Why Dönmeh are Eligible for Aliyah to Israel

It has been widely claimed for hundreds of years that the 17th century Dönmeh founding generation converted to Islam and that the Dönmeh are somehow Muslims. But how is this possible considering that the Dönmeh do not practice Islam and never practiced Islam? In being part of the Bektashi Order in transcending the boundaries of Rabbinic Judaism and Alevi-Bektashi Judaism, the Dönmeh created their own distinctive subdenomination of Bektashism with their distinctive liturgy in their own synagogues.

There are today in Israel many Jews who joined the Bektashi order and none of them believe that they converted to Islam. There is simply no evidence of Dönmeh being Muslims or practicing Islam or converting to Islam. The claim that Dönmeh somehow against all documentation about them are Muslims persists and goes back to 1666 when the sultan threatened Sabbatai Zevi with death unless he converted to Islam. Zevi put on a turban and later led hundreds of his adherents into the Bektashi order, a denomination of Median Judaism.

There is no substance to the claim that the Dönmeh are Muslims and they remain halakhically Jewish. Their conversions belong to the Northern Jurisdiction (i.e. Median Judaism) which since 27 centuries ago has religious autonomy to perform its own initiations into Judaism. Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism recognized Ethiopian Jews as Halakhically Jews and thus implicitly officially acknowledged the legitimacy of conversions of Median Judaism. Ethiopian Jews are descended from ancient converts to Median Judaism in Ethiopia and Eritrea. This fact is relevant since the Dönmeh have for decades been intermarrying with secular Turks and the resulting children have often been converted to Dönmeh Judaism. These converted offspring are no less Halakhically Jewish than other Bektashi converts to Median Judaism and are no less eligible for Aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return. In fact, all Dönmeh as Median Jewry generally are Halakhically Jewish and fully eligible for Aliyah under Israel’s Law of Return.

Published by Daniella Bartfeld

Daniella Bartfeld is the founding director of the Aliyah Organization

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