A Contribution To the Study Of the Dhimma
By Stephen Schwartz
Remarks Delivered at Haverford College
November 10, 2002
[Author's note: This text is submitted in response to continuing discussion of the dhimma
, or contract for the Islamic governance of non-Muslims by Muslims. The topic of the dhimma
has led, in my view, to a widespread misrepresentation of the situation of Jews under the Ottoman empire. Serious historians of Ottoman-Jewish relations, including Bernard Lewis, reject exaggerated claims about the alleged “abject” or otherwise “oppressed” status of the Ottoman Jews – who, at the end of the 19th century, constituted the largest Jewish community in the world.
The series of incidents described in the following text presents a case study of how zealous defenders of the dhimma and sharia acted to protect Jewish residents of a major traditional Islamic community from injustice. This evidence is especially important because it is based on actual historical events in the lives of real human beings, rather than abstract speculations derived from citations from Islamic tradition taken out of context.-S.A.S.]
Distinguished scholars and colleagues,
I have come to Haverford today to discuss a sacred custom of the Bosnian Jews: visiting the tomb of Rav Mose Danon, the tzaddik or saint, in Stolac, Hercegovina. I am honored beyond measure to be here in the company of two of the scholars I most respect and admire in the world: professor Ivo Banac of Yale University and professor Michael Sells of Haverford. I am also happy to join this seminar with Amra Hadzimuhamedovic, director of architectural reconstruction in Sarajevo, and professor Laurie Hart of Haverford. The material I will discuss will merge my informal recollections and meditations with texts to be included in a book on Jewish-Muslim relations in the Balkans that I am preparing for publication.
In reworking this material it recently occurred to me that I could not readily remember when I first heard about Rav Danon, his blessed biography, his burial at Stolac, pilgrimages to his tomb, and Bosnian Jewish songs on these topics. I think this is probably a consequence of advancing age and aggravated stress. While I had completed a substantial account and survey of the literature on these events, the tomb, and the songs, it took me a bit of review before I decided that my first contact with the epic had come by reading Noel Malcolm’s Bosnia: A Short History (Malcolm 1994). Because Malcolm’s description of these incidents represents the most elementary account, stripped to what I and many others would consider the central feature, it bears repeating here, as a starting point.
Malcolm writes in his discussion of the Bosnian Jews and Gypsies, “One intriguing story involves the fate of a Jew from Travnik, Moses Chavijo, who converted to Islam, took the name Dervis Ahmed, and began to rouse the local Muslims against the Jews. In 1817 the leaders of the Bosnian Jews complained of his attacks, and had him tried and executed. Some of his followers later complained to the next governor of Bosnia, Ruzdi-pasa, who seized the opportunity to squeeze some money out of the Jews: he commanded that they pay a recompense of 500,000 groschen
, and seized ten leading Sarajevo Jews, including the rabbi, threatening to kill them if the payment were not made. The end of the story, however, is that a crowd of 3000 Muslims took up arms and demanded the Jews’ release – which was promptly done.”
But that is hardly “the end of the story.” Malcolm cites this account to the work of Rabbi Moric Levi, Die Sephardim in Bosnien
, published in 1911 (Levi 1911). This volume is not considered very reliable. Consulting the Bosnian language edition of this book, issued in 1996 (Levi 1996), we find that Levi embroidered the tale by declaring of the alleged Jewish apostate, “ignorant folk among the Muslims, believing the convert to be a true miracle-worker, lamented his death and complained.” However, the religious aspects of the anecdote, when I first encountered it, were secondary to that of Muslim-Jewish solidarity in the face of a manifest injustice.
Bosnia-Hercegovina is the only European country aside from Spain itself where Sephardic Jewish culture is considered part of the common cultural legacy. On beginning my extended residence in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1999, I soon learned that the story had significant other resonances for Bosnian scholars and Sarajevans – Sarajlije
– who knew of it. While the element of Muslim solidarity remained significant, the obscure story of the alleged apostate and dervish from Travnik receded into the background. To the forefront came the figure of Rav Danon of Sarajevo, the rabbi imprisoned by Ruzdi-pasa; followed by the story of his burial in Stolac, the habit of visiting his grave, and the composition of songs in Judeo-Spanish about the epic and the pilgrimage.
The Jewish account of the epic is best told, in my view, not in the Levi volume but on a source Levi used, that is, the mainly-unpublished history of Sarajevo Jewry written at the end of the 19th century – at least a decade before Levi – by Mose ben Rafael Attias, known as Mose Rafajlovic and as “Zeki-Effendi,” a leading Sarajevo Jewish notable of his time.
In his account, also beginning in 1819, Dervis Ahmed, an Islamic mystic who lived in Travnik, had a reputation as a dissident. For an unknown reason, this individual came in conflict with a Travnik Jew named Benjamin Pinto. Dervis Ahmed was arrested by the Ottoman authorities and executed. Other dervishes then revealed that Dervis Ahmed was a Jew named Mose Haviljo. It was also alleged that Pinto and other Jews had conspired to punish him for apostasy.
Ruzdi-pasa reacted to the case by an attack on the Jews in general. The small and poor Jewry of Travnik did not offer much of a target, and they were left in peace. But the governor’s eyes turned to the Jews of the great city of Sarajevo; he demanded a payment of 50,000 Turkish gold groschen
from them, as indemnity for the dead man. He then ordered the arrest of ten of Sarajevo’s leading Jews, beginning with Rav Danon, the outstanding Jewish spiritual leader in the country. Furthermore, the fine was increased to 500,000 groschen
to be paid within three days, or the Jews would be executed.
Panic seized the Sarajevo Sephardim as they faced a wholesale assault on their security and their rights. The situation looked extremely grim. But a well-known Sarajevo Jew, Rafael Levi, who was greatly respected by Muslims, had the idea of appealing to his neighbors’ humanity. On the night of the fourth of Heshvan
in the Jewish calendar, which fell in October, before the hostages were to be executed, Rafael Levi went to the coffee houses where he knew Muslims met and talked, and exhorted them with an emotional description of the dreadful threat hanging over the Jews. It was Sabbath eve, when as a pious Jew Rafael Levi should have remained in his home, but the welfare of the community impelled him to violate religious law.
The Muslims were profoundly touched, and consoled Levi for the tears he shed as he spoke. Then, “all together, as if they were one,” the Muslims swore an oath, pledging to give up their lives, if necessary, to save the arrested Jews. The Muslims rushed to the house, overlooking Sarajevo, of Ahmed Barjaktar Bjelavski, the barjaktar
or local commander of the Bjelave neighborhood, where Jews and Muslims lived together. Barjaktar Bjelavski swore, “by Allah, I will not allow this injustice!” He summoned the other barjaktars
, ordering them to come with their best horses and most loyal servants.
Before dawn the next morning, some 3,000 Bosnian Muslims led by Barjaktar Bjelavski, armed and ready for combat, surrounded the governor’s palace. The barjaktar
struck the gate with his scimitar, shouting that the governor must come out. When the governor appeared, the barjaktar
denounced him and demanded justice for the Jews. The governor ordered Rav Danon brought from a cell and forced him to bow before an executioner. But before the sword could fall, the barjaktar
’s men had broken down the gates. They liberated Rav Danon and the other imprisoned Jews, then followed the Rabbi to the synagogue where he preached the story of Purim
to them – the great Jewish holiday celebrated by Balkan Sephardim above all, and which commemorates the rescue of Persian Jewry from a genocidal plot. The incident became known as the “Sarajevo Purim.” The Bosnian Muslims later denounced Ruzdi-pasa to the Sublime Porte in Istanbul.
Most remarkably, it is said that throughout this ordeal Rav Danon remained completely indifferent to the events around him. He carried a copy of Torah
and assured those who visited him in his cell that there was nothing to fear, that all was foreordained. According to one source, the Sarajevo historian Vlajko Palavestra (Palavestra 2000), the ransom that had been raised to save the Sarajevo Jews was used to refurbish the city’s 16th century synagogue. Other reasonably-accessible published sources on this incident include the work of the Sarajevo historian Miroslav Prstojevic (Prstojevic 1992), and an outstanding 1992 study by the Bosnian Muslim academic Muhamed Nezirovic, Jevrejsko Spanjolska Knjizevnost
(Jewish Spanish Literature
) (Nezirovic 1992). Prof. Nezirovic’s book is one of the best and most complete accounts of a Sephardic community, especially on the confrontation of the virtuous Rav Danon and the evil, Haman-like Ruzdi-pasa. Yet such evil persists: for a long time Prof. Nezirovic believed that fewer than 50 copies of his book, which was printed only months before the outbreak of the Bosnian war, survived the conflict: he was told all the unbound sheets were cut up and used for cigarette paper by the Army of the Republic of Bosnia-Hercegovina. Fortunately, this turned out not to be true. An inaccessible but precious document is a printed pamphlet in Judeo-Spanish, the Livriku
or Little Book
1937) – which we would call a chapbook, since it consists of only one signature, or 16 pages, and on which I will elaborate.
A decade afterward the events, in 1830, Rav Danon left for Palestine, with crowds of Sarajevo Jews saluting his departure. But he died at the coffee house of Mehaga, in Stolac, in on the way to take a ship from Dubrovnik. He was buried nearby, at the order of the local authorities. Annual pilgrimages to his grave for his birthday, celebrated in June, were common among the Bosnian Sephardim until World War II; photographs survive of adults clustered around the Hebrew-inscribed sarcophagus. Sad meditation on such images has become, of course, a common experience for all writers on recent Jewish history, as, in the faces of the pilgrims, mostly women, we see many who must have died in the Holocaust. As with other such saintly Jewish monuments in the Sephardic world, the grave was also honored by local Muslims, especially dervishes.
Before the recent Serbo-Croatian war came to Stolac, a former Sarajevo Jew living in Switzerland, Moric Levi – not the rabbi and author – had sought to transform the grave of Rav Danon into a world-reknowned spiritual center comparable to the nearby Catholic shrine at Medugorje. The local authorities facilitated the transfer of the property to the Jewish Community of Sarajevo. Ivan Ceresnjes, a Sarajevo architect and, for some time, president of the Jewish Community of Bosnia-Hercegovina, oversaw the partial rehabilitation of the site, which was interrupted by the war. The kheder tahora
or mourners’ wash-house was left unreconstructed, even though painted decorations were “still visible in one corner of the seriously decayed building,” according to Ceresnjes. This latter structure is known in Bosnia-Hercegovina as a chevra
, short for chevra kaddisha
or burial society.
Sephardic ballads about these events were composed in Spanish during the 19th century, and in the first decades of the 20th. Two, among what seem to have been many, were printed in 1987 in the monumental, two-volume Romancero Judeo-Español
of Samuel M. Elazar, a compendium of ballads, short lyrics, religious songs, and other Sephardica published in Sarajevo under the direction of Muhamed Nezirovic. In a case worse than that of the 1992 Nezirovic volume, the war brought the destruction of the whole stock of this anthology, when Serb troops set fire to the publisher’s warehouse.
One of these ballads, sung to a lively Purim tune, begins,
Sabida es la maravilla
Y contada en larguilla
Haremos chica poesía
En favor del Rav Danon
Well-known is the marvellous tale
Many times told in many words;
Let us sing a little ballad
In honor of Rav Danon
The text continues with a refrain praising Rav Danon for his wisdom, vision, and the merit of his pilgrimage, while also describing the effects of the pilgrimage on others:
En Mostar fueron sentados
Varones pocos bien encontrados
Con firmamentos fueron atados
Por visitar Rav Danon
In Mostar some youths were waiting,
All together, well dressed, well spoken;
They’d made pledges unto heaven
To visit the grave of Rav Danon
A second ballad on the theme ends with a description of the governor, Ruzdi-pasa, driven from Sarajevo:
Muchos si a él entesados,
Salió cosa que no iba pensando,
Todo su saber perdió,
Y a Travnik el huyó
Many assembled around his palace,
And something happened he didn’t expect;
He lost all his mental powers
And to Travnik he quickly fled.
At this point it seems appropriate to turn to a Bosnian Muslim account of the dramatic Sarajevo events associated with Rav Danon. This is a document I have translated under the title “Petition of 249 Sarajevo Notables Against the Injustices of Ruzdi-pasa,” and which was published in 1966 in a memorial volume on Jewish history in Bosnia-Hercegovina (Petition 1966). It is very interesting to note that in this document, the governor is presented as the author of a series of injustices against the population of Sarajevo, chiefly involving abuse of their hospitality and excessive requisitioning of supplies. The abuse suffered by the Jews is mentioned, but is not a central issue: “he chained, shackled and imprisoned the Chief Scholar [Rabbi] of the Jews and some Christians, who are the inhabitants of our city and who are guaranteed protection and security by our laws. He tortured them, using boiling water, and even imposing tortures never seen before in our country and indefensible. Because of this violence and hatred, the Jews’ children and families cried out, and their weeping was heard unto the seventh heaven. But the said governor felt no pity, and he insisted that fines had to be paid, although they could not be. Four or five times he was asked to accept a payment of five thousand gold groschen
, in vain, as he met these offers with a thousand humiliations, and then decided to transfer his hostages in chains to his residence in Travnik. In the dawn he handed them over, chained and shackled, to his militiamen, and he followed them to Travnik.”
Further, in this Islamic document, the clash of arms involving the Sarajevo Muslim citizenry is presented in an entirely different light; this narrative of events may have been composed with the aim of absolving the citizens from charges of lawlessness. Rather than an organized effort to free the Jews, on the part of notable personalities, we read in the petition that when the hostages were on their way out of the town, “As usual, poor and rich came into the streets to observe this parade. The said militia were evilly inspired, and aimed their guns at the citizens. When they fired their weapons, everybody was stunned, and started to run left and right in order to save their lives and souls. Crazed and crying for help, they fled the militia. When wise folk found out about this event, they went to the aforementioned governor, so that we could report on the events and plead with him. When we pointed out these mistaken actions, he burst out in aggravated rage and refused to forgive, before departing for Travnik. After that, he sent out orders, alleging things that never happened, and he even added that we, God forbid, fired cannons at him and that we effected a siege against him.”
The discourse on the Sarajevo Purim of 1819 therefore produces differing items of cultural memory. One centers, from the Jewish perspective, on Muslim solidarity with Jews; another, also Jewish, focuses on the virtue of the rabbi; and yet another, from the Muslim perspective, stresses the broader injustices committed by the governor. They become one in emphasizing the special nature of Sarajlija
identity, the civility among Sarajlije
, and the resistance of Sarajlije
The gravity of the cultural vandalism in the 1990s in Stolac, and continuing insecurity in the town, provoked considerable concern on the part of Jews knowledgeable about the life of Rav Danon and the significance of his grave. For this reason, I determined to visit the grave. With the assistance of Grace Kang, then a civil affairs expert with the UN Mission in Mostar, and Alfred Reich, an officer of the International Police in Stolac, both of them American citizens, I was able to complete an inspection of the grave. I pronounced kaddish
or Jewish memorial prayer at the site, and took photographs. I was not the first person of Jewish background to visit the grave since the outbreak of the war in 1992. That very great honor belongs to a Sarajevo Jew who now lives in Israel, Milan Hamovic, 62. Mr. Hamovic is married to a descendant of Rav Danon, and he visited the grave and pronounced kaddish
on 25 February 1999. However, Jakob Finci, president of the Jewish Community of Bosnia-Hercegovina, stated that I was the first to go to the site as a special representative of the Community.
We completed our visit on the morning before the Sabbath eve, 13 March 1999. The grave of Rav Danon consists of a monumental stone in the old Bosnian Jewish style described by one authority as “seated lions,” the most famous examples of which are found in the “Spanish” Cemetery of Sarajevo. The form is unique and clearly shows the influence of the Bosnian steCci
clustered nearby at Radimlja. The grave is inscribed in Hebrew as follows:
THIS STONE IS HERE PLACED
SO THAT IT BE A SIGN AND MONUMENT
FOR THE BURIAL OF THE SAINTLY PERSON
WHOSE WORKS WERE WONDROUS
AND OF WHOM IT WAS SAID THAT HE WAS PIOUS AND SAINTLY
HE WAS OUR MASTER TEACHER AND GREAT HAKHAM
RAV MOSE DANON HIS GOOD
WORKS AID US. AMEN.
HE LEFT THIS WORLD ON THE 20TH DAY OF SIVAN 5590
As previously noted, after his death in 1830 the grave of Rav Danon became a place for regular pilgrimages by Bosnian and other Balkan Sephardic Jews. The similarity of this practice with pilgrimages to the tombs of Islamic holy men in such places as Buna, also in Hercegovina, is worthy of note. Unfortunately, the practice virtually disappeared with the genocide of Bosnian Sephardim during the Holocaust.
I was able to confirm that the grave of Rav Danon was secure. The cemetery is located at Krajisni, a few kilometers west of the town itself. The grounds are rather well kept, all things considered. There is a substantial paved area surrounding the Danon gravestone in the form of a menorah, and a menorah also decorates the gate of the iron fencing. There are two other graves in the cemetery, for a total of only three Jewish dead. The third grave is inscribed in German,
Gestorben im Mai 1889.
The second gravestone is without an inscription.
The remaining issue involves the kheder tahora
or mourners’ wash-house and shelter at the cemetery. A Sephardic song about the Stolac pilgrimages, included in the Elazar Romancero
, describes the erection of the kheder tahora
, which was intended to be refurbished during the Communist period under the direction of Ivan Ceresnjes.
Ceresnjes has written me, “during the war, heading one of our convoys with food, I stopped there, gave a break to drivers, and spent half an hour just sitting there, thinking that it is the last time I could come, because Croats did a thoroughly terrible job, burning and destroying everything non-Croat. I had the feeling that it is just a question of time when the site will be on the schedule for the annihilation.” In a 1999 interview, Fahrudin Rizvanbegovi_, then Bosnian minister of education, informed me that the kheder tahora had been set afire by Croat militia. I found no trace of the structure. Minister Rizvanbegovic, whose family is rightfully considered outstanding among the Muslims of eastern Hercegovina, also recounted the pride his forbears felt at accommodating Jewish pilgrims to Stolac during the months of May and June, in the years before the existence of hotels. He described his own careful and loving attention to the grave of Rav Danon, so long as he lived in the town. He had, he said, asked friends to continue tending the monument after he was forced to leave.
Minister Rizvanbegovic’s interview concluded with a reminiscence that further expressed the psychology of Bosniaks and the attitude of Bosnian Muslims to their Jewish neighbors. At one moment during the war, after his escape to Sarajevo from the concentration camp at Dretelj, he and his wife’s worldly possessions consisted of no more than 50 deutschemarks
in cash. He went out one morning to buy a container of oil, which cost DM 35. However, he was accosted by a woman who offered him a copy of the reprint of the Sarajevo Haggadah
for DM 30. The expenditure would make it almost impossible to buy oil, he realized; how would he explain such a purchase to his wife? And yet, after some bargaining, he handed over his precious deutschemarks
for the copy of the glorious Jewish manuscript.
It was the first book in his new library. “This is destiny,” he said quietly. It is profoundly desirable that the memory of Rav Danon move all residents of Stolac and of Bosnia-Hercegovina in general, to permit the complete protection and restoration of all such monuments. In addition, it is to be hoped that, in the spirit of human solidarity shown by the Sarajevo Muslims who assisted their Jewish neighbors, the return and safe residency of all former refugees be assured, and that the full reconstruction of all sacred structures be guaranteed. This visit was carried out two weeks after I heard and read the Megillat Esther
in a study room off the prayer hall of the Ashkenazi synagogue and Jewish community center in Sarajevo, en los dias de Purim
, the year 5759. I also heard the voices of mujezins
from the numerous mosques nearby, calling the faithful to the day’s final prayer, or jacija
Early in 2001 Ceresnjes sent me a copy of a precious item from the library of the Sarajevo synagogue: a prayer book carried by the Bosnian Jewish pilgrims to the grave of Rav Danon in Stolac. A pamphlet of 16 pages, it is titled, in Judeo-Spanish, Livriku de la orasjon ke se dizi e Stolac dispoes de TEFILA sovre la KEVURA del CADIK maalot Moreno arav rebi MOSE DANON zehuto jagen alenu AMEN, Trezladado por mano del hadzi MOSE HAJIM moreno arav Alevi, Saraj en anjo 5697
– “A Little Book of Prayer to be Said in Stolac After TEFILA Over the Grave of the SAINTLY Beloved Teacher rabbi and master MOSE DANON May His Name Blessed AMEN, Taken down by hand from the Hadzi MOSE HAJIM teacher and rabbi Alevi, in Sarajevo in the year 5697 .”
I have translated some selections from this sacred little book; later, I returned to Stolac with it in my possession. In June 2001 Ceresnjes and I travelled from Sarajevo to Ulqin, in Montenegro, to examine the purported Muslim turbe
of Sabbatai Zvi, the famous Sephardic “false messiah” of the 17th century. We went south through Hercegovina, stopping at Mostar to view a new Holocaust memorial in the city’s large Jewish cemetery. We then detoured to Stolac to inspect the Danon tomb. In the 1980s, Ceresnjes had overseen the rehabilitation of Rav Danon’s tomb and the reconstruction of a kheder tahora
or cemetery prayer room next to it, originally built by a rich merchant from Sarajevo, Daniel Shalom Uskubi.
The graveyard is now tended by a Muslim peasant, one of the few left in “Croatian” Stolac, who is paid by the Mostar Jewish community. We arrived in the June days traditional for visiting Rav Danon’s tomb, and we carried with us the Livriku
; we said its prayers aloud at Rav Danon’s tomb, reading, “Lord of the world, master of forgiveness, master of every soul, powerful God of the spirits of all creatures, in your power are all the souls of the living and the spirits of all humanity!”
is an important document for many reasons – one of them typographical, and related to a distinctive aspect of Bosnian Jewish history: the development of Bosnian Judeo-Spanish printing in the Latin alphabet. The presence of the Croat Catholics, especially after 1878, was in certain respects fortunate for the Sarajevo Sephardim (at least until the second world war and the arrival of the Ustasa terror.) Croatian printing over the past 200 years has used the Latin alphabet while Serbian printers have used Cyrillic. Croat printers in Sarajevo thus produced books in Judeo-Spanish, using Latin letters and South Slavic orthography, where Sephardic printing had previously used only Hebrew alphabets. Judeo-Spanish in Latin letters represented a major breakthrough for Sephardic culture, and facilitated my own entry into its study. There was no tradition of latinized Sephardic printing in Salonika, where fonts were Hebrew, Greek, or (at the end) Turkish; in Turkey, the tradition of printing Judeo-Spanish in Latin letters emerged with the latinization of Turkish under Mustafa Kemal.
The Sarajevo Sephardim published numerous Judeo-Spanish texts in Latin letters. But in both Hebrew and Latin type, the Judeo-Spanish of Sarajevo preserved certain dialectal characteristics, so that, for example, an editorial published in 1924 in the newspaper Jevrejski Zivot
[Jewish Life] read, “Taking into consideration the conditions that reign among us, with respect to language in the manner of writing we have decided on the phonetic mode, that is, write as you speak but in Latin letters.”
Another, extensive discussion could and should address the issue of tomb visitation in Islamic societies, and the influence of this practice on Bosnian Jews. Judaism opposes prayer to the tzaddik or intercessory prayer, because all prayer is to be directed to the Creator. But Judaism does not oppose prayer at the grave of a tzaddik
on the presumption it will influence the righteous to speak to the creator for the petitioner. Grave visitation in Israel itself ended after the fall of the Temple, but was revived in the Renaissance, thanks to R. Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, the fabled “Ari” of Kabbalistic tradition.
Islam deals in varying and contradictory ways with grave visitation. Bosnian Islam, which is permeated with the spirituality of Sufism, encourages it. Wahhabi Islam, which rejects spirituality, condemns grave visitation and is known for the deliberate destruction of tombs and graveyards in the Balkans as well as in Hejaz and elsewhere. Jewish grave visitation is rare outside Israel – it is mainly found among Moroccan Jews and among East European Chassidim
. In this context, we may be led to another matter: that of Sufi influence in Jewish mysticism. But these are other topics, for examination elsewhere.
Thank you for your time and attention.