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The JEWS of GREECE
SUMMARY

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Jews have been present in Greece since at least the fourth century BCE. The oldest and the most characteristic Jewish group that has inhabited Greece are the Romaniotes, also known as "Greek Jews". However, the term "Greek Jew" is predominantly used for any person of Jewish descent or faith that lives in or originates from the modern region of Greece.

Aside from the Romaniotes, a distinct Jewish population that historically lived in communities throughout Greece and neighboring areas with large Greek populations, Greece had a large population of Sephardi Jews, and is a historical center of Sephardic life.  Salonica or Thessaloniki, in Greek Macedonia, was called the "Mother of Israel". Greek Jews played an important role in the early development of Christianity and became a source of education and commerce for the Byzantine Empire and throughout the period of Ottoman Greece, until suffering devastation in the Holocaust after Greece was conquered and occupied by the Axis powers in spite of efforts by Greeks to protect them. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, a large percentage of the surviving community emigrated to Israel or the United States.

The Jewish community in Greece currently amounts to roughly 8,000 people, concentrated mainly in Athens, Thessaloniki (or Salonica), Larissa, Volos, Chalkis, Ioannina, Trikala and Corfu, while very few remain in Kavala and Rhodes. Greek Jews today largely "live side by side in harmony" with Christian Greeks, according to Giorgo Romaio, president of the Greek Committee for the Jewish Museum of Greece, while nevertheless continuing to work with other Greeks, and Jews worldwide, to combat any rise of anti-Semitism there.


HELLENISTIC JUDAISM
Wikipedia

Hellenistic Judaism was a form of Judaism in the ancient world that combined Jewish religious tradition with elements of Greek culture. Until the fall of the Roman Empire and the Muslim conquests of the Eastern Mediterranean, the main centers of Hellenistic Judaism were Alexandria (Egypt) and Antioch (Northern Syria—now Turkey), the two main Greek urban settlements of the Middle East and North Africa area, both founded at the end of the 4th century BCE in the wake of the conquests of Alexander the Great. Hellenistic Judaism also existed in Jerusalem during the Second Temple Period, where there was conflict between Hellenizers and traditionalists (sometimes called Judaizers).

The major literary product of the contact of Second Temple Judaism and Hellenistic culture is the Septuagint translation of the Hebrew Bible from Biblical Hebrew and Biblical Aramaic to Koiné Greek, specifically, Jewish Koiné Greek.

The decline of Hellenistic Judaism started in the 2nd century CE, and its causes are still not fully understood. It may be that it was eventually marginalized by, partially absorbed into or became progressively the Koiné-speaking core of Early Christianity centered on Antioch and its traditions.

Most Jews in Greece are Sephardim, but Greece is also the home of the unique Romaniote culture. Besides the Sephardim and the Romaniotes, some Italian-Sicilian and small Ashkenazi communities have existed as well, in Thessaloniki and elsewhere. All this communities had not only their own custom (minhag), they also had their own siddurim printed for the congregations in Greece. The large variety of Jewish customs in Greece was unique.

ROMANIOTES

Romaniote Jews have lived in the territory of today's Greece for more than 2000 years. Their historic language was Yevanic, a dialect of the Greek language, but Yevanic has no surviving speakers recorded; today's Greek Romaniotes speak Greek. Large communities were located in Ioannina, Thebes, Chalcis, Corfu, Arta, Corinth and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus, among others. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, some of whom settled in Greece after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain. All but a small number of the Romaniotes of Ioannina, the largest remaining Romaniote community not assimilated into Sephardic culture, were killed in the Holocaust. Ioannina today has 35 living Romaniotes.

SEPHARDIM IN GREECE

The majority of the Jews in Greece are Sephardim whose ancestors had left Spain, Portugal and Italy. They largely settled in cities such as Thessaloniki, the city which was to be named "Mother of Israel" in the years to come. The traditional language of Greek Sephardim was Judeo Espaniol, and, until the Holocaust, the community "was a unique blend of Ottoman, Balkan and Hispanic influences", well known for its level of education. The Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture calls Thessaloniki's Sephardic community "indisputably one of the most important ones in the world".

The first recorded mention of Judaism in Greece dates from 300-250 BCE on the island of Rhodes. In the 2nd century BCE, Hyrcanus, a leader in the Jewish community of Athens, was honoured by the raising of a statue in the agora.

According to Josephus (Contra Apionem, I, 176-183), an even earlier mention of a Hellenized Jew by a Greek writer was to be found in the work "De Somno" (not extant) by the Greek historian Clearchus of Soli. Here Clearchus describes the meeting between Aristotle (who lived in the 4th century BCE) and a Jew in Asia Minor, who was fluent in Greek language and thought:

"'Well', said Aristotle, [...] 'the man was a Jew of Coele Syria (modern Lebanon). These Jews were derived from the Indian philosophers, and were called by the Indians Kalani. Now this man, who entertained a large circle of friends and was on his way from the interior to the coast, not only spoke Greek but had the soul of a Greek. During my stay in Asia, he visited the same places as I did, and came to converse with me and some other scholars, to test our learning. But as one who had been intimate with many cultivated persons, it was rather he who imparted to us something of his own.'"

Archaeologists have discovered ancient synagogues in Greece, including the Synagogue in the Agora of Athens and the Delos Synagogue, dating to the 2nd century BCE.

Greek Jews played an important role in Greek history, from the early History of Christianity, through the Byzantine Empire and Ottoman Greece, until the tragic near-destruction of the community after Greece fell to Nazi Germany in World War II.

HELLENISTIC PERIOD

The Macedonian empire under Alexander the Great conquered the former Kingdom of Judah in 332 BC, defeating the Persian empire which had held the territory since Cyrus' conquest of the Babylonians. After Alexander's death, the Wars of the Diadochi led to the territory changing rulership rapidly as Alexander's successors fought over control over the Persian territories. The region eventually came to be controlled by the Ptolemaic dynasty, and the area became increasingly Hellenistic. The Jews of Alexandria created a "unique fusion of Greek and Jewish culture", while the Jews of Jerusalem were divided between conservative and pro-Hellene factions. Along with the influence of this Hellenistic fusion on the Jews who had found themselves part of a Greek empire, Armstrong argues that the turbulence of the period between the death of Alexander and the 2nd century BCE led to a resurgence of Jewish messianism, which would inspire revolutionary sentiment when Jerusalem became part of the Roman Empire.

ROMAN GREECE

Hellenistic Greece and Macedonia fell to the Roman Empire in 146 BC. The Jews living in Roman Greece had a different experience than those of Judaea Province. The New Testament describes Greek Jews as a separate community from the Jews of Judaea, and the Jews of Greece did not participate in the First Jewish-Roman War or later conflicts. The Jews of Thessaloniki, speaking a dialect of Greek, and living a Hellenized existence, were joined by a new Jewish colony in the 1st century AD. The Jews of Thessaloniki "enjoyed wide autonomy" in Roman times.

Originally a persecutor of the early Jewish Christians until his conversion on the Road to Damascus, Paul of Tarsus, himself a Hellenized Jew from Tarsus, part of the post-Alexander the Great Greek Seleucid Empire, was instrumental in the founding of many Christian churches throughout Rome, including Asia Minor and Greece. Paul's second missionary journey included proselytizing at Thessaloniki's synagogue until driven out of the city by its Jewish community.

BYZANTINE EMPIRE

"Byzantine Emperor" Alexander the Great is offered gold and silver by the Rabbis.

After the collapse of the Western Roman Empire, elements of Roman civilisation continued on in the Byzantine Empire. The Jews of Greece began to come under increasing attention from Byzantium's leadership in Constantinople. Some Byzantine emperors were anxious to exploit the wealth of the Jews of Greece, and imposed special taxes on them, while others attempted forced conversions to Christianity. The latter pressure met with little success, as it was resisted by both the Jewish community and by the Greek Christian synods.[2]

Tobiah ben Eliezer (טוביה בר אליעזר), a Talmudist and poet of the 11th century, worked and lived in the city of Kastoria. He is the author of the Lekach Tov, a midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch and the Five Megillot and also of some poems.

The first settlement of Ashkenazi Jews in Greece occurred in 1376, heralding an Ashkenazi immigration from Hungary and Germany to avoid the persecution of Jews throughout the 15th century. Jewish immigrants from France and Venice also arrived in Greece, and created new Jewish communities in Thessaloniki.[2]

THE OTTOMAN EMPIRE

Greece was ruled by the Ottoman Empire from the mid-15th century, until the conclusion of first the Greek War of Independence ending in 1832, and then the First Balkan War in 1913. During this period, the centre of Jewish life in the Balkans was Salonica or Thessaloniki. The Sephardim of Thessaloniki were the exclusive tailors for the Ottoman Janissaries, and enjoyed economic prosperity through commercial trading in the Balkans.

After their expulsion from Spain, between fifteen and twenty thousand more Sephardim settled in Thessaloniki. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: "Greece became a haven of religious tolerance for Jews fleeing the Spanish Inquisition and other persecution in Europe. The Ottomans welcomed the Jews because they improved the economy. Jews occupied administrative posts and played an important role in intellectual and commercial life throughout the empire."  These immigrants established the city's first printing press, and the city became known as a centre for commerce and learning. The exile of other Jewish communities swelled the city's Jewish population, until Jews were the majority population in 1519.

In the year 1523 the first printed edition of the Mahzor Romania was published in Venice, by Constantinopolitan Jews which contains the Minhag of the Jews from the Byzantine empire. This Minhag represents probably the oldest European Prayer rite. A polyglot edition of the Bible published in Constantinople in 1547 has the Hebrew text in the middle of the page, with a Ladino (Judaeo-Spanish) translation on one side and a Yevanic translation on the other.

The middle of the 19th century, however, brought a change to Greek Jewish life. The Janissaries had been destroyed in 1826, and traditional commercial routes were being encroached upon by the Great Powers of Europe.

TODAY

There are now Jewish communities in Greece and in the Islands.  Details can be found from LINKS below

GREECE AND ANTI-SEMITISM

Greece has the highest level of anti-Semitism in Europe with an overal 67% (68% males, 66% females) harboring anti-Semitic attitudes (http://global100.adl.org/#country/greece/2015.  

Greece has had (is having?) A difficult time economically which has seen the rise of the Golden Dawn party.  This is described in more detail by Wiki and Wiki Talk,  Why Is Greece the Most anti-Semitic Country in Europe?  Haaretz, May 20 2014

LINKS

Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece

See links for Athens, Thessalonika, Larisa, Volos, Corfu, Chalkis, Ionnina, Trikala,           Rhodes

Rhodes

Rhodes Jewish Museum

Jewish Community of Thessaloniki (Salonika)

Greece: A Jewish History, KE Fleming

The Coming of the Greeks

The Jewish Museum of Greece

World Jewish Congress - Greece

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