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David Asseo, 88; Chief Rabbi of Turkey for More Than 4 Decades

July 16, 2002|From Times Staff and Wire Reports

David Asseo, 88, who as chief rabbi of Muslim-dominated Turkey for 41 years repeatedly called for interfaith tolerance, died Sunday.

About 25,000 of Turkey's 67 million residents are Jews, most of them descendants of Spanish Jews who fled to Turkey in the 1400s.

Asseo was rabbi in 1986 when Istanbul's largest synagogue, Neve Shalom, was attacked by gunmen who killed 22 worshippers during a Sabbath service.

His funeral was scheduled to take place at that synagogue, whose name means "oasis of peace" in Hebrew.

Born in Istanbul in 1914, Asseo studied at a Jewish school on the Greek island of Rhodes, graduating in 1933 with a diploma permitting him to teach Hebrew and Jewish subjects.

He later served as a member of the Jewish court, the Beth Din.

He spoke Hebrew, French, Italian, Greek and Ladino, a language based on medieval Spanish that is spoken by Turkish Jews.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit called Asseo "a fine clergyman who always defended inter-religious understanding and served for the peoples' happiness."

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