Istanbul Private Jewish Tours:

Welcome to our specialized Jewish travel agency in Istanbul, dedicated to crafting outstanding private tours that explore the rich Jewish heritage of this historic city. Our experienced tour guides are eager to lead you on a captivating journey, revealing the unique stories of both historic and modern Jewish neighborhoods in Istanbul. As you wander through synagogues and other notable sites, immerse yourself in the city’s dynamic Jewish history.

Our custom-designed Jewish tours delve deep into the evolution of Jewish life in Istanbul. With our knowledgeable guides, discover the narratives and enduring legacies that have molded the community through the ages. Journey from ancient quarters to contemporary districts, gaining a thorough understanding of the multifaceted Jewish heritage that weaves through the city’s fabric.

Our Istanbul Private Jewish Tours Offer:

  • Personalized Itineraries: Tailor-made journeys that align with your unique interests in Jewish history, culture, and theology in Istanbul and Turkey.
  • Expert Tour Guides: Guides with deep knowledge and passion for Jewish heritage, ensuring an enlightening and engaging experience.
  • Exclusive Synagogue Access: Arranged appointments with the Chief Rabbinate Office for private visits to historic synagogues.
  • Authentic Culinary Experiences: Options for kosher and glatt kosher food catering, providing a true taste of Jewish culinary tradition.
  • Shabbat Celebrations: Organized Shabbat dinners, offering an immersive experience into the heart of Istanbul’s Jewish community. Upon availability
  • Cultural Immersion: Opportunities to engage with local traditions, folklore, and community life, for a deeper understanding of Jewish influence in Turkey.
Istanbul Jewish Tours

For those seeking a more tailored exploration, we are delighted to offer customizable Jewish tours, meticulously shaped to align with your specific interests and desires. Additionally, we can enhance your itinerary with visits to Istanbul’s major landmarks, blending Jewish heritage with a broader appreciation of the city’s culture, history, and allure.

At our agency, we pride ourselves on providing exceptional Jewish tours in Istanbul. Combining expert knowledge, enthusiasm, and a commitment to excellence, we strive to make your exploration of Istanbul’s Jewish past not just educational, but an extraordinary and memorable journey. Let us guide you through a world rich in compelling stories and enduring connections that span across centuries.

Tracing the Legacy: Jewish History 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

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Key Information for Istanbul Jewish Tours:

  • Please note that synagogues in Istanbul are closed to visitors on weekends, official, and religious holidays.
  • The Neve Shalom Synagogue does not allow tours on Fridays.
  • To facilitate entry into the synagogues, it is essential to provide passport details at least two days prior to your visit, as mandated by the Chief Rabbinate Office.
  • Be aware that entrance to the synagogues for touring purposes involves a fee.
  • Should you wish to participate in prayer services at any of the synagogues, we are happy to make the necessary arrangements for our guests. For further details and arrangements, please feel free to contact us.

Ashkenazi Synagogue

Istanbul Jewish Tours

Inaugurated on September 17, 1900, by decree of Sultan Abdulhamid II, the Ashkenazi Synagogue stands as a symbol of enduring cultural heritage. It is the only synagogue in the area still conducting services in the Ashkenazi tradition. Located in Galata, one of Istanbul’s oldest Jewish neighborhoods, it is steeped in rich history.

The site of the current Ashkenazi Synagogue was originally home to the “Österreichischer Temple,” an edifice reflecting Austrian architectural styles, established in 1831. However, a devastating fire in 1866 destroyed the original structure, paving the way for the construction of the existing synagogue.

A striking feature of the synagogue is the magnificent ebony bimah and Aron Kodesh, donated by the Carlman family in 1904. These items were dedicated in memory of Rachel Carlmann, Carl Carlmann’s beloved wife, symbolizing a deep commitment to faith and heritage. The synagogue, accommodating up to four hundred attendees, also includes the Azara, an area specifically for women, equipped with two balconies.

Today, the Ashkenazi Synagogue continues as an active place of worship, welcoming both visitors and regular worshippers. The interiors, adorned with carpets of Eastern origin, add a layer of warmth and tradition to the space.

Historical data shows that the Ashkenazi Jewish community in Istanbul numbered around 10,000 in 1925. However, today, this figure has decreased to approximately five hundred, highlighting the significance of preserving historical sites like the Ashkenazi Synagogue.

Visitors can explore this historical jewel through full-day or half-day (morning) Istanbul Jewish Tours. A visit to the synagogue is not just a journey through history, but a living connection to the rich tapestry of traditions in Istanbul’s diverse community.

Ahrida Synagogue

Ahrida Synagogue

The Ahrida Synagogue, established in the 15th century by Jewish immigrants from Macedonia in Istanbul, is a landmark of historical importance. Its name, “Ohrida” (Ahrida), originates from the Macedonian city of Ohrid. Impressively, the building has maintained its structural integrity for over six centuries.

This synagogue features two entrances. The south entrance is usually closed, making the north gate the main access point. The north entrance is marked by an arched doorway, beautifully decorated with plant motifs. Constructed using a combination of bricks and stones, the synagogue is also notable for its elegant marble floors. Inside, the Tevah, designed to mimic a ship’s trench and raised on a two-step platform, could symbolize either Noah’s Ark or the Ottoman vessels that carried Sephardic Jews from Spain. The Ehal, featuring mother-of-pearl-inlaid doors, is set upon three marble steps, while the interior walls are enhanced with colorful reliefs.

The women’s gallery (also known as Azara or Mehizah) is located on the western side of the main hall and is adjacent to a Midrash.

Shabtai Tzvi, a controversial figure in Jewish history who claimed to be the Messiah in the 17th century, once delivered sermons at the Ahrida Synagogue before his conversion to Islam. Our extensive Istanbul Jewish Tours include the Ahrida Synagogue, with options for both full-day and half-day (morning) itineraries.

Neve Shalom Synagogue

Neve Shalom Istanbul

Beginning in the early 20th century, the Galata area of Istanbul became the most densely inhabited Jewish neighborhood. To accommodate the growing community, a decision was made to build a larger synagogue. This led to the construction and subsequent dedication of the Neve Shalom Synagogue in 1951.

The name “Neve Shalom,” which translates to “Oasis of Peace,” aptly reflects the synagogue’s significance as a central hub of Jewish culture in Istanbul. It is now recognized as the city’s foremost and largest synagogue. Neve Shalom is not only a place for Shabbat services but also a venue for various Jewish life events including Bar Mitzvahs, Brit Milah ceremonies, weddings, and funerals. It also features a Mikveh, an essential facility used for ritual purification.

Adjacent to the Neve Shalom Synagogue is the Jewish Museum of Istanbul, an engaging site chronicling the extensive history of Jews in Turkey. The Istanbul Jewish Tours, including a visit to the Jewish Museum, offer a comprehensive cultural journey.

Both the full-day and half-day Istanbul Jewish Tours prominently feature the Neve Shalom Synagogue, providing visitors with an insightful glimpse into this pivotal religious and cultural landmark.

Etz Ahayim Synagogue

Etz Ahayim Synagogue

“Etz Ahayim” (meaning “Tree of Life”) is a name shared by many Byzantine and Ottoman synagogues. One such synagogue is nestled in the dynamic Ortakoy district, known for its lively waterfront along the Bosphorus.

Originating from an Ottoman decree in the early 18th century, Etz Ahayim’s history is marked by significant events. Notably, a major fire, documented in this decree, once devastated the synagogue. Later, in 1941, another fire, started by an oil lamp during Yom Kippur services, ravaged the building. Despite these challenges, the dedicated Ortakoy community managed to preserve vital elements like the Ehal, valuable Torah scrolls donated by the Kamondo family, and unique rugs.

Etz Ahayim Synagogue features three distinct Midrash areas for daily prayers. Two are dedicated to Sephardic practices, while the third aligns with Ashkenazi traditions. The Ashkenazi Midrash is especially notable for a marble plaque honoring Ribi Naftali be Isaac ha-Kohen Katz, a famous 17th-century Rabbi and Kabbalist.

Positioned in a strategic locale, Etz Ahayim Synagogue is among Istanbul’s most active synagogues. The substantial Jewish population in Ortakoy contributes to higher attendance in prayers compared to other city synagogues. Included in both our half-day and full-day tours, the Etz Ahayim Synagogue offers visitors a chance to delve into its rich history and vibrant community spirit.

Beth Yaakov Synagogue

Beth Yaakov Istanbul

Beth Yaakov, situated in the Kuzguncuk neighborhood on the Asian side of Istanbul, was originally known as “Kal de Abasho,” meaning “city synagogue.”

Historical accounts from the 17th century highlight Kuzguncuk as a preferred residential area for Jews, making it one of the Jewish community’s most populous districts. However, a succession of devastating fires in the region significantly reduced the Jewish population in Kuzguncuk.

Able to hold 260 people, Beth Yaakov is equipped with an Azara, or women’s gallery. The synagogue’s main hall boasts a ceiling decorated with landscape paintings and scenes derived from the Torah.

Due to the significant reduction in Kuzguncuk’s Jewish population, Beth Yaakov now offers limited services but remains open to visitors.

A remarkable aspect of Beth Yaakov occurs during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. In a gesture of goodwill, Beth Yaakov offers dinner to its Muslim neighbors while they observe their fast. This act has become a powerful symbol of religious harmony and interfaith solidarity.

More Info About Our Istanbul Jewish Tours

Discover the rich history and vibrant culture of Istanbul’s Jewish community with our bespoke Jewish tours. Our experienced team is always ready to provide you with personalized assistance and in-depth knowledge, ensuring a truly unique and memorable experience. Whether you’re interested in exploring ancient synagogues, learning about the historical significance of the Jewish community in Istanbul, or sampling traditional Jewish cuisine, we are here to guide you every step of the way. Contact us at any time for an exclusive and intimate journey through the heart of Istanbul’s Jewish heritage.

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