Research Query: Two Ottoman or Turkish terms

Deborah Koren's picture


I'm hoping someone has some suggestions for two words in a responsum by R. Joseph ibn Lev that I am stumped as to their meaning. I've had a couple of suggestions, and I have one idea of my own (but I don't know Turkish or Arabic, so it is just a stab in the dark).

The events take place in the Ottoman Empire, The topic of the responsum is about taxes (and an attempt to convince the Sultan to reduce them). The first term I was not able to understand is apparently a quantity of money. It is spelled differently two times, and I have not found it anywhere else.

Here are the two uses:

חוץ מהשבעה עשר מאטאכי"ש

מכס הי"ז מתכי"ש

So we are talking about 17 somethings for customs tax. Someone had suggested that it is a corruption of the word mithkal. Would you concur? Do you have any other idea?

The second term appears in the following sentence, twice. Apparently it is some kind of request.

ראובן ... נתן רוקא למלך יר"ה על הדבר פעמים רבו מספר והיו מעלימים ממנו התשובה עד ששם פניו כחלמיש והראה איך החוקום צורתו אשר ביד המוכס היה מזוייף ובכן נתנו לו תשובת הרוקא כי רצון המלך יר"ה שיתבטל ויסתלק המכס

Someone (different person) suggested that this is a corruption of the Turkish word rica, but the c is pronounced like a soft g in the Turkish word, so I'm not so convinced. And here's my stab in the dark: I (who don't know Turkish or Arabic; my expertise is the halakhic literature with some history) thought that maybe the word ruq'ah is being used to refer to an official document.

I would really appreciate any suggestions!

Thank you very much! And stay safe!

Debby Koren



Categories: Query
Keywords: research query

For the question of Prof. Debby Koren, regarding the Teshuva of R. Yosef Ibn Lev (Shut Mahari ben Lev, vol. 4, p. 39 ff.): The topic of the responsum is about taxes, and an attempt to convince the Sultan to reduce them. The first term she is asking about is מאטאכי"ש or מתכי"ש which is apparently a quantity of money.
Second unclear term is תשובת הרוקא Ruka (?).

1. Matakish, seems to refer to: Mithkal (written also: Mithqal). It is so because it is not difficult to find the names of the coins that were in use at that time in the Ottoman Empire, and as far as I see there is no other "candidate" actually.
We have to bear in mind that the Sephardic Jews in the Ottoman Empire spoke among themselves Ladino or Judezo (and see Matthias B. Lehmann, Ladino Rabbinic Literature and Ottoman Sephardic Culture, Indiana University Press, Bloomington 2005); on the tendency of the Judezmo speakers to omit the למ"ד at the end of the word see David Bunis, Leshon Judezmo [=Judezmo: An Introduction to the Language of the Sephardic Jews of The Ottoman Empire (Heb.)] Magness, Jerusalem 1999, p. 72 [passge no. 5].

2. At any rate, this seems to be quite strange in the first glance, as instead of Matakish you expect to see here Mitakish (or something like that), but this difficulty seems to be resolved when you find that it is quite common to use in the Rabbinic Teshuvot the form: Matakal instead of Mithkal (I do not know if it is a special Jewish form or not). See for example: R. Chaim Palaji, Chaim L'Rosh, Izmir 1852, p. 109b מתקאל; and the form מאתקאל, see Shmuel Romanelli, Masa BaArav (Berin 1892 ed.), p. 29; And see Ashtori ha-Parhi, Kaftor VaFerach, chapter 16 (new ed. of Beit HaMidrash laHalacha BaHityashvut), vol. 2, p. 221 ff.).
By the way, according to R. Hadar Margolin, Hiduri haMidot, Jerusalem 2016, pp. 157-158, the Mithkal had changing values in different Muslim countries (on p. 157 n. 87, he presents a list of countries and the estimation of the Mithkal in each one of them).

3. On the set of the Ottoman coins at that time (a bit earlier indeed, but it does not make any difference) and their value see: Sevket Pamuk, A Monetary History of the Ottoman Empire, Cambridge University Press, 2000, p. 67, n. 13: "In the Ottoman kanun [=kanun means: state laws] names [in the time of the Sultan Mehmed II (died 1481)] of this period, the mints were instructed to strike 129 sultani pieces from 100 mithkal of pure gold. The mithkal here refers to the Ilkhanid measure weighing one and a half dirhams of Tebriz or 4.61 grams".
On the value of the Ottoman coins in comparison to other (especially European coins) during the years 1477-1582, see the table in Pamuk's book on p. 63.
More on the history of the Ottoman coins see Friedrich von Schrötter, Wörterbuch der Münzkunde, de Gruyter, Berlin 1930, p. 86 and pp. 393-94 and p. 485.
On the Mithkil in the Arabic world in general see in the entry Dinar, in B. Lewis at al (eds.), The Encyclopaedia of Islam (New edition), vol. 2, Brill, Leiden 1999, p. 297.

4. For this specific Teshuva of R. Yosef Ibn Lev see the discussion of Prof. Leah Borenstein (Makovetsky) in her PhD. (Bar-Ilan 1977): Jewish Communal Leadership in the Near East [=HaHanhaga shel HaKehila HaYehudit baMizrach haKarov] chapter 8, p. 240 ff. where she examines this Teshuva among others that deals with cases where the Jewish communities have sent delegations in their attempt to convince the Sultan (or high rank Ottoman officers) to reduce the taxes.
Borenstein however does not explain (see p. 244 where she cites this Teshuva) what is Matakish. However, for your second question about the term Ruka it might be important to note that she attached to it an exclamation mark as if to say that it seems to her as a misprint.

5. lastly, It seems to me that this Teshuva was written almost in the end of the life of Rabbi Yosef Ibn Lev, as according to Bornstein this case was a result of the new disturbing taxes edict on the Jews of the new Sultan Murad III, who came to power only in 1574; and since Yosef Ibn Lev died around 1580, it seems then that it happened in the last period of his life, when he was already in Istanbul.

Admiel Kosman
Potsdam University

Dear Debby,

Concerning your query, see Hyman Cooper, "The Responsa of Rabbi Joseph ibn Leb: A Study in the Religious, Social and Economic Conditions of the Jewish Communities within the Ottoman Empire during the Sixteenth-Seventeenth Centuries" (Ph.D. thesis, University of London, 1963), Appendix 5: 'Glossary of Turkish and Other Foreign Words,' pp. 542, 545, for מאטאכי"ש and רוקא. The first is defined as "an article of merchandise"; the second term means "petition." For the same terms in an Ottoman Turkish dictionary, see Redhouse's Turkish Dictionary, in Two Parts, English and Turkish, and Turkish and English (London, 1880, second ed.), pp. 761 (mata', "any object of merchandise, a piece of goods"), 580 (rija, "a request").

I wonder, nonetheless, if רוקא does not stand instead for ruq'ah, "letter," from Arabic: رقعة, literally meaning a piece of paper, note, and thus denoting different kinds of documents, including a memo, complaint letter, written petition, brief correspondence, etc. For the Arabic term in the premodern era, see Werner Diem, “Arabic Letters in Pre-Modern Times: A Survey with Commented Selected Bibliographies,” Asiatische Studien. Études Asiatiques, 62, 3: Documentary Letters from the Middle East (2008): 843-883, at 857 (a letter sent or received); and cf. Redhouse's Turkish Dictionary, p. 583 (rendered as rik'a, "a piece of paper, parchment, or cloth").


Liran Yadgar (Monterey, CA)