Five Hundred Years of “Daughter Trouble”: Jewish Families and Their Daughters in the Ottoman Era
The Jewish Ottoman family was a patriarchal, Mediterranean family whose primary raison d’être was perpetuating the family line and name. Since it was the male heirs who bore this name, a further defining characteristic was the desire to keep the family’s assets in their hands; accordingly, the ancient Jewish laws of inheritance were maintained, giving precedence to male heirs over female ones and to the heirs of the male over those of the female. An additional feature of the Jewish family is the perception of the woman as a means of strengthening the family lineage. She was the chattel of her father, and later, her husband; but either way, she was the repository of the family honor. Under this pattern, the birth of a daughter became a source of great concern to her father, rather than a reason for joy. Spinsterhood was inconceivable, socially and economically. Marrying off a daughter meant a considerable financial investment. Lack of financial means for that purpose would result with the disgrace of turning to charity. If the money needed for the marriage of a daughter was secured by the family, the choice of a marriage partner was governed almost entirely by business considerations. Selection of a partner was done by the parents, love was utterly irrelevant and the final decision of course rested with the father. Another outcome of this situation was the high incidence of marriage within the family, in particular to a male from the male line. Such marriages allowed a wealthy father who wanted a comfortable life for his daughter also after her marriage to provide her with a generous dowry without fear that her premature death would cause the assets to pass to a different line, as would have been the case according to Jewish religious law.
Minna Rozen taught for 25 years at Tel Aviv University, were she was the director of the Diaspora Research Institute (1992-1997). Since 1999 she teaches Jewish history and philosophy of history at the University of Haifa. From 1987 onwards she has conducted projects of documentation and digitization of 60,000 tombstones, scores of synagogues and thousands of religious artifacts in Turkey and the deciphering and codification of the Istanbul Jewish community records, and the records of the Jewish communities of Salonika and Athens (16th – 20th centuries). She is the author of scores of academic articles and fourteen books, among them: Hasköy Cemetery: Typology of Stones (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University and University of Pennsylvania, 1994); A History of The Jewish Community of Istanbul —The Formative Years (1453–1566) (Brill, Leiden, 2002); The Last Ottoman Century and Beyond: The Jews of Turkey and the Balkans, 1808–1945, vol.1 (Tel Aviv: Goren-Goldstein Diaspora Research Center, TAU, 2005). Her book A Journey Through Civilizations: Chapters in the History of Istanbul Jewry, 1453-1923, published by Brepols in Belgium and Tel Aviv University, will appear in 2013. Among the books she edited is Homelands and Diasporas: Jews, Greeks, and their Migrations (London: Tauris, 2008), to which she contributed an introductory essay “People of the Book, People of the Sea: Mirror Images of the Soul.” She is presently working on a book on Salonikan Jewry in the interwar period.