Saturday, July 11, 2015

Jewish Palermo

A CAPSULE HISTORY: Rediscovering Jewish Palermo (by Irene Shaland and Bianca Del Bello, Special to The [Jewish] Chronicle).
Contrary to popular opinion, Sicily’s Jewish culture was not imported from Spain but came from Judea in antiquity as part of the Diaspora. Some sources date the arrival of the first Jewish settlers in Sicily to the destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple in 70 A.D. when Titus brought over 30,000 Jewish slaves to Rome, some of whom were later sent to the island of Sicily. Academics generally agree though that the Jewish presence in Italy began long before that. A sizable Jewish community was likely established in the southeastern part of Sicily in Siracusa during the Hellenistic Greek period. Encyclopedia Judaica quotes the record of the first known European Jewish poet Caecilius of Calacte moving to Rome from Sicily in 50 A.D., 20 years prior to Titus’ slaves. These records prove that the Sicilian Jewish community is the oldest in Europe.

The Phoenicians, a Semitic people, were the first to colonize Sicily in 800 B.C. They established a city-port they called Zis, now known as Palermo. They spoke a language similar to Hebrew and developed the first alphabet that was written like Hebrew. The Greeks came 100 years later, and 500 years later, the Romans. The Vandals came 500 years after the Romans, then the Arabs, the Normans, the Schwabians, the French and the Spanish. The last wave of invaders came after the unification of Italy in 1861. These were the “northern Italians,” as the locals call them.
I don't know anything about the history of Judaism in Sicily, so I'm just passing the article on to you. If a reader has any comments about its accuracy, just drop me a note. Cross-file under Phoenician Watch.