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Sacred Places for Judaism

Judaism also has Anatolian connections. In the Torah, a number of places that are mentioned are located within the borders of Turkey. According to the Torah, after creating Adam, God created a garden “eastward of Aden” and sent Adam there. At the site, a river had risen and separated four tributaries. Two of these are the Tigris and the Euphrates. The area located between these rivers is holy for Jews (Yildiz 2011). According to the Genesis creation narrative, Noah’s family spread from the Mountain of Ararat in eastern Turkey across the land, and it is assumed that these people settled in Anatolia.

The Jewish community played a significant role in the history of Anatolia, especially in commercial life, although the population has always been relatively small. Following the destruction of Jerusalem, Jewish people dispersed to Asia Minor. During the Inquisition in Europe, persecuted Jewish people were accepted by the Ottoman Empire as refugees. By 1900, the total Jewish population was about

  • 300.000 (Edmonds 1998). Today, there are 26,000 Jews living in Turkey, of which
  • 22.000 live in Istanbul. Jews in Turkey are Sephardic Jews, who settled during the Ottoman Empire in the fifteenth century after leaving Spain due to the persecution they faced there (Adam and Katar 2005). There are many synagogues in Turkey, especially in Istanbul’s Jewish Quarters of Galata and Balat and in Izmir, which shows the importance of the Jewish community in the region.

Italian Synagogue This synagogue is attended mainly by Jews who came from Italy and Austria and settled during the Ottoman Empire. It started services in 1886.

Askenazi Synagogue This synagogue, which belongs to the Askenaz community, is the only one that is still in service. Located in the Galata district, the synagogue was constructed by Askenaz people of Austrian origin.

Zulfaris Synagogue This synagogue, located in the Galata quarter, was constructed in the seventeenth century. The synagogue is going to be converted into the 500 years of Tranquil Life Museum.

Ahrida Synagogue This synagogue is located in the Balat district of Istanbul. It was built by those who had migrated from Ohrid, Macedonia, in the fifteenth century. Having a similar shape to a ship’s bow, the Teva (prayer desk) of the synagogue is compared by some to Noah’s Ship, while others compare it to the Ottoman galleys that carried Sephardic Jews to the Ottoman piers (OTPT 2015).

Yanbol Synagogue This synagogue is located in the Balat district in Istanbul and was built by the people migrating from Yanbolu town (today Yambol) in Bulgaria.

Haydarpasa Hemdat Israel Synagogue This Synagogue, located in the Haydarpa^a quarter, was opened in 1899. The name “Hemdat Israel,” which means “the mercy of the sons of Israel” was inspired by the Arabic words “Hamid” and “Hemdat,” which were written on the synagogue as a sign of gratitude for Abdulhamit II, who was in favor of the synagogue’s construction (OTPT 2015).

Etz Ahayim Synagogue (Ortakoy) This synagogue is located in Ortakoy, where Jewish people lived since ancient times. The synagogue dates back to the seventeenth century. It was reconstructed following a fire in 1941.

Harran—Urfa Harran, which is believed to be Abraham’s home when he heard God’s call, is an important site for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Abraham was “the father of many nations” and “a friend of God.” The Jewish and Christian traditions hold that Abraham’s father, Terah, led his clan in its migration from Ur of the Chaldees to Harran (Edmonds 1998). According to the Bible, Abraham’s father Terah died at this site. In addition, the area from the Nile River to the Euphrates River is the land that God promised to the Jewish people, according to the Torah. Figure 10.2 shows the most important religious sites in Turkey.

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