Turkey Table of Contents

In 1995 an estimated 18,000 to 20,000 Jews lived in Turkey. During the first half of the twentieth century, the Jewish population remained relatively stable at around 90,000. Following the establishment of Israel in 1948, an estimated 30,000 Jews immigrated to the new state. An average of 1,000 Jews annually left for Israel during the 1950s and early 1960s. By 1965 the Jewish minority had been reduced to an estimated 44,000, most of whom lived in Istanbul, where many Jewish men operated shops and other small businesses.

Unlike the Armenians and Greeks, the Jewish minority is neither ethnically nor linguistically homogeneous. Most of its members are Sephardic Jews whose ancestors were expelled from Spain by the Roman Catholic Inquisition in 1492. They speak Ladino, a variant of fifteenth-century Spanish with borrowings from several other languages. The Ashkenazic minority--Jews from central and northern Europe--speak Yiddish, a German-derived language. Both languages are written in the Hebrew script. Most Jews also speak Turkish. The Karaites--viewed by most other Jews as heretics--speak Greek as their native language. In general, the different Jewish communities have tended not to intermarry and thus have retained their identities.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress