A sect of crypto-Jews, descendants of the followers of Shabbethai Ẓebi, living to-day mostly in Salonica, European Turkey: the name (Turkish) signifies "apostates." The members call themselves "Ma'aminim" (Believers), "Ḥaberim" (Associates), or "Ba'ale Milḥamah" (Warriors); but at Adrianople they are known as "Sazanicos"(Little Carps)—a name derived either from the fish-market, near which their first mosque is supposed to have been situated, or because of a prophecy of Shabbethai that the Jews would be delivered under the zodiacal sign of the fish. The Dönmeh are said to have originated with Jacob Ẓebi Querido, who was believed to have been a reincarnation of Shabbethai.
The community is outwardly Mohammedan (following the example set by Shabbethai); but in secret observes certain Jewish rites, though in no way making common cause with the Jews, whom they call "koferim" (infidels). The Dönmeh are evidently descendants of Spanish exiles. Their prayers, as published by Danon, are partly in Hebrew (which few seem to understand) and partly in Ladino. They live in sets of houses which are contiguous, or which are secretly connected; and for each block of houses there is a secret meeting-place or "kal" ("ḳahal"), where the "payyeṭan" reads the prayers. Their houses are lit by green-shaded lamps to render them less conspicuous. The women wear the "yashmak" (veil); the men have two sets of names: a religious one, which they keep secret, and a secular one for purposes of commercial intercourse. They are assiduous in visiting the mosque and in fasting during Ramadhan, and at intervals they even send one of their number on the "ḥajj" (pilgrimage) to Mecca. But they do not intermarry with the Turks.
They are all well-to-do, and are prompt to help any unfortunate brother. They smoke openly on the Sabbath day, on which day they serve the other Jews, lighting their fires and cooking their food. They work for the Turks when a religious observance prevents other Jews from doing so, and for the Christians on Sunday. They are expert "katibs" or writers, and are employed as such in the bazaars and in the inferior government positions. They have the monopoly of the barber-shops. The Dönmeh are divided into three subsects, which, according to Bendt, are: the Ismirlis, or direct followers of Shabbethai Ẓebi of Smyrna, numbering 2,500; the Ya'ḳubis, or followers of Jacob Querido, brother-in-law of Shabbethai, who number 4,000; and the Kuniosos, or followers of Othman Baba, who lived in the middle of the eighteenth century. The lastnamed sect numbers 3,500. Each subsect has its own cemetery. Bendt says that the first shave the chin; the second, the head; but the third allow the hair to grow upon both. Danon calls the first "Tarpushlis," those who wear a special form of turban; the second, "Cavalieros," who wear a peculiar pointed shoe; the third, "Honiosos" or "Camus," who can be distinguished by their flat noses.
The ordinances which govern the Dönmeh, as given by Grätz and Bendt, number sixteen; but as Danon has published them in Ladino, they number eighteen (). These refer to the unity of God, to Shabbethai His Messiah, to abstention from murder, to the reunion on the Sixteenth of Kislew to study the mysteries of the Messiah; they forbid fornication, false testimony, forced conversion, intermarriage with Mohammedans, and covetousness; and enjoin charity, daily reading of the Psalms in secret, observance of the new moon, Mohammedan usages, and circumcision. Danon also gives a list of their twelve festivals, the most sacred of which are the Ninth of Ab, the birthday of Shabbethai; and the Sixteenth of Kislew. The latter is preceded by a fast-day. During their festivals they transact their business as usual. It is only in the evening that, with lighted candles and closed doors, they rejoice. The Dönmeh communities are administered by rabbis appointed by the ab bet din. These rabbis are well versed in Holy Scripture, they know almost by heart the Zohar, and understand Judæo-Spanish, which they regard as a holy language. Children are left in ignorance of their true religion, and are not initiated therein, among the Ismirlis and the Kuniosos, till the age of thirteen, and among the Ya'ḳubis at marriage. Neither the Ismirlis nor the Ya'ḳubis believe in the death of their respective saints, and they are always awaiting their return. Every Saturday the Ya'ḳubis send a woman and her children to the seashore to inquire whether the ship which is to bring Jacob is sighted; and every morning the elders scrutinize the horizon for a similar purpose.
- Grätz, Ueberbleibsel der Sabbat. Sekte in Salonichi, in Monatsschrift, xxxiii. 49 et seq.;
- idem, Gesch. 3d ed., x. 306;
- J. T. Bendt, Die Dönmes oder Mamin in Salonichi, in Ausland, 1888, pp. 186-190, 206-209;
- E. N. A[dler], in Jew. Chron. Oct. 14, 1895, p. 15;
- A. Danon, in Allg. Zeit. des Jud. 1887, pp. 538 et seq.;
- idem, in Rev. Etudes Juives, xxxv. 264 et seq.;
- idem, Actes du Onzie'me Congrés des Orientalists, section iii., p. 57, Paris, 1899, and in Sefer ha-Shanah, 1900, i. 154 et seq. (most fully in the last);
- Revue des Ecoles de l' Alliance Israélite, No. 5, pp. 289-323, Paris, 1902.