The jews in southern italy from the high middleages to the expulsion
The socio-political structures in Southern Italy during the early middle ages didn’t include many Jews. However, it is the golden age for culture expecially when considering the revival in our countries of the Hebrew: in fact much of the liturglical poetry composed in this period is still in use today in Ashkenazi liturgy (in German speaking countries and in Poland-Lithuania).
Poetry flourished during the 9th -11th centuries.
In Oria, Shefatyah and his son Amittary; in Venosa, Silano and Zevadyah, in Bari, Elyah b. Shemayah, Mose b. Elyah, Abraham b. Isaac; in Otranto, Menachem Corizzi; in Siponto, Anan b. Marinos ha-Cohen. The physician, scentist and philosopher Donnolo Shabbetay, born in Oria educated in Rossano Calabro wrote the first Hebrew medical work in any Christian land of the West.
The rabbinical schools in Apulia were so renowned that the academies of Fustat in Egypt, Kairawan in Tunisia and Cordova in Muslim Spain boasted to have had teachers from Bari. The outsanding authority of the Talmudic schools in Apulia was quoted by Rabbenu Tam of Troyes (1100-1171): “ For out of Bari shall go forth the Law and word of the Lord from Otranto”.
He was adapting the prophet Isaiah (II. 3)
“For out of Zion shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem”.
In the 11th century the Normans conquered Southern Italy. They protected the Jews in exchange of a special tax and used to bestow the tithes from Jewish activities to the bishops.
The Normans were succeeded by the Hohenstaufen dynasty (Swabian). Frederick the II stands out. After initally aligning with the Church’s discriminatory policy towards the Jews Frederick in the Costitution of Melfi (Liber Augustalis, 1231) grant to Jews and Saracens equal rights in matters of defense and protection, prohibiting to harass them because of their belief.
The Angevins seized the kingdom in 1266 and managed to convert many Jews to Christianity. In the first decade of the 14th century the crisis was overcome with the arrival of refugees from Spain, from the south of France and from Germany.
When in 1492 the Jews were expelled from Spain and Sicily, the Neapolitan Kingdom ruled by the Aragoneses welcomed them and many new communities appeard in south Italy.
The Spanish conquest of Naples in 1503 marked the set of Judaism in our land: The first expulsion, in 1510 , was ordered by Ferdinand the Catholic, the final one in 1541 by Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor.
The Jews were forced to leave Southern Italy and sought refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the lands of the Church, Venice.
Photo: Funeral cippus of ‘Anna, daughter of Rabbi Julius’ With menorah (candelabrum), shofar (ram’s horn) and epigrah inscription in Hebew and top of still, in latin (Oria, 8th-9th century).