THE HISTORY – the romaniote jews

The Jews that have lived in Greece since Hellenistic times (3rd century B.C.), were called Romaniote Jews in Byzantine times and formed the vast majority of the Jewish population in Greece until the 15th century. They used Greek as their everyday language of communication from the moment they settled. They were inspired by the local culture and customs, and were versatile enough to blend them with their own to create the unique Greek-Jewish tradition. They retained their religious identity, as can be seen in the synagogues they built and also in the survival of Hebrew their liturgical language. All Romaniote Jews maintained a distinct form of religious observance; that is laid out in different variations in the Mahzor Romania, the common Romaniote prayer book, the Mahzor Kastoria, the Mahzor Candia and the Mahzor Corfu. Relations with local people were, on the whole, good, and there were no cases of anti-Semitism apart from a few isolated incidents of religious fervour.

With the arrival of the Sephardim in the late 15th century, things changed. Populations in most of the Romaniote Jewish communities, those of Epirus, the Peloponnese and Crete excluded, had dwindled because of migration and were therefore absorbed into the culture of the Sephardim, whose traditions held sway. The most notable differences between Romaniote and Sephardim were in the language they used, their dress, food and form of religious observance. Even so, the Romaniote Jews were persistently more numerous until World War II in towns and cities like Arta, Preveza, Patras, Trikala, Volos, Chalkis and Chania.

The city of Ioannina was definitely the centre of the Romaniote Jewish population. It is generally assumed that an inscription was extant prior to 1800, which would have alluded to the existence of a synagogue since the 9th century C.E., almost coinciding with the founding of a city of the same name on the same site as present day Ioannina. Jews are known to have lived in Nikopolis, Aktio and Arta in the surrounding coastal area since late antiquity, and there is a clear historical reference to there having been a Jewish population in Ioannina under Andronicus II Palaeologus in the 14th century. The Byzantine era was a difficult time for the Jewish population of Ioannina because of frequent attacks from abroad, but also because of domestic imperial, administrative realignment and reclassification, which frequently heralded a change in attitudes towards Jews.

Jews were treated reasonably under Ottoman rule. They were allowed freedom of religious observance, given special privileges in trade and work, and they were allowed autonomy within their own communities. The Sephardim Jews settled in Ioannina in the 16th century, were assimilated into the Romaniote Population and were soon joined by others of the same faith from Southern Italy and Sicily. The Jewish population lived in their own quarter inside the city walls / fortification. This was by no means a ghetto; it was merely the Jewish quarter of the Ottoman city where, as in all Ottoman cities, every minority religious group had its own neighbourhoods. After 1611, the Jewish quarter within in the city walls, a district known as the “Castle” (Kastro) where the Old Synagogue still stands today, grew significantly.

 

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The Jewish Community of Ioannina

THE HISTORY – the jews in Greece

Long before the Diaspora of 71 A.D., Greece was the gateway through which Jewish people reached the rest of Europe. Its Jewish population was...

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF IOANNINA early 20th century to 1940

The Jewish community of Ioannina saw its heyday in the early days of the 19th century when the city was under the authority of...

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF IOANNINA 1940-1945

When the fascist axis declared war on Greece late in October 1940, a lot of Jews, including many from Ioannina, were serving as ordinary...

THE JEWISH COMMUNITY OF IOANNINA 1945 – to present day

There were 181 people in the Jewish community of Ioannina when World War II ended. Of these, 112 were Death Camp survivors and 69...

RELIGIOUS LIFE synagogual architecture

The synagogue is the centre of a Jewish community and a place of communal prayer and study. Synagogue architecture obeyed certain religious dictates, called...

RELIGIOUS LIFE synagogual liturgy

In addition to being religious leaders of the community, rabbis were also its administrative leaders. They found solutions to internal problems, represented the community...

RELIGIOUS LIFE synagogual textiles and objects

The holy book of Judaism is the Pentateuch and is called the Sefer Torah or Scroll of the Law, handwritten on parchment. It is...

RELIGIOUS LIFE jewish holidays

Shabbat Observance of the Sabbath day is one of the most fundamental requirements of Judaism. The Sabbath day is devoted to prayer, study of the...

RELIGIOUS LIFE the cycle of life – part a

The Jewish identity is kept alive through specific customs pertaining to the three most important milestones in the lives of people in the community;...

RELIGIOUS LIFE the cycle of life – part b

The purpose of marriage was always to produce children. For forty days following a birth, the new mother and her newborn child were protected...

EVERYDAY LIFE life at work

From the time they first settled in Ioannina, the Jews had all sorts of occupations, but the most common were occupations that fulfilled the...

EVERYDAY LIFE Costumes

There was no recognisably Jewish form of dress by which the people of the Diaspora could be distinguished or identified. They dressed in accordance...

EVERYDAY LIFE language and education

While Hebrew remained the language of religious observation and was also a unifying factor for the Jews of the Diaspora, local communities used the...

EVERYDAY LIFE community institutions

As in all Jewish communities, the strict internal organisation of the Romaniote Community of Ioannina guaranteed its smooth running, especially when under the Ottoman...

EVERYDAY LIFE life at home

By 1944, some Romaniote Jews of the Jewish Community of Ioannina lived inside the castle walls, while others lived outside. As a result of...

EVERYDAY LIFE arts and letters

Romaniote Jews played a significant role in every field of the arts in Ioannina and in the rest of Greece, too. The Romaniote Jews...

JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES life and works – part...

A Jew and a Greek in one… The first Jewish poet to write in Greek… Christos Christovasilis Joseph Elias Kapoulias, better known as Joseph Eligia, was born...

JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES life and works – part...

In 1922, with his intellectual development still in progress, his perception of the world widened and his interest shifted from involvement in Jewish issues...

JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES the local community

In the early 1920s, the Jewish Community of Ioannina numbered about 3000. The rough mannerisms that were characteristic of the highland people of Epirus...

JOSEPH ELIGIA AND HIS TIMES political and social conditions

While the Jewish Community of Ioannina was locked in a struggle to maintain its balance at a time of radical social reformation, the whole...

Exhibition Contributors

EXHIBITION CURATOR Zanet Battinou RESEARCH - TEXTS Panagiota Andrianopoulou TEXT TRANSLATION Kay Elvira Sutton TEXT EDITING Anastasia Loudarou Christina Meri Eleni Beze EXHIBITION DESIGN Hayia Cohen PRINTING Stavros Belessakos, Photosynthesis PHOTOGRAPHIC ARCHIVE Leonidas Papadopoulos EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS Orietta Treveza All photographs from the...