"Sephat Emet Society (Salonica 1890) and the Social History of the Ottoman-Jewish Haskala"

Tamir Karkason

The presentation will discuss the social history of the Ottoman-Jewish enlightenment during the second half of the nineteenth century, taking as a test case the Sephat Emet (“Language of Truth”) association, which was founded in Salonica in 1890. Sephat Emet provided a meeting place for members of a certain circle among the growing Salonican-Jewish bourgeoisie, while promoting their Jewish heritage and Hebrew tongue.

Following an introduction on the Ottoman-Jewish Enlightenment, I will discuss the Sephat Emet association through its four-page regulations, which were preserved in Judah Nehama’s collection of letters (I will distribute my English translation of the regulations at the meeting). The presentation will focus on such themes as the organization of the association, the election of its heads, its funding, and its objectives. We will also discuss the curriculum followed by the members who attended the meetings, which was devoted to study of “the Bible and Hebrew grammar, as well as enlightenment periodicals and books.”

The lecture will illustrate the manner in which trends of Jewish enlightenment and solidarity were manifested in practical terms in the meetings of the enlightenment associations. We will also analyze the social functions played by these associations within the Ottoman-Jewish bourgeoisie.