Jewish History

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 315–332

Blond, tall, with honey-colored eyes: Jewish ownership of slaves in the Ottoman Empire


DOI: 10.1007/s10835-006-9018-z

Cite this article as:
Ben-Naeh, Y. Jew History (2006) 20: 315. doi:10.1007/s10835-006-9018-z


Hundreds of Hebrew written sources, dozens of official decrees, judicial records (sijillat), and reports of European travelers indicate that slaveholding – particularly of females of slavic origin – in Jewish households in the urban centers of the Ottoman Empire was widespread from the sixteenth to the nineteenth centuries. This halachically and legally problematic habit was an unparalleled phenomenon in any other Jewish community in the early modern period. The presence of slaves in Jewish households effected family life in many ways. I dealt with two of them: The first is cohabitation of Jewish men with female slaves, usually non-Jewish, who in effect served as their concubines and bore them legitimate children; the second is marriage with manumitted slaves who converted to Judaism and became an integral part of the community. These phenomena attest once again to the great extent to which Jewish society and its norms and codes were influenced by Muslim urban society, and the gap between rabbinic rhetoric ideals and the dynamic daily existence of Jews from all social strata.


slavesOttoman JewrySephrdi JewsSlavery/slavesIstanbulsijilresponsaOttoman Empire

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© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.The Hebrew UniversityJerusalemIsrael