|Regions with significant populations|
|Italy||30,000 (Secular and Religious)|
|United States||10,000|
|Italian, Hebrew, Judeo-Italian languages and dialects (historically), Yiddish, Ladino|
|Related ethnic groups|
|Jews, Sephardi Jews, Ashkenazi Jews, Israelis|
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|Jews and Judaism|
Italian Jews (Italian: Ebrei Italiani, Hebrew: יהודים איטלקים Yehudim Italkim) or Roman Jews (Italian: Ebrei Romani, Hebrew: יהודים רומים Yehudim Romim) can be used in a broad sense to mean all Jews living in or with roots in Italy, or, in a narrower sense, to mean the Italkim, an ancient community living in Italy since the Ancient Roman era, who use the Italian liturgy (or “Italian Rite”) as distinct from those Jewish communities in Italy dating from medieval or modern times who use the Sephardic liturgy, the Italian Nusach or the Nusach Ashkenaz.
Italian Jews historically fall into four categories.
- Italkim, Jews of the “Italian Rite” who have resided in Italy since Roman times; see below.
- Sephardi Jews, in particular Spanish and Portuguese Jews, i.e., Jews who arrived in Italy following their expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula. The Kingdom of Spain expelled Jews with the 1492 Alhambra Decree and the persecution of Jews and Muslims by Manuel I of Portugal led to their forced conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1497, at which time many Iberian Jews immigrated to Italy. In addition, in 1533, Iberian Sephardi Jews were forced out of the Spanish territory/colony in Italy known as the Kingdom of Naples and began migrating to other parts of the Italian peninsula. These groups also include anusim, crypto-Jewish families who left Iberia in subsequent centuries and reverted to Judaism in Italy, as well as immigration by Sephardi families which had lived in the Eastern Mediterranean following expulsion from the Iberian Peninsula before coming to Italy.
- Ashkenazi Jewish, Jewish living mainly in Northern Italy.
- The Jews of Asti, Fossano, and Moncalvo ("Appam"). These represent the Jews expelled from France beginning in 1182 subsequent to the Rhineland massacres after the First Crusade. Their liturgy is similar to that of the Ashkenazim, but contains some distinctive usages descended from the French Jews of the time of Rashi, particularly in the services for the High Holy Days.
Historically these communities remained separate: in a given city there was often an "Italian synagogue" and a "Spanish synagogue", and occasionally a "German synagogue" as well. In many cases these have since amalgamated, but a given synagogue may have services of more than one rite.
Today there are further categories:
- The Jews of San Nicandro who are converts, descendants of the neofiti (anusim) of San Nicandro Garganico;
- Persian Jews living in Rome and Milan;
- Libyan Jews living in Rome and Livorno.
Italian Jews can be traced back as far as the 2nd century BCE: tombstones and dedicatory inscriptions survive from this period. At that time they mostly lived in the far South of Italy, with a branch community in Rome, and were generally Greek-speaking. It is thought that some families (for example the Adolescenti) are descendants of Jews deported from Judaea by the emperor Titus in 70 CE. In early medieval times there were major communities in southern Italian cities such as Bari and Otranto. Medieval Italian Jews also produced important halachic works such as the Shibbole ha-Leḳeṭ of Zedekiah ben Abraham Anaw. Following the expulsion of the Jews from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, the centre of gravity shifted to Rome and the north.
The Italian Jewish community as a whole has numbered no more than 50,000 since it was fully emancipated in 1870. During the Second Aliyah (between 1904 and 1914) many Italian Jews moved to Israel, and there is an Italian synagogue and cultural centre in Jerusalem. Around 7,700 Italian Jews were deported and murdered during the Holocaust.
Italian Rite Jews
The Jews living in Italy since the Roman times, distinct from the Sephardim and the Ashkenazim, are sometimes referred to in the scholarly literature as Italkim (Hebrew for "Italians"; pl. of "italki", Middle Hebrew loanword from the Latin adjective "italicu(m)", meaning "Italic", "Latin", "Roman"; italkit is also used in Modern Hebrew as the language name "Italian"). They have traditionally spoken a variety of Judeo-Italian languages.
The customs and religious rites of the Italian-rite Jews can be seen as a bridge between the Ashkenazi and Sephardic traditions, showing similarities to both; they are closer still to the customs of the Romaniote Jews from Greece. A subdivision is recognised between minhag Benè Romì, practised in Rome, and minhag Italiani, practised in northern cities such as Turin, though the two rites are generally close.
In matters of religious law, Italian-Rite Jews generally follow the same rules as the Sephardim, in that they accept the authority of Isaac Alfasi and the Shulchan Aruch as opposed to the Ashkenazi customs codified by Moses Isserles (the Rema). However their liturgy is different from that of both these groups. One reason for this may be that Italy was the main centre of early Jewish printing, enabling Italian Jews to preserve their own traditions when most other communities had to opt for a standard "Sephardi" or "Ashkenazi" prayer-book.
It is often claimed that the Italian prayer-book contains the last remnants of the Palestinian minhag, while both the Sephardi and, to a lesser extent, the Ashkenazi rites, reflect the Babylonian tradition. This claim is quite likely historically accurate, though it is difficult to verify textually as little liturgical material from the Land of Israel survives. Additionally, some Italian Rite traditions reflect the Babylonian rite in a more archaic form, in much the same way as the prayer-book of the Yemenite Jews. Examples of old Babylonian traditions retained by the Italian Rite Jews but by no other group (including the Baladi-rite prayer of the Yemeni Jews) are the use of keter yitenu lach in the kedushah of all services and of naḥamenu in Birkat Hamazon, the grace after meals on Shabbat, both of which are found in the siddur of Amram Gaon.
The Italian Rite community traditionally has used Italian Hebrew, a pronunciation system similar to that of conservative Iberian Jews. This pronunciation has in many cases been adopted by the Sephardi, Ashkenazi, and Appam communities of Italy as well as by the Italian-Rite communities.
Graeco-Italian Jews in Italy
The medieval pre-expulsion Jews of Southern Italy (the Jews of Apulia, Calabria, and Sicily) are often subsumed under the designation of "Italian Jews", and from a geographical point of view this is correct. In truth, however, Southern Italy, divided into the provinces of Sicily and the Catepanate of Italy, belonged to the Byzantine Empire till 1071, and remained culturally Greek well after that (see Griko people). Accordingly, the medieval Jewish communities of Southern Italy were linguistically a part of the Yevanic area and as concerns customs and liturgy a part of the Romaniote area. Even after the Byzantine Empire had lost the Southern Italian provinces, the Kehillot in Apulia, Calabria and Sicily maintained connections to their coreligionists in Greece and Constantinople. Nevertheless, Jews in rural areas of Emirate of Sicily and Apulia are known to have made some use of Judeo-Arabic and Judeo-Italian languages in addition to Greek.
Ashkenazi Jews in Italy
There have been Ashkenazi Jews living in the North of Italy since at least as early as the late Middle Ages. In Venice, they were the oldest Jewish community in the city, antedating both the Sephardic and the Italian groups. Following the invention of printing, Italy became a major publishing centre for Hebrew and Yiddish books for the use of German and other northern European Jews. A notable figure was Elijah Levita, who was an expert Hebrew grammarian and Masorete as well as the author of the Yiddish romantic epic Bovo-Bukh.
Another distinctive community was that of Asti, Fossano and Moncalvo, which was descended from Jews expelled from France in 1394: this community includes the well-known Lattes family. Only the Asti synagogue is still in use today. Their rite, known as Appam (from the Hebrew initials for those three cities), is similar to the Ashkenazi, but has some peculiarities drawn from the old French rite, particularly on the High Holy Days. These variations are found on loose-leaf sheets which the community uses in conjunction with the normal Ashkenazi prayer-book; they are also printed by Goldschmidt. This rite is the only surviving descendant of the original French rite, as known to Rashi, used anywhere in the world: French Ashkenazim since 1394 have used the German-Ashkenazic rite.
In musical tradition and in pronunciation, Italian Ashkenazim differ considerably from the Ashkenazim of other countries, and show some assimilation to the other two communities. Exceptional are the north-eastern communities such as that of Gorizia, which date from Austro-Hungarian times and are much closer to the German and Austrian traditions.
Sephardi Jews in Italy
Since 1442, when the Kingdom of Naples came under Spanish rule, considerable numbers of Sephardi Jews came to live in Southern Italy. Following the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1495 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533, many moved to central and northern Italy. One famous refugee was Isaac Abarbanel.
Over the next few centuries they were joined by a steady stream of conversos leaving Spain and Portugal. In Italy they ran the risk of prosecution for Judaizing, given that in law they were baptized Christians; for this reason they generally avoided the Papal States. The Popes did allow some Spanish-Jewish settlement at Ancona, as this was the main port for the Turkey trade, in which their links with the Ottoman Sephardim were useful. Other states found it advantageous to allow the conversos to settle and mix with the existing Jewish communities, and to turn a blind eye to their religious status; while in the next generation, the children of conversos could be brought up as fully Jewish with no legal problem, as they had never been baptized.
The main places of settlement were as follows.
- Venice. The Venetian Republic often had strained relations with the Papacy; on the other hand they were alive to the commercial advantages offered by the presence of educated Spanish-speaking Jews, especially for the Turkey trade. Previously the Jews of Venice were tolerated under charters for a fixed term of years, periodically renewed. In the early 16th century these arrangements were made permanent, and a separate charter was granted to the "Ponentine" (western) community. The price paid for this recognition was the confinement of the Jews to the newly established Venetian Ghetto. Nevertheless, for a long time the Venetian Republic was regarded as the most welcoming state for Jews, equivalent to the Netherlands in the 17th century or the United States in the 20th century.
- Sephardic immigration was also encouraged by the Este princes, in their possessions of Reggio, Modena and Ferrara (these cities also had established Italian-rite and Ashkenazi communities). In 1598, following the extinction of the male line of d'Este dukes of Ferrara, that city was repossessed by the Papal States, leading to some Jewish emigration from there (although overall the community survived as a distinct and significant entity up until the 20th century).
- In 1593, Ferdinando I de' Medici, Grand Duke of Tuscany, granted Portuguese Jews charters to live and trade in Pisa and Livorno (see Jewish community of Livorno).
On the whole the Spanish and Portuguese Jews remained separate from the native Italian Jews, though there was considerable mutual religious and intellectual influence between the groups.
The Scola Spagnola of Venice was originally regarded as the "mother synagogue" for the Spanish and Portuguese community worldwide, as it was among the earliest to be established, and the first prayer book was published there: later communities, such as Amsterdam, followed its lead on ritual questions. With the decline in the importance of Venice in the 18th century, the leading role passed to Livorno (for Italy and the Mediterranean) and Amsterdam (for western countries). The Livorno synagogue was destroyed in the Second World War: a modern building was erected in 1958–62.
In addition to Spanish and Portuguese Jews strictly so called, Italy has been host to many Sephardi Jews from the eastern Mediterranean. Dalmatia and many of the Greek islands, where there were large Jewish communities, were for several centuries part of the Venetian Republic, and there was a "Levantine" community in Venice. This remained separate from the "Ponentine" (i.e. Spanish and Portuguese) community and close to their eastern roots, as evidenced by their use in the early 18th century of a hymn book classified by maqam in the Ottoman manner (see Pizmonim). (Today both synagogues are still in use, but the communities have amalgamated.) Later on the community of Livorno acted as a link between the Spanish and Portuguese and the eastern Sephardic Jews and as a clearing house of musical and other traditions between the groups. Many Italian Jews today have "Levantine" roots, for example in Corfu, and before the Second World War Italy regarded the existence of the eastern Sephardic communities as a chance to expand Italian influence in the Mediterranean.
In the 18th and 19th centuries, many Italian Jews (mostly but not exclusively from the Spanish and Portuguese group) maintained a trading and residential presence in both Italy and countries in the Ottoman Empire: even those who settled permanently in the Ottoman Empire retained their Tuscan or other Italian nationality, so as to have the benefit of the Ottoman Capitulations. Thus in Tunisia there was a community of Juifs Portugais, or L'Grana (Livornese), separate from, and regarding itself as superior to, the native Tunisian Jews (Tuansa). Smaller communities of the same kind existed in other countries, such as Syria, where they were known as Señores Francos, though they generally were not numerous enough to establish their own synagogues, instead meeting for prayer in each other's houses. European countries often appointed Jews from these communities as their consular representatives in Ottoman cities.
Between the two World Wars Libya was an Italian colony and, as in other North African countries, the colonial power found the local Jews useful as an educated elite. Following Libyan independence, and especially after the Six-Day War in 1967, many Libyan Jews left either for Israel or for Italy, and today most of the "Sephardi" synagogues in Rome are in fact Libyan.
A 2000 genetic study by M. F. Hammer et al. found that the paternal haplogroups of Roman Jews are of Middle Eastern origin with low level European admixture. A strong genetic connection between Roman Jews and other Jewish populations from Europe, North Africa and the Middle East was noted. According to the study, the results suggest that modern Jews "descend from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population".
A 2010 study on Jewish ancestry by Atzmon and Ostrer et al. stated "Two major groups were identified by principal component, phylogenetic, and identity by descent (IBD) analysis: Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews. The IBD segment sharing and the proximity of European Jews to each other and to southern European populations suggested similar origins for European Jewry and refuted large-scale genetic contributions of Central and Eastern European and Slavic populations to the formation of Ashkenazi Jewry", as both groups – the Middle Eastern Jews and European/Syrian Jews – shared common ancestors in the Middle East about 2500 years ago. The study examines genetic markers spread across the entire genome and shows that the Jewish groups share large swaths of DNA, indicating close relationships and that each of the Jewish groups in the study (Iranian, Iraqi, Syrian, Greek, Italian, Turkish and Ashkenazi) has its own genetic signature but is more closely related to the other Jewish groups than to their fellow non-Jewish countrymen. Ashkenazi, Italian, and Sephardi Jews were all found to share Middle Eastern and Southern European ancestry. Atzmon–Ostrer's team found that the SNP markers in genetic segments of 3 million DNA letters or longer were 10 times more likely to be identical among Jews than non-Jews. It is suggested that Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Italian Jews commonly descend from a group of Jews from the Middle East who, having migrated to Italy, intermarried with Italians during the Roman era. The ancestors of Ashkenazi Jews are then thought to have left Italy for Central Europe (and from there eventually Eastern Europe), with the ancestors of Italkic Jews remaining in Italy.
The results of a 2013 study by Behar et al. showed that Italian Jews show genetic connection to Sephardic, North African and Ashkenazic Jewish groups, Italians and Cypriots and Middle Eastern populations.
Italian Jewish culture has flourished through the passage of time, with tradition regarding Italian Jewish identity, and transformations to the lives of those in Italian Jewish communities. With the spread of Jewish settlement throughout Italy came the eventual pride for the country of Italy, and the opportunities that arose to celebrate both cultures.
Italian Jewish food tradition is an identifiable part of their culture that has made an impact to this day on culinary tradition. Italian Jews maintained means of kosher within the context of their culinary traditions at home. The unique aspect of how they maintained kosher is that each individual family followed kosher within their own unique standard. Some Italian Jews ate pork, while others refrained, but would instead eat rabbit. Not only did this allow for new traditions to be established, kosher also maintained different meanings established in every household. Additionally, Italian Jewish households would enjoy meals that blended the culinary traditions of both Italians and Jews. One popular tradition that came to be within culinary tradition was the preparing of goose salami for Passover. These various culinary traditions made their way into restaurants and specialty markets, eventually to be seen in the newspapers. This led to widespread support for the Italian Jewish food tradition and the transformation of it through the years, many of which tradition can be found in cookbooks and passed along through generations of Italian Jewish families.
Northern Italy was a location in which Ashkenazi Jews came to establish Italian Jewish food traditions. Another significant aspect of this tradition was observing the religious ways of challah, from its ingredients, to its preparation, to the very moment it is shared amongst those gathered. With that said, the passage of time allowed for the transformation of such traditions to remain in respect to Ashkenazi Jews, while continuing to grow in food tradition and expand throughout Italy.
- History of the Jews in Italy
- History of the Jews in Apulia
- History of the Jews in Calabria
- History of the Jews in Livorno
- History of the Jews in Naples
- History of the Jews in the Roman Empire
- History of the Jews in Sardinia
- History of the Jews in Sicily
- History of the Jews in Trieste
- History of the Jews in Turin
- History of the Jews in Venice
- List of Italian Jews
- Israel–Italy relations
- Jews of San Nicandro
- Italian Nusach
- As reported by the American Jewish Yearbook (2007), on a total Italian population of circa 58 million people, which therefore is approx. 0.1% of the population. Greater concentrations are in Rome and Milan. Cf. the demographic statistics by Sergio DellaPergola, published on World Jewish Population, American Jewish Committee, 2007.URL accessed 13 March 2013. As data originate from records kept by the various Italian Jewish congregations (which means they register "observant" Jews who have somehow had to go through basic rituals such as the Brit Milah or Bar/Bat Mitzvah etc.). Excluded are therefore "ethnic Jews", lay Jews, atheist/agnostic Jews, et al. – cfr. "Who is a Jew?". If these are added, then the total population would increase, possibly to approx. 50,000 Jews in Italy, not counting recent migrations from North Africa and Eastern Europe.
- Kjeilen, Tore. "Israel / Peoples - LookLex Encyclopaedia".
- "The Jews of Italy". The Museum of the Jewish People at Beit Hatfutsot. Retrieved 25 June 2018.
- In the old manuscripts of the Italian Rite, in Daniel Goldschmidt's print and in references in early literature such as Shibbole ha-Leket. Today's minhag benè Romì follows the Sephardic Rite in using keter for musaf only and nakdishach for all other services.
- Bernard Spolsky, The Languages of the Jews: A Sociolinguistic History. 2014
- R. Langer, Cursing the Christians?: A History of the Birkat HaMinim, p. 203. 2012
- R. Bonfil et al., Jews in Byzantium: Dialectics of Minority and Majority Cultures, 2011
- Joshua Holo, Byzantine Jewry in the Mediterranean Economy. 2009
- Metcalfe, A. Muslims and Christians in Norman Sicily: Arabic-Speakers and the End of Islam. 2014
- Safran, L. The Medieval Salento: Art and Identity in Southern Italy, p. 215. 2014
- Daniel Goldschmidt, Meḥqare Tefillah u-Fiyyut (On Jewish Liturgy): Jerusalem 1978.
- Moshe Hacohen, Ne'im Zemirot Yisrael, BL Add 26967, cited Edwin Seroussi, "In Search of Jewish Musical Antiquity in the 18th-Century Venetian Ghetto: Reconsidering the Hebrew Melodies in Benedetto Marcello's Estro Poetico-Armonico", JQR (NS) vol 93 p 173.
- M. F. Hammer et al (2000): Jewish and Middle Eastern non-Jewish populations share a common pool of Y-chromosome biallelic haplotypes. PNAS.
- Saey, Tina Hesman (3 June 2010). "Tracing Jewish roots". ScienceNews.
- Atzmon, Gil; Hao, Li; Pe'Er, Itsik; Velez, Christopher; Pearlman, Alexander; Palamara, Pier Francesco; Morrow, Bernice; Friedman, Eitan; Oddoux, Carole; Burns, Edward & Ostrer, Harry (2010). "Abraham's Children in the Genome Era: Major Jewish Diaspora Populations Comprise Distinct Genetic Clusters with Shared Middle Eastern Ancestry". American Journal of Human Genetics. 86 (6): 850–59. doi:10.1016/j.ajhg.2010.04.015. PMC 3032072. PMID 20560205.
- "Genes Set Jews Apart, Study Finds". American Scientist. Retrieved 8 November 2013.
- "Studies Show Jews' Genetic Similarity". The New York Times. 10 June 2010.
- Behar, Doron M.; Metspalu, Mait; Baran, Yael; Kopelman, Naama M.; Yunusbayev, Bayazit; Gladstein, Ariella; Tzur, Shay; Sahakyan, Hovhannes; Bahmanimehr, Ardeshir; Yepiskoposyan, Levon; Tambets, Kristina (December 2013). "No evidence from genome-wide data of a Khazar origin for the Ashkenazi Jews". Human Biology. 85 (6): 859–900. doi:10.3378/027.085.0604. ISSN 1534-6617. PMID 25079123. S2CID 2173604.
- Klein, Shira (2018). Italy's Jews from Emancipation to Fascism. Cambridge University Press. pp. 57–84. ISBN 9781108424103.
- Zahava, Weishouse (2019). Perani, Mauro (ed.). The Jews in Italy: Their Contribution to the Development and Diffusion of Jewish Heritage. Academic Studies Press. ISBN 9781644690253.
- Sacerdoti, Annie, A Guide to Jewish Italy (2004) ISBN 0-8478-2653-8, ISBN 978-0-8478-2653-7
- Bonfil, Robert, Rabbis and Jewish Communities in Renaissance Italy (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) (1989) ISBN 0-19-710064-3, ISBN 978-0-19-710064-6
- The Jews of Italy: Memory And Identity, eds Dr Barbara Garvin & Prof. Bernard Cooperman, Studies and Texts in Jewish History and Culture VII, University Press of Maryland (Bethesda 2000), ISBN 1-883053-36-6
- Schwarz, Guri, "After Mussolini: Jewish Life and Jewish Memory in Postfascist Italy", Vallentine Mitchell (London, Portland (OR), 2012.
- Ferrara degli Uberti, Carlotta, "Fare gli ebrei Italiani. Autorapresentazioni di una minoranza (1861-1918)", Il Mulino (Bologna), 2010.
- Pacifici Noja, Ugo G. and Silvia (2010). Il cacciatore di giusti: storie di non ebrei che salvarono i figli di Israele dalla Shoah. Cantalupa Torinese: Effatà.
- Ferrara degli Uberti, Carlotta, "Making Italian Jews: Family, Gender, Religion and the Nation 1861–1918, Palgrave MacMillan (London) 2017.
- Ebreo chi? Sociologia degli ebrei italiani ( Jewish who? A sociology of the Italian Jews today) Ugo G. Pacifici Noja and Giorgio Pacifici eds., with contributions of Umberto Abenaim, Massimiliano Boni, Angelica Edna Calo Livne, Enzo Campelli, Renata Conforty Orvieto, Sergio Della Pergola, Roberto Della Rocca, Anna Foa, Silvia \Maiocchi, Natan Orvieto, Rossana Ottolenghi, Giorgio Pacifici, Ugo G. Pacifici Noja, Vittorio Pavoncello, Gian Stefano Spoto, Claudio Vercelli, with a foreword of Furio Colombo, Jaca Book, Milan, 2017 ISBN 978-88-16-41419-8
- Guetta, Alessandro (2014). Italian Jewry in the Early Modern Era: Essays in Intellectual History. Boston: Academic Studies Press. doi:10.2307/j.ctt21h4w96. ISBN 9781618112088. JSTOR j.ctt21h4w96.
Italian rite prayer books
- Mahzor kefi ha-nahug li-kehal Roma, Casal Maggiore 1486
- Ḥelek me-ha-maḥzor kefi minhag k”k Roma, Bologna 1540
- Maḥzor ke-minhag Roma, Mantua 1557
- Siddur mebarekhah: ke-minhag k”k Italiani, Venice 1618
- Siddur Benè Romì, Milan 2002
- The Complete Italian Machazor, ed. Emanuele Artom, Jerusalem 2005 
- Mahzor Ke-Minhag Roma, ed. Robert Bonfil, Jerusalem 2012, ISBN 978-965-493-621-7
The Italian rite is also set out in one chapter of Goldschmidt, Meḥqare Tefillah u-Fiyyut (On Jewish Liturgy), Jerusalem 1978
- Italian Jewish Musical Traditions from the Leo Levi Collection (1954–1961) (Anthology of Music Traditions in Israel, 14, edited by Francesco Spagnolo): contains examples of Italian liturgical music from the Italiani/Bené Romi, Sephardi and Ashkenazi traditions
- Talile Zimra - Singing Dew: The Florence-Leghorn Jewish Musical Tradition, Beth Hatefutsot, 2002
- Adler Israel, Hosha’ana Rabbah in Casale Monferrato 1732: Dove in the Clefts of the Rock, Jewish Music Research Center, Hebrew University of Jerusalem: Jerusalem 1990 (Yuval Music series Volume: 2), book and CD
- Free download of tefillot, haftarot, parashot sung according to the Italian rite on the site www.torah.it