Synagogues in Istanbul

The first synagogue in Istanbul was built in 318 during the Byzantine period. It was constructed in the Halkopratia district, which was inhabited by many Jews. Although this synagogue was converted into a church during the reign of Theodosius II, many synagogues have been built throughout the city ever since, including the Prince’s Islands.

In 1176, Benjamin of Tudela, an important medieval Jewish traveler, reported that 2,555 Jews lived in Constantinople.

After the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottomans in 1453, Jews from Hungary and France found a haven in the Ottoman Empire. Refugees from Sicily and Thessaloniki joined them.

When Sultan Beyazit II granted Jews exiled from Spain (1492) and Portugal (1497) permission to settle, the Ottoman Empire experienced a massive immigration movement. Over time, Jews became soldiers, ministers, advisors to the army and doctors at the court of the sultans. At the same time, they shaped the Ottoman Empire with their knowledge and skills. They enjoyed religious freedom and established Jewish communities. They were also allowed to acquire property, which were subjected to special tax impositions, which is why Istanbul had numerous synagogues and other Jewish buildings and facilities as early as the16th century.

Ten years after the Turkish Republic was proclaimed, many German and Austrian Jews persecuted by the Nazis found refuge and a new future in Istanbul, which is why they increasingly settled in the city.

Turkey’s Jewish population has been in sharp decline. At the end of the 15th century 150,000 Jews lived in Turkey, 500 years later, however, only 100,000. Today, around 23,000 Jews still live in Turkey, the vast majority of whom, around 20,000, live in Istanbul.

The first of the four major mass emigration movements took place in 1918 after the end of the First World War. The second emigration movement occurred after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The next mass emigration took place after the Istanbul pogroms that targeted Greeks and Armenians in 1955 and before the military coup in 1980.

Around 97% of the Jews remaining in the city are Sephardic Jews who came from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Greece, Turkey, North Africa and the Middle East. Only around 500 Jews are Ashkenazic and came from Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Central, Northern and Eastern Europe.

The legal representative of the Turkish Jews is the Chief Rabbinate, whose headquarter is in Istanbul.

Only 20 of the once 40 Jewish synagogues in Istanbul remain active and are open for worship. The Ahrida and Yanbol synagogues are the oldest among them and have been active continuously since the 15th century.

To visit the synagogues in Istanbul, a prior registration and special permission from the Chief Rabbinate is required. It is best to make a reservation a few weeks prior to the planned visit using the contact form, which you can find on the website of the Chief Rabbinate.

https://www.turkyahudileri.com/index.php/en/contact. A copy of your identity card or passport is required during the procedure. Be sure to bring them with you on the day of your visit. The time and day of your visit are given by the rabbinate after approval.

Photo: Michael Summers


Synagogues

The Ahrida Synagogue in the Balat district is one of Istanbul’s oldest and largest synagogues. It was founded in Macedonia in 1427,

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The Neve Shalom Synagogue is located near the Galata Tower. It is not only Istanbul’s central synagogue of Sephardic Jews and the

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The Bet Yaakov Synagogue was founded in 1878 with a capacity of about 260 people next to a Greek Orthodox Church. It

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The Ashkenazi Synagogue is currently the only active synagogue of Ashkenazi Jews. It was founded in 1900 by Ashkenazim, an Austrian with

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Bakırköy Synagogue was built in 1914 by Jews who had emigrated from Edirne. Originally, a Jewish elementary school was housed on the

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Etz Ahayim Synagogue, whose name translates as “Tree of Life”, is located on Ortaköy’s main street close to the coast. Since this

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The synagogue dating from 1840 is located in La Virane, a neighborhood of Kuzguncuk on the asian side where Jews lived who

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Tiferet Israel means “Mercy of Israel”. Built in the 1870s by the famous Istanbul banker Abraham Salomon Kamondo, the place of worship

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Jewish immigrants from Russia, who arrived in the 1880’s, first used the Çorapçı Han in Sirkeci as a house of prayer. When

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In the 1940s, as the Jewish population in the Şişli-Osmanbey-Nişantaşı triangle increased due to Jews fleeing from the Nazis, the community sought

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The name of this synagogue with a capacity of 150 persons means “Gate of Heaven”. It was opened on Thursday, September 21,

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This synagogue is named after the Jews who immigrated from the Bulgarian province Yambol to Balat. An Ottoman decree issued in 1693

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The synagogue dating from 1840 is located in La Virane, a neighborhood where Jews lived who were not very wealthy. After many

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At the beginning of the 20th century, more and more wealthy Jewish families moved into summer residences on the largest prince island

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When in the summer months, Heybeliada, the second largest princely island, became the destination of many wealthy Jewish families, it was decided

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After Büyükada and Heybeliada, Burgazada, the third largest of the Princes’ Islands, became a popular summer destination for wealthy Jewish families. Therefore,

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Due to the increasing Jewish population in the Kadıköy region in the 1950s and the fact that many wealthy Jewish families moved

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At the beginning of the 20th century, more and more wealthy Jewish families moved into summer residences on the largest prince island

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