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

Yaron Ben-Naeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Scopus citations


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.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)315-332
Number of pages18
JournalJewish History
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Dec 2006

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Research for this article was carried out during my postdoctoral fellowship as a Mandel Scholar at the Scholion Interdisciplinary Research Center, the Mandel Institute of Jewish Studies, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The article is based on a lecture delivered at a conference in honor of Prof. Amnon Cohen in June 2005 at the Ben-Zvi Institute, Jerusalem; and in Ankara, Turkey, in October 2005. I thank Prof. Kenneth Stow for his kind and friendly guidance.


  • Istanbul
  • Ottoman Empire
  • Ottoman Jewry
  • Responsa
  • Sephrdi Jews
  • Sijil
  • Slavery/slaves
  • Slaves

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Jews -- Turkey -- History
  • Jews -- Turkey
  • Judaism -- Relations -- Islam
  • Islam -- Relations -- Judaism
  • Slavery -- History
  • Jews -- History
  • Slavery (Jewish law)


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