Istanbul Jewish Tours

Istanbul Jewish Tours – “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 and 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 free Jewish neighborhoods in Istanbul. The most important Jewish neighborhoods 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. The Jewish community and synagogues are under the authority of the Chief Rabbinate Office. The Chief Rabbinate Office is officially recognized by the Turkish constitution and law.

By our private Istanbul Jewish Tours, our professional lecturer – tour guides would guide you through the old and new Jewish neighborhoods of Istanbul. You will be given wide information about the past and present Jewish life in Istanbul. Like our other private tours in Istanbul, the private Jewish tours are also tailor made. We may also design 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.

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

Please contact us for more information about the Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Referred by

Our Private Jewish Tours Include:

  • Professional licensed tour guide expert on Jewish History
  • 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 special needs:  Kosher food catering and prayer reservations at the synagogues etc.

Below you may find information about the synagogues in Istanbul that are included in our Istanbul Jewish Tours:

Ashkenazi Synagogue

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

The lovely ebony bimah and Aron Kodesh was donated by the Carlman family in 1904. With its 400 people capacity, the synagogue has the Azara as 2 balconies. The synagogue is still an active synagogue and it is open for visits and also prayers.

At the site of the present Ashkenazi Synagogue, there was another synagogue reflecting the Austrian architecture of Austrian origin “Österreichischer Temple”, which had been used since 1831 before it was completely destroyed in the fire of 1866.

The hallway and stairs of the synagogue are covered with carpets of eastern origin. Aron Kodesh made of ebony wood and Bimah were donated by 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 of synagogue) is designed as two balconies.

According to the documents, approximately 10,000 Ashkenazi Jews lived in 1925 in Istanbul. Nowadays this number is decreased approximately to 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) was inspired by the Macedonian city of Ohrid. It is considered that the building had taken its present state 600 years ago.

Despite having two entrances, the south gate is usually closed and the north gate is used. In the north gate,there is an arched door and decorated with plant motifs. In the synagogue, bricks and stones are used and the floor is covered with marble.

The Tevah is designed as a ship’s trench, which is seated on a platform and can be entered with two steps. This design may symbolize the Ark of Noah or the trench of the Ottoman ships that brought Sephardic Jewish from Spain to the Ottoman soil.

The Ehal’s doors, which can be reached with three marble steps, are decorated with mother of pearl and the interior walls are decorated with colorful reliefs.
The gallery for women (Azara, Mehizah) is located 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 the Jewish history. It is known that he preached at the Ahrida Synagogue before he was forced to convert to Islam.

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

Neve Shalom Synagogue

Starting from the early 20th century, Galata became the most populated Jewish neighborhood in Istanbul. Therefore a new larger synagogue was required by the Jewish community. The construction was finished in 1951 and Neve Shalom Synagogue was inaugurated.

Neve Shalom (Oasis of Peace) became the center of Jewish life in Istanbul. It is now the main 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 the Neve Shalom Synagogue and  is one of the most impressive places to learn more about the Jewish history in Turkey. The Istanbul Jewish Tours include visit to the Jewish Museum as well.

Neve Shalom Synagogue can be included either in full or half day Istanbul Jewish Tours.

Etz Ahayim Synagogue

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

According to an edict the history of the synagogue goes back to the early 1700. This edict that was given by the Ottoman Sultan mentions about a fire that heavily damaged the Etz Ahayim Synagogue. During Yom Kippur services in 1941 a fire caused by an oil lamp damaged the synagogue. However, by the help of the people in the area, the Ehal, valuable Torah scrolls donated by Kamondo family, rugs etc. were saved.

The Etz Ahayim Synagogue has 3 Midrash in its couryard that is used for daily prayers. 2 of the Midrash are in Sephardic style, the other one is in Ashkenazi style. 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 Synagogue is one of the most active synagogues in Istanbul. As there is more Jewish population in that area people attend prayers more often than other synagogues in the city.

Beth Yaakov Synagogue

Beth Yaakov Synagogue is located on Asian Side of Istanbul in the Kuzguncuk neighborhood. The original name of the synagogue 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 neighborhoods. After some fires that almost destroyed the whole neighborhood the Jewish presence in Kuzguncuk started to fade out.

With its Azara (women gallery) the synagogue has 260 people capacity. The ceiling of the main hall is adorned with landscape pictures and scenes from Torah.

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

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

The Synagogues are closed on weekends, official and religious holidays. The Neve Shalom Synagogue is closed to visitors on Fridays. In order to arrange the entries to the synagogues passport information is required at least 2 days prior to the visits. This is required by the Chief Rabbinate Office in Istanbul. Please note that the synagogues require entrance fees.

If you would like to attend the prayers at one of the synagogues 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 private Istanbul Jewish Tours, hotel and itinerary recommendations. We would be more than pleased to assist you.

Let us make your time in Istanbul a memorable one!