View Full Version : Book review: "The Donme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, And Secular Turks," by M.D. Baer

04-10-2016, 09:01 PM
Book Review: "The Donme: Jewish Converts, Muslim Revolutionaries, And Secular Turks"
(Apollonian, 10 Apr 16)

"The Donme...," by Marc David Baer; Stanford U. Press, Ca; 2010; xxvi, 332 pgs w. index, 262 text, is strange, difficult, but interesting and informative book on the Donme, descendents of Jew converts and followers of rabbi Shabbatai Tzevi, supposed and pretended "messiah" of the Jews of the numerologically significant yr of 1666.

Thus the first problem w. the book is there's hardly any specific info on Tzevi; it's all about the descendants, the Donme. And there's hardly any historical background for the times of Tzevi and the Ottoman empire; it's rather a sociologic-oriented history of the people in general after Tzevi.

Regardless, Tzevi went to discuss affairs of Jews and Palestine w. the Ottoman Sultan, but was ordered to convert to Islam or be executed, which conversion he did, and most significantly, so then did many of his followers, consisting of several hundred people and families, who thereupon developed their own sect of Islam, based in Salonika, Greece, known as the Donme. Thus the Donme rather parallel the "conversos," "New Christians," and "Marranos" of Spain, Jews who were forced to convert, though the author, Baer, a Jew, insists the Donme were not secret Jews and had little to do w. Jews, Jews actually repudiating the Donme, though Baer admits significant Donme elements colluded w. the "Young Turks," Jews, and freemasons in the revolution of 1908 which made the Ottoman empire a constitutional monarchy, restoring the earlier constitution of 1876.

Thus the Donme, marrying strictly within the "family" of original Jew converts after 1666, developed by the end of the 19th cent. to about 20 thousand people, a very successful sector of the population of Salonika, rather demonstrating, once again, the potential for success of people who co-operate closely w. one another. But the book is actually very much a tragedy and account thereof, as the Donme were dissolved and dispersed after WWI when the Ottoman empire was broken-up, and the Donme were removed fm their Greek Christian base in Salonika, deported to Turkey where they were greeted w. intense suspicion by the native Turks who looked upon them as Jews rather than Muslims.

Along the way, fm the time just after Tzevi, the Donme were divided into three major factions, Yakubi, Karakas, and Kapanci, the Yakubi closest to mainstream Sunni Islam, while the Karakas were more Sufi and Cabalistic. The Karakas later, in the 18th cent. influenced the Polish Jew, Jacob Frank, who rather emulated Tzevi, proclaimed himself "messiah," though like the Donme converting to Islam, and then migrating to Germany where he later supposedly converted to Catholicism, though he remained quite Cabalistic.

The thrust of Baer's work then is the sociology of the Donme, how they cooperated w. one another as they thrived in Greek Salonika which they considered their home while yet maintaining strict independence distinct fm Jews, even though otherwise often cooperating w. Jews, esp. towards the turn of the century to the 20th, only to suddenly collapse and dissolve w. the world wars and tragic aftermath.

Baer is very detailed and even tedious for his expo as he recounts the travails of the Donme in the midst of suspicious orthodox Muslims of Turkey after the deportation fm Salonika. And of course, author Baer, being a Jew, pushes the obligatory holohoax lies and lamenting anti-semitism, though holohoax is rather recited in religious fashion, not really trying so much to sell the lies. What's surely most interesting is the denouement of Donme dispersion and scattering of the sect w. the onset of the second world war and aftermath whence Donme were treated and taxed in punitive fashion and dispossessed of most of their assets as Turks turned nationalistic.

So Baer's history is quite limited and heavily sociologic-oriented, but it does most excellent job for characterization as it describes the schools, hospitals, Mosques, cemeteries, and other institutions of Salonika which Donme developed so virtuously in their way, drawing contrast w. the other peoples of the empire, Christians, Jews, and Muslims, Donme notable for their integrity and distinct identity, having so much lost and given-up the original Judaic character but then forging their own so successfully, yet in the end so tragically for dissolution and dispersal--it's informative in its way and quite useful. Baer's greatest success is in the way one comes to empathize w. these respectable, hard-working, and virtuous people, especially given otherwise difficult and hostile circumstances.