Seniyora Synagogue at Izmir, Turkey

The Seniyora Synagogue in Izmir, Turkey was one of many congregations established during the seventeenth century. Synagogues were present in Izimr as early as the late sixteenth century, and began to increase in number from three in the early seventeenth century to nineteen in the twentieth century. The Seniyora (also Senyora or Giveret) Synagogue was established in the 1660s, at about the same time as the 'Es Hayyim, Bakish (Sason), Hevra, Portuguese (Neve Shalom), Pinto, Algazi, and Orahim (Los Forasteros) congregations. The Seniyora Synagogue may have been named after Doña Gracia Nasi, also known as "La Señora" (The Lady), who endowed many Ottoman synagogues. Architecturally, Izmir's synagogues are distinguished by the presence of the "bima" (reader's platform) near the back or center of the synagogue in the seventeenth century (a reflection of Romaniot and Sephardi influences) and the location of the bima near the western wall in the nineteenth century (a reflection of Italian influences). Most of the synagogues in Izmir were located near Havra Street and the market in Kemeralti, and today the Seniyora Synagogue stands at 927 Sokak no. 77. Currently, the Jewish community mostly attends the Beth Israel and Ha-Shamayim synagogues, but many historic synagogues--including the Seniyora Synagogue--have been restored for occasional use during the Sabbath and holidays. Today, the Seniyora Synagogue is the most active of the synagogues on Havra Sokak street and is open each morning [1].


Izmir's Jewish community may have existed as early as the second century, according to the New Testament (Revelation 1:11, 2:8) and Greek inscriptions. Although Jews disappeared from Izmir during the medieval era, they returned in the sixteenth century as Izmir began turning into a cosmopolitan city. As Izmir grew into a cotton trading city, Muslims, non-Muslims, and foreigners alike moved to the city. The Jews who migrated to Izmir during this time were able to build several synagogues since "dhimma" (non-Muslim) laws were not strictly enforced. Throughout the eighteenth century, the Jews of Izmir struggled as the city changed from cotton to wool production, yet Jews occupied positions of authority in customhouses and as translators. Many fires, epidemics, and earthquakes affected the city of Izmir, and caused poor Jews to move into small houses called "cortejos" where families lived in rooms around a courtyard and shared bathrooms and kitchens. In 1772, almost all of Izmir's synagogues had been destroyed and the Jewish community lived without a synagogue for twenty years, until 1792. By the late nineteenth century, Izmir had a Jewish population of about 35,000; however, the population decreased to about 25,000 by 1905 as mass numbers of Jews migrated to the Americas, Western Europe, and Palestine to avoid poor economic conditions and increasing communal tensions (such as the Christian blood accusations against the Jews). Although the remaining Jews maintained positions of authority, the establishment of the Turkish Republic in 1923 destroyed the autonomy of Jews in Izmir and many more fled the city. Additionally, the Great Depression in 1929 and the Welfare Tax led thousands more Jews to immigrate to Israel. During the 1960s, the Izmir Jewish community still had two synagogues, one hospital, one community house, one rabbinical court and one school; and today the community has several synagogues, a hospital, but no schools. Currently, the Jewish community in Izmir numbers about 1,500, most of whom live in the Alsancak neighborhood [2].

Izmir, Turkey

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