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The Jews of Italy
By Tammy Schwartz - February 9, 2009


Jewish Star in Venice
The first recorded Jews in Italy were likely ambassadors sent to Rome by Judah Maccabee in 161 BC or later Jews sent by Simon Maccabus to strengthen the alliance between the Judeans and the Romans against the marauding Greeks. After these times many other Jews ended up in Rome as either merchants or slaves. The Jewish Roman community was well organized and maintained several synagogues. They suffered through various periods of persecution, particularly after the Jewish revolt in 66 AD and there are reports that they were forced to pay extra dues and taxes to make up for the tithes that would have once come from Judea.

When Christianity was adopted as the official religion of the Roman Empire by Constantine I in 313 there was a dramatic decline in the position of Jews in Italy as a succession of emperors established oppressive laws and regulations to govern them. But there were still active Jewish communities in Rome, Milan, Genoa, Palermo, Messina, and Sardinia during Ostrogothic rule up to the time of the Lombards in Italy. There was so much internal dissention in the Church and Italy during the following years that Jews were pretty much left on their own to carry on their traditions and engage in various forms of commerce.

Under Norman rule the Jews of southern Italy and Sicily had jurisdiction over their own affairs and many Jews became notable for their work as writers, poets and artists as well as successful businessmen. But with the arrival of Pope Innocent III in the late 1100ís the fate of the Jews began to deteriorate as this new Pope threatened those who placed Jews in public positions with excommunication and insisted that every Jew holding office should be dismissed.
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