Istanbul Private Jewish Tours:

Welcome to our Jewish travel agency in Istanbul, where we specialize in curating exceptional private Jewish heritage tours of the city. Our team of expert tour guides is committed to leading you on an enriching journey through both the historic and contemporary Jewish neighborhoods of Istanbul. Immerse yourself in a wealth of knowledge about the city’s vibrant Jewish history as you explore the synagogues and other significant sites.

Our tailored Jewish tours offer a deep dive into the past and present of Jewish life in Istanbul. Accompanied by our knowledgeable guides, you’ll uncover the stories and legacies that have shaped the community over time. From the old quarters to the more modern enclaves, we provide comprehensive insights that illuminate the diverse tapestry of Jewish heritage within the city.

Should you desire a personalized experience, we’re pleased to offer custom-designed Jewish tours that cater to your specific interests and preferences. Furthermore, for those eager to explore beyond the Jewish sites, we seamlessly integrate visits to Istanbul’s main attractions upon request. This allows you to savor a holistic experience of the city’s culture, history, and beauty.

Here at our agency, we are deeply committed to delivering the finest Jewish tours that Istanbul has to offer. With a fusion of expertise, passion, and genuine dedication, we ensure that your journey through Istanbul’s Jewish heritage is not only informative but also an unforgettable adventure. Join us as we open doors to a world of captivating stories and connections that transcend time.

Jewish Heritage in Istanbul

“Can Ferdinand truly be called a wise king? He depletes his own kingdom while filling my coffers!” exclaimed Sultan Beyazid II upon extending his welcome to Jewish families in Istanbul in 1492, following the harrowing era of the Spanish Inquisition.

The roots of the Jewish presence in Istanbul stretch back to the Byzantine Empire. A historical edict from 420 AD reveals that Theodosius II expelled the Jews from Constantinople to Galata, marking a period of adversity during the Byzantine reign.

With the capture of Constantinople in 1453, the Romaniots (Jews who lived under Byzantine rule) gained newfound freedom as equal citizens of the Ottoman Empire. The ghettos of the Byzantine era transformed into vibrant Jewish neighborhoods across Istanbul. Key Jewish communities emerged in locales such as Galata, Balat, Haskoy, Sisli, Ortakoy, and Ulus on the European side of Istanbul, as well as Kuzguncuk, Kadikoy, and Haydarpasa on the Asian side. Presently, Istanbul boasts around 17 active synagogues.

Among Istanbul’s religious institutions, the Chief Rabbinate Office stands as a constitutional authority overseeing Jewish communities and synagogues, playing a pivotal role in maintaining their continuity and vitality.

Eskinazi Google Review

Our family of four hired Eskinazi for 3 days of private tours and airport transportation while visiting Istanbul. Umit was responsive and professional and answered all our questions prior to the trip and was even better once we arrived. He is a wealth of information and knows the history of the city and gave great insight from the Jewish, also Christian and Islamic perspectives. Having a great private tour guide always makes a trip better and Eskinazi did not disappoint.

With warm wishes for a wonderful Pesach,

July and David Lemeshow – March 2022

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Our Private 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:

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.

Ashkenazi Synagogue

Istanbul Jewish Tours

Inaugurated on September 17th, 1900, by an edict from Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Ashkenazi Synagogue stands as a testament to cultural heritage, being the sole remaining synagogue that continues to conduct services in the Ashkenazi style. Nestled within Galata, one of the city’s oldest Jewish neighborhoods, this synagogue carries a rich history.

The Ashkenazi Synagogue’s current location was once occupied by the “Österreichischer Temple,” a synagogue showcasing Austrian architectural influences, which had stood since 1831. Tragically, a fire in 1866 reduced the original building to ashes, making way for the present-day structure.

A notable highlight within the synagogue is the exquisite ebony bimah and Aron Kodesh, both generously donated by the Carlman family in 1904. Reflecting an enduring commitment to faith and memory, these contributions were dedicated in honor of Carl Carlmann’s beloved wife, Rachel. Boasting a capacity for four hundred congregants, the synagogue also features the Azara, a designated area for women during services, complete with two balconies.

Presently, the Ashkenazi Synagogue remains an active center of worship, welcoming visitors and worshippers alike. The building’s hallways and staircases are adorned with carpets of Eastern origin, infusing a sense of warmth and tradition into the ambiance.

Historical records indicate that in 1925, the Ashkenazi Jewish population in Istanbul numbered at 10,000. In the present day, this number has dwindled to around five hundred individuals, underscoring the importance of preserving cultural landmarks like the Ashkenazi Synagogue.

This historical gem can be explored as part of either full-day or half-day (morning) Istanbul Jewish Tours. Stepping inside its hallowed walls not only offers a glimpse into a rich heritage but also serves as a reminder of the enduring thread of tradition woven into the fabric of Istanbul’s diverse tapestry.

Ahrida Synagogue

Ahrida Synagogue

The Ahrida Synagogue, constructed during the 1400s by Jewish immigrants from Macedonia who settled in Istanbul, holds historical significance. Its name, “Ohrida” (Ahrida), is derived from the Macedonian city of Ohrid. The building’s current form has remained intact for over 600 years.

While boasting two entrances, the south gate is typically closed, while the north gate remains the primary point of access. The north gate features an arched door adorned with intricate plant motifs. Crafted from a blend of bricks and stones, the building also showcases exquisite marble flooring. The Tevah, designed to resemble a ship’s trench, is elevated on a two-step platform. This symbolism might evoke the Ark of Noah or Ottoman ships that transported Sephardic Jews from Spain to Ottoman lands. The Ehal’s doors, adorned with mother of pearl, rest on three marble steps, and the inner walls are adorned with vibrant reliefs.

The women’s gallery (known as Azara or Mehizah) is situated on the western side of the main hall, accompanied by a Midrash.

Shabtai Tzvi, a pivotal figure in Jewish history, falsely claimed to be the Messiah during the 17th century. He once preached at the Ahrida Synagogue prior to his conversion to Islam. We offer comprehensive Istanbul Jewish Tours that encompass the Ahrida Synagogue, available for both full-day and half-day (morning) experiences.

Neve Shalom Synagogue

Neve Shalom Istanbul

Starting from the early 20th century, Galata emerged as Istanbul’s most densely populated Jewish neighborhood. In response, the Jewish community opted to erect a new and more spacious synagogue. The realization of this endeavor culminated in the completion and consecration of the Neve Shalom Synagogue in 1951.

Named “Neve Shalom,” meaning “Oasis of Peace,” this synagogue swiftly evolved into the epicenter of Jewish life within Istanbul. It now stands as the premier and largest synagogue in the city. Alongside hosting Shabbat prayers, Neve Shalom Synagogue accommodates events such as Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Milah ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. Additionally, it houses a Mikveh, a facility for purification rituals.

Adjacent to Neve Shalom is the Jewish Museum of Istanbul, a captivating destination that offers a deep dive into the rich tapestry of Jewish history in Turkey. Inclusive of a visit to the Jewish Museum, the Istanbul Jewish Tours promise a rewarding exploration.

The Neve Shalom Synagogue is a featured highlight within both full-day and half-day iterations of the Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Etz Ahayim Synagogue

Etz Ahayim Synagogue

Etz Ahayim (meaning “Tree of Life”) stands as a name widely embraced by numerous Byzantine and Ottoman synagogues. This particular synagogue resides within the vibrant Ortakoy district, renowned as the bustling waterfront neighborhood along the Bosphorus.

Tracing its origins to an Ottoman edict of the early 1700s, the synagogue’s history unfolds. This edict recounts a pivotal chapter in which a fire severely impacted the Etz Ahayim. Subsequently, during the Yom Kippur services of 1941, a blaze ignited by an oil lamp engulfed the structure. Yet, the resilient local Ortakoy community rallied to safeguard essential elements like the Ehal, cherished Torah scrolls donated by the Kamondo family, and intricate rugs.

Within its premises, the Etz Ahayim Synagogue boasts three Midrash areas designed for daily prayers. Two of these Midrash spaces are steeped in Sephardic tradition, while the third follows the Ashkenazi style. Notably, the Ashkenazi-styled Midrash features a marble plaque commemorating Ribi Naftali be Isaac ha-Kohen Katz—a renowned 17th-century Rabbi and Kabbalist.

Enriched by its strategic location, the Etz Ahayim Synagogue holds a preeminent position as one of Istanbul’s most vibrant synagogues. The higher Jewish populace in this locale translates to a more frequent participation in prayers compared to other synagogues across the city. The Etz Ahayim Synagogue stands as a valued inclusion within both our half-day and full-day tours, inviting you to explore its rich heritage.

Beth Yaakov Synagogue

Beth Yaakov Istanbul

Beth Yaakov is located on the Asian side of Istanbul, nestled within the Kuzguncuk neighborhood. The original name, Kal de Abasho, translates to “city synagogue.”

Historical records from the 17th century illuminate Kuzguncuk as a favored dwelling for the Jewish community, rendering it one of the most densely inhabited Jewish districts. A series of fires that swept through the area, nearly decimating it, ultimately triggered a decline in the Jewish presence in Kuzguncuk.

With a capacity to accommodate 260 people, Beth Yaakov features an Azara, or women’s gallery. The main hall’s ceiling is adorned with depictions of landscapes and scenes inspired by the Torah.

Given the substantial decrease in the Jewish population within Kuzguncuk, Beth Yaakov now operates with minimal services and is accessible to visitors.

Beth Yaakov’s most notable occurrence transpires during Ramadan, a sacred month in Islam. As Muslims fast during Ramadan, Beth Yaakov extends its hospitality by offering dinners to its Muslim neighbors. This event stands as a profound symbol of religious tolerance and interfaith understanding.

Istanbul Jewish Tours

If you are interested in the best Jewish Tours in Istanbul with an experienced, knowledgeable private tour guide, please contact us! Our private tours are the best option to enjoy the wonderful and complex synagogues and Jewish neighborhoods of Istanbul.

Let us make your time in Istanbul a memorable one!

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