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Bally Family

Romanian Sephardic bankers from the Ottoman Empire; descendants included scholars, educators, and writers. Celebi Mentes Bally, a banker from Constantinople, supported the Greek aristocrat Neculai Mavrocordat in becoming the ruler of Walachia. Mavrocordat then brought Bally with him to Bucharest and, in 1715, granted him the title of grand vizier. From 1730, Bally was the founder and leader of the first Sephardic Jewish community in Walachia. His descendants also held privileged positions as bankers and advisers to the Phanariot princes who took the throne of Walachia.

The most renowned member of the family was Davicion Bally (1809–1884), a merchant, banker, and Jewish community leader. He joined his family’s business at an early age, upon the death of his father Abraham Bally. Davicion was self-taught and had a thorough knowledge of Greek, German, French, Italian, and Russian. Due to his excellent connections with the ruling authorities, he was appointed to be a cămăraş (administrator) of the salt mines in Walachia. In 1823, he established a banking house that became one of the most powerful in the country; in 1836, he was appointed to be treasurer of the Agia (police), and in 1840 he leased the landed estates of the aristocratic Manu family.

During the revolution of 1848, Davicion Bally provided financial support to the revolutionary government and had close ties to several of its members, including C. A. Rosetti and Ion Heliade Rădulescu. After 1850, Bally undertook several initiatives to modernize the city of Bucharest, among them funding a properly equipped firefighting unit and paving several main streets in the city.

Davicion Bally was a prominent leader of the Sephardic community, a philanthropist, and founder of several charities and relief societies. He also supported the Haskalah, Jewish integration into Romanian society, and adaptation of Romanian culture. From 1863, he initiated reforms aimed at improving the community’s school curriculum. He was also involved in the struggle against antisemitism, using his connections with authorities to this end. Thus in 1858, the violently antisemitic leaflet Praştia (Slingshot), issued by Friar Neofit (a baptized Jew), was banned as a result of Bally’s intervention in the press and in a memorandum addressed to the government. But disappointed by financial failure and by the growth of political antisemitism, as well as by Romanian political leaders’ refusal to grant civil rights to Jews, Bally gradually withdrew from public life, and in 1882 he moved to Jerusalem, where he died two years later.

Isaac David Bally (1842–1922), Davicion’s son, was a scholar, textbook writer, and translator. He was ordained as a rabbi at the Jewish Theological Seminary of Breslau and defended his doctoral thesis at the University of Breslau; he eventually returned to Bucharest to become headmaster of the Lea and Nissim Halfon Romanian Israelite School of the Sephardic community. He wrote many textbooks, including Abecedar ebraic (Hebrew Abecedary), following the method of using the Hebrew language to teach the language itself; and textbooks on Jewish history, such as Istoria israeliților în epoca postbiblică (History of the Israelites in the Postbiblical Age; 1887). Bally also wrote several popular texts on Jewish history and religion, such as Seder Tu bi-Shevat (1901), and Prescripțiuni religioase de menaju pentru femeile Israelite (Religious Rules of Housekeeping for Israelite Women; 1898). His translation into Romanian of the Passover Haggadah was widely used. Since he had a thorough knowledge of Ladino, Bally also developed a Judeo-Spanish abecedary that was for many years the basic textbook in Sephardic schools in Romania. He also contributed to the improvement of methods for teaching Hebrew by using illustrative material.

In 1885, Isaac David Bally was appointed secretary-treasurer of the Bucharest branch of the Alliance Israélite Universelle. On 22 June 1886, the Iuliu Barasch Historical Culture Society was founded in his home; he was extremely active in this society, acting as librarian and secretary from 1886 to 1889. Bally also published in the Romanian Jewish press, contributing articles, mainly on education, to Egalitatea (Equality), the main Jewish newspaper of the time, and to the Institutorul evreu (Jewish Teacher) magazine.

Suggested Reading

Joseph Kaufmann, Evrei luptători în revoluția românilor din anul 1848–1849 sau o pagină din istoria evreilor din România (Piatra Neamț, Rom., 1900); Ioan Masoff, Davicion Bally: Revoluționarul de la 48 (Bucharest, n.d.); Moses Schwarzfeld, “Davicion Bally: Biografie,” Anuarul israelit 9 (1886–1887): 1–29.