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Geron (Gueron) Family

(619 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
The Geron (Gueron) family produced many rabbis, judges, and communal leaders in Edirne (Adrianople) in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The first known member of the family was Mordecai Geron, a well-to-do merchant in Edirne who died after 1680. The Gerons reappear in the sources in the eighteenth century. After Abraham Ṣarfati, the chief rabbi of Edirne, died in 1722, the Jewish community could not agree on a single successor. One faction selected Menahem ben Isaac Ashkenazi as its chief rabbi. The other chose Ṣarfati’s son-in-law,  Raphael Jacob Abraham Geron (d. 1751).…

Alfandari, Solomon Eliezer ben Jacob

(582 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Solomon Eliezer b. Jacob Alfandari (b. ca. 1826 or 1829/30), known as Mercado or Maharsha, and as Saba Qadisha, was a halakhist and rabbinic leader. Born in Istanbul to a distinguished family, he was appointed head of the Foa yeshiva at the age of twenty-five and also served as rabbi of the Orta Koy quarter of Istanbul. At the age of thirty, he was elected to the general religious council (Majlis) of the community. Afraid that military service would lead Jews to abandon their religious practice, he objected to plans to recruit Jews into the Ottoman army. In 1897, Alfandari was appointed ap…

Algazi, Solomon Nissim ben Abraham

(590 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Solomon Nissim ben Abraham Algazi the Elder, a scion of the famous Algazi family and the grandson on his mother’s side of Joseph de Segovia Benveniste (see Benveniste Family), was the foremost halakhic authority in the Ottoman Empire in the seventeenth century. He was born in the Turkish town of Bursa (Prousa) around 1610 and died in Jerusalem in 1684 or 1685. The name Nissim (Heb. miracles) was not given him at birth but was added later upon his recovery from a serious illness. Solomon Algazi was educated by his fat…

Geron (Gueron), Yakir Astruc

(411 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Yakir Astruc ben Eliakim Geron (1813–1874) was born into the distinguish Geron family of rabbis in Edirne (Adrianople). Early in his career he served as a  rabbi in Bucharest. After his return to Edirne, he sojourned for a time in  Rustchuk (Ruse, Bulgaria) and helped the Jewish community there reach a compromise on a major (but now unknown) issue. Geron left so strong an impression that in 1852 the community named a synagogue after him, Qahal Qadosh Geron (The Holy Congregation of Geron). When his father died in 1835, Geron inherited the rabbinate of Edirne from him. He helped rees…


(626 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Chios (Turk. Sakız) is a Greek island in the Aegean Sea located off the southwestern coast of Anatolia near Izmir (Smyrna). Jews first settled there in the Hellenistic period. Spanish exiles began to arrive after 1492, and by the time the Ottomans captured the island from the Genoese in 1566, most of the Jews in Chios were Sephardim. In the seventeenth century, there were two congregations on the island, one Sephardi and the other Romaniot. The two groups were recognized by the Ottoman government, which treated the Sephardim and Romaniots as separate communities for t…

Alba, Isaac de

(451 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Isaac de Alba was a rabbinic teacher of the young Shabbetay Ṣevi. Their association began in 1642, when de Alba arrived in Izmir (Smyrna) from Salonica along with several other scholars. He taught Kabbala to Shabbetai Ṣevi for several years. Whether de Alba objected when Shabbetai Ṣevi first began making messianic claims is unknown, but he strenuously condemned him for  his conversion to Islam in September 1666. After the death of Rabbi Joseph Eskapa in 1661, de Alba was appointed chief dayyan of the Smyrna community with responsibility for financial and administrative matters (Heb. din…

Ha-Levi, Abraham

(229 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Abraham ha-Levi (d. 1837), also known as Hezekiah and Nissim, was the first chief rabbi ( haham başı) of the Ottoman Empire. He became a  dayyan in the Jewish court in the Balat district of Istanbul in 1820, and later served as its chief judge ( av bet din). In 1834 he was a dayyan in the court of the Istanbul community ( bet din issur ve-heter). In January 1835, Sultan Maḥmūd II issued an imperial decree ( ferman) appointing Halevi the empire’s first chief rabbi. He served in this office only a short time, possibly because of blindness, and was replaced in September of…

Covo Family

(803 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Members of the Covo family were scholars and communal leaders in Salonica and Jerusalem for a period of three centuries. They are first mentioned in the seventeenth century. Rabbi Judah Covo (d. 1636) headed a communal delegation from Salonica that went to Istanbul in 1636 in hopes of improving the terms governing the annual gift to the sultan required of Salonica’s cloth manufacturers. Unfortunately, the government officials decided that what the delegation had brought was unsatisfactory in quantity and value, and as a result Judah Covo was executed. His son Elijah (ca. 1628–1688) w…

Covo, Raphael Asher

(334 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Raphael Asher Covo (1799– January 1874) was chief rabbi of Salonica, head of a yeshiva, and a sponsor of communal charity. The grandson of Rabbi Abraham Covo (d. 1792), he studied with his father and with Rabbi Isaac Barzilai. Covo was a rabbi in Salonica for over fifty years, during which time he founded the city’s Lishkat ha-Gazit Yeshiva. His halakhic decisions were oft-quoted by rabbis in many communities. By 1835, Covo was already a prominent dayyan (judge), and in 1849 he was appointed chief rabbi ( ḥakham bashi) of Salonica concurrently with Ḥanokh Saporta. In 1856, Sultan Abdülmecid…

Peraḥya, Aaron Ben Ḥayyim Abraham ha-Kohen

(177 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Aaron ben Ḥayyim Abraham ha-Kohen Peraḥya(1627?–1697) was born in Salonica into a well-known family of Italian origin. He studied with Rabbis Asher ben Ardut ha-Kohen, Ḥasday ha-Kohen Peraḥya, and Ḥayyim Shabbetay. In 1689, he succeeded Elijah Covo (see Covo Family) as chief rabbi of Salonica. Aaron was the author of Paraḥ Maṭṭe Aharon (Aaron’s Staff Blossomed; 2 vols., Amsterdam 1703), a collection of responsa; Pirḥe Kehunna (Flowers of Priesthood; Amsterdam, 1709), a commentary on tractates Bava Qamma, Bava Meṣiʽa, Ketubbot, Giṭṭin, ʽAvoda Zara, and Qiddush…

Navon, Ephraim Ben Aaron

(216 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Ephraim ben Aaron Navon (1677–1735) was a rabbi, dayyan, and author. Born in Istanbul, he moved to Jerusalem with his father-in-law, Judah Ergas, around 1700. He returned to Istanbul as an emissary (Heb. meshullaḥ or shadar) of the Jerusalem community in 1720 but chose to remain there. Three years later, he was appointed dayyan in the bet din (rabbinical court) of Judah Rosanes and became one of the leading rabbis of the Istanbul community. Navon was a founder of the Committee of Officials for Jerusalem in Istanbul. His legal work Maḥane Efrayim (The Camp of Ephraim; Istanbul, 1738) c…


(1,237 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
The gabela (from Sp. gabela, It. gabella, Fr. gabelle, excise tax; a word thought by O.E.D. to be of Teut. origin, but perhaps ultimately from Ar./med. Jud.-Ar. qabāla, a lease) was a tax on meat and other food staples that Jewish communities in Christian Spain, Islamic lands, and the Ottoman Empire imposed on their members. In the Maghreb, it was often called sija or siza (from Sp. cisa, Mod. Sp. and Port. sisa). In Tripolitania, it was called khaba. Although the terms gabela and sija appear to have come in with Sephardi exiles, such taxes existed in the Islamic world well bef…

Abulafia (Abū ʾl-ʿĀfiya), Hayyim ben David

(138 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Ḥayyim ben David Abulafia (Abū ʾl-ʿĀfiya) was born around 1700. Known as “the Baḥur” (Heb. Young Man), he was a rabbi and kabbalist. After serving as rabbi in Larisa, he became head of a Jewish court ( bet din) in Salonica in 1761, and while there taught the Sabbatean Abraham Miranda. Abulafia later settled in Izmir (Smyrna) and was appointed one of the community’s two chief rabbis; he died there on February 25, 1775. Abulafia wrote the Nishmat Ḥayyim (Salonica, 1806) on the Sefer Miṣvot Gadol. The book also includes some of his sermons. Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky Bibliography Benayahu, Meir…

Peraḥya, Ḥasday Ben Samuel ha-Kohen

(166 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Ḥasday ben Samuel ha-Kohen Peraḥya was a rabbi and halakhic authority in Salonica. Born around 1605 into one of the city’s distinguished families, and a disciple of Ḥayyim Shabbetay (d. 1647), he was appointed a dayya n in the city’s old Italian congregation in 1647. From 1671 until his death in 1678, he served as  chief rabbi of the Salonica community and raised up some noteworthy disciples, most especially  Jacob ben Abraham de Boton (d. 1687). In 1723, some years after Peraḥya’s death, a collection of his responsa, entitled Torat Ḥesed (The Law of Kindness) was published in Sal…

Bursa (Prousa)

(919 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Bursa (ancient Prousa), in northwestern Anatolia, was the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, between 1326 and 1365. When the Ottomans captured the city from the Byzantines, it had a small Romaniot Jewish presence. In the first half of the sixteenth century, newly arriving Spanish exiles were soon in the majority. Culturally and numerically dominant, the Sephardim fairly quickly assimilated the Romaniots, and Judeo-Spanish became the day-to-day spoken and written language of  the city’s Jews.  The community paid its poll tax ( jizya) through its representative to authorities, the k…

Buton, Meʾir de

(197 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Meʾir ben Abraham Ḥiyya de Buton (di Boton) was born  in Salonica around 1575. He studied under his father, the great halakhic scholar Abraham Ḥiyya ben Moses de Buton (1545–1588), and wrote an introduction to the Leḥem Mishne, his father’s commentary to Maimonides’s Mishne Torah. He was later appointed rabbi of the community of Gallipoli and served there until his death in 1649. Under the leadership of Me’ir de Buton, the yeshiva in Gallipoli became one of the great centers of Torah study in the Ottoman Empire. Throughout his life, Meʾir corresponded with the ha…

Conforte, David

(449 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
David Conforte (1618–ca. 1677) was born into a scholarly Sephardic family in Salonica. His teacher, Asher Zevulun, was a disciple of Conforte’s grandfather, also named David Conforte. The younger Conforte studied Torah and Kabbala in Salonica, and in 1644 moved to Jerusalem to continue his education in a bet midrash. He also spent a year in Cairo, where he studied in the bet midrash of Abraham Skandari, and some time in Gaza, learning with Rabbi Moses Najara. In 1648, he returned to Salonica, but he went back to Jerusalem in 1652 to found his own academy. In 1671 he m…

Ashkenazi, Jonah ben Jacob

(348 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Jonah ben Jacob Ashkenazi was a printer and publisher who helped to make Istanbul a center of Hebrew printing in the Ottoman Empire. He was born in Zalosce, Poland (now Zaliztsi, Ukraine), to an Ashkenazi family, and later emigrated to Istanbul. In 1710, Ashkenazi engraved movable-type settings in Hebrew and decorations for title pages, and with these founded a printing press in the city. During his first two years in Istanbul, he worked in partnership with a Jew from Vienna, Naphtali ben Azriel. Ashkenazi later moved his press north of the city, to Ortaköy. In 1714 he went…

Malchi (Malkhi) Esperanza

(280 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Esperanza Malchi (Malkhi) was the third Jewish kira ( kiera, kyra), a Greek honorific title meaning lady, given to the women who attended to matters outside the palace for the queen mother ( valide sultan) and other influential women in the Ottoman royal harem. As a personal agent for Safiye, the consort of Murad III (r. 1574–1595) and the mother of Mehmed III (r. 1595–1603), Malchi played a part in the correspondence between Safiye and Queen Elizabeth I of England. At least once, in 1599, she addressed a letter in Italian to Elizabeth, dealing with the exchange of g…

Almoli (Almuli), Solomon ben Jacob

(593 words)

Author(s): Leah Bornstein-Makovetsky
Solomon ben Jacob Almoli (Almuli) was probably born in Portugal before 1490 and died in Istanbul in 1542. He served as a dayyan, but it is unclear whether he was also a congregational rabbi; he seems not to have raised up students. Earning a meager livelihood as a physician, he lived in poverty and devoted himself to science and to popularizing science. He planned to compile an extensive general encyclopedia, but his fellow scholars in Istanbul rejected the idea. As a result he was only able to publish a brief prospectus for the encyclopedia in twenty-four pages, under the title Meʾassef le-…
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