,000; they had seven synagogues, and pay an annual tax to the Bashaw of about two thousand dollars. They are governed by their Caid, who is appointed by the prince, but whose power extends to the punishment only of offences, not capital. The Jews in the vicinity are likewise under his authority; but those of Bengazi and Derne have their respective Caids. The number in those places may be reckoned at 1000. The rabbies in Tripoli are about twenty, who are paid from three to four dollars a week. In the vicinity of Tripoli (called the Gardens) there may be about twenty Jews, who have no synagogue, but pray in their houses. An annual visit is paid by a rabbi from Jerusalem, who is appointed by the chief of the holy land for the purpose of collecting money; and who may get in Tripoli a thousand dollars. They have synagogues at Arzon, Tagioura, Tajur, Mesurata, Bengazi and Derne. Their printed books they have from Leghorn, their manuscripts from Tunis.”

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