Although not continuous, the Jewish presence in Rhodes dates from the 2nd century B.C. The arrival and subsequent settlement of Spanish-speaking Jews on the island, in the 15th and 16th centuries A.D., turned it into one of the most important Sephardic centres of the Eastern Mediterranean. Its strategic position facilitated trade, which flourished promoting the community’s growth. The Jews of the island prospered as traders of fabrics and silk, as well as of spices and perfumes, a fact reflected in the organisation of the local community, its schools and several midrashim, its six Synagogues and enlightened Rabbis who left collections of responsas, not only on religious matters, but on matters of general interest.
The Jews of Rhodes lived in a relatively closed community, within the limits of a specific neighbourhood which, however, was not a ghetto. The Juderia, as it was known, stretches from the harbour until the south-eastern end of the fortress wall. To this day, it remains unchanged; a walk in its narrow alleys with houses in the characteristic local style takes the visitor to a trip back in time.
After it was nearly wiped out by the Nazis in 1944, the community would have died out, had it not been for expatriate Jews from Rhodes in places as far away as Africa and America. Thus, not only has its Synagogue been saved, but the community is especially active in promoting its history and cultural heritage.
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