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40 years of active presence

Saturday, June 10, 2023

    RELIGIOUS LIFE – The Apulian synagogues

    Information on the Corfiot synagogues is scarce, unclear and often contradictory. We know there were three synagogues on the island, as well as one midrash (oratory), which was probably situated on the top floor of one of them.

    As the two communities, Romaniotes (Greci) and Sephardim (Pugliesi, Spaniards and Marranos), remained apart, their synagogues were also apart. When the first Sephardim arrived on the island, the reaction of the Romaniote community, which feared being assimilated and losing its particular traditions, led to the foundation of a separate Sephardic synagogue, since the two communities used different languages, liturgical traditions and ritual objects. By order of the Venetian authorities, the newly arrived Marranos were included in that synagogue. The names of the two Apulian synagogues are not clearly known; the few sources give them as Tempio Maggio[-r/-re?] (“Big Synagogue”) or Vecchio (“Old Synagogue”) and Tempio Nuovo (“New Synagogue”). It is known that one was situated on present-day Solomou Street, while the other was on Palaiologou Street.

    Both synagogues show a strong Venetian baroque influence in their interior architecture, layout and decoration. The furnishings were, similar to Venetian synagogues, set in a bipolar axial layout, with the benches for the congregation arranged lengthwise along the room. They were provided with two rows of windows and high ceilings decorated with floral paintings. The women’s balconies, lightened by the upper row of windows, were reached by an external staircase.

    Romaniote influence in both Apulian synagogues can be discerned in the use of shaddayot, that is, silver dedicatory plaques, to decorate Torah ark curtains and the wooden cases in which the Torah scrolls are contained according to the Romaniote tradition. A particular feature of the Torah ark in the Old Apulian Synagogue was directly adopted from the Greci Synagogue: seven pairs of rimonim, that is, silver Torah finials, were attached on both sides of the Torah ark doors, one on top of the other.

    Both Apulian synagogues were unfortunately destroyed in the German bombardment of 13 September 1943.

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