Friday, August 03, 2007

Hayim Farhi, a Jew at the mercy of the Ottomans

The triumph of the Islamic AKP in the Turkish elections prompted Andrew D Bostom to write the first of a two-part series in Front Page magazine, 'Under Turkish rule'. This long article is not just about Turkish Jews, but about the treatment of Jewish communities in the Ottoman empire, especially Ottoman Palestine, in previous centuries.

Bostom tries to dispel what he calls 'whitewashed apologetics concocted to promote dubious geo-political strategies.' Ottoman Muslim benevolence toward Jews is a myth: the sultans of the Ottoman empire forcibly exiled Jews, among others, in surgun, forced population transfers. At the same time they were pragmatic enough to waive some of the 'dhimmi' handicaps and strictures on their Jewish and Christian populations in return for hefty bribes.

Bostom claims that Jews who found refuge in the Ottoman empire from the Spanish Inquisition numbered no more than 50,000.

He believes that for all modern Turkey's secular nature Kemal Ataturk's regime manifested its own discriminatory attitudes towards non-Muslims, including outbursts of antisemitic persecution - most notably the Thracian pogroms of July 1934. Since Ataturk's death in 1950, increasing Turkish Islamic antisemitism 'does not bode well for the dhimmified vestigial' Jewish community.

Those who romanticise the tolerant Ottoman empire often cite examples of court Jews who found favour with the regime and prospered. One such example was Hayim Farhi, adviser to the sultan in the early 19th century. Bostom quotes the writings of Moshe Maoz, who claims that Farhi was unusual:

"Moshe Maoz describes the fate of the Jew Hayim Farhi, who became treasury manager and administrative advisor to Ahmad Pasha al Jezzar, vali (governor) of the Pashalik (territory) of Sidon (1775-1804). Subsequently, during the reign of al-Jezzar’s successor, Sulyaman Pasha (1804-1818), Farhi was appointed supervisor of income and expenditure, coordinator of the province’s accounts with the central treasury, and overall director of administrative functions, accruing considerable power and influence.

"As Maoz, explains, however, Farhi’s prominent position in
Acre was, however, unique at that time, due to the mild character of Sulayman Pasha “the Just” (al-Adil) who, in addition, owed Hayim his ascendancy to the pashalik. For during the previous reign of Jezzar Pasha, Farhi was no more than an ordinary senior official, and upon falling into disfavor—he was even discharged and arrested, one of his eyes was gouged out and his nose and ears cut.

"That the position of Hayim Farhi was very precarious was even more evident under Sulyaman’s successor, ‘Abdallah Pasha (1819-1831). At the beginning of his rule, Farhi’s influence was at its peak and the Pasha was allegedly “unable to do anything without Hayim’s consent.” But a short time later, in 1820, Farhi was executed and his property confiscated upon ‘Abdallah’s orders.

"It is evident that such a case was by no means uncommon regards Jews or Christians during the period of the Pashas’ rule. J.L. Burkhardt, the perceptive Swiss traveler, noted in 1811: “…there is scarcely an instance in the modern history of
Syria of a Christian or Jew having long enjoyed the power or riches he may have acquired. These persons are always taken off in the last moment of their apparent glory”.

"The case of the notable Hayim Farhi (and his family) illustrates the tenuous status of the Jewish community in Syro-Palestine. The unstable position of the Farhis in Acre and Damascus (in Damascus) too the Farhis were occasionally subject to arbitrary treatment) may serve as an illustration of the shaky position of the Jewish communities in Ottoman Palestine and Syria for many years.

" In certain circumstance—under tolerant rulers such as Sulayman Pasha, and in certain places—such as Aleppo, Jews enjoyed a certain degree of personal safety and religious freedom, and a few of them also acquired economic prosperity as well as social status. These circumstances, however, were rare or limited. Sulayman al-Adil (“The Wise”) was unique; more typical rulers were Ahmad al-Jezzar (the Butcher) and ‘Abdallah Pasha. They conducted a tyrannical and oppressive regime which affected large sections of the local population, particularly the Jews and Christians. (...)

"A number of Jewish families, mostly foreign proteges who belonged to those communities, were indeed relatively secure and prosperous. But many other local Jews, ordinary Ottoman subjects, were occasionally subject to violence and oppression from various quarters. If that was the case in tolerant Aleppo, in other towns which were imbued with religious intolerance and were distant from Istanbul, the Jewish population was perhaps the most oppressed element.

"One of the major sources of their oppression was the local governors, public officials, soldiers and policemen, who maltreated Jews and extorted money from them in various ways. It is true that Muslim townsmen were occasionally oppressed and squeezed by tyrannical rulers and greedy soldiers. But many Muslims were nevertheless able to protect themselves against their oppressors with the help of the influential religious notables, or by placing themselves under the protection of local powerful leaders and military groups. It was also not very infrequent that Muslim masses would revolt against oppressive rulers and expel them from the town, or even kill them. The Jewish population obviously did not dare and was unable to oppose its oppressors; and in places where they managed to acquire protection of influential local notables they had to pay high sums for that protection."

Read article in full


Eliyahu m'Tsiyon said...

A British naval physician painted the court of Ahmad Jazzar Pasha [at Akko, I believe] about 1801, around the time the British fleet helped Jazzar defeat Napoleon's invasion. Hayim Farhi appears barefoot with one eye bandaged or covered and his nose cut off. See this painting reproduced in Avigdor Shinan, ed., Israel: People, Land, State (Jerusalem: Yad Izhak Ben Zvi 2005), p 253. I highly recommend this book.

Murat said...