Overlapping Boundaries in the City: Mahalle and Kahal in the Early Modern Ottoman Urban Context

In: Journal of the Economic and Social History of the Orient

Abstract

In the present article, I examine the construction and articulation of urban and communal identities in the early modern Ottoman Empire with special reference to the complex and dynamic local Jewish identities in Edirne. I analyse the terminology used for identifying Jewish litigants at the Islamic court in Edirne based on 12 cases selected from the Islamic court registers. In other words, I scrutinize in which cases the court identified Jews by their membership of a particular congregation (Heb. kahal; pl. kehalim), in which cases by their residential affiliations (Ott. mahalle; pl. mahallat, “urban quarter”), and in which by a combination of these aforementioned ascriptions. In so doing, I attempt to enhance our understanding about pre-modern people who were simultaneously members of multiple religious, spatial, ethnic or occupational sub-communities. More specifically, I examine which of the Jews’ multiple identities (i.e., kahal as religious/ethnic; mahalle as spatial) were emphasized by the judges of the Muslim courts. I suggest that various identification markers were employed by court personnel to define the Edirne Jews. While in some matters the fiscally, administratively, as well as socially defined spatial identity based on the term mahalle was employed, in other cases the ethnic/communal identity based on the Jewish kahal—that was also a taxable unit—was the prevalent concept.

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