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  • Author or Editor: José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim x

José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim

Abstract

With this article we aim to reflect upon the possibilities of Jewish personalities of Iberian origin to act as intermediaries with the West while residents in the Ottoman Empire and subjects of the Sultan. Unlike spying, a field where D. Yosef Nasi (c. 1520-1579), one of such personalities, excelled before, at the service of Portuguese Authorities, the visibility and centrality of their activity as middlemen near the Sublime Porte and some Sephardi groups, made difficult for them to act in cover activities. Conversely, were they not acting in a precarious equilibrium as intermediaries as they remained always dependent of the sultans’ favour, being seen frequently in Europe as biased towards their masters and employers?

The great alibi of these exponents of the Sephardi universe in Ottoman lands, men like D. Yosef Nasi and D. Salomon ibn Yaʿīš (1520-1603), resides precisely in the crystallisation of their western past in the Ottoman Empire—visible in a certain social and residential segregation from their communities of origin, despite having close ties with these—which enabled them to ease the fluidity of contacts between the West, from where they had come, and the Porte, their actual place of residence. Was not this western-ness kept strategically by them and supported by the sultans a “poisoned” mediation, that is, a pseudo-mediation whose ultimate end was their self-consecration as a different kind of zimmi near the Porte, and one hyper-active in its favour?

José Alberto Rodrigues da Silva Tavim

Abstract

This article analyzes some cases of multiple conversion among Portuguese Jews in the Ottoman Empire. Paradoxically, it was the lack of homogeneity of the Ottoman Sephardic communities that explained the success of “three-faced” men, such as Duarte da Paz, Tomé Pegado da Paz, and Matias Bicudo. They were able to change dress, religion, and masters during their careers as informers because they remained inconspicuous within the Ottoman Empire due to their marginal social position; there were many possibilities for identity change without the general knowledge of the different religious groups. The inability of more visible personalities like D. Grácia Nasci, D. Joseph Nasci, and D. Salomon ibn Ya’ish to perform so easily this type of change had something to do with their “centrality”: they possessed strong social, economic, and cultural ties to Sephardic communities, and their close relationship with the Osmanli Sultans made such a metamorphosis virtually impossible.