By: Abraham Danon
Sultan of Turkey, 1839-61. If the Jews of Turkey owe their deliverance from the unremitting outrages and excesses of the janizaries to Sultan Mahmoud II., they are equally indebted to Abd-ul-Mejid for their recent political standing. In fact, as rayas, or subjects, the Israelites now enjoy all the privileges and liberties conceded to the Christians by the "Ottoman Charters," known under the names of "Hatti-Sherif of Gul-Hane" (Nov. 3, 1839) and "Hatti-Humayoun" (read at the Sublime Porte on Feb. 18, 1856), the former of which was confirmed by the grand viziers Riza Pasha (1843) and Reschid Pasha (1846). Since the promulgation of the first of these charters the testimony of Jews has been accepted in the courts of law; torture has been abolished; the Jews are no longer subjected to wilful confiscations, and those persons against whom they have cause for complaint are punished, if convicted, without regard to their rank or their dignity. The second charter, which in a measure was promised to Albert Cohn at the audience accorded him by the sultan on Aug. 20, 1854, besides reassuring the Jews of their right to personal liberty and the security of their possessions, contains the following new dispositions in their favor: In common with all other subjects, they receive equality before the law as well as in taxation; admission to public offices and to military service; religious liberty and unrestricted public instruction; revision of privileges and immunities of non-Mussulman communities; a guaranty of their immunities and of purely spiritual privileges; just representation of their communities in provincial and common councils and in the supreme courts of justice; and, lastly, the confirmation of the civil jurisdiction exercised in certain cases by the Council of Patriarchs in non-Mussulman communities.
It should be added that, owing to the difficulties in the application of a reform in the military service, the clause referring to this service was revoked.
Provisionally the system of replacement or substitution, which still exists, was admitted. Instead of the old kharadj (poll-tax), which took the place of military service, the bedel y askeryeh (exemption tax) was substituted, from which only the non-Mohammedan inhabitants of Constantinople were exempt. Acceding to the request presented by the ambassadors of the European powers and by Nathaniel de Rothschild, concerning the charge of ritual murder pending against the Jews of Damascus and the island of Rhodes, the sultan exhibited his regard for justice by issuing a firman, July 27, 1840, whereby he ordered a revision of the latter of these trials. This revision established the innocence of the accused. Moreover, at the instance of Moses Montefiore, who was received in audience Oct. 28, 1840, another firman was promulgated wherein the sultan, besides renewing to the Jews equality of rights and privileges, declared "that a thorough examination of the religious books of the Hebrews has demonstrated the absolute prohibition of the use of either human or animal blood in any of their religious rites. It follows from this defense that the charges against them and their religion are calumnies" (Nov. 6, 1840).
Justice was also accorded (May 11, 1860) to those Jews accused of having pillaged the Christian quartersin Damascus during the Maronite massacre perpetrated by the Druses and Mussulmans. Fuad Pasha dismissed these charges, and completely rehabilitated the Jews in public opinion.
Besides the improvement in the general condition of the Jews, this monarch's appreciation of his Jewish subjects is signalized by the appointment of Dr. Spitzer, a Jew, as his private physician, and the allowance, in 1856, of a monthly pension to the family of Carmona. This family, descended from the celebrated Chelibi Behar, who had been assassinated and whose fortune had been confiscated under the preceding government, had, through the intervention of the Board of Deputies of British Jews of London, obtained a firman to that effect. Several Jews were decorated during Abd-ul-Mejid's reign.
- Franco, Histoire des Israélites de l'Empire Ottoman, pp. 143-161.