Jewish Turkish Cultural Similarities

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The other day I was having tea with one of my good friends, when for some reason I decided to tell her the following joke about Jewish mothers:

One Hannukah a mother gives to her son two sweaters – a red one and a blue one. The son is very happy, so the next day he decides to wear the blue sweater to show his mother how much he loved the gifts. As soon as he walks downstairs the mother looks him over and says, “So, you didn’t like the red one?” 

I’ve had bad luck telling this joke to people in the past. In high school I told it to my Baptist girlfriend at the time and she completely missed the humor – I was more than half expecting a similar reaction from my Turkish friend. This time around, however, my friend burst out laughing exclaiming how Turkish mothers were exactly the same way.

Her reaction came as a complete shock, and, in turn, made me start realizing why I might feel so comfortable in Turkey – there appear to be many Jewish Turkish cultural similarities buried deep down. Aside from the notion of motherly guilt, Turkish mothers are also stereotypically known to be ‘hovermoms.’ That is, they always make sure to call their children to see if they’re alright, what they are doing, who they are with, etc.

Family in general is also of paramount importance in Turkey, as is the idea of welcoming guests. Although these are kind of general human cultural traits, there is something about the Turkish way of doing things that reminds me of my family. Maybe it is always the ample amounts of food waiting for anyone whose visiting. Turks are generally never happy with a guest if they eat only one plate of food, and I constantly find myself imagining them saying “Eat! Eat! You’re nothing but skin and bones!”

What about religion? someone may ask. Surely the fact that Turks are vastly Muslim must cause some huge differences. 

Well, actually, not at all. I generally feel – as someone raised a reform Jew now living in largely secular Turkey – that Judaism has much more in common with Islam than with Christianity. In many ways Islam is kind of backwards compatible with Judaism: for example, Muslims may eat Kosher food and it would generally count as being halal for them. Likewise, Muslims and Jews both practice circumcision – something my friend and I had a vaguely awkward conversation about after I told her the Jewish mother joke.

Aside from these more culturally religious similarities, there are also numerous purely religious similarities. Both faiths are traced through Abraham, believe in the indivisibility of one God, and – for the extremely religious – have a ban on creating representational art. For a much longer explanation, LookIsrael actually provides a pretty substantial list of similarities here.

People routinely ask me if I’m worried about living in Turkey as a Jew, and I don’t think I’ve ever once felt threatened in the slightest. Usually more conservative people will ask what I think of Israel and will then go on to mention how they are very cold-hearted. Compared to some of the vitriolic statements some members of my own family make about Israel though, this is pretty tame.

More usually, however, Turks will happily mention how the Ottoman Empire took in and gave shelter to Jews fleeing expulsion from Medieval Europe before handing me a date, or a fig, or a second plate of food.

7 thoughts on “Jewish Turkish Cultural Similarities”

  1. First of all, great joke! I’ve never heard it before.

    Second…interesting post. I agree with you that Islam and Judaism are very similar. In fact, a lot of the Rabbis I’ve met have said exactly the same thing.

  2. This may sound like dejavu :) My hubby and I talked about this last night while watching ‘Blue Blood’ miniseries on CBS. That episode was about a murder of a late rabbi’s son.

    In that episode we could see Jews traditional and religious culture. Looking at how the women dressed up (covering their hair and wearing modest and conservative dress), how the men keep their beard, and seeing that they didn’t shake hands with the opposite sex, yes those were interestingly pretty much similar with Muslims religious culture.

    Wish there’s a restaurant where i could try kosher food here :)

    1. Wow, talk about great timing then for this post, I guess. That’s definitely true about more observant Jews having lots more in common with more observant Muslims – just the culture overall is very close it seems to me.

      Definitely try and find a kosher restaurant sometime, though! Kosher delis have the best sandwiches you’ll ever have by far :)

  3. It certainly sounds like they are very similar and I loved the joke :-)

    Without too much knowledge of the Jewish ways, it is apparent that, just like the Turkish culture, family is of the utmost importance. Something a lot of Brits could learn a lesson from.

    Very recently, a Jewish friend told me how he was about to celebrate a custom (forgive me I have forgotten the name of it). He said he will sing to his wife, a song about how important the women are and what they mean to the family. I thought that was wonderful.

    1. Americans can learn a lot from it too, I’m afraid. That is a wonderful custom, though. I’ve never heard of that song, but it really does sound wonderful.

      Thanks a lot for stopping by! Hopefully I’ll see you around some more :)

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