Poverty, paupers and poor relief in Ottoman Jewish Society

Yaron Ben-Naeh*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


This article investigates poverty and the treatment of the poor amongst Ottoman Jews. Jewish society was an urban, class-oriented society, with a large marginalized sector of poor, who were barely living on a small daily income or on charity. Poverty was more than just an economic or material state, and had clear cultural and social implications. The difficult lives of the poor were the background for social strife that intensified as class differences grew. Charity was the main instrument to assist the poor. Either individual or communal, it was based on Jewish tradition and heritage, and was affected by the cultural atmosphere, mentality and behavioral patterns of Ottoman city-dwellers who treated poverty as an inherent and natural social phenomenon. The purpose of communal and individual charity was not the eradication of poverty, nor concern for the spiritual welfare of the poor, and certainly not a change in the social structure and economic parity, but mere survival of the needy. Most important were the wages of the giver - personal prestige and heavenly reward. Without declaring it, community philanthropy was supposed to preserve the existing social order and to strengthen it, as well as the traditional values of Jewish society. In retrospect, the totality of the above mentioned activities intensified communal solidarity and strengthened its unity.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)151-192
Number of pages42
JournalRevue des Etudes Juives
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2004

RAMBI Publications

  • Rambi Publications
  • Jews -- Turkey -- History
  • Jews -- Turkey -- Economic conditions
  • Poverty -- History
  • Jews -- History


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