Calabria (Hebrew: קלבריה) is a mountainous region in the southernmost peninsula of Italy. The Jews have had a presence in Calabria for at least 1600 years and possibly as much as 2300 years. Calabrian Jews have had notably influence on many areas of Jewish life and culture. Although virtually identitical to the Jews of Sicily, the Jews of Calabria are considered a distinct Jewish population due to historical and geographic considerations.

Early history

The history of the Jews in Calabria is presumed to date back several centuries before the common era. While there is evidence of Hellenized Jews living in the Greek colony of Magna Graecia, [1] there is no direct evidence of a Jewish presence in Calabria, then known as Bruttium until much later. However, legends state that many Jewish captive slaves were brought to Calabria after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in the year 70.[2] Other legends state that it was the Hellenized Jews from Egypt who introduced the Etrog to Calabria during the time of Magna Graecia. In fact, the prized Etrog known as the Diamante Citron is still grown in Calabria to this day. [3] The Calabrian town of Santa Maria del Cedro still features their Etrog heritage in its place name.

The Talmud, in tractate Eruvin 42-43, makes an undated reference to the ancient Calabrian settlement of Brindisi, also known as Plandarsin. It was in Brindisi/Plandarsin that Rabbi Gamliel and other Tannaim debate oral law concerning personal travel during Shabbat.[4]

The first dated mentionings of Jewish communities in Calabria were by Roman officials in the service of the Western Emperor Honorius in the year 398. [5] Some ancient towns known to have had a Jewish community were Reggio (Rhegion) [6] and Catanzaro (Katantheros). [7] Today some physical remnants of the ancient Calabrian Jewish community still survives. For example, the remains of an ancient synagogue have been unearthed in the town of Bova Marina [8] Another example is an inscription that mentions Calabria in the Jewish catacombs of Monteverde in Rome. These catacombs were in use from the first to the third century. [9][10]

Another popular legend states that after the Sack of Rome in 410, Gothic general Alaric carried his booty, including the Temple Treasure of Jerusalem, South with him on his way to Africa. When Alaric died suddenly while in Calabria, he was believed to have buried the Temple Treasure somewhere near the Calabria town of Consentia. [11][12]

In the year 925, an army of Fatimite Muslims, led by Ja'far ibn Ubaid, invaded Calabria which devastated the Jewish population.[13] It was during this time that Shabbethai Donnolo, was made captive. He would later become the Byzantine court physician in Calabria, and wrote many of his most famous works on medicine and theology while in Calabria. [14]

Middle Ages

During the early period of the Middle Ages, Calabria then under Byzantine rule, was an important commercial center. During this time the Calabrian Jewish population, estimated at around 12,000, flourished. [15] According to some sources, some areas of Calabria may have had a Jewish population of up to fifty percent. Many Jews were prosperous merchants dominating such industries as silk trading and cloth dyeing. [16] Money lending was also an important source of revenue for the Calabrian Jews. [17] Many Jews of Calabria lived in special segregated neighborhoods known as La Giudecca. Remnants of these neighborhoods still exist in Calabrian towns such as Nicastro.[18] At their height, the Jews of Calabria, along with the Jews of Sicily were second only to the Jews of Spain in terms of classical Sephardic culture.

During the First Crusade, southern Italy, including both Sicily and Calabria fell to the Normans. For a time, this resulted in uniting both Jewish populations, as well as other Jewish communities in southern Italy under the flag of the Kingdom of Sicily. Norman conqueror, Robert Guiscard governed Calabria in 1061. Guiscard encouraged the Jews of Catanzaro to engage in several agricultural trades. In fact, unlike many of the Jewish communities of Western Europe, the Jews of Calabria largely escaped the atrocities associated with that period. Benjamin of Tudela mentioned the Jews of Calabria on his return trip to Spain around 1175. [19]

After several centuries of relative peace and prosperity under the rule of the Kingdom of Naples, the persecution of the Calabrian Jews started in 1288 with accusations of blood libel. [20] Under Charles II of Anjou with the assistance of the friars of the Dominican Order, the decline of the Calabrian Jewish communities began. During this time many Calabrian Jews and their wealth began to move to other Jewish communities of France and Northern Italy. Meanwhile other Calabrian Jews were pressured to convert to Christianity. These Jewish converts to Christianity in Southern Italy were known as Neofiti.

In 1348, during the years of the Black Death, a Jew by the name of Agimet of Geneva, confessed under toture to poisoning the wells of Calabria among other places. This extracted confession was used in the persecution and expulsion of the Jews of Strasbourg. [21]

The first type set Hebrew books in Europe were printed in Reggio by Abraham Garton in 1475. [22] Garton did not use movable type, but used a block page format known as Incunabulum to print his material. Garton's works were printed in a Hebrew style known as Rashi Script. Some historians ponder the connection between Garton's pioneering mass production revolution of Hebrew books and the raise of Ashkenazi prominence in religious scholarship. [23] It is interesting to note that in the former Jewish quarter of Reggio there is a street named, "Via Ashkenaz". [24] In addition to the first printed Hebrew book, the first Hebrew commentary on the Hagaddah also appeared in Reggio, in 1482. [25]

A short lived revival of the Calabrian Jewish communities began after Sephardic Jews fleeing the Spanish expulsion arrived in 1492. Another wave of Jewish refugees also arrived in Calabria fleeing from the Expulsion of the Jews from Sicily in 1493. [26][27] However, the final blow to the Calabrian Jews began when the Spanish Inquisition reached Calabria in the 1500s. By 1541, the Roman Catholic Church ordered the last Jews of Calabria to either leave or to convert to Catholcism. [28] For those who could afford to leave, most went to the Greek cities of Arta [29] and Thessaloniki, [30] where their descendants and the Calabrian Jewish culture would ultimately perish in the Holocaust. [31][32] Those Calabrian Jews who could not escape, were subjected to a forced conversion, and Jewish houses of worship were converted into churches. For example, the synagogue of Catanzaro was converted to a church dedicated to St. Stefano. [33] The Calabrian converts, many who still secretly practiced Crypto-Judaism,were known in Hebrew as Anusim. Despite their conversion to Catholism, many converted Jews of Calabria were regularly descriminated against and were forced to live as second class citizens. [34]

During the Middle Ages, Calabria contributed much to the culture of the Jewish people in Europe. Many Jewish scholars, such as Rabbi Hayyim ben Joseph Vital and descendants of the Isaac Abarbanel were known to have come from or resided in Calabria. [35][36][37] Also, the Fifteenth-century Christian Hebraist, Agathius Guidacerius, a well regarded Greek and Hebrew grammatical expert was born in the Calabrian town of Rocca-Coragio. [38]

Modern times

Benedetto Musolino (1809-1885), was a Christian from a Calabrian noble family. In 1851, he wrote "Gerusalemme e il Popolo Ebreo" ("Jerusalem and the Jewish People"), a plan for the establishment of a Jewish state in Turkish Palestine, with Hebrew as its national language. Unfortunately, his writing was not published at that time. [39] Had it been published at the time of its writing, it would have preceded Theodore Herzl's Der Judenstat by forty-five years.

During World War Two, Italian Dictator, Benito Mussolini built the internment camp of Ferramonti di Tarsia near the Calabrian town of Cosenza. Many of the prisoners were Jews from all over Europe who had fled to Italy escaping the Holocaust. However, the Tarsia internment camp was not a death camp and the vast majority of Jews there survived the war unharmed. [40] [41]

Today, some descendants of Calabrian Anusim have revived a small Jewish community in Calabria. [42] In 2007, Calabria consecrated the opening of its first synagogue in 500 years. The Ner Tamid del Sud Synagogue in the town of Serrastretta, serves the regional Jewish community. [43] This community began with the efforts of progressive Rabbi, Barbara Aiello. [44] Aiello is also active in Italian American community. Her organizational efforts have led some Italian Americans of Calabrian descent to search for their Jewish ancestry. [45]

In 2007, Israeli land developer, David Appel, announced his plans to create one of the world's largest vacation/gambling resorts in the Calabrian town of Crotone. The project, named, EuroParidiso, was intended to attract tourists from all over Europe and Israel. [46]

Since 2008, Kosher Passover vacation packages have been hosted in the of city Reggio. However, these packages cater to affluent Jewish travellers not native to Calabria. [47]

Language and culture

From about the 1st to the 16th century, it is presumed that most native Calabrian Jews spoke a dialect of Judeo-Italian known as Italki or Italkian. [48] However, with the arrival of the Iberian Jews after 1492, Ladino was also spoken throughout Calabria.

Most Calabrian Jews also followed the Italian Rite Nusach. Again, with the arrival of Iberian Jews, the Sephardic Rite Nusach was also practiced in Calabria. [49]

Despite Mosiac prohibitions against astrology, this occultic art was popular with the Jews of Southern Italy, including Calabria, during the Byzantine era. [50]

Cuisine associated with the Jews of Sicily and apparently Calabria, were dishes labelled "alla giudia" or "all'ebraica," such as pasta with anchovies and garlic, concia di zucchine, fried courgettes marinated in vinegar, caponata, a sweet and sour aubergine dish. [51]


The Haplogroup G2c (Y-DNA) which is associated with about 40% of the Ashkenazi Jewish population has been linked to the Jews of Sicily who in part migrated to Calabria then onto other parts of Europe. In addition to the Ashkenazi, Haplogroup G2c is also present in many modern Calabrians and their descendants, strongly indicating a common ancestry. [52][53]


  1. Laura Costantini. "Immortal Fruit". Jerusalem Post. 
  2. Andree Brooks (May 15, 2003). "In Italian Dust, Signs Of a Past Jewish Life". NY Times. 
  3. "What is ann Etrog". Ask Moses.,2155664/What-is-an-Etrog.html. 
  4. Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Nov 11-12, 2005). "The Coming Week's Daf Yomi". Orthodox Union. 
  5. Richard Gottheil; Samuel Krauss. "Honorius". Jewish Encyclopedia. 
  6. Isidore Singer; Umberto Cassuto. "Reggio". Jewish Encyclopedia. 
  7. "Catanzaro". Jewish Virtual Library. 
  8. "Excavation at Bova Marina". Jewish Roots. 
  9. Jona Lendering. "The Jewish diaspora: Rome". Livius. 
  10. "Catacombs: Archives of History". Catacomb Society. 
  11. citation needed
  12. Edward Gibbon (1776). "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire". Online Library of Liberty, Liberty Fund. 
  13. Richard Gottheil; H. G. Enelow. "Apulia". Jewish Encyclopedia. 
  14. "Donnolo, Shabbetai". Blackwell Dictionary of Judaica. 
  15. www.lameziastorica
  19. [1]
  48. [2]
  49. [3]
  50. [4]
  52. "Calabria DNA Project". Calabria DNA. 
  53. "Y-DNA Results". Calabria DNA. 

External links

This page uses content from the English Wikipedia. The original article was at History of the Jews in Calabria. The list of authors can be seen in the page history.

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