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The Jews lived in many Sicilian cities such as Palermo, Messina and Catania. In the 6th century, communications were sent to Pope Gregory I about the plight of the Jews in the Kingdom of Sicily. In 831, Sicily came under the Arab dominion, who treated the Jews justly.
In 1072, during the First Crusade, Sicily fell to the Normans; and the Jews were again brought under the supremacy and jurisdiction of the Catholic Church. The Norman Kingdom of Sicily lasted until 1194, when it fell to the Hohenstaufens. In 1210, the Jews of Sicily faced such persecution from the Crusaders that Holy Roman Emperor Frederick II had to intervene on their behalf. Persecution of the Jews continued. But, despite persecution, Sicilian Jews continued to thrive. Some Sicilian rabbis communicated with Maimonides posing religious questions.
Systematic persecution of the Jews in Sicily started in the 14th century. In 1310 the King of Sicily Frederick II of Aragon adopted a restrictive and discriminatory policy towards the Jews who were required to mark their clothes and their shops with the ‘red wheel’. Jews were also forbidden any relationship with Catholics. In 1392, Jews were ordered to live in ghettos and severe persecutions broke out in Monte San Giuliano (now Erice), Catania and Syracuse, in which many Jews fell victim. The next year strict decrees were directed against private ceremonies. For example, Jews were forbidden to use any decorations in connection with funerals; except in unusual cases, when silk was permitted, the coffin might be covered with a woollen pall only. In Marsala, Jews were compelled to take part in the festival services at Christmas and on St. Stephen's Day, and were then followed home by the mob and stoned on the way. At the beginning of the 15th century oppression was at such a level that in 1402 the Jews of Marsala presented an appeal to the king, in which they asked for:
(1) exemption from compulsory menial services;
(2) the reduction of their taxes to one-eleventh of the total taxation, since the Jews were only one-eleventh of the population;
(3) the hearing of their civil suits by the royal chief judge, and of their religious cases by the inquisitor;
(4) the delivery of flags only to the superintendent of the royal castle, not to others;
(5) the reopening of the women's bath, which had been closed under Andrea Chiaramonte.
 This appeal was granted.
In comparison with other Jewish communities of Europe, the Sicilians were happily situated. They even owned a considerable amount of property, since thirteen of their communities were able, in 1413, to lend the infante Don Juan 437 ounces of gold. This was repaid on 24 December 1415. In the same year, however, the Jewish community of Vizzini was expelled by Queen Blanca, and it was never permitted to return.
The culmination of persecution came with the expulsion of Jews from Sicily. The decree of banishment dated 31 March 1492 was decreed by Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile. At the time there were over 100,000 Jews living on the island, in 52 different locations. On 9 June Jews were forbidden to depart secretly, sell their possessions, or conceal any property; on 18 June the carrying of weapons was prohibited; their valuables were appraised by royal officials on behalf of the state, packed in boxes, and given into the care of wealthy Catholics. On 13 August came the order to be ready to depart; the following articles might be taken: one dress, a mattress, a blanket of wool or serge, a pair of used sheets, a few provisions, besides three taros as traveling money. All other Jewish property was confiscated by the Crown. After numerous appeals, the date of departure was postponed to 18 December, and later, after a payment of 5,000 gulden, to 12 January 1493. The departure actually occurred on 31 December 1492.
The exiles found protection under Ferdinand I of Naples in Apulia, Calabria and Naples. On the death of Ferdinand in 1494, Charles VIII of France invaded Naples. At that time a serious disease, known as "French fly," broke out in that region, and the responsibility for the outbreak was fixed upon the Jews, who were accordingly driven out of the Kingdom of Naples. They then sought refuge in Turkish territory, and settled chiefly in Constantinople, Damascus, Salonica, and Cairo. To remain in Sicily, a significant number of Sicily's Jewish population converted to Catholicism. Many of these converts remained Crypto-Jews, known as Neofiti.
In a proclamation of 3 February 1740, containing 37 paragraphs, Jews were formally invited to return to Sicily. A few came, but, feeling their lives insecure, they soon went back to Turkey.
Rabbi Stephano Di Mauro, an Italian American descendant of southern Italian Neofiti, has been active on the island and opened a small synagogue in 2008, but has not yet set up a full-time Jewish congregation in Sicily. In addition, Shavei Israel has expressed in interest in helping to facilitate the Sicilian Bnei Anusim back to Judaism.
Today, over 50 descendants of Calabrian neofiti have revived a small Jewish community in Calabria. In 2007, Calabria consecrated the opening of its first synagogue in 500 years. The Ner Tamid del Sud Synagogue in the town of Serrastretta, serves the regional Jewish community. However, the community has not yet received formal recognition by the Italian government or the Israeli Rabbinate because it is not within the framework of Orthodox Judaism. This community began with the efforts of progressive Rabbi, Barbara Aiello (click on her link to go to the Radio Station link for her you tube site http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCPv5EVNUsu2Ew7kBkElLPRQ). Aiello is also active in Italian American community. Her organizational efforts have led some Italian Americans of Calabrian descent to search for their Jewish ancestry. According to Aiello, many Jewish rituals still remain with modern Calabrian families. For example the lighting of Friday evening candles, avoiding pork and shellfish, or meat mixed with dairy products. Other practices such as hanging a red string over a baby’s crib, or tying it to their wrist, which are Kabalah rituals. To see how the community has developed read Italy’s Only Female Rabbi Digs Up the Country’s Hidden Jewish Roots Feb 2014
The site claims that Jews first came to the island of Sicily from the Levant when the lands surrounding the Mediterranean Sea were part of the Roman Empire. During that time Greek Orthodox Christianity prevailed. In time the island passed to the Ostrogoths, Arian Christians who were very tolerant of the Jews. After the Byzantine reconquest of Sicily in 552, conditions worsened dramatically for the Jews of Sicily. Under Byzantine rule few Jews continued to live in Sicily because of official persecution. Sometime before 606 the bishop of Palermo actually ordered the synagogue there to be converted into a church. The final straw came in 722 with an edict issued by the Eastern Roman Emperor Leo III the Isaurian ordering the baptism by force of all Jews residing in the Byzantine Empire, which included Sicily.
After the expulsion of the Jews of Termini (which took two years to accomplish), Pope Alexander VI, (who drew the famous Papal Line of Demarcation) was asked by Padre Giacomo DeLeo to transform the abandoned synagogue in Termini into a church. Known as la Moschetta, i.e the Little Mosque, the synagogue was eventually to be incorporated into the Monastery of Santa Chiara and its adjoining Church of San Marco. The remains of the marble slabs comprising the floor of la Moschetta were discovered during the 1800s when the cloisters in the Santa Chiara Monastery were being excavated.
Included is information about the slaves
After the Muslim conquest of Sicily in 831-902, Jews settled once again on the island, this time in considerable numbers. In 972, the Arab merchant Ibn Hawqal mentioned a Jewish Quarter in Palermo, and by 1170, Benjamin of Tudela reported 1500 Jewish households in Palermo and 200 in Messina. In 1149, King Roger II forcibly brought the Jewish brocade, damask, and silk weavers of Thebes (in the Eastern Roman Empire) to Sicily with the objective of establishing a silk industry on the island kingdom.
The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, or the Two Sicilies was the largest and wealthiest of the Italian states formed by the union of the Kingdoms of Sicily and Naples in 1816 until 1860 which was annexed by the Kingdom of Sardinia, which became the Kingdom of Italy in 1861. The Two Sicilies had its capital in Naples and was commonly referred to in English as the "Kingdom of Naples". The kingdom extended over the Mezzogiorno (the southern part of mainland Italy) and the island of Sicily.
According to Princeton the name "Two Sicilies" originated from the division of the medieval Kingdom of Sicily. Until 1285, the island of Sicily and the Mezzogiorno were both part of the Kingdom of Sicily. As a result of the War of the Sicilian Vespers the King of Sicily lost Sicily proper to the Aragonese but remained king over the peninsular part of the realm. Although his territory became known as the Kingdom of Naples, he and his successors never gave up the title of "King of Sicily" and they referred to their realm as the "Kingdom of Sicily". At the same time, the Aragonese rulers of the island of Sicily called their realm the "Kingdom of Sicily". Thus, formally, there were two kingdoms calling themselves "Sicily": hence, the Two Sicilies (from
The Neofiti were Crypto Jews who it is thought that most were forced to convert to Christianity at around the thirteenth century. During the sixteenth century the Spanish Inquisition came to Italy. Many were killed or exiled.
Intermarriage with Christians was not unusual in Sicily. Jewish temples were founded in Sicily's port cities (Palermo, Messina, Syracuse) around the same time that the first Christian churches were openly established. Sicily's Jews lived more or less undisturbed until the 15th century. The 1492 Jewish expulsion from Spain included the Neofoti. Many chose conversion. Some Sicilian surnames reflect Jewish origins, or at least acknowledge a Jewish presence (Siino from Sion, Rabino from Rabbi).
Some put the number of Jewish refugees at 36,000. Also, in 1492, At their height, Jewish Sicilians probably constituted from five to eight percent of the island's population.
Alya: a male Moorish slave owned by Brachono Taguil 1437-1440
Giovanni: a male Moorish slave, who was baptized a Catholic, sold by Muxa Audile, a middleman, who dealt in slaves 1465
(The list continues)
Giovanni must have been the son of a slave, because from the time of King Frederick III (1310) the children of all slaves, no matter what the religion of the parents, had to be baptized Catholic. The penalty for breaking this rule was that the infant was to be immediately set free.
The first prohibition of Jews owning Christian slaves was made by Constantine I in the 4th century. Pope Gregory the Great (pope 590-604), objected to Jews owning Christian slaves, due to concerns about conversion to Judaism and the Talmud’s requirement to circumcise slaves. And it was part of St. Benedict’s rule that Christian slaves were not to serve Jews. So, in reality, Muxa Audile could have been fined for owning a Catholic slave.
1409 saw the failure of the Sicilian line of the Aragonese dynasty and the Sicilian throne became part of the Crown of Aragon.
With the union of the crowns of Castile and Aragon in 1479, Sicily was ruled directly by the kings of Spain via governors and viceroys. In the ensuing centuries, authority on the island was to become concentrated among a small number of local barons.
Sicilian Peoples: The Jews of Sicily, by Vincenzo Salerno
New Standard Jewish Encyclopedia, 1992, Encyclopedia Publishing, "Neofiti", "Crypto-Judaism"
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NEOFITI OF SICILY
Systematic Jewish persecution started when the Spanish Inquisition was established in Italy and led to their expulsion in 1492
The exiles found protection under Ferdinand I of Naples. In 1494, Charles VIII of France invaded Naples and a serious disease, known as ‘French fly’, broke out for which the the Jews were blamed and expelled. Many emigrated to the Ottoman Empire. Those staying converted to Catholicism and many became Crypto-Jews, known as Neofiti.
The proclamation of 3 February 1740 invited Jews to return to Sicily. Some came, but feeling their lives insecure went back to Turkey.
Rabbi Stephano Di Mauro, an Italian American descendant of southern Italian Neofiti, has been active and opened a small synagogue in 2008,
The Secret Jews of Calabria