Istanbul Jewish Tours

Istanbul Private Jewish Tours:

By our private Istanbul Jewish Tours, our professional tour guides will guide you through the old and new Jewish neighborhoods of Istanbul. While visiting the synagogues in Istanbul, you will receive comprehensive information about the past and present Jewish life in Istanbul. Like our other private tours in Istanbul, we also custom design our private Jewish tours. We may also create itineraries that combine the Jewish sites with main sites Istanbul if our guests prefer to do so. Our agency provides the best Jewish tours in Turkey.

“How can you call Ferdinand a wise king? He impoverishes his kingdom and enriches mine!” says sultan Beyazid II when he welcomed the Jewish families into Istanbul in 1492 after the dark times of the Inquisition in Spain.

The history of the Jewish presence in Istanbul goes back to the Byzantine Empire. An official decree dating the 420 AD shows that Theodosius II exiled the Jews from Constantinople to Galata. They mostly had difficult times during the reign of the Byzantine Empire.

After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Romaniots (Jews who lived under the Byzantine rule) became free, equal citizens of the Ottoman Empire. The ghettos of the Byzantine era became open Jewish neighborhoods in Istanbul. The most important Jewish communities are Galata, Balat, Haskoy, Sisli, Ortakoy, Ulus on the European part of Istanbul, and Kuzguncuk, Kadikoy, Haydarpasa on the Asian part of Istanbul. There are about 17 active synagogues today in Istanbul. Chief Rabbinate Office is one of the constitutional religious institutions and has the authority over the Jewish communities and synagogues.

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Our Private Jewish Tours Include:

  • Professionally licensed tour guide expert on Jewish History, Judaism, Sephardic Culture, etc.
  • Synagogue visit appointments
  • Air-conditioned Mercedes brand minivan
  • Experienced Driver
  • Complimentary map of Turkey and Istanbul
  • Bottled drinking water
  • 18% VAT and other taxes

We are available to assist our guests with their individual needs:  Kosher food catering and prayer reservations at the synagogues etc.

Below you may find information about the synagogues in Istanbul that we include in our Istanbul Jewish Tours:

Ashkenazi Synagogue

Inaugurated on September 17th, 1900, by the edict from Sultan Abdulhamid II, Ashkenazi is the only remaining synagogue that performs the services in Ashkenazi style. The synagogue is in one of the oldest Jewish neighborhoods of the city, called Galata.

The lovely ebony bimah and Aron Kodesh was a family donation of the Carlman family in 1904. With its 400 people capacity, the synagogue has the Azara as two balconies. It is still an active synagogue and open for visits and also prayers.

At the site of the present Ashkenazi, there was another synagogue reflecting the Austrian architecture of Austrian origin “Österreichischer Temple,” which was the original building since 1831 before a fire in 1866 destroyed it.

The hallway and stairs of the building have carpets of eastern origin. The ebony Aron Kodesh and Bimah are donations of Carl Carlmann in 1904 to the memory of his wife, Rachel.

The Ashkenazi Synagogue is adequate to accommodate 400 people. The Azara (reserved area for the women) has two balconies.

According to the documents, approximately 10,000 Ashkenazi Jews lived in 1925 in Istanbul. Nowadays, this number is around 500 people. 

Ashkenazi Synagogue can be included either in full or half-day (morning) Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Ahrida Synagogue

The Ahrida Synagogue was built in the 1400s by the Jews from Macedonia, who immigrated to Istanbul. Its name Ohrida (Ahrida), comes from the Macedonian city of Ohrid. We know that the building had taken its present state 600 years ago.

Despite having two entrances, the south gate is usually not open, and the north gate is mostly active. In the north gate, there is an arched door and decorated with plant motifs. The building consists of bricks and stones used, and the floor has beautiful marble.

The Tevah is a design of a ship’s trench. It is on a platform with two steps. This design may symbolize the Ark of Noah or the Ottoman ships that brought Sephardic Jewish from Spain to Ottoman soil.

The Ehal’s doors, has three marble steps, are decorated with mother of pearl, and the interior walls have colorful reliefs.
The gallery for women (Azara, Mehizah) is on the western side of the main hall, and there is also a Midrash.

Shabtai Tzvi, the false claimed Messiah in the 17th century, was one of the most important historical figures of Jewish history. Shabtai Tzvi preached at the Ahrida Synagogue before he converted to Islam.

We include the Ahrida either in full or half-day (morning) Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Neve Shalom

Starting from the early 20th century, Galata became the most populated Jewish neighborhood in Istanbul. Therefore the Jewish community decided to build a new, larger synagogue. They finished and inaugurated the construction of Neve Shalom Synagogue 1951.

Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) became the center of Jewish life in Istanbul. It is now the leading and largest synagogue of the city. Besides the Shabbat prayers, Neve Shalom Synagogue hosts Bar Mitzvah, Brit Milah, weddings, funerals, etc. It also has a Mikveh for the purifying rituals.

The Jewish Museum of Istanbul is next to Neve Shalom and is one of the most exciting places to learn more about Jewish history in Turkey. The Istanbul Jewish Tours include a visit to the Jewish Museum as well.

We include the Neve Shalom either in full or half-day Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Etz Ahayim

Etz Ahayim (fruit of life) is a common name that many Byzantine and Ottoman synagogues used. It is in the Ortakoy district, which is the most crowded neighborhood on the Bosphorus shores.

According to an edict, the history of the synagogue goes back to early 1700. This Ottoman edict mentions about a fire that heavily damaged the Etz Ahayim. During Yom Kippur services in 1941, a fire caused by an oil lamp destroyed the building. However, the local community in Ortakoy helped to save the Ehal, valuable Torah scrolls donated by Kamondo family, rugs, etc.

The Etz Ahayim Synagogue has 3 Midrash in its courtyard for daily prayers. Two of the Midrash are in Sephardic style, and the other one is in the Ashkenazi form. The one with Ashkenazi style has a marble plate honoring Ribi Naftali be Isaac ha-Kohen Katz, who was a very well known Rabbi and Kabbalist in the 17th century.

Because of its location, Etz Ahayim is one of the most active synagogues in Istanbul. As there is more Jewish population in this area, people attend prayers more often than other synagogues in the city. We include Etz Ahayim Synague into our half or full day tours.

Beth Yaakov

Beth Yaakov is on the Asian Side of Istanbul in the Kuzguncuk neighborhood. The original name is Kal de Abasho, which means “city synagogue.”

According to some records from the 17th century, Kuzguncuk was one of the favorite neighborhoods for Jews to live. Therefore it was one of the most populated Jewish areas. After some fires that almost destroyed the whole part of the town, the Jewish presence in Kuzguncuk started to fade out.

With its Azara (women gallery), Beth Yaakov has 260 people capacity. The ceiling of the main hall has landscape pictures and scenes from the Torah.

As the Jewish population in Kuzguncuk has decreased dramatically, the Beth Yaakov has almost no services. It is open to visitors.

The most significant event of Beth Yaakov is during the Ramadan, which is a holy month for Islam. During Ramadan Muslims fast, so Beth Yaakov provide dinner for the neighboring Muslims. This event is significant for tolerance and understanding between religions.

Important Notes About Istanbul Jewish Tours:

The Synagogues are not open for visits on weekends, official and religious holidays. The Neve Shalom close the synagogue for tours on Fridays. To arrange the entries to the synagogues, we require passport info at least two days before the visits. This process is necessary by the Chief Rabbinate Office. Please note that the synagogues require entrance fees.

If you would like to attend the prayers at one of the synagogues, please let us know. We would be able to arrange the entries for our guests. Please contact us for more information.

Contact Us

Please do not hesitate to contact us for any questions about our services, hotel and itinerary recommendations. We would be more than happy to assist you.

Let us make your time a memorable one!