Dönmeh refers to a group of Crypto-Jews in Turkey who claim to be descendants of the Jews who converted to Islam during the era of Sabbatai Zevi. Although they consider themselves Jews, they are not officially recognized by Jewish authorities.


The word "dönmeh" is from Turkish dön- which means "to turn", i.e., "to convert," but in a pejorative sense. They are also called Selânikli (person from Thessaloniki) or avdetî (in Arabic-Turkish, عودة awda "return"), a Turkish word for a religious convert. Members of the group used to call themselves as ma'aminim, believers.[1]


Despite their conversion to Islam, the Sabbateans secretly remained close to Judaism and continued to practice Jewish rituals covertly. They recognized Sabbatai Zevi as the Jewish Messiah, observed certain rituals with similarities in Judaism and prayed in Hebrew and later in Ladino. They also observed rituals celebrating important events in Zevi's life. They interpreted Zevi's conversion in a Kabbalistic way.

There are several branches of Dönmehs. The first was the Ismirli, formed in İzmir, Turkey (Smyrna). The second were the Jakubi, founded by Jacob Querido, a successor to Zevi who also made messianic claims. Another was the Osman Baba led by Berechiah Querido, the son of Jacob. This group taught Jacob Frank, who led the "Frankists" in 18th century eastern Europe, and the fifth was the Lechli, who are of Polish descent and lived in exile in Salonika (modern Thessaloniki, Greece) and Constantinople.

The dönmeh played an enormous role on the Young Turk movement, a band of modernist revolutionaries who brought down the Ottoman Empire. At the time of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey, some among the Salonika Dönmeh tried to be recognized as non-Muslims to avoid being forced to leave Salonika. After the foundation of the Turkish Republic, the dönmeh strongly supported the Republican, pro-Western reforms of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk that tried to restrict the power of the religious establishment and to modernize the society. In particular, the Dönmeh were instrumental in establishing trade, industry and culture in the emerging Republic of Turkey, which is partially due to the prominence of Rumeli immigrants in general and of Salonica in particular in the early Republic years.

Although they married within their own community only, in theory, mixed-marriage and assimilation began at the end of 19th century. As of the end of 20th century the dönmeh were fully integrated to the Turkish society, and the intermarriage restriction has been largely ignored since the 1960s, except by the Karakashi branch.

An interesting case is the one of Ilgaz Zorlu, a dönmeh publisher who founded Zvi Publishers in 2000 and sought recognition as a Jew, but a Beth Din refused to recognize his Jewishness without a full conversion. He claimed to have converted in Israel and then filed a lawsuit for changing his religion from Islam to Judaism in his registry records and ID. The court voted in his favor. His acts are seen as controversial by many, particularly due to his cooperation with Muslims like Mehmed Şevket Eygi.

Işık University, which is part of the Feyziye Schools Foundation (Turkish: Feyziye Mektepleri Vakfi, FMV), and Terakki schools were founded originally by the dönmeh community in Salonica in the last quarter of the 19th century but ceased to be community schools after their move to Istanbul.

Mehmet Karakaşzade Rüştü incident

In 1924, Mehmet Karakaşzade Rüştü, who was with Karakash branch, revealed information about Dönmehs, branches and wife swinging ritual to Vakit newspaper. He also accused Donmehs of lack of patriotism and not having been assimilated into. Discussions spread into other newspapers including the ones owned by Dönmeh groups. Ahmet Emin Yalman, in the newspaper Vatan he owned, accepted the existence of such groups but claimed that those groups were not following their traditions any more. Then Karakaşzade Rüştü petitioned TBMM, requesting the abolition of some Dönmehs' ongoing immigration from Macedonia by population exchange.

Neo-Sabbatean revival

Recently there has been what some are calling a "revival" of Neo-Sabbatean Kabbalah, led by the 74-year old kabbalist and founder of Donmeh West, Reb Yakov Leib HaKohain.[2] As evidence of this revival the Israeli newspaper Ma'ariv recently published an interview with Leib on the Neo-Sabbatean movement.[2][3] In addition, Ma'ariv is translating the Neo-Sabbatean writings of Reb Yakov Leib and publishing them as a series of feature articles in their spirituality section. The first of these, "Redemption Through Sin," has already been published.[4][5]

See also


  1. Waiting for the Messiah
  2. 2.0 2.1 "nrg - קבל חטא חטא". Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  4. "מעריב nrg - יופיו של החטא - פותחים ראש - 'ניו אייג". Retrieved 2008-11-23. 
  5. "Professions of a Holy Sinner". Donmeh West. Retrieved 2008-11-23. 

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at Dönmeh. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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