The Ottoman Empire and its territories served as a melting pot for civilizations and religions, throughout many centuries.
Today, modern Turkey is proud of its sense of tolerance, especially towards the Jews, who found refuge and settled within the boundaries of the Ottoman Empire more than 500 years ago fleeing the Spanish inquisition. The arrival of the Sephardic Jews in 1492 was not the first wave of Jewish immigration to the Ottoman Empire. Already in the first half of the fourteenth century, Ashkenazi Jews fleeing from the pogroms in Europe had taken refuge in the Ottoman Empire; Jews, who left Sicily and Thessaloniki in the early fifteenth century, gained their freedom in the Ottoman lands. The open door policy and tolerance brought Jews into the Empire from Germany, France, Italy, Hungary and Russia.
As the Ottoman Empire entered an era of great development, it consequently had a great need for qualified people. Sephardic Jews, who were familiar with the arts, trade, medicine, printing, textile weaving and dyeing, leather treatment and copper workmanship, contributed the expertise they had acquired in the Golden Age of Spain to the advancement of their new homeland.
In the tolerant and liberal environment created by the Ottoman government, Jews produced some of the world's most famous writings, particularly religious and literary works. Jews who held important positions in Spanish courts were assigned to distinguished posts in the Ottoman palaces, especially in finance and foreign relations. Most palace physicians were Jewish, and they would often accompany the Sultans on their campaigns.
Nonetheless, 1492 was not the year that Jews first arrived in the Ottoman Empire and began to settle there. According to discoveries based on historical documentation and archeological excavations, the presence of Jewish communities in Anatolia dates back to the 3rd century B.C.E. It was quite natural that each of the settlements based on a traditional community would have at least one synagogue.
The synagogues in Turkey span from the 3rd century C.E through the early twentieth century. Most of the synagogues were influenced by local architectural designs. Among them is the synagogue of Sardis, discovered during excavations in the 1960s, that is believed to be one of the most grandiose synagogues of ancient times.
In 2005, the president of the Jewish community of Turkey, Mr. Silvyo Ovadia, approached Izzet Keribar, a world renowned photographer and winner of many international prizes, and offered him to document all the synagogues in Turkey as a legacy to future generations.
Izzet Keribar embarked on his research by establishing contacts with leaders of various Jewish communities in Istanbul, Izmir, Ankara, Bursa, Chanakkale, Edirne and elsewhere in Turkey. His research revealed more than sixty synagogues around Turkey. Unfortunately, many of them suffered substantial deterioration, and others were used for different purposes or completely ruined. The photographer tirelessly set out to capture every detail of the glory and splendor of the synagogues that were once the pride and the heart of the Jewish community in Turkey, in order to preserve them for future memory before the deterioration of time takes its toll. Izzet Keribar’s efforts paid off, and he accomplished this goal successfully.
The result of this project is the photography exhibition, "The Synagogues of Turkey: Shrines of Tolerance," consisting of more than 70 photographs. The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful volume containing a comprehensive historical introduction by Naim Guleryuz, published by Gozlem Publishing.
The exhibition at Beit Hatfutsot is under the auspices of the Turkish Embassy in Israel, marking the 85th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey. Beit Hatfutsot is honored to host the exhibition as part of its 30th anniversary celebrations.