Israel Before the State

Jews in the Land of Israel from the destruction of the Temple through the Ottoman Empire.

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The Ottoman Rule: New Opportunities for the Jewish Community

The Ottoman Empire conquered Palestine in 1517 and held it until the empire's decline at the end of World War I. The Ottomans, though practicing Muslims, were much less harsh on the Jewish community than previous Islamic empires and actually allowed them to thrive. The Jewish population in Palestine had exploded in the previous decades with the influx of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who had been expelled during the Inquisition. The Jewish communities in Jerusalem, Tiberias, Gaza, Hebron, Acre, and Safed greatly increased in number during this period.

In Safed, Rabbi Isaac Luria revolutionized Jewish mystical thought and established Safed as the center of Kabbalistic study. Also in Safed, Luria's follower, Joseph Caro, wrote the Shulchan Arukh, which remains the most influential Jewish legal code to this day.

In 1798, Napoleon invaded Egypt. Though he never captured Palestine, the European influence on the Middle East did have positive effects on the Jewish community. A number of reforms in the 19th century led to more rights for Jews, with full citizenship being granted to them (along with all others in the Empire) in 1876.

By the end of the century, after an increase in anti-Semitic incidents in Eastern Europe, Jews started moving to Palestine with the hope of one day creating a Jewish homeland there. This was the beginning of the modern Zionist movement that officially became an organized body with the first World Zionist Congress which was held in Basel, Switzerland in 1897. By 1909, Jewish settlers had founded Tel Aviv, the first all-Jewish city in modern Palestine.

By the end of the World War I, the British had taken control of Palestine as part of the Sykes-Picot Agreement with France in their partition of the soon non-existent Ottoman Empire. This would not be the last political change in Palestine. Conflicts between the Arab population and the growing Jewish population would, in the coming decades, alter the face of the Middle East.

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Jeremy Moses

Jeremy Moses is the Editorial Fellow at He has a BA in American History and Modern Jewish Studies from McGill University. He served as the advisor for United Synagogue Youth in Montreal. He spent two summers working as a Unit Head at Camp Ramah in Canada.