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December 18, 2014 / 26 Kislev, 5775
 
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Posts Tagged ‘Ezra James Nollet’

Before The Deluge: Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands (Part IV)

Thursday, January 26th, 2012

The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from Die Juden In Der Welt (The Jews in the World) by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands

(Continued From Last Month)

Sicily

The excavation of archeological layers has shown that in Roman times there were Jewish communities in Syracuse, Catania, Noto, among other places. At the end of the 6th century there is mention of Jews in Messina, Palermo, and Girgenti. By the 11th and 12th centuries, the Jewish communities, growing in number and importance, undertook commercial connections with North Africa and the Orient.

Not without reason was Sicily called the classical land of Jewish enterprise. The Jewish silk-weavers were renowned. Their teachers were Jewish silk-weavers from the Greek city of Thebes who were taken captive by Roger II in 1147 and brought to Palermo, where they were made busy in the royal silk factory. As a consequence of the transplantation of the Jews, the entire silk industry of Sicily did great business.

The metalworking shops also were mostly in Jewish hands. As a sign of how essential were the Jewish iron and copper smithies, can be seen from the management of the Decree of Expulsion of 1492. The state secretary applied for a stay of execution of the expulsion measures in order to prevent a sudden rise in prices, fearing a lack of Christian replacements. In the memorandum the Crown officially disseminated, it was stipulated that the Jews manufactured horseshoes, plows, and metal parts for sailing and galley ships alike, and there should be no further expulsions without cause.

There must have been many Jewish carpenters, because there was an entire guild of Jewish carpenters in Palermo. Jews conducted agriculture and trade in wheat, wine, cheese, and cattle. At the end of the 15th century, Obadja Bertinoro mentioned Jewish shippers and barge operators in Sicily.

Sicily was a center of Jewish learning. In the 13th century, Faradsch of Agrigento translated certain medical writings under royal commission. Aaron Abulrabi of Catania, a pupil of the Talmud school of Brindisi, wrote grammatical works and commentaries.

Achitub ben Isaak of Palermo, himself a doctor from a family of doctors, translated Maimonides from Arabic into Hebrew. The reputation of “the Wise Ones of Messina” was widespread.

At the end of the 13th century there were more than 50 Jewish communities, which were led by a central organization. In a publication from the middle of the 18th century the Jewish population of Sicily was estimated at 100,000. This number was set decidedly too high, but Palermo, Messina, and Syracuse always possessed populations of 3,000 members.

The Decree of Expulsion of 1492 presented serious worries to the various city authorities and companies. The City Council of Palermo believed the economy could not withstand the withdrawal of a million Gulden, which the Jews would otherwise contribute to cover their living expenses. Taxation of the Jewish residents was likewise a tangible asset. Nevertheless, the edict, dictated by the ecclesiastical authorities, prevailed over economic considerations, and Jews had to leave. They scattered s to the Balkans, the islands of the eastern Mediterranean, Egypt, and Asia Minor.

In the 19th century there was a noted immigration back to Sicily. The census of 1911 showed more than 1,000 Jewish inhabitants. [Translator’s Note: There may have been many more, unrecognized as Jews.]

Euboia

This island on the east coast of central Greece is also known in Italian as Negroponte [“Black Bridge”]. In Hebrew letters the Jews named this island “Egrypon,” after the old name of the capital of Chalkis. Jews were already living on Euboia as early as the first century of the Common Era. One encounters Jews in the 12th century in Chalkis, Carysdos, and Oreos. On order of the Senate of Venice, the Jews had to build a fort in 1304 at their own expense.

The Spanish-Jewish Diaspora of 1492 also affected this island. Jews from Euboia went farther, to Constantinople, and established there a society for the Jews from Euboia.

Many Jews died during the Greek War of Independence in 1821 and a fraction rescued itself by fleeing to Smyrna [on the Asia Minor mainland]. After friendly relations with the Greek population were established, the decimated community could be built up again. In 1930, about 200 Jews lived on Euboia.

Samos

This island had a Jewish population in Hellenistic times. Benjamin of Tudela reported finding about 300 co-religionists on Samos in 1170, and also stated the names of the leading men of this community. The Greek Revolt of 1821 meant the end of Jewish settlement, which had gone back a long way.

Zante

The Jews settled on this island rather late, during the Anjou [French] Dynasty.  When Zante came under Venetian control, the Senate of Venice made every effort to restore the population, which had been decimated by Turkish invasions, and the resulting privileges attracted Jews from Corfu, Patras, and Lepanto. They spoke Greek but had Latin-sounding names. At the end of the 17th century, Jews emigrating from Crete came and built a synagogue.

Before The Deluge: Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands (Part III)

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from Die Juden In Der Welt (The Jews in the World) by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands

Malta

Findings in catacombs confirm the existence of Jews on Malta from the time of the Roman Empire until late in the Middle Ages. They came from Alexandria to this important crossroads on their way to Italy. In 1240 there were 25 Jewish families alongside 47 Christian families among the predominantly Muslim population. A few families lived on the neighboring island of Gozzo.

The little island of Conino, which today is just a barren rock between Malta and Gozzo, played a single role in the history of Jewish settlement, in that the false messiah Abraham Abulafia, whom the Jews of Malta refused to accept, found a not entirely voluntary refuge on Conino.

In the year 1492, Malta had a Jewish population of about 500 souls and Gozzo had about 350. The royal council confirmed the colonizing value of the Jews and spoke officially against measures intended to expel the Jews. The participation of Jews in various professions shows a delightful amount of diversity. Merchants organized organizations of tradesmen and landowners. Alongside doctors there were barbers and even assistants to royal falconers.

The execution of the edict of expulsion was postponed until 1493. The Jews moved to the island of the Levant, to North Africa, and mainly to Turkey. One encounters the family name “Malti” on many islands and in the cities of the Balkans. In Sofia (Bulgaria) there was, for a long time, an association of landsmen from Malta who had their own house of prayer.

In the year 1530, Malta was taken over by Emperor Charles V from the Order of the Knights of St. John. In its struggle on behalf of Christianity, the order had not shrunk from acts of piracy. Along with infidel Turks, Jews were captured and hauled off to Malta into slavery.

In his chronicle Emek ha-Bacha, Josef ha-Cohen reports how the Knights of the Order of St. John sailed from Rhodes to Malta in search of plunder. He reported about a ship from Salonika that was captured with about 70 Jews aboard. The captives had to send out their own members to find ransom money. At that time, a ship journey on the Mediterranean was a dangerous thing for non-Christian passengers.

A hundred years later, the English explorer Philip Skippen visited the island. He saw the prison and the slave market. Jewish slaves wore a yellow marker made of cloth on their hats. Skippon mentioned the case of one Jew who, after spending a year in prison, was sold for 400 skudi. “The prisoner possessed a pass from the government of Venice and believed himself to be free. When he struck a blow in self-defense against the man who’d bought him, he was placed in leg irons, and his scalp and beard were shaved away. He was led away back to prison, and received 50 lashes.”

News about the suffering of the prisoners on Malta reached Jewish communities everywhere. Ransom money was collected and an “Association for the Redemption of Captured Jews on Malta” was established. Connections with the slaves were maintained by Christian Venetian merchants. Special agents handled the negotiations, transferred the money and took care of the sufferers.

In the course of time a slave community with a synagogue and a cemetery were built. The slaves had a great interest in spiritual matters. For example, Mose Azulai wrote to Venice requesting Hebrew books. The Venetian Jews sent to him a Midrash and a Hebrew calendar.

The slaves bore their burden with dignity. Only a few sought to escape the torture via baptism. In 1798, the Order’s dominion over Malta came to an end, and the slave community was dissolved. Former slaves commissioned Cecil Roth to publish a conclusive study called The Jews of Malta, in Transactions of the Jewish Historical Society of England, Bd. XII.

A small number of free Jews also lived on Malta. A new community arose in 1800, when the island came under English control. On his trip to Jerusalem in 1838, Sir Moses Montefiore found on Malta only six families. In the later nineteenth century, the importance of Malta grew as a consequence of the opening of the Suez Canal, and Malta accordingly received a migration of Jews. Today Jews live there only in small numbers.

Chios

Chios, in the Aegean Sea, has been under Greek control since 1912. This island can look back on a very old Jewish settlement. A historical curiosity is the story of the 15 Jewish families who, in the year 1048, had possession of a (Christian) cloister on Chios and who even lived in the building. In the twelfth century the greater community counted 400 families.

Before The Deluge: Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands (Part II)

Wednesday, November 30th, 2011

The stories in this column are translations by Mr. Nollet from Die Juden In Der Welt (The Jews in the World) by Mark Wischnitzer, a long out-of-print book published more than seven decades ago in Germany. The book examines Jewish communities, one country at a time, as they existed in 1935 – a time before the Nazis began their extermination campaign against the Jews and before there was a state of Israel.

 

Jews Of The Mediterranean Islands

Crete

In biblical times this island was known as Kaftor. It had close relations with the Philistines, who already swelled in the Land of Canaan when the Jews migrated in, and this Kaftorland is conceivably the Philistine homeland. This cultural connection is confirmed by excavations in Palestine, and not only in Philistine regions either, but also in purely Jewish territories. Objects of the culture of Crete, such as barrels, tools, and jewelry of all kinds have been found.

One of the largest islands of the eastern Mediterranean, Crete became a destination for Jewish migration in Hellenistic times. In the Crete-ish city of Gortyna, there appears to have been a Jewish community as early as 140 BCE. In any event, when the Romans occupied Crete in 67 BCE, they definitely found Jewish settlements. The false messiah Alexander, who pretended to be a son of King Herod, was able to find followers and financial support on Crete. The (Jewish) philosopher Philo mentioned that Crete was heavily populated with Jews.

Under the rule of Venice in the 13th century there was a Jewish rural population and communities in the capital Kandia, and in Retimo, and in the Fortress Bonifazio. The Jews occupied themselves with leatherworking and butchery, and also in the production of very famous clothing and veils. Their occupations were agriculture, trade, and banking.

At the end of the 14th century the indigenous Jewish population received an influx of Jews from Spain (1391) and Venice (1394), followed by another strong wave of Sephardic Jews from Spain in 1492. Jewelry from the synagogues was sold off in order to pay ransom for captive Jews and buy passage on ships to bring them to Crete.

Intellectual thought was influenced by Italy, which was the leader of culture at that time. In the 14th century Crete produced the biblical commentator Schemarja Ikriti, in the 15th century the philosopher Elia del Medigo, in the 16th century the history writer Elia Kapsali, and in the 17th century the philosopher and mathematician Joshua Salomon del Medigo, a remarkable mind from this outstanding family.

As is the case of so many of the other islands of the eastern Mediterranean Sea, the ensuing centuries saw a decline in the Jewish population. In 1897, there was a total of 1,150 Jews on Crete, who lived mainly in Kanea; by 1930 there were scarcely 600.

Corfu

While Benjamin of Tudela (1170) found scarcely a single Jew on Corfu, this state of affairs changed when rulers of Naples from the House of Anjou brought in Jewish craftsmen from the Byzantine Empire. From this foundation there developed in the 15th and 16th century communities of Spanish, Sicilian, and Apulian Jews, who had to leave their homelands due to persecution. [Translator’s Note: Apulia is halfway up the Italian peninsula on the Adriatic Sea.] To this day they preserve their particular customs and rites.

Concerning how they spoke with each other, the Byzantine Jews quickly enough learned the dialect of the Apulian Jews who, on account of their frequent contact with Venice, took after the Venetian dialect. On Tisha B’Av, the Greek Jews dedicated themselves to reciting Lamentations in the Greek language. Until 1884, on Shavuot, a poem written in Greek, with rhymes, was recited. Famous Greek folk songs with Turkish words were sung on Rosh Chodesh Adar. The first full translation of the Bible into modern Greek was prepared for the Jews on Corfu.

Corfu is one of those lands in which Jews traditionally were known for crafts, trade, and various kinds of heavy manual labor. In the quaint little backstreets from the Middle Ages which were inhabited by Jews, one could find cabinet-makers, locksmiths, cobblers, coopers, blacksmiths, plumbers, and the like. Jewish barge pilots, stevedores and porters complete the picture of the Jewish economic life on Corfu.

There were also great merchants who were involved in export and lending; excellent doctors; and defense attorneys whom one could see practicing in the courts of law of the 17th century. Jewish soldiers fought bravely during the defense of the Turkish siege of 1716.

At the beginning of the 20th century there were 5,000 Jews on Corfu. The deteriorating economy caused a significant exodus in 1901, mainly to Alexandria, Triest, and Milan. In 1933 there were about 1,000 Jews left on Corfu.

The synagogue liturgy of the Jews of Corfu modeled itself after the Roman rite.  Handwritten prayer books can be found in the Bodleiana in Oxford, as well as in various public and private collections. The British Museum possesses handwritten liturgies and poems written in Greek and in the Apulian dialect which were written by the Jews of Corfu.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/sections/features/feautures-on-jewish-world/before-the-deluge-jews-of-the-mediterranean-islands-2/2011/11/30/

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