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The Jerusalem Jewish Community, Ottoman Authorities, And Arab Population In The Second Half of The Eighteenth Century: A Chapter Of Local History

Filed under: Israel
Publication: Jewish Political Studies Review

Jewish Political Studies Review

Volume 6:3-4 (Fall 1994)

The disintegration of the central Ottoman government in the eighteenth century had a significant impact on the situation in Jerusalem. This paper investigates the relations in the second half of that century between one minority group in the city (the Jewish community) and the Ottoman authorities in Jerusalem and in Damascus, the capital of the Sancak, as well as the Jewish community’s relations with the Arab population of Jerusalem. The paper is based on a new historical source that has recently been discovered: the original account books of the Jewish community in Jerusalem of eleven years in the second half of the eighteenth century (between 1760 and 1796).

The main conclusion of the present research is that the Jewish community was forced to pay considerable sums of money “under the table,” which became fixed payments, in addition to the formal taxes paid to the Ottoman authorities — a phenomenon which is not unique to the Jerusalem of that period. The paper contains precise data and describes their distribution. It includes tables of the amounts paid by the community both to the government and to dozens of functionaries. The paper also demonstrates the importance of the loans at interest taken by the community from the Moslem population in Jerusalem. From time to time these debts led to severe crises in the community. Another point uncovered by this research is the identity of dozens of the officials in the city who accepted presents, bribes and taxes from the Jewish community — including their names and their positions in the civic hierarchy.

I believe that these lists of Ottoman rulers and officials, as well as Arab notables and others mentioned in the account books, can also teach us a great deal about the history of the Arabs in Jerusalem.



In the eighteenth century the disintegration of the central Ottoman regime was quite apparent to the residents of Jerusalem. Scholars who studied this phenomenon described the situation unambiguously. Cohen describes it as follows: “But the main reason, it seems to us, was the general political unrest and anarchy which plagued the Sancak throughout this period.”1 Manna’ describes the weakness of the central regime in Damascus, beginning in the second half of the eighteenth century, and its inability to control the situation in Jerusalem, which was subject to this regime:


The continued decline in the power of the central regime in Istanbul, and its gradual loss of control over events in the provinces, raised the status of the local notables. The ‘ulema and the ayans banded together with other groups among the people to establish their power and influence. They gradually eroded the influence of the authorities in the provinces and became the actual leaders, rather than merely the agents between the authorities and the residents….As a result of the weakening of the Ottoman government in the eighteenth century the ‘ulema gained more power, as did the other ayans. They filled the void produced by the decrease in efficiency of the regime in the provinces and its inability to provide the residents with defense and other services. The ‘ulema and the ayans extended their protection to various groups within the population, and took over functions that had previously been the exclusive domain of the authorities and the administration….It is difficult to determine a specific date on which the power of the social groups began to increase. It was a process….It nevertheless seems that the increase in power of the ‘ulema and the ayans in Jerusalem, and their rise in importance in the practical administration of theSancak, took place mainly in the last quarter of the eighteenth century.2

These studies, as well as others describing Ottoman rule in the Syrian province in the eighteenth century, are based on Ottoman archives of the central government in Istanbul and Damascus, on the Jerusalem Sijill (the archives of the Shar’i court), and on other Arab and European sources.3 The aim of this paper is to examine the situation from the other side — that is, from the point of view of the minority subject community, namely, the Jewish community.There is good reason to assume that matters were seen similarly by the Christians, and perhaps even, on a large number of issues, by the Muslim population of Palestine in their relations with the authorities and with the other communities. A new source that has not yet been studied may shed light on the topic. This new source consists of the original account books of the Jerusalem Jewish community (which was equivalent to the Sephardic community at that time) from the second half of the eighteenth century. Account books of eleven different years from the 1760s to the 1790s (from the Jewish year equivalent to 1760-61 to the equivalent of 1795-96), have recently been discovered,5 including a representative sample from each of the four decades. As far as we know, the Jerusalem Christians had similar account books,6 but these sources have not yet been subjected to scholarly research (neither in Palestine nor in the other Jewish communities of the Ottoman Empire). These account books include not only rich material about the financial administration of the Jewish community in Jerusalem, and about a varied list of topics ranging from demography and taxes to pilgrimages and everyday life,7 but also extremely important information about the various branches of the Ottoman regime and about the local Arab population — mainly as concerns its relations with the Jewish community. While the official Ottoman sources and the Sijill describe the formal aspect of the contacts that the Ottoman subjects had with the administrative and religious branches of the government, the Jewish account books add a great deal about actual everyday life. This unofficial contact could not be described fully in any formal documentation, as the account books under discussion contain a detailed listing not only of the legal taxes paid by the Jews to the authorities, and the names of the functionaries and their many assistants who collected them, but also a complete listing of gifts, bribes and extorted payments given to these people, and the many officials who accepted them. In fact, some of these payments became official taxes over the course of the years — part of the “unwritten law” — and the rights to these payments were occasionally bequeathed to the officials’ heirs. As a result some of the payments were even listed in the official sources,8 but many of them — especially the bribes and the extortions — were never listed in any official or unofficial source, and there were indeed a very great many of them, as we shall see.

The account books also contain an exact listing of the loans the Jews took from the Moslems and the debts they returned to them (as well as a few to and from the Christians) and to the agents of the authorities in Jerusalem. This phenomenon, which has been known for some time from various sources and from the research literature, is supported by the present source material. We thus have a source that realistically describes the everyday life of a minority community in a provincial Ottoman city in the second half of the eighteenth century. The picture that emerges from the account books is not a particularly happy one. These sources constitute to a great extent history “as it really was” (“wie es eigentlich gewesen“), in Ranke’s words. The account books contain many names of Arab rulers and families, terms for taxes and expressions, some of which are not known from any other source. The language of the account books is Hebrew, studded with many Ladino, Turkish and Arabic expressions. The writing is in Hebrew letters, with the Turkish and Arabic expressions spelled phonetically, which sometimes makes it difficult to identify these expressions.

One may ask whether and to what extent this new source confirms the theses of the scholars that were presented above, and what it adds to that which we already know. We will attempt to answer these questions here.

The Jews in Jerusalem in the second half of the eighteenth century numbered about 3,000, out of a total population of about 12,000-15,000.9 The Jerusalem community (as well as the other small Jewish communities in Palestine) had a different structure and life style from that of all the other Jewish communities in the world at that time. From a demographic viewpoint, the Jerusalem community included a large number of old men and women who had immigrated to Eretz Israel in their old age. Most of the Jews in Jerusalem in the eighteenth century were descendants of Jews who had been expelled from Spain — not necessarily descendants of Jews who had immigrated directly to Palestine at the time of the expulsion, but of those who had immigrated to Turkey or the Balkans. The replacement of the Jewish population in Palestine was very high, due to the fact that there were always many Jews immigrating to Palestine and many leaving the country. The fact that a large proportion of the immigrants were old led to a lack of genealogical continuity in the Jewish settlement.

There were also a small number of Ashkenazic, Mugrabi and Karaite Jews in Jerusalem at this time, but the Jerusalem community, or “the whole community of the Holy City of Jerusalem, may it be speedily rebuilt in our days,” as it was called in Jewish sources, was essentially the Sephardic community, with all the others subject to it in the period under discussion. The Sephardic community had already become dominant in Jerusalem in the sixteenth century, and during the course of the seventeenth century the Must’ariba (the local Jews who had lived in Palestine for many generations) and the Eastern and Mugrabi Jews who lived there were assimilated into the Sephardic community, which thus essentially became the Jerusalem Jewish community.10 The Ashkenazic Jews preserved a separate community structure until the destruction of their community in 1720, in the well-known episode where they became embroiled in heavy debts.11

The most significant difference between Jerusalem and other Jewish communities in the period under discussion was the source of income of the individuals in the community. Most of the eighteenth-century Jerusalem Jews did not support themselves by doing any sort of work, but lived off capital. Many of them had left some sort of fund in their community of origin before immigrating to Palestine, and they lived for the rest of their lives off the interest from this money, which was sent to them from the diaspora. They also enjoyed tax exemptions in Jerusalem in return for making an agreement to bequeath all or part of these funds to the Istanbul Committee of Officials for Palestine. Thus after their death these funds were devoted to the benefit of the Jerusalem community.

The recently discovered account books show us that many of the long-time Jewish residents of Jerusalem invested their money in a fund in the Jerusalem community itself rather than in their community of origin, and also lived off the interest from this fund. Many of the people who lended or bequeathed their funds to the community were old people without any heirs in the city. The funds they invested in the community were actually their source of income, and after their death part of the funds were transferred to the community coffers. The sums often amounted to several thousand qurush, but some of the funds were much smaller. In addition, all the property and capital of the Jews who died without heirs in the city were transferred to the community coffers according to a special by-law.12

The system of investment funds that turned into bequests on the death of the investor was not new in Jerusalem as a source of income for the community and the individuals. It is known to have existed during the Mameluke period,13 but it was most highly developed during the seventeenth to nineteenth centuries. In the sixteenth century — the first century of Ottoman rule — most of the Jerusalem Jews still earned their livelihood by working, and took part in the economic development of the Ottoman Empire.14

The system of living off the interest from loans and bequest funds (hekdesh) was highly developed in the eighteenth century as a result of the activities of the “Istanbul Officials” (founded 1726), who organized the Jewish community and placed it on a sound financial footing.15 It should be noted that this activity was supported by the central Ottoman regime in Istanbul, the heads of government in the cities of the Syrian province (such as Damascus and Sidon) and the local government in Jerusalem, since all of them benefited from this financial and organizational system. Examination of the account books not only supports our existing knowledge about this system, but broadens this knowledge in both realistic and technical aspects. The Christian churches and monasteries in Jerusalem had a similar system of financial adminstration based on funds and bequests from the time of the Crusades, and this too influenced the development of the system in the Palestine Jewish communities.16

The account books shed new light on the way the Jerusalem Jews lived off their capital and on the fact that the Jerusalem Jewish community functioned in practice as a financial institution — as a bank and a savings and loan association.17 The community received funds for investment and took out loans for very high sums of money. The loans were given to the community not only by the Jews living in Jerusalem and by new immigrants, but also by the Ottoman authorities, the Arabs (mostly the Muslims, with a small number of Christians as well). The community paid all its creditors an annual interest, and every year it returned part of the loans from the money in the funds and borrowed new sums of money in their place. In the eighteenth century the community received massive sums of money from Jews in the diaspora and from pilgrims, in the form of occasional donations or fixed contributions. The donations were received both through emissaries sent abroad by the community and through the “Istanbul Officials.”18 All these constituted income that permitted the community to disburse large sums of money not only as taxes but also as bribes or presents to government officials. The community also used some of this income to lend money to people in need, to pay salaries and to run the public institutions and the everyday activities of the community. The way the community was run as a financial institution is discussed at length elsewhere. Here the focus is on the way the community dealt with matters relating to the government and the local population.

The Jerusalem community’s administrative system, as reflected in its account books, required daily contact with dozens of rulers, government officials, and their assistants on various levels, as well as a variety of agents. This continual contact required great effort, planning, strategy and tactics, and it certainly cost a lot of money. It is clear from the entries in the account books that this work was not easy, and that the community officers were forced to pay or bribe dozens of functionaries almost every week or every month. This work was done by more than one person, and several community officers had to cool their heels in government offices, in the houses of the notables and their assistants, and even in the streets, at the entrances to the offices. Although there were one or two officials of the Jerusalem community whose job it was to maintain this continual contact with the branches of the government,19 it is clear from the account books that they were assisted in this task by various sorts of agents, both Jews and Arabs.

From the lists of the government officials and the sums of money that were paid to the authorities and the local notables, we can learn a great deal about the hierarchy of authority in Jerusalem (at least in its treatment of minorities) and about the Arab families that filled the central positions in the city. Here we will discuss three principal issues relating to the community’s contacts with the authorities and the local population:


  1. Who were the officials that the community maintained contact with for their own interests, and what was their degree of importance?
  2. For what, when, and how much did the Jews pay them taxes and bribes, in cash and in kind?
  3. What were the community’s debts?


The Authorities, the Establishment and the Assistants

In his description of the structure of the government, the administration, the judiciary system and the notables in Jerusalem in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries, Manna’20 lists the people with the most important positions and their assistants in great detail. He distinguishes their areas of authority and their status according to the way they were appointed and their documents of appointment. Manna’ and Abu Manneh21 both believe that the leading figure in Jerusalem in the second half of the eighteenth century was Naqib al-Ashraf, who is generally considered to have belonged to the Husseini family. Other people with important positions in the city belonged to the noted Jerusalem family of Efendiyat. Among the notables there were two groups that are not always distinguishable: The Ayan (the notables) and the‘Ulema (the religious men). Many scholars believe that in the period under discussion the status of the noted families in Jerusalem rose in comparison with that of the government people who were sent to the city from elsewhere, and also in comparison with the central government in Damascus and Istanbul. The families listed by scholars as having risen in status in Jerusalem in the second half of the eighteenth century include the following: the Husseini family, which became the most important family in Jerusalem at that time (including Naqib al-Ashraf, the Hanafi Mufti, and others); the Khalidi family, which was second in importance, and whose members held positions in the Shar’i court and the judiciary system; the Jarallah family (Abu al-Latif); the al-Jamma’i family (al-Khatib); the al-‘Alami family; the al-Dajani family; the Abu al-Su’ud family; the al-Imam family and the al-Badiri family. Finally, there were the Sheikhs of the villages around Jerusalem, who apparently also had some importance in the relations with the Jerusalem Jews, and the Ottoman government representative in the village area, the Subashi.22

Our intention is to compare this ruling hierarchy with the list of government members, officials and judges with whom the Jews were in daily contact. This will help us discover the actual hierarchy, as opposed to the formal one, as it was perceived by a minority group. Another intention is to find out how much money and other sorts of presents were received by the various functionaries and notables, as this too can attest to their actual importance. Most of the newly discovered account books preserve the same order in their listing of the hierarchy, but there are also some differences among them. Some of these differences are probably the result of chance, but I believe that others are not. The account books also list the names of some functionaries that are not mentioned by scholars, and these functionaries had important positions, at least as far as the Jews were concerned. It should be noted that the titles used by the Jews for the government officials, as well as the names of the taxes and duties, are not always identical with the formal ones.

Here is a list of the government and administrative officials according to a representative sample of the account books: In the first book, from the years 1760/61-1762/3,23the listing is sometimes not in correct order. A page or two is missing at the beginning, and since the first listing is an account of payments to the ruling officials it is possible that the name of the Damascus Vali and the sum of the payments tendered to him have been lost, since these are listed first in the other account books. The first name listed is the Mulla (the Kadi), and only afterwards the Mutesellim (the mayor of the city). This order is somewhat surprising, but it may not be accidental, since there was some instability in the city at that time, and the Jewish population also suffered as a result.24 Afterwards are the “individual expenses” (which in the later account books are called “bribes for individual Gentiles”) and here dozens of names are listed, including officials, Ayan, and people in charge of specific tasks and of the holy places. These people received large and varied sums of money, partly “upfront” payments such as the musahere tax, and partly bribes and presents. This is followed by payments to the Ayanes (the Ladino plural of Ayan, notables). Among these were people in a variety of positions — clerics, many sheikhs, and assistants to the authorities, such as the Mufti and the Bash Khatib, whose names appear in the account book incorrectly spelled. Actually they all appear under the title Ayanes — officials, clerics, notables (the ‘Ulema and the Ayan), and their many assistants — all mixed together without any distinction among the various types of people. Among those listed as Ayanes are also the commander of the infantry, who is clearly the Aga Yenicerlyaran, and the “Subashis,” who were appointed over the villages by the army and the police. An important section among the institutional members are those appointed over the Awkaf (the Mutawalli), from whom the community leased or rented various real-estate properties. It is interesting to note that the payment to these people was listed according to the Muslim years (1175, 1176, and so on).

Since the list in the first account book does not appear in a logical order, there follow some sections on expenses paid to Jews. Afterwards there is an account for “sugar” payments — that is, actual sugar or its monetary equivalent, which was given on holidays to the government heads and officials (Bayramlik). This is a section that includes a considerable amount of the community’s expenses, and once more dozens of recipients are listed, such as “the Bash Kassab on the Tabernacles holiday for the sugar” (sugar for the person responsible for the slaughterhouse on the Tabernacles holiday, the Mutawalli), “for Hasan Seyyid on the birth of a son,” although we do not know what his position was, “Tufekci Bashi,” and others.

Later in the list are the Arab creditors, to whom the community repaid sums of principal and interest on loans. Most of these creditors had the title of Sheikh or Seyyid (a type of Ayan): “Sheikh Ahmet Mukit, Abdul Khadir Kutup, Sheikh Hasan Jauni, Seyyid Khalil Fathidin al-Shawa, Hussein Pasha,” and others (the writing in the source is illegible). Then there suddenly appears, in the middle of a list of various payments to Jews, “payment for Abu Kun filaheen Silwan,” that is, a payment to the peasants in the village of Silwan, which funeral corteges passed through on their way to the Mount of Olives. In the accounts of “polisas” payments (promissory notes) from Istanbul to the Jerusalem yeshivas, several Arab notables received commissions and sweets for taking care of the policy payments (“Muhamad Kutini for this year, Khalil Numeir and son for this year” and others).

During these years (1760/61-1762/3) there were constant communications between the community and the authorities concerning the building and extension of the Talmud Torah Synagogue in the city. This filled the account books with many names of people in the government and the judiciary, as well as notables and their assistants, down to the lowest levels. All these people received considerable sums of money to pave the way for obtaining a firman for building the synagogue, leasing the land, buying building materials, and the like. Here are some examples of items on the list: “Sheikh ‘Ali of Mahkeme” (the Sheikh of the court), “for the artisans and workers in building the courtyard,” “boards” and “nails” (!). Later in the account book, again in the middle of other sorts of payments, the list of expenses for building the synagogue continues, under the title “Account of the payments for the building of the Talmud Torah Synagogue”: “wide boards,” “kahweci” (coffee-server), “the Mufti,” “the Kahya,” “Subashi,” “Bashi Cokadar,” “servants,” “for Sheikh Ibrahim,” “for Sheikh ‘Ali Khatib,” “the Mulla’s Turjuman (interpreter),” “for Jiralla’s sons,” “for the Sheikh Azidin, the servants of the “Aga Yenicerlyaran,” “Al-Mokit, who is Musa Ja’ush (guard),” “for the governor’s servants, the Khatib (scribe) and the Tercuman (interpreter)” and much much more. It should be noted that the title “Naqib” does not appear in the account book from the 1760s, although it is possible that one of the people mentioned above from the Jarallah family held this position.

Later in the account book there is a list of names of the members of the community who paid the cizye tax. This tax was paid by individuals at the end of the year 1760/61 (that is, in September 1761) for the year 1761/62. Large sums are attached to the names of the individuals in this list — sums that the community paid out of its own coffers for arranging the cizye (or the harac, as it is called in the account books). These sums, paid by the community, were not part of the tax itself, which was paid, as mentioned, by the individual members of the community, and for some reason was listed in the account book for this year, possibly because it was collected by the community. The people who received these sums were again the government officials and their assistants. Some examples are: “for the trader Haj Barakat, as is customary, to shut his mouth,” “for the cizye contract, given to A’li Effendi,” “for the servant Jerallah, as is customary,” “for Mustafa Aga,” “the sarraf (moneychanger),” “theHaracero (the cizye official),” and others.

The first account book, as mentioned, is not very well organized. The later books, starting from the year 1776/77, are better organized, following a more consistent order, but there are also some differences among these later books. For example, the account book of 1776/7725 begins its list of tax and bribe recipients with the Damascus Vali, who is called “the minister” or “the Damascus minister.” After him comes the Mutesellim, who is called “the governor.” In most of the account books there are two governors listed, and I believe that the reason for this is that the Mutesellim was replaced in the middle of the year (nearly every year). This made it necessary to pay both of them, as well as their respective assistants, which increased the community’s expenses.

Next on the hierarchy in the orderly account books is the Kadi, who is always listed in the books as the Mulla. Occasionally there is also a payment listed “for the new Na’ib” — that is, the replacement of the assistant Kadi in the middle of the year necessitated an increase in the payments. The next section is for “individual Gentiles,” and this list is particularly long. It involved dozens and sometimes even hundreds of small payments throughout the year to officials, assistants, agents, servants and all sorts of other people who worked for the community. Some examples are: “for the sick sheikh,” payment of bills, cizye agents, servants, functionaries’ children, peasants in Silwan (for the right of funeral corteges to pass through on their way to the Mount of Olives), for ziyara (pilgrimage) to Rachel’s Tomb, fixed payments that had become customary, “for the cemetery,” the heads of the Awqaf (the Mutawalli), “for the bathhouse,” “for Seyyid Musa ‘Alami and his son, the leader of the Muharam” (that is, in charge of the Temple Mount), “a bill for clothes, as is customary, for Musa the brother of Abdullah,” the Muhtasib (the person in charge of the markets), the Naqib’s guards, the Dizdar, Sheikh Abu Ghosh, and many others. These payments are listed under the title “individual Gentiles” in this account book, while in other books they are listed under “bribes to individual Gentiles.”

Although the following section, which lists many similar payments to functionaries and their assistants, is headed by the title “Payments for Jews,” many of the recipients are actually non-Jews. These are payments for various services performed by Arabs and Ottoman officials for individual Jews rather than for the community as a whole, but the community was forced to pay commissions and bribes for these services as well. Thus, for example, in 1776/77 the community paid for the permission to bring in pilgrims (“guests”), and for runners who brought the news that the pilgrims’ ships had arrived at Jaffa and Ramla. One interesting expense in this same year was the high sum of “117 qurush and five para, a payment for expelling from Jerusalem the wife of Kimhi, called Ora, a prostitute, as is seen at the end of the account book.”

The next group of payments consists of money given to the heads of the Waqf. Here the payments are generally for rent and for leasing of land rather than bribes. They are ordered according to the names of the Waqfs and their heads. In the section dealing with store rental and home improvements there are not only rental payments but also presents and bribes for the agents who took care of these matters. These are listed quite explicitly: “15 qurush bribe for Abdul Wahab in secret,” “2 roteles kahwa[weights of coffee] for the Sheikhs,” and the like.

At the time of the payment of the tax on wine, called hamare’a, tens of qurush were distributed to all the senior officials and their assistants, with each of them receiving only a small sum. The guards were next in line, receiving both salary and presents, especially on Jewish and Muslim holidays.

The most important section is entitled “the Ayanes,” that is, the notables. This is actually the monthly musahere tax. Here there is a detailed list of the notables who received the tax, as well as presents and bribes, and their assistants. Some of them have their positions listed next to their names, but in other cases only the names are listed. In the year 1776/77 the list is as follows: the old Naqib Seyyid Abdullah, the new Naqib of the Jeralla family, the sons of the Naqib, Sheikh Muhamad Dahudi, the commander of the Janissaries and his servants, Suleyman ibn Subhi, Sheikh Ibrahim Dahudi, Sadiq Maymar, the sons of Sheikh Ahmet Mukit, Sallah Bey, Seyyid Ahmet A’li Bey, the sons of Sheikh Ikhsin, Seyyid Khalil Dahudi, Sheikh Isbih, Sheikh Abu al-‘Ulla, the Mufti, Sallah Bey, the Mutawalli (the administrator of the Waqf), Seyyid Hubi, “Subashes,” Sheikh Khara, Haj A’li Ja’ush, the son of Pitayani, Ahmet Jeralla, and another sheikh whose name is illegible. All in all the list for the year 1776/77 includes 24 Ayan (notables), not to speak of their dozens of assistants and relatives.

Many of the same names are repeated on the lists of the recipients of sugar, in kind and in cash, with the addition of the names of many minor officials and their assistants, forming an almost endless list. All these people enjoyed the sweet fruits of government.

The account books of the eighties and the nineties contain very similar lists. One example was chosen from each decade to illustrate the similarity. The list from the year 1784/8526 is as follows: After the Damascus Vali (“Governor Dervish Pasha,” and at the end of the account-book, “the Damascus governor”) there is the Mutesellim(“Governor Abdullah Bey and his men”). Afterwards there is an interesting notation: “Payment to Umar Aga, the Aga Yenicerlyaran, who is the governor.” Thus we can clearly see how, in the middle of the year, the commander of the Janissaries, who was generally not listed at the top of the hierarchy in the list of recipients of money (but rather among the Ayan), attained the high position of Mutesellim. Next on the list is the Kadi (called the “Mulla” in the account books), without a name; then “bribes for individual Gentiles”; then “payments for individual Jews,” that is, payments which the community gave to the authorities and its branches on behalf of individual Jews.

Next there is “Sugar for the Ayan every month” and sugar for the Muslims on their two holidays (the Muslim New Year and the end of the month of Ramadan). In the section on the sugar there is an interesting note: “As it appears in the sugar account book, the names are listed one by one.” This tells us about the way the account books were kept: They were copied and put together from various specific account books kept by various officials in the community who took care of different issues and payments. Considering the hundreds of people who received payments and the dozens of different taxes and types of bribes and other payments, this was an efficient way for administering the financial business of the community: Writing down the payments in separate account books for each area and then having the secretary in the community office put them all together into one general account book. This illustrates the complex bureaucracy that was involved in running the Jewish community in an Ottoman city.

In the account book for the year 1784/85 the section on sugar is followed by a list of the Ayan (notables) who received payments, in this order (some listed by name and others only by title or position): The Naqib (without a name), A’li Bey, Sidi Hovi, the Mufti, Jeralla, the Ja’ush (guards), the hamariya (tax on wine), the kismet (burial taxes),kudumiye (advances) to the new guards (they were changed in the middle of the year), Sheikh al-Hara, the Subashi (commander of the army in the villages), the governor (the commander of the Janissaries, who received additional sums when he was appointed Mutesellim, as mentioned above), Salih Bey, the Mutawalli (administrator of the Waqf), the sons of Sheikh Ahmet Mukit, Sheikh Isbih, Dervish Mibuluyari, ‘Abu al ‘Ula, Muhamad Dahudi, and Khalid Dahudi. All these were in the eighties.

We will now consider some examples from the account books of the nineties. In the year 1791/9227 the first person listed is the governor of Damascus: “His Excellence Ahmet Pasha al-Jazzar, who did not come from the Holy City.” After him comes the Mutesellim, “As’ad Bey and his men.” The Mutesellim was apparently not replaced that year, as a second governor is not listed. The next person on the list is the Kadi. In the “bribes” section there is a list of about thirty men who received money every month. Then comes “the expenses for Jewish individuals,” which also includes many people in government and administration and their assistants. This is followed by the sugar payments. Then there is a list of the Ayan (notables) who received payments, including the musahere tax, in the following order: “The Naqib and his men, the Mufti and his men, the sons of Jarallah, Salih Bey and his men, Chaush Abd al-Qadir, the Subashis, Sheikh al-Kara, the Aga Yenicerlyaran (Janissary officer), ‘Ali Bey, and Isbih.” Afterwards are listed the recipients of the hamarea tax (on wine): the Kadi, the Naqib, the Kahya, Sheikh Mahmud and his brother Ahmet Bey, the new Mutawalli,members of the Jarallah family, Sheikh Ahmet Mukit, Sheikh ‘Abu A’li Mulla, Khalil Dahudi, and Zako Musa. Next is a list of payments accompanying the harac (the cizye) and the payment of the harac itself. Then come the payments to the Waqf, with a detailed list of the families and the functionaries who took care of the different awkaf, from whom the Jews rented real estate: Jarallah, Bash Katib (the head clerk of the Shi’ite court), Wahabi … (?), Hasan Bey, Mehmet Bey, the Turi men, Tajo and Badir Idin. Also mentioned are the Mutawalli of the following places, for which the community paid rent to the Waqf: the ‘Umara, the Western Wall, the wall of the Sunina courtyard, the orphans of Darakh, Sheikh Kara’s store, the Derwish Miwligi and the Waqf Dizdar. Later in this account book there are further lists of men who received bribes and other payments for moneychanging, interest and the repayment of debts (which will be discussed later).

In the account books for the nineties there were no significant changes in the order of the lists. We will consider the last account book to be discovered, the one from the year 1795/96.28 According to this account book the Vali of Damascus had been replaced and was no longer Ahmet Pasha al-Jazzar, but “His Excellency Abdullah Pasha, who is his son.” Next on the list is the first Mutesellim, who is later mentioned by name as Ahmet Aga. Afterwards is the Mutesellim who replaced him in that year, Kasim Bey, who was appointed only towards the end of the Jewish year, in Av (August). Then the Kadi is listed, and “bribes for individual Gentiles.” In this list we also find a number of new names. To illustrate this, I present the entire list for one month: Dahudi, the sheikhs of the cemeteries, Mahmud Muhamad, Ibrahim Muhamad, Abu Maryam [Maraq?], Abdul Wahab, Mustafa the convert [from Judaism to Islam!], Sheikh Suleyman Dahudi, Amumar ibn Sadiq, the vezir Haj Ibrahim Jibli, the Mufti Mehmet Aga, Indi, the Dizdar (who was ill and received a present), fellahin, Helva, to Subhi’s son, Sheikh Ibrahim Dahudi and his son, Abu Jalon, Murat Aga’s son, Hassan Kurdo, themuhtasib (the person in charge of the markets), and Abu al-Hir.

Afterwards there are the community’s expenses for services to Jews: for rental, pilgrims, taxes and bribes. Next comes the list of monthly sugar recipients with a new title: “Payment of sugar in rotals: the governor and the Naqib and the lords of the land, for Tishri (September)….” Among the recipients are the Aga Yenicerlyaran, the Kaqib and many sheikhs: Faydi, Haram, Sheikh Hubi, Ali Shihabi, Ibn Abu, Dahudi Muhamed Badir, Sallah Yaziji (who was ill), Salih Bey, Abu Ali Jauni, Jarallah’s sons, “the Mufti, who had [a son] born to him,” “Abdul al-Nagib, who had [a son] born to him,” Salih Ramdan (coffee and sugar), Abd al-Latif [of the Jeralla family], Ali Bey, another Mufti called Atrash (“who had [a son] born to him”), Salih Numar (“as is customary,” meaning that he was accustomed to receiving this amount), Waffa ‘Alami, Kasim Bey, Muhamad Rejib Khatib, Governor Abu Maraq (!), Ja’ush (guards), Salih Bey, the sarraf Hayyim Farhi, and Seyyid Hubi’s son.

In this account book from the mid-nineties there appear for the first time the names of some famous people who played an important role in the life of the city at the turn of the century: Governor Abu Maraq, whose personality was extensively described by Manna’;29 the Jew Hayyim Farhi, who was Ahmed al-Jazzar Pasha’s Sarraf in Acre,30 a very well-known figure in the history of Palestine during this period; and many new families joining the circle of noted families to whom the Jews paid large sums of money. These families — Husseini, A’lami, Khatib — have been of great importance in the history of Jerusalem in the nineteeth and twentieth centuries. It seems, then, that the historians who dealt with this issue31 dated the rise of these new families somewhat earlier than the time of their actual rise to power, as the account books attest that they reached positions of importance only in the last decade of the eighteenth century. (The Nashabibi and Khalidi families are not mentioned at all in the eighteenth-century account books.)

Later in the list of notables (Ayan) in the last account book, from the year 1795/96, there are the guards, without names, Sheikh al-Hara (for various services), theSubashi, Sallah Bey and his son Kasim, the Jarallah family, Seyyid Hubi, ‘Ali Bey, the governor, Isbih, and Abu Su’ud. Many of these men, as well as others, also received money in the lists of the hamare’a, the harac (cizye) payments, the awqaf officials, interest and debt repayments.

From these lists we can see that, at least for the Jews, the formal hierarchy was preserved for the payments and the order in which the people were listed in the account books: The Vali, the Mutesellim, and the Kadi head the list, followed by the Ayan. The Naqib, who is described in the literature as the central figure in the city, is not listed among the leaders, although he is included as an important person in the list of notables. Even the amounts of money that were paid, which will be discussed later, reflect the same hierarchy.

There were thus hundreds of people with whom the Jews had daily contact and to whom they paid sums of money every year. The senior officials received very large sums of money, since they received money not only from the Jews but also from the Christians and the Muslims who required their services. The junior officials received smaller sums, but even these amounts were not inconsiderable, and they were, after all, in addition to their salaries. But the account books also attest to the continual trend of disintegration of the central government and the rise to power of the provincial rulers and the notables, as presented by the historians quoted at the beginning of this discussion.

The account books also provide evidence for the way a minority community managed to survive and maintain their form of life and their routines while maneuvering among the formal authorities, the local notables and their many assistants. They simply paid all of them, and paid them a lot. This required a great deal of money, which they obtained both as donations from Jews in the diaspora and through their method of administration of the community as a financial institution, taking loans from Jews and non-Jews in the city and receiving many legacies from Jews who came to live in Jerusalem or who were already living there.

It is clear that the Jews were very well aware of the power struggles among the various branches of the government and the local leadership, and that they tried to maintain good relations with all of them. From the standpoint of the payments it is evident that the external authorities still held greater power than the local notables. As far as the local elite was concerned, we have already seen that the new families which were to reach a senior position in Jerusalem in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries had not yet risen to power in the eighteenth century. The most prominent family in the account-book lists is the Jeralla family, whose position apparently declined only in the nineteenth century, when the Husseini family rose to prominence, together with the Nashabibi, Khalidi and ‘Alami families.

The account books also reflect the changes in the rulers of Damascus and Jerusalem, who were appointed annually by the Ottomans. The eighties witnessed the first appearance of the name of Ahmed al-Jazzar Pasha, one of the most important people to rule in Syria and Palestine in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.32The nineties saw the emergence of the important figures Abu Maraq and Hayyim Farhi. The contacts between the Jewish leaders (and probably the Christian leaders as well) and the administration and notables were daily, intensive and very personal. What we see here is not a formal relationship between a ruling power and its subjects, in which the subjects pay their taxes and receive protection, but continual visits to government offices and bureaucrats’ homes with respect to all sorts of issues, large and small, where the payments constitute merely the external facet of the picture. During these visits of the Jewish leaders to homes and offices personal ties were forged with hundreds of Arab families. The Jews brought the Arabs presents on joyous occasions and paid condolence visits at times of bereavement. They knew many details of their personal lives, and this informal side of the relations between them is also apparent from the account books.

We can also learn a great deal here about the technical operation of an urban bureaucracy in an Ottoman province, and not only as it concerned the Jews. This system, which is detailed so minutely in the account books, also operated in the relations between the local and the central governmental bureaucracies,33 the latter being located in the provincial capitals (in this case, Damascus) and the central capital (Istanbul). Here too the Jerusalem government and notables were required to pay large sums in presents and bribes to many of their superiors. What is involved, then, is a comprehensive system in the Ottoman Empire during the eighteenth century, a system embodying corruption and degeneration.


The Payments

In the previous section of the paper we dealt mainly with the question of which leaders and notables of the Jerusalem province the Jewish community had daily contact with. In this section we will examine the nature of these contacts, and particularly the amounts of money the community paid to each branch of the government and to the city notables, and for what purposes. In order to simplify the discussion, a detailed table arranged by year has been prepared [see printed copy of this article]. The table allows us to make comparisons among the functionaries, among the years and among the various purposes for which the money was disbursed by the community. Of course, each payment to an individual and each tax was actually divided among dozens of additional people who were dependent on the head of the system. Unfortunately I was unable to obtain orderly annual figures from the first account-book for the years 1760/61-1762/63, as the records are mixed up, so I used the material in it without entering it into the table.



The first point of interest in the table is the percentage of the budget comprised by the community’s payments to the government. The largest sums of money that were disbursed, aside from the payments to government branches, were for debt repayments (principal), interest to Gentiles and Jews (including interest on conditional bequests), salaries for community workers and running expenses (such as support for the poor). According to the table the government received about a third of the entire budget, in taxes, bribes and presents. Towards the end of the century the percentage given to the government decreased, while the percentages of interest and debt repayment increased sharply. The hierarchy is reflected in the payments by the fact that the government officials and their assistants received more money than the notables and their dependents. This indicates, in my opinion, that in the period under discussion the formal government was still more powerful than the Ayan, at least in the relations with minorities. The Vali and the Mutasellim received sums adding up to thousands of qurush annually, while the Kadi received much less — only a few hundred qurush. In contrast, all the notables together received about a thousand qurush per year, even though there was a much larger number of people involved.

The payments are listed in the account books according to the recipients, with a clear and detailed division among the purposes of the payments: taxes, presents, expenses and bribes. As mentioned, the recipients included not only the heads of the various government branches but also their dependents both large and small, with the more important people receiving more money. Since these sources give us a very realistic picture which clearly illustrates the way the system worked, I will give some examples from the account book for the year 1784/85.41 The sums received by the Damascus Vali are listed as follows (the names of the taxes and levies are not always the same as the formal names listed in Ottoman documents):

The sancakiya (Sancak taxes) which were given in advance to Governor Darwish Pasha:

565 sancakiya to the above-mentioned
600 customary ashlik to the governor
40 for the Ghafar when he came, to shut his mouth when he asked when they were searching for Benveniste 
565 sancakiya, the second time when he did not perform a favor 
424.10 payment for the governor’s men, as can be seen in another account book in precise detail 
2194.10 qurush, in sum

The section of payments to the Vali also includes additional smaller payments that were given to his servants and assistants. While the payments to the Vali were annual payments (or semi-annual, when the Vali extorted additional sums), the listing of sums to the functionaries was on a monthly basis, in parallel to the monthly tax called themusahere.

We can see from the table that there were generally two Mutesellim (mayors) each year, as the holder of this position was replaced nearly every year, generally in the summer. Since the payments to the Mutesellim were organized on a monthly basis, there was apparently some continuity between one mayor and the next. An example of this is provided by the following selection of payments to the Mutesellim listed for the year 1784/85:

The payments for Governor Abdallah Bey and his men from the beginning of Tishri of the year 1784/85 (September-October 1784):

52.20 For Governor Ashlek (a present) for the Tabernacles holiday
3 The governor’s servants
15.20 Expenses for the Bayram’s visit at the end of the holiday
3 Selim’s servants and the harac (cizye) clerks
7.20 Mustafa Aga, the old (previous) mayor
3 The translation clerk, as mentioned

The list continues in this way with many names and many details. Later we find smaller sums and fewer people with the Kadi. The section containing the most individuals, but with very small amounts for each individual, is the one titled “bribes for individual Gentiles.” Here is an example from the account book for 1784/85:

Bribes for individual Gentiles:

1.20 For the sheikhs of the cemetery
1.20 For Sheikh Mehmet Dahudi for [removing] the slaughterhouse garbage
2.20 Guarantor for a suit when a Mulla rented to a Jew and there was damage
3 For Mustafa the convert [from Judaism to Islam]
1.30 For Haj Musa Numar who was ill
3.20 For Abd al-Razik for a loan
2.20 For Sheikh Suleyman Dahudi for the garbage from the synagogue that was thrown under his window
22 Halva for the Gentiles
2.10 For the muhtasib, a payment and for fruit

Later, under the expenses “for individual Jews,” there are listed sums that the community paid for the benefit of individual Jews:

5.20 For the Western Wall, where the women go, to the sheikh of the Mugrabis
18.30 A runner to Damascus with letters for Basra, may God protect them
100 For Sallah Bey and Naib and Bash Khatib, for a suit for the new cemetery, to shut their mouths for the present

It seems that reading these short citations from the account books gives one a concrete picture not only of the purposes for which the community disbursed money, but also of the way the system worked. Every step in the community’s daily life involved contact with some ruler or official or their servants, and each of these steps required some sort of payment, sometimes large, sometimes very small.

The section on the Waqf is neither tax nor bribery, but the rental of property from the various Muslim Awqaf in Jerusalem. The account books contain a detailed listing of all the properties and the annual sums that were paid for them, as well as the person in charge of them (the mutawalli). The entries in the account books were sometimes written according to the Muslim year, as the bills and contracts were prepared for use in the Muslim court. The properties involved included private houses, public buildings, cemetery plots and synagogues:

The awqaf payments given during the year:

For the Waqf of the Kadi, Hassan Bey
3 for the above for Heshvan (November)
2.10 Kislev (December)
4.05 Shevat (February)
7.20 Muhamad Bey in advance
18.15 Heshvan (November)
Waqf Disdar
3.30 Tishri (October)…
Waqf Jarallah

In this context it is worth mentioning the extension of the Talmud Torah synagogue, as we see it from the account book for the years 1760-63. It is well-known that the building of new synagogues was forbidden by Muslim law, but it was permitted to renovate the old ones. Although we know that many new synagogues were built in Ottoman Empire, and that this was done with the agreement of the authorities and sometimes even by finding legal solutions under Muslim law, the present case of Jerusalem in the 1760s shows exceptionally clearly how this was accomplished. What was involved here was the extension of an existing synagogue, not the building of a new one. From the end of the Mameluke period there had been one synagogue in Jerusalem, which was called The Great Synagogue during the Ottoman period. In the seventeenth century the Jews started using the land next to one of its walls, and they gradually converted it from a covered study hall into a second synagogue called Talmud Torah.42 By the end of the eighteenth century, with the increase in Jewish immigrants and pilgrims to Jerusalem, these two synagogues had grown into four synagogues attached to one another in one complex.43 It seems that this was made possible by the leasing of additional plots of land from the Awqaf or private owners and using the existing walls, so that this was not considered by the authorities to be the construction of a new building. All this obviously involved a great deal of lobbying, bureaucracy and the payment of very large sums of money to officials of all levels and their assistants, from Istanbul through Damascus to Jerusalem.

The extension of the Talmud Torah synagogue, which was accomplished in stages over a period of several years beginning in the 1750s, can be followed quite well by examining the account books of the years 1760-63, as well as some other documents.44 First they needed to obtain a firman, then to lease the additional area, then to buy building materials (boards, nails, etc.). Large sums of money (many thousands of qurush), both legal expenses and bribes or presents, were required to pave the way for building the extension. Besides the daily meetings within the city, the process involved widespread correspondence among the Jerusalem Jewish community, the Istanbul Jewish community and government branches outside of Jerusalem, all of which are mentioned in the account book. We can learn a great deal from this about how the Ottoman bureaucracy worked in those days, especially how it went about extorting money from its subjects.

A very important section of the annual payments to the government branches and the notables was the sugar section. Most of the sum was given in the monetary equivalent, but part was given in kind (actual bags of sugar) on the two Muslim holidays (Bayramlik), which are listed in the account books as Bayram A and B.45 It seems reasonable to assume that the holidays involved were Id al-Fitr (the end of the Ramadan fast) and Muharram. In this section as well many dozens of people received the money and the sugar. This was not considered bribery, but rather a sort of customary tax.

The section on payments to the Ayan includes miscellaneous sums for various purposes that were paid to dozens of official and their assistants. Other sums were paid for the departure of the Haj caravan to Mecca,46 and for the cizye payment.47 The cizye payment was actually a bribe for various functionaries involved in collecting thecizye tax from the Jerusalem Jews, as the tax itself was paid by the adult males to the government through a special tax-collector and not through the community. It seems that the community’s cizye payment was actually larger than the cizye tax collected from the individuals. In the account book from 1760-63, however, it turns out that, for some reason we don’t know about, it was apparently the community that collected the cizye from the individuals. Thus the account book has left us a rare, complete list of all the Jewish cizye-taxpayers for the year 1761/62, arranged according to the three customary degrees of the tax: low (adna), medium (awsat) and high (‘ala). Next to each name is listed the sum that person paid. The amount paid by about 450 men that year added up to 1872 qurush, while the community added another 1999 qurushas the cizye payment. A careful examination of the account book reveals that during these years more than 700 adult males living in Jerusalem are mentioned. It therefore turns out that the percentage of men who avoided paying the cizye tax was very large. This tells us something interesting about the negligence in the Ottoman tax-collection procedures, as well as illustrating the problems involved in estimating the population by using the number of cizye-taxpayers. The other account books contain only the section on the community’s cizye payment, without the list of the individuals who paid the tax, since the collector was apparently an external agent and not the community.

Among the largest and most important of the taxes and levies paid by the Jerusalem Jewish community were the death tax and the burial tax. These were actually two different types of customary taxes: A death tax paid according to the number of people who had died and a separate burial tax, but I put them together in the table under the joint heading “Death and burial taxes.” The burial tax is listed under its Turkish Arab name “kismet,” which literally means “fate.”48 In addition to the taxes levied in connection with death and burial, the Jews added bribes and other payments to the sheikhs and the Arab villagers through whose territory the funeral cortege had to pass on its way from the city to the cemetery on the Mount of Olives, especially the residents of the village of Silwan.49 The community also had other miscellaneous expenses, such as the purchase of stones for monuments and the bribing of various government officials in connection with the timing of the funerals. An important issue connected with the demographic aspect is the fact that several of the account books list the precise number of individuals in the community for each month of the year. I deal with this matter elsewhere.

Another tax that was not particularly high was the road tax for entering or leaving the city, called the ghafar. This tax was collected at all the cities and roads in Palestine from everyone who entered or left (“guests,” in the language of the account books), as well as from people traveling from one city to another (“passersby”). It was also paid by pilgrims to the ziyara in the holy places. We learn from the account books that this tax was accompanied by secondary taxes that were heretofore unknown from any other source: the “tinkes,”50 whose meaning is unclear; the bahaharis;51 and another tax called Beyt Ikhsa [the name of a village that overlooks the road to Nebi Samuel (the tomb of the Prophet Samuel) near Jerusalem].52 The amounts of these secondary taxes were not particularly large. Some of them were paid by the pilgrims and “guests” themselves, while the community paid additional sums from its coffers.

There is yet another tax for which the Jews paid only a small sum and which is also mentioned for the first time in the account books under discussion. This is a tax on wine, called the hamariye53 in the language of the account books. Even though this tax added up to less than 100 qurush per year, it was given to all the functionaires. It was apparently a symbolic tax due to the Islamic prohibition on drinking wine. The Jews were permitted to produce and consume wine, as they needed it for religious rituals, such as Kiddush at the beginning of the Sabbath and Havdala at its end.

The section labeled “Miscellaneous” in the table includes (although not every year) various sums paid by the Jews for obtaining firmans, payments to the sheikhs, a levy known as the donanma54 (whose nature is unknown to us), as well as a very small sum for the right to take over the estates of Jews who died without heirs in the city. According to a law dating back to the Mameluke period such estates belonged to the government treasury (Beyt al-Nal), so the community had to pay for the right to them. These estates gradually became an important source of income for the community, as there was an increasing number of old people who lived in Jerusalem without heirs in the city. We see from the account books that the lease of the right to take over these estates became purely symbolic during the eighteenth century, since it involved only a minuscule sum. In a formal sense, however, the community was still taking over these estates on the strength of the Mameluke Muslim law which continued to obtain during the Ottoman period, even though in the practical sense it did not entail paying a large sum of money.55

Examining the table can also tell us a number of things about the fluctuations in the amounts of the various payments. The payments increased and decreased over the years without any stability or even any clear trend in the changes that took place. Over the long term, however, there is a clear rising trend, which is especially prominent in the last year for which we have an account book. During this year the sums paid by the community to the authorities and the notables greatly increased its budget. We must remember, of course, that there was inflation then too, and this probably contributed to the increase in the expenses.

In all the years there was a large difference between the amounts the community paid the government and the notables. The changes over the years can be explained by the instability of the government in Palestine. The semi-annual replacement of the mayors in Jerusalem and Damascus also frequently led to changes in the amounts of money collected from the Jews every year. The sharp increase noted in the last account book emphasizes this instability even more strongly, but it is possible that there were other contributing factors that we have not yet found out about. The amounts summarized in the table, which are listed in great detail in the account books, obviously required the community to spend a great deal of its time obtaining the necessary sums of money. Only a small proportion of the money was obtained by internal taxation, with a larger percentage obtained through the system of conditional legacies by Jews, as described above. Most of the money was obtained through loans taken out every year by the government from Jews, Muslims and even to some degree from Christians, in order to cover the community’s deficit. The loans from non-Jews will be discussed in the last section of this essay.


The Debts

Empirical studies undertaken by Gerber56 shows that the profession of lending money at interest was not widespread among the Jews of the Ottoman Empire. On the other hand, various historian have found that the Christian churches and the Jewish community in Jerusalem, like the Muslim residents of the city, borrowed and lent money to one another very intensively, beginning in the seventeenth century.57 It is indeed my view that the Jerusalem Jewish community in the eighteenth century was run like an actual bank, and that the Christian churches in the city were apparently run very similarly. With the Jews this occurred as a result of their transition from productive labor and trade in the sixteenth century to living off donations from the diaspora and the interest from investment funds and legacies of immigrants and veteran members of the community. This change in the community’s economic life occurred as a result of the economic decline of Palestine in general, including Jerusalem, in the late sixteenth century. The decline led to the development of a money market in the city, and not only among the Jews, as an important source of income. The Jewish community financed its many payments to the government and its administrative expenses by taking out loans from non-Jews and by using the money in the investment funds and other loans placed at its disposal by Jews. Most of the community’s loans from non-Jews came from Muslims, with only a small percentage from Christians.

The Jerusalem community’s transformation into a financial institution led to a situation in which from time to time — in periods of crisis or decline in income — the community was unable to keep up the payments on its debts, which increased rapidly due to the high interest rates of about 20 percent per annum on loans from non-Jews. We know of at least two occasions in the eighteenth century when the community became severely entangled in its debts and was unable to repay them. Early in the century, when the Ashkenazic community became entangled in heavy debts, the Sephardic community (i.e., the Jerusalem community) was dragged along with it. The Ashkenazic community disintegrated, with its members leaving the city after the Muslim creditors burned their synagogue in 1720. From that time until the nineteenth century the creditors and their heirs kept the debt statements, achieving a settlement for their repayment only in the nineteenth century. On the other hand, the intervention of the Committee of Istanbul Officials, which was established for this purpose in 1726, helped the Sephardic community solve its debt problem by working out a compromise. The interest on their loans was canceled and the principal, which amounted to 60,000 qurush, was repaid in ten annual installments. These annual payments were called taksit in the Jewish sources, including the account books under discussion here.58

Haim Zeev Hirschberg and Amnon Cohen published similar debt settlements in Jerusalem and Hebron from the 1770s, which had been worked out when the Jewish communities had become entangled in similar difficulties.59 And indeed, the account book from the year 1776/77 includes the entry “taksit” — the annual repayment of the principal on the debt according to the settlement. The sum listed is 9749.29 qurush, with the remainder of the old debt standing at 33427 qurush. The first account book in our possession from the eighties (1783/84) no longer includes this entry in its list of running debt repayments, implying that the debt repayments from the settlement of the seventies had been completed. Moreover, an entry for the repayment of about 3700 qurush for “taksit” is also listed in the account book for the years 1760-63, which implies that there had been another settlement for the repayment of debts that had increased sharply in the fifties. Thus we seem to be confronted with a rather frequent phenomenon, where the cause of the sharp increase in the debt was the difficulty of paying the high rate of interest, which actually amounted to interest on the interest.

It should be noted that in the account books from the eighties there are still some remnants of the repayment of old debts, even though the sums are much smaller — only a few hundred qurush per year. Later on we see that the community lent money and repaid debts in an orderly fashion. It seems that in the late eighteenth century there were no financial crises necessitating arrangements for debt repayment, as there had been during most of the century, even though the amount of the debt was increasing; apparently the recruitment of capital was increasing along with the debts to be repaid.

During crisis periods of the sort described above, when the community was unable to repay its debts to its non-Jewish creditors, it obviously did not repay its debts to Jews either. In fact, a by-law was even passed by the Istanbul Officials in 1728, ruling that debts to Jews could not be repaid until all debts to non-Jews had been taken care of.

The following table [see printed version] sums up the debts and the investment funds, as well as the amounts of principal and interest the community repaid every year. We can see from the table that the community’s debt was on the increase every year except the last, in which there was a slight decrease. Over the twenty-year period the community debt approximately tripled. During that period the number of Jews in Jerusalem did not increase, but the amount of financial activity increased greatly. Not only did the debt increase, but there was a concomitant increase in the recruitment of funds and the repayment of the debt. It is nevertheless apparent that such a large debt would have to create additional financial crises for the community. These did indeed occur in the nineteenth century, but this is not the place to discuss them.

The conditional legacies are not included in the summary of the debts, because most of them became community property after the death of the donors (sometimes the heirs continued to receive the interest, and sometimes part of the principal was returned to them). As can be seen in the table, the debts owed to Jews were about 30 percent higher than the debts owed to non-Jews. It is this that allowed the community to continue functioning in times of crisis, since debts owed to Jews were not paid back at such times.

The very fact that the community functioned as a financial institution necessitated contact with hundreds of moneylenders, investors and creditors every year. This widespread financial activity with the Muslim public (as well as a small amount with the Christians) in Jerusalem undoubtedly led to the formation of working relationships and meetings between the community leaders and a large number of non-Jews in the city. It should be noted that many of the moneylenders were members of the Muslim establishment in Jerusalem. Did the community search for sources of financial assistance within the Muslim population, or was it the moneylenders who initiated the contact? At any rate it is clear that there was continual daily contact on this matter.

As far as the interest rate is concerned, it has already been mentioned in various studies that the interest exacted by non-Jews was high — about 20 percent — while the interest paid by the community to Jews was lower — about 10-15 percent, depending on the circumstances.61 The fact that interest on loans is forbidden by both religions, Islam and Judaism, did not prevent the functioning of a widespread money market based on lending money at interest. The only thing the community did was to list the interest paid to Jews under another name, hechsher (profit — a term unique to Jerusalem, since this was the only Jewish community that functioned as a bank). In addition, the community sometimes turned the loans into a system of selling some of its property and then renting it from the moneylender, a system called “sale and rent.”62 It is known that among the Muslims as well — and also in the Ottoman Empire — the religious leaders used similar methods to circumvent the prohibition on interest.63

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In summary, even though the various religious communities in the cities of the Ottoman Empire were religiously separate, we have seen that there were many contacts between them in their everyday life. The contacts between the minority community on the one hand and the authorities and city notables, as well as the non-Jewish (mainly Muslim) population, on the other were set and well-defined. The Jews came into contact with the government and the notables through the fact that they had to bring them taxes, levies and bribes for considerable amounts at fixed intervals. These payments, including the bribes, were not exceptional in the Ottoman Empire. In fact, they had become a well-known “customary tax” throughout the Empire, and were even bequeathed as an inheritance. The functionaries who received these presents, bribes and levies gave the same sorts of payments to the officials above them in the hierarchy. The Jews borrowed considerable sums from the Jerusalem Arabs in order to balance the community budget, since their expenses were very great, as we have seen, and the loans and conditional legacies they obtained from other Jews did not cover the expenses.

All this gives us a picture of the administration of the Jerusalem Jewish community in the eighteenth century as an actual financial institution. But we also get a not particularly elating picture of the way the community was run with respect to the outside world, with a constant race between recruiting funds and paying them out to hundreds of city rulers, officials and notables — down to the last of their assistants and servants. General theses based on official documentation are given a real everyday flavor, arising from the account books of the Jewish community. These sources provide us with first-hand knowledge of who the community paid money to, who it lent money from, how much money was involved and how the entire business was run.