Tevye's Ottoman Daughter: The Making of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in the Shatterzones of Empire, 1882-1923
Zaides, Sarah Michelle
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In existing scholarship on Jewish subjects of the Russian Empire, there were three typical fates available to Russia’s Jews on the eve of the Bolshevik Revolution: they could remain in the shtetl, leave for a new life in America, or participate in the Russian Revolution. Tevye’s Ottoman Daughter: The Making of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews in the Shatterzones of Empire, 1882-1923, traces a fourth route of exit from the Russian Empire. This dissertation follows the saga of Russian Jews who instead crossed the Black Sea to meet their Sephardic coreligionists in the Ottoman city of Istanbul, or joined agricultural colonies in Western Anatolia to await the Ottoman citizenship necessary to purchase land in nearby Palestine, only to eventually become Turkish citizens and abandon the idea of aliyah. This study utilizes archival material in Russian, French, Hebrew, and Ladino collected in Jerusalem and in Istanbul, oral testimony from descendants of Tevye’s Ottoman Daughter, as well as published articles in the Ladino press to examine how Jews in the Ottoman milieu made claims to and delineated the boundaries of Ashkenazi and Sephardi identities in response to the influx of Russian Jewish migrants and their alleged involvement in the “white slave trade,” to use the parlance of the time. The project traces representations of los rusos as they evolved from persecuted pogrom victim to a designation as “foreign Jew,” a symbol of subversive nationalist politics that that challenged the overwhelmingly pro-Empire line of many Sephardic Jews, including the Haham Bashi (Chief Rabbi). These evolving typologies coincided with shifting political currents, especially as Zionism gained traction in the Ottoman Empire partially as a result of the influx of these Jewish refugees from Russia. Indeed, Sephardi and Ashkenazi Jews participated in projects of self-fashioning, each claiming inheritance to the Young Turk Revolution (1908), and this study examines how these political identities were formed in a novel Jewish geography between borderland and métropole. My dissertation is the first to offer an integrated study of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jewry prior to Israel’s independence in 1948. It gives insight into the ethnic, religious, and political challenges and aspirations among minority and immigrant groups in the twilight years of the multi-confessional Ottoman Empire on the brink of Turkish and Soviet statehood.
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