The Jews In Sicily


Significant Jewish settlements had existed in Sicily since early Roman times when Jews were brought there as slaves by victorious Roman armies. As stated in the essay L'Ebrei ntâ Sicilia (The Jews in Sicily), by Dr. Cipolla, that appeared in ARBA SICULA, "the largest number of them was brought back by Pompey after he sacked Jerusalem in 63 BC and by Roman Proconsul Crassus who is said to have sold thirty thousand of them as slaves." By the time of the Spanish Inquisition there were Jewish settlements, or so-called "Giudecca"s in fifty cities and towns of Sicily, as well as on some of the islands off the coast of Sicily. They varied in size from about 350 to about 5,000 people.

During their more than 1500 year history in Sicily Jews fared better or worse depending on the whims of the current ruler. Initially enslaved by the Romans, their descendants gradually adapted to life in Sicily and although their status was always ruled by restrictions and physical peril they became involved in many fields from medicine to manual trades, from philosophy to farming.

All of this came to an abrupt end not long after the hateful Edict of Expulsion proclaimed by King Ferdinand The Catholic in 1492. A hand-written Spanish text is available on this web site.

As a matter of fact, the hand-written Spanish text that I had scanned from the Fonti Per La Storia Dell'Espulsione Degli Ebrei Dalla Sicilia in connection with the Fifth International Convention of Studies of "Italia Judaica", held in Palermo on 15-19 June, 1992, may only be a subsequent, hand-written transcription of the original Edict of Expulsion. The careful scholar may also wish to refer to the web site: Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, for what appears to be an historically more accurate record.

You may also read a printed version of the Sicilian text as subsequently promulgated in Palermo, Sicily on June 18, 1492. This copy was printed in Documenti per servire alla storia di Sicilia, Società Siciliana per la Storia Patria, Prima Serie Diplomatica, vol. XVIII, Palermo, 1895 by B. & G. Lagumina from Codice diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia, vol. III, doc. DCCCLXXXIII, pp. 19-23. It was reproduced in Fonti Per La Storia Dell'Espulsione .

The article on the convention of Italia Judaica refers to papers that deal with many and varied topics concerning Jewish life in Sicily. Topics such as Jewish settlements in particular cities of Sicily; The Jewish physician in Sicily; how the Jews were affected by the justice system; the character and location of many of the Jewish settlements; the de facto expropriation of Jewish assets documented with the Jewish names of the sellers; and the subsequent Jewish emigration to Rome, Naples, Calabria, Greece, and the Middle Eastern countries following the expulsion order.

Thanks to the graciousness of Professor Giuseppe Martino I have been able to add a brief history of the Jews in Messina to this section. The paper is entitled, "La Judaica Di Messina", which I have translated as, "The Jews Of Messina". You will find the original Italian text in the left column and my translation in the right-hand column. Professor Martino's web site is:

Here's a collection of pictures of some of the scanty tangible traces that remain as testimony of the 1400 years of Jewish settlements in Sicily sent to me by Professor Martino with his text and my translation. In addition, here's a photograph of a Hebrew inscription in the Cathedral of Monreale. The photo was taken on October 8, 2005 by Jonathan Mandell of Chicago. There follow five pictures of the current Via Iudeca in Caltagirone together with two street maps.

Although the brutality of the inquisition succeeded in erasing almost all physical evidence of the existence of Sicilian Jews, there remains much material for the careful researcher. Here's a bibliography compiled by Professor Martino.

Rabbi Barbara Aiello is doing ground breaking work in Italy helping Italians rediscover their Jewish heritage. Here are some interesting links.

Margie Moskovitz took the Arba Sicula tour of Sicily, June 3 to June 15, 2013. The tour included a visit to the island of Ortigia, where Margie learned about and visited an ancient Mikva only discovered in 1989. Click here to read her facinating essay, and to see some photographs.

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Last updated 9/16/13