יום חמישי ד' בתשרי תשפ"ג 29/09/2022
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  • The Mission Continues

    As in the past so it remains today - we were and still are under the selfsame commitment to adhere to the directions of the Gedolei Yisrael, who stand guard against breaches of purity threatening our camp. When we were required to ask – we asked. When we were instructed to depart – we left. The moment we are summoned back to raise the flag, every other consideration is pushed to the side and we answer: We are ready!

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בראי היום

  • Harav Yisrael Friedman zy”a, the Rebbe of Husyatin

    מוטי, ויקיפדיה העברית

    The ancestral chain of Harav Yisrael Friedman, the founder of the Husyatin chassidic court, originates with the holy Baal Shem Tov. The Husyatin chassidus has its roots in Galicia and eventually came to Tel Aviv, during the turbulent years between the two World Wars.

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  • Maccabi'im Gravesite

    In honour of Chanukah, we will discuss a fascinating, ongoing investigation attempting to establish the place of burial of Mattisyahu Kohen Gadol and his family.

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Reflections

Italian Jewry

On Rosh Chodesh Nissan, the great Rabbi Yeshaya Bassan who was the Ramchal's Rabbi and also known Posek to the Jews in Italy as well as all of Europe.

Motty Meringer 26/03/2009 14:37

Of the various Jewish communities of the world, that of Italy has the most ancient roots. There appears to have been a Jewish presence in Rome dating back to the times of the Second Temple; several references are made in the Gemora to Roman Jews.

The Jerusalem Talmud, tractate Sanhedrin, describes the visit of Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabban Gamliel to the Italian capital. There they saw children playing in the street; they took fruits and placed them in a heap, saying that such was the practice in Eretz Yisrael, where the people would say ‘this is teruma’ and ‘this is ma’aser’. Thus the Tannaim saw before their very eyes evidence that Jews were still keeping the commandments even in Rome.

Initially the community there was small in size; after the Bar Kochva revolt, however, it expanded owing to an influx of Jewish captives exiled to Rome from Eretz Yisroel. These Jews were then redeemed by their local brethren.
During the dark years of the Middle Ages, after the fall of the Roman Empire, European Jews endured terrible persecution at the hands of the christians, especially in Italy. Ironically, the Jews of Rome itself, who came under the direct protection of the Pope, were somewhat sheltered from the dangers of the times, and suffered less than their co-religionists in other Italian cities. Nevertheless, they were barred from communal office, and forbidden to hold substantial assets and properties. Owing to these restrictions on their opportunities to make a living, many Jews were involved in the trade of diamonds and other precious stones. Another branch of trade initiated by Jews was that of money-lending; indeed, the first major banks to be established in Italy were all founded by Jews.

Toward the end of the twelfth century ce the Popes began to place further restrictions on their Jewish subjects. These included both financial and physical limitations; Jews were forced to wear a derogatory mark on their clothing attesting to their Jewishness, and they were forbidden to walk about the streets on days of christian festivals. Then, at the start of the thirteenth century ce, a mass propaganda effort was instigated across all of Europe against the Talmud. This was the backdrop to the famous Parisian trial, and the period of time during which christians burned Talmudic manuscripts in many locations over Europe, Italy included.

On the 15th Tammuz in the year 5315, Pope Paulus IV published an epistle ruling that Jews must live separately from their christian neighbours. This led to the establishment of the Jewish ghetto in Rome. Pope Pius IV, who succeeded him, extended this order to the whole of Italy, and thus all of the Jewish communities in Italy were now confined to ghettoes.

Italian Jewry was renowned for its scholarship, dating back to the times of the Rishonim, when the Gaon Rabbi Yeshaya di Tirani, known as the ‘Tosefos Rid’ was leader of its communities. Rabbi Yeshaya was born in Italy and grew up there; when he was older he travelled to Ashkenaz to learn under the great Rishonim. After this sojourn, he returned to Italy where he became head of its various communities and a recognised leader even of communities beyond Italy’s borders.

The main period of Italian Jewry’s glory and prominence was between the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries ce. During these few hundred years, the congregations in Rome, Florence, Toreno, Mantua and Padua greatly expanded in size. Great Torah leaders led these communities and many seforim and other compositions were published during this period.
Among the great Torah scholars living during this time in Italy was the great commentator on the Mishnah, Rabbeinu Ovadia, who was rav of the town of Bartenura, until his departure from Italy around the year 5200, when he ascended to Eretz Yisrael. Other contemporary gedolim included Rav Ovadia Sforno and his companion Rav Menachem Azaria miPano, known as the Rema miPano. Several years later, Italy could again take pride in another great scholar, the Gaon Rav Yeshaya Bassan, who was rav of a number of communities in Italy, including Padua and Reggio. His many responsae, of the Mahari Bassan, were published in the sefer Todas Shlamim and other seforim of this period. The great Ramchal, Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzatto, was one of Mahari Bassan’s talmidim; he lived in Italy until his departure for Eretz Yisrael. Another great talmid chacham, a contemporary of the Ramchal, was Rav Chizkiya di Silva, usually known by the name of his work ‘Pri Chadash’, a commentary on the Shulchan Oruch. Towards the end of the eighteenth century ce Rav Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai, known to us as the Chida, arrived in Italy. He settled in Livorno, where he authored his many seforim; he lived there until his petira.

A famous chapter in the history of Italian Jewry occurred towards the beginning of the sixteenth century ce. A group of approximately twenty Jews arrived at the port city of Ancona; these were Jews fleeing from persecution, who had until then been forced to conceal their Jewish identity. Now on Italian shores, they resumed open practice of Judaism, although this was forbidden by church law. Their presence became known to the authorities and the Pope ordered them to be executed by fire.

Hearing of the ruling, several Jewish merchants attempted to intervene, and turned to the noblewoman Donna Grazia for assistance. Donna Grazia was an extremely wealthy lady with extensive connections among those wielding power; the merchants now requested of her that she boycott the port of Ancona, in order to influence the Pope in the Jews’ favour. Such a boycott would have widespread negative ramifications for commerce, and would impact greatly on the Pope’s own coffers, since he taxed all trade through the port. Donna Grazia acquiesced to the request and the church’s fortunes suffered greatly; however, the ban was soon lifted, partly due to pressure from Jewish merchants in Ancona who had also been negatively impacted by the halt in trade.

In the year 5552 Napoleon and his armies began the French conquest of Italy. In the course of the fighting, many areas passed under alternating French and Italian rule. In general, the Jews supported the French, and therefore the Italians ordered the Jews to pay for damages incurred from the war. Eventually, however, the French consolidated their rule over Italy. According to their philosophy, Jews were accorded full civil rights, together with all citizens. The ghettoes were abolished and Jews were free to engage in any trade they desired. Many now began to mingle with the non-Jews of the land, becoming strongly patriotic and on many occasions rising to prominence.

In the year 5682 the fascist leader Benito Mussolini rose to power in Italy. At the commencement of his rule Jews still enjoyed full freedoms without special restriction, not yet being targeted by his fascist ideology. However, in the year 5698 the Italian government began to enact racial laws, emulating Nazi philosophy; thousands of Jews were rendered unemployed.

Then, on the 23rd Ellul 5704, Mussolini, with Nazi backing, established his ‘Socialist Republic of Italy’. It was not immediately clear what implications this would have for the Jewish community, but any doubts were soon dispelled with the first transport of more than a thousand Italian Jews by train to the extermination camp in Auschwitz. This took place on the 17th Tishrei 5705; several months later, on the 4th Kislev 5705, all the Jews of northern Italy were rounded up to their local police stations and subsequently imprisoned. In total, approximately a third of the Jewish population of Italy was murdered during the Second World War by the Italian Fascists and Nazis.

After the Second World War ended, Italian Jews reconstructed their communities. As of today, there are big concentrations of Jews in Rome, Milan and nineteen other smaller cities across the country.