The treatment of Jews in Istanbul after the conquest in 1453 is a special situation. There were Jews were dwelling on both sides of Haliç (the Golden Horn) at that time. Not only did Mehmed II, the Conqueror let them stay, but he also wrote a letter three days after the conquest to the Anatolian Jewish communities to invite them to Istanbul and increase the population of Jews, who had outstanding technical and commercial talents and who were considered trustworthy and loyal to him. A Hebrew writer in the 16th century gave Mehmed’s invitation as follows:
Ottoman Sultan Mehmed says: God has granted me many countries and ordered me to protect the progeny of his servants Abraham and Jacob, to give them food and to take them under my protection. Who would like to come and settle in Istanbul, in the capital city, to live in peace under the shadow of their own vineyard and fig tree, to trade freely and to own properties?
From the first years onwards, many Jews from various areas including Galata settled in the new capital city Istanbul. Those who came from Morea after its conquest, were also included in this group. Kritovulos describes that period as follows: “They settled fifty groups of the Jews from Salonika in Tekfur Palace and around Şuhud Gate, which they name Çifud Gate… The Jews of Sana’a were settled in Hasköy…”
In his Seyahatname, Evliya Çelebi discusses the Jewish presence in Istanbul and adds that those who came from the previous Ottoman capital Edirne were settled in a district named el-Mahalletü’l-Yahudiyyîn el-Edirneviyyîn [the neighbourhood of the Jews of Edirne].
By edict, Sultan MehmedII, the Conqueror declared that the Jews would have freedom of thought, faith and that existing synagogues would be repaired; although constructing new sanctuaries was restricted, homes could be turned into synagogues. When a synagogue burned down or was destroyed, a decree was given to restore it to its original form. Mehmed II, the conqueror and his successors kept the promises given to the Jews during Feth-i Hakani (the imperial Conquest – 1453), and further decrees from Suleyman the Magnificent (1534), Selim II and Murad III, as well as fatwa from three sheikh-al-Islams, the edict of Mehmed III dated April 1603 and affirmations dated 1694, 1744 and 1755 explicitly repeat and renew the pledge which Mehmed the Conqueror gave to the Jews.
Franco, M., Essai sur l’histoire des Israélites de l’empire Ottoman depuis les origines jusqu’ à nos jours, Paris : Librairie A. Durlacher, 1897.
Galante, Abraham, Histoire des Juifs d’Istanbul, depuis la prise de cette ville en 1453 par Fatih Mehmed II, jusqu’à nos jours, Istanbul: Hüsnütabiat, 1941, vol. 1.
Kritovulos, Tarih-i Sultan Mehmed Han-ı Sani, tr. Karolidi, prepared by Muzaffer Gökman, Istanbul: Kitapçılık Ticaret Limited Şirketi, 1967.
Rozen, Minna, İstanbul Yahudi Cemaatinin Tarihi-Oluşum Yılları (1453-1566), tr. Serpil Çağlayan, Istanbul: Türkiye İş Bankası Kültür Yayınları, 2010..
Sevilla-Sharon, Moshe, Türkiye Yahudileri-Tarihsel Bakış, Jerusalem: The Hebrew University, 1982.
Şehsuvaroğlu, Haluk, Asırlar Boyunca İstanbul, Sarayları-Camileri-Abideleri-Çeşmeleri, Istanbul: Cumhuriyet Gazetesi, 1953.