Late 19th Century Alms Box of the Küfecis Guild of Istanbul
Silver Alms box, "Holy Society" of the Küfecis guild, [Hasköy], Istanbul, late 19th century. Cylindrical alms box, shaped like a small pitcher, with a concave lid, connected by a hinge, slotted to allow deposit of small change, and with small hook for opening. Handle in shape of twisted branch. Side of box decorated with branches and flowers, and with engraved Hebrew dedicatory inscription, enclosed within three elliptical medallions: "… The Holy society of küfevis [!], Moshe Ya'ish […] Rabbi Shemuel Denan […] Avraham Mailruzado […] and Rabbi Ye'udah Fereira […]". The charity represented by this alms box served members of Küfecis guild, which was probably an organization representing peddlers, possibly fruit and vegetable vendors, who carried their merchandise either in a basket slung over the back, or inside a case on wheels. The Istanbul-based Küfecis guild is mentioned a number of times in a collection of documents originating with the charitable organizations of another guild, specifically the Kaïkçis ("boat owners") guild, which was a parent guild that provided seafaring transportation services to the Jewish guilds that required them. Because the city of Istanbul and its suburbs occupy parts of three distinct regions separated by two broad channels, namely the Golden Horn Estuary and the Bosphorus Strait, their inhabitants were in need of cheap and speedy transport services which were provided by small sea taxis that ferried back and forth from place to place; a boat such as this was known in Turkish as kaïk. On the basis of these documents (dated 1835, 1900, and 1911) – part of the Collection of Prof. Rabbi Meir Benayahu, Jerusalem – it appears that the Küfecis guild was based in Hasköy, formerly a village on the outskirts of Istanbul that was home to a sizable segment of the Jewish community following the Expulsion from Spain, and today a residential quarter of the city. Some of these documents are cited in their entirety in an article (in Hebrew) by Prof. Yaron Ben-Naeh entitled "Charity and Benevolence on the Banks of the Bosphorus".
A similar alms box of the "Holy Society of Küfecis" can be found in the Israel Museum Collection, item no. B51.05.0287; see Sephardi Jews in the Ottoman Empire, item no. 38. Reference: Yaron Ben-Naeh, "Charity and Benevolence on the Banks of the Bosphorus: Benevolent Societies of the Kaïkçis in Istanbul" (Hebrew), in: Joseph R. Hacker and Yaron Harel (eds.), "The Scepter Shall Not Depart from Judah: Leadership, Rabbinate, and Community in Jewish History, Studies Presented to Professor Simon Schwarzfuchs," Bialik Institute, Jerusalem, 2011 (Hebrew).
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Height: 4 in. (10.16 cm)Diameter: 3.5 in. (8.89 cm)