Esther and Esperanza

Esther Handali was a widow to a Jewish merchant in Constantinople in the late 16th century. After her husband died, she maintained the family business and started a close friendship with Her Majesty Afife Nûr-Banû Sultâna the Valide Sultan of Murad III.

Nûr-Banû was one of the women in the Sultanate of Women, which covers a period of 130 years. It is known as that as the women of the Harem had much power and effectively ruled the Ottoman Empire from within the Harem. They relied heavily on their female intermediaries, or kiras for information, diplomatic writings, political power plays as well as shopping for anything the Harem needed or wanted. Esther became very powerful, with direct access to the Valide Sultan. Her son became the chief Customs officer, and she earned her family and her descendants tax-free status within the Ottoman Empire. However, she was murdered when she was in her seventies by a group of Janissary soldiers who feared the influence she had and the possible rise in power of the Jews in the Empire. The number of Jews in the Ottoman Empire increased after the Alhambra Decree, which was about the Sephardi Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492. They were officially invited by Bayezid II to settle in his Empire, the second generation into the Ottoman Empire.

Esperanza Malchi was another Jewish kira, for the Safiye Valide Sultan. Safiye was thought to have been a relative of Nûr-Banû, and was chief consort to Nûr-Banû’s son Murad III. She became the Valide Sultan to her son Mehmed III. Esperanza had great influence with Safiye, and it was thought that this was mainly due to them being lovers. Esperanza was attacked and killed by a mob in the year 1600 when there was unrest between the Sultanate and the Military.

The History of the Jews in Turkey.
Turkish Jews.
Hebrew History Foundation– Jewish Women Through The Ages by Samuel Kurinsky.
Jews in the Realms of the Sultans by Yaron Ben-Naeh.
Venice and the Islamic World 828-1797 by Stephano Carboni.
The Ottoman Lady by Fanny Davis.

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