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About Yosef ibn Yahya
Banker at Antwerp.
Turkish statesman and financier; born in Portugal at the beginning of the sixteenth century; died at Constantinople Aug. 2, 1579. His father, a younger brother of Francisco and Diogo Nasi-Mendez, and a member of the Marano family Nasi which had fled to Portugal from Spain during the persecutions at the end of the fifteenth century, died at an early age. To escape the religious intolerance in Portugal, Joseph soon emigrated to Antwerp together with his uncle Diogo. There they established, in partnership with their kinsman Abraham Benveniste, an extensive banking-house. Nasi's handsome presence and amiable character, as well as the far-reaching commercial relations of the house, soon won for him the favor of the nobility, and even that of Queen Mary, regent of the Netherlands from 1531 and sister of Charles V. Joseph, however, and his aunt Gracia, who had gone to Antwerp in 1536, felt oppressed by the pretense of Christianity, which they were obliged to feign even here; and they determined to emigrate to Turkey. With much difficulty and at great expense they succeeded in 1549 in reaching as far as Venice.
All the Maranos in Venice were banished in the year 1550. It was probably at this time that Joseph asked the republic of Venice for one of the neighboring islands where the exiles might find refuge and whither the heavy emigration of Portuguese Jews might be diverted. His request, however, was refused. When Gracia, in consequence of the incautious statements of her niece (who bore the same name), was imprisoned on the charge of relapse into Judaism and her property was confiscated by the republic, Joseph appealed to Sultan Sulaiman II. (1520-66) at Constantinople, and through the influential court physician Moses Hamon he succeeded in attracting the attention of the sultan to the commercial and financial advantages which Turkey would gain if the Nasi family and other rich Jewish houses should settle in the country. The sultan thereupon sent an ambassador to Venice with the command to release Gracia and her property. Two years, however, elapsed before the negotiations with the republic were completed and Gracia was able to proceed to Constantinople. She was followed the next year (1553) by Joseph. Here at last he could openly profess Judaism. He adopted his family name, Joseph Nasi, instead of his Christian one of João Miguez, and married Reyna, the beautiful, much-courted daughter of Gracia. Through his letters of introduction Joseph soon gained influence at the court of Sultan Sulaiman. In the struggle for the throne between Sulaiman's two sons, Salim, prefect of the province of Kutaya, and Bayazid, the younger but far more talented, Joseph from the first adopted Salim's cause and succeeded in influencing the sultan in his favor. In the decisive battle at Konia between the two rivals, Bayazid was defeated. He escaped to Persia, and was there murderedwith his four sons. After this success Salim made Joseph a member of his guard of honor, while Sulaiman gave him Tiberias in Palestine and seven smaller places in its vicinity as his property, to be used exclusively for Jewish colonization.
Lord of Tiberias.
Joseph sent to Tiberias Joseph ibn Adret, in whom he placed implicit confidence, with a royal firman and well supplied with money (derived principally from Gracia's property) to rebuild the walls. In spite of the opposition of the Arabian workmen, who, partly from envy, partly from superstitions roused by an old sheik, wished to withdraw from the work, the walls were completed in 1565 with the help of the Pasha of Damascus. During the excavations a flight of steps was found leading to an old church vault filled with marble statues; and three bells were also discovered, dating, it was said, from the time of Guido, the last king of Jerusalem. These were recast into cannon.
To promote the industries of Palestine, Joseph planted mulberry-trees for the purpose of raising silkworms, and imported cloth from Venice. At the same time he issued a proclamation to the Jews to the effect that all the persecuted who were willing to labor as farmers or artisans might find refuge in the new Jewish community. His invitation was addressed especially to the Jews of the Roman Campagna, who had much to endure under Pope Paul IV. (1555-59), and who were to be transported from Venice to Tiberias in Joseph's own ships. The little community of Cori in the Campagna, numbering about 200 souls, decided to emigrate to Tiberias in a body; and they sent envoys to their coreligionists in the larger Italian cities asking for money wherewith to defray the expenses of their journey. The longing for this new Tiberias was increased when Pius V. issued his well-known bull (Feb. 26, 1569) banishing the Jews from the Papal States. Thereupon the community of Pesaro also sent a ship from Venice with 102 Jewish emigrants; but it fell into the hands of Maltese pirates, who sold their victims into slavery. The Pesarians in this extremity wrote to Nasi for help, but whether their petition met with any success is not known.
Duke of Naxos.
When the pleasure-loving Salim ascended the throne in 1566 on the death of Sulaiman, Joseph's influence reached its zenith. On his return from Belgrade, Salim made Joseph a duke and gave him the islands of Naxos, Andros, Milo, Paros, Santorina, and the other Cyclades, which had hitherto belonged to the regent of Naxos. The latter, Giacomo Crispo, had been deposed on account of the numerous complaints of his Greek subjects. Joseph governed the islands through a Christian Spaniard, Francisco Coronello, probably to avoid any antipathy on the part of the Greek inhabitants, and levied very light taxes, as he himself had to pay to the Turks only the extremely moderate tax of 14,000 ducats per annum. Salim also granted him the tax on wines imported into Turkey by way of the Black Sea.
Despite the jealousy and intrigues of the grand vizier, Mohammed Sokolli, Nasi was so influential with Salim that the representatives of European powers sometimes found it necessary to interest Joseph in their behalf. When Maximilian II., Emperor of Germany (1564-76), desired to conclude peace with Turkey (1567), he did not fail to direct his ambassador, Verantius, to give presents to Nasi as well as to the other high court officials. Verantius did not do this, however, but borrowed money from Nasi instead. In 1571 the emperor addressed an autograph letter to him.
In 1566 Nasi encouraged the Protestant council of Antwerp to hold out against the Catholic king of Spain, by pointing out Salim's hostile attitude toward the latter country. Thereupon William of Orange (1569) sent a confidential messenger to him asking him, in view of the revolt which the Dutch were planning against Spanish supremacy, to urge the sultan to declare war on Spain so that the latter would be obliged to withdraw her troops from the Netherlands. Joseph, however, did not succeed in obtaining a declaration of war. He carried on an active and friendly correspondence with Sigismund August II., King of Poland, who borrowed a large sum of money from him in 1570, granting him in return extensive commercial privileges, although the council of the city of Lemberg protested against this action.
In Sept., 1569, a great fire broke out in the arsenal at Venice. Nasi learned of this almost immediately, and at once urged Salim to carry out his long-cherished plan for the conquest of Cyprus. Salim finally allowed himself to be involved in a war with the Venetians and deprived them of Cyprus in 1571. There is a story that Salim in a fit of drunkenness promised Joseph the title of King of Cyprus, and that Joseph had already placed in his house the armorial bearings of the island, with his own name beneath them. However this may have been, Salim did not fulfil this alleged promise after the conquest of Cyprus.
Seizes French Ships.
In 1569, to punish France, which for years had been trying all possible means to escape payment of the 150,000 scudi which it owed the Nasi family, the sultan gave Joseph permission to seize all French ships sailing in Turkish waters and to hold them as security until the debt should be discharged. Joseph succeeded in capturing certain French ships in the harbor of Alexandria, and sold their cargoes to the amount of the debt, despite the protests lodged with the Porte by the French ambassador. The French government tried to take revenge for the humiliation, and the French ambassador at Constantinople, De Grandchamp, succeeded in bribing a low fellow named David to charge Nasi with high treason. The latter discovered the clumsy plot in time, however, and easily convinced the sultan of his innocence and loyalty. David and his accomplices were banished to Rhodes, and at Nasi's instance were excommunicated by the rabbis of several communities. When, however, Joseph heard of David's repentance, he tried to have the rabbinical ban removed; but most of the rabbis declined to accede to his request.
On the death of Salim (Dec. 12, 1574), Nasi lost his political influence, although he retained his officesand income; and the remainder of his life was passed in quiet seclusion in his castle of Belvedere. Nasi died childless; and his property was seized shortly after his death by the sultan Murad on the advice of Sokolli. The death of Nasi was generally lamented. The poet R. Saadia Longo composed an elegy upon him. Moses Almosnino dedicated to him his ethical work entitled "El Regimento de la Vida" (Salonica, 1564; Venice, 1604), and Eliezer Ashkenazi his commentary on Esther, "Yosif Leḳaḥ" (Cremona, 1576).
Although Joseph accomplished nothing great or lasting for Judaism, a certain Jewish interest, both communal and literary, is associated with him. He supported Talmudic scholars and especially the yeshibah founded in Constantinople by Joseph ibn Leb at the instance of Gracia. In his house he had a considerable Hebrew library; and he allowed the public to make use of his manuscripts. He also founded a Hebrew printing-press in Constantinople, which, however, existed only a short time. As the result of conversations with certain dignitaries at his castle of Belvedere, Nasi is said to have composed a small theological work to prove to a Christian that the Torah was superior to the Greek philosophy. It has been supposed that it was written in Spanish, and that Isaac Onḳeneira translated it into Hebrew under the title "Ben Porat Yosef" (printed in Constantinople, 1577). According to Steinschneider, however, Onḳeneira was the author of the book.
According to the Tapestry: "Don Yosef, Wealthier than all other Jews, died in Ferrara and had three sons and three daughters". Don Yosef Nasi was also known as "João Miquez" in a Portuguese variant, "Giuseppe Nasi" in Italian, and as "Yasef Nassi" in Ottoman Turkish
Reference: "Divrei ha-Yamim le-Bnei Yahya,( דברי הימים לבני יחייא )", by Eliakim Carmoly, Printed in Frankfort am Main/Rodelheim, Published by: Isak Kaufman, 1850. Genealogy of, and biographical work on, the Yahya family by Eliakim Carmoly. There is an introduction from Carmoly, in which he informs that the Yahya family is one of distinction from the time of Maimonides. Originally achieving greatness in Portugal and Spain, they after settled in Italy and Turkey. The text is preceded by a chart of the family, beginning with the Nasi, Don Yahya, and concluding with Don Gedalia. The text, in seven chapters, is set in a single column, primarily in rabbinic type although there are instances of vocalized square letters, and is accompanied by extensive footnotes. The final page is an announcement of the forthcoming publication of seven minor Yerushalmi tractates by Carmoli. The text of this book was compared to the "bin Yahya Family Tapestry", currently stored in the antiquity archives of Jewish Theological Seminary in New York City, by Abraham Greenstein - grandson of Abraham Gindi HaKohen. The text matches the Tapestry.
Don Joseph Nasi (or Nassi; also known as João Miques/Micas and Dom João Migas Mendes in a Portuguese variant, Giuseppe Nasi in Italian, and as Yasef Nassi in Ottoman Turkish; 1524, Portugal–1579, Constantinople) was a Jewish diplomat and administrator, member of the House of Mendes/Benveniste, and a nephew of Dona Gracia Mendes Nasi, and influential figure in the Ottoman Empire during the rules of both Sultan Suleiman I and his son Selim II. He was a great benefactor of the Jewish people.
A Court Jew, he was appointed the Lord of Tiberias, with the expressed aim of resettling Jews in Ottoman Syria and encouraging industry there; the attempt failed, and, later, he was appointed the Duke of Naxos. Nasi also brought about war with the Republic of Venice, at the end of which Venice lost the island of Cyprus to the Ottomans. After the death of Selim, he lost influence in the Ottoman Court, but was allowed to keep his titles and pension for the remainder of his life. Continued . . .
Yosef ibn Yahya's Timeline
Imola, Emilia-Romagna, Italy
August 2, 1579
Istanbul Province, Turkey
Istanbul Province, Turkey