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ṢARRĀF , Arabic money changer, intendant, treasurer; ṣarrāfbashi, Arabic-Turkish chief money changer, chief banker. In Islamic countries Muslims were all but forbidden to work in gold and silver, not only as goldsmiths and silversmiths but also as jahābidha (Persian; sing. jahbādh), i.e., money changers, coin testers, and collectors of taxes and customs dues, who had to be capable of calculating the value of different kinds of coins in accordance with the percentage of precious metal they contained. An order by the caliph al-Muqtadir (908–932) restricted the employment of Jews and Christians in the government to physicians and jahābidha. Arab sources report the presence of Jewish wholesale merchants, toll farmers, and bankers at the court of the caliphs in *Baghdad. A Jew, Yaqʿūb ibn Yusūf *Ibn Killis, laid the foundation for a public tax collection system in *Egypt during the reign of al-Muʿizz (969–975), the first *Fāṭimid ruler of that country. *Ḥisdai ibn Shaprut was the chief customs collector and a physician in *Umayyad Spain during the reign of Abd al-Raḥmān iii (912–961). These dignitaries indirectly influenced the attitude of the governments toward the Jews. The prominent Jacob *Ibn Jau, a merchant and the official manufacturer and supplier of silk, was appointed tax collector and nasi of the Jews in Spain during the rule of al-*Manṣur (977–991).

In the Ottoman Empire many Jews, Armenians, and Copts served as ṣarrāf at the courts of the provincial pashas and in the capital. Their positions as tax collectors, toll farmers, cashiers, and bankers, and their influence at court enabled them to act as the natural spokesmen for their communities. The Jewish representatives had titles such as chelebi (Turkish: gentleman), bazirkān (Persian: bazargar, merchant), mu'allim (Arabic: teacher). These titles were still in use in the early 19th century in *Istanbul. The Armenian equivalent bore the title amira. The amira, the banker, and the financial advisers to the viziers and various ministers of the Ottoman government were the highest secular authorities in the Armenian community until regulations for the Armenian *millet were finally drafted and approved in 1863.

A similar development occurred in *Iraq. From the early 18th century, the Jewish ṣarrāf bashi, the chief banker and finance minister to the pasha or wālī of Baghdad, assumed the position and title of *nasi. Until the middle of the 19th century the ṣarrāf bashi of Baghdad acted as nasi of the Baghdad community. His political importance sometimes was exaggerated and compared with that of the *exilarch under the *Abbasids, e.g., in the report of the Jewish convert to Christianity and missionary J. *Wolff (author of Narrative of a Mission to Bokhara, 1852), who was introduced to the nasi Saul Laniado in 1824. The first nasi in Baghdad was the ṣarrāf bashiMoses b. Mordecai *Shindookh. One of the last to hold the office of ṣarrāf bashi in Baghdad was Ezra b. Joseph Gabbai. His brother Ezekiel attained the position of ṣarrāf bashi to the sultan Maḥmūd ii (1808–39). Court intrigues and interdenominational rivalry between Jews and Armenians sometimes made the position of ṣarrāf bashi a very dangerous one, and the tragic deaths of some are described in various sources.

In Egypt the appointment of Joseph *Cattaui as ṣarrāf bashi by the khedive Saʿīd (1854–1863) was not linked with any official function in the Jewish community. The development of tourism necessitated enforcing of controls over the money changers, and this became the main task of the ṣarrāf bashi. E.W. Lane (in The Manners and Customs of the Modern Egyptians (1968), 562) wrote: "Many of the Egyptian Jews are ṣarrāfs (or bankers and moneylenders), others are seyrefees (dialect: money changers), and are esteemed men of strict probity." In 1872 a German traveler also stressed the role of the Jews in the banking (ṣarrāf) business: "They tend to be ṣaraffen (money changers) and then rise easily to a kind of banker, some indeed becoming great bankers" (M. Luettke, Aegyptens neue Zeit, 1 (1873), 98). According to a Christian Arabic source (Ali Mubārak, Al-Khiţaţ al-Jadīda, 12 (1305 a.h.), 95) in the middle of the 19th century, 21 out of 49 Jews in Suez were money changers.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]

Jewish Banking (Middle East)

With the growing involvement of Middle Eastern countries in the world economy during the second half of the 19th century, and the expansion of financial operations in these countries, Jewish banking families at the major commercial centers of the Ottoman Empire and Egypt reached the zenith of their economic power. Their influence on financial and economic developments was great. Among these families were the *Sassoons (Baghdad-Bombay-London), the *Camondos (Istanbul-Paris), and the Menashes (Alexandria-Vienna). The big banking families did not confine their activities to the financial sector. They were involved in foreign trade transactions and in commercial agriculture, transportation, and urban development projects. These big banker-entrepreneurs also made substantial contributions to Jewish community institutions. Their support of education was of particular significance. At times the Jewish bankers operated in fierce competition and at other times in cooperation with European banks and with other local big banking families (Greek, Armenian, and also Muslim). In the course of their activity during the last decades of the century, some of the Jewish banking families transferred their business headquarters to European capitals, especially London and Paris. The extreme changes in the political and economic conditions in the Middle East and Europe during the first half of the 20th century brought about the decline of these influential families. In some cases their assets were confiscated or nationalized, in others they were acquired by or merged with large economic concerns or multinational corporations.

[Gad Gilbar (2nd ed.)]


Fischel, Islam; Ibn Daud, Tradition, 50–51 (Hebrew section), 69 (English section); H.Z. Hirschberg, in: A.J. Arberry (ed.), Religion in the Middle East, 1 (1969), 119–225; D.S. Sassoon,History of the Jews in Baghdad (1949), 122–7; A. Ben-Ya'acov, Yehudei Bavel (1965), passim; Rosanes, Togarmah, 6 (1945), 71–76; E.W. Lane, Modern Egyptians (1908, repr. 1936), 562; J.M. Landau, Ha-Yehudim be-Miẓrayim ba-Me'ah ha-Tesha-Esreh (1967), index s.v.Ḥalfanut. add. bibliography: jewish banking: A. Wright and H.A. Cartwright, Twentieth Century Impressions of Egypt (1909); S. Jackson, The Sassoons, 1968; G. Kramer, The Jews in Modern Egypt 19141952 (1989); N. Şeni, "The Camondos and their Imprint on 19th-Century Istanbul," in: International Journal of Middle East Studies, 26 (1994), 663–75; N. Şeni and S. Le Tarnec, Les Camondos ou l'éclipse d'une fortune (1997); M. Rozen (ed.), The Last Ottoman Century and Beyond: The Jews in Turkey and the Balkans, 18081945 (2005).