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History of Greek Jewish Community 

Romaniotes


The Greek-speaking Jews of Greece, the Romaniotes, have suffered both neglect and indifference from modern scholars. Neither Ashkenazi nor Sepharadi, they have maintained traditions and customs stretching far back into antiquity. They are, in fact, a tangible contact with the world of Hellenistic Jewry, which was the matrix in which Christianity was born and developed and out of which great rabbis and scholars influenced Jewish life throughout the Balkans and even Europe in the Middle Ages.

The oldest Greek organized Jewish communities were established as early as 400 B.C. and flourished during the reign of Alexander the Great and the following Hellenistic period. Rich Jewish Communities were to be found all along the Aegean Coast and in the Greek mainland. From the list of cities in I Maccabees 15:23 (probably dating to the year 142 B.C.), as well as a similar list transmitted by the Jewish historian Philo, it appears that Jews resided in Sparta, Delos, Sicyon, Samos, Rhodes, Kos, Gortynia, Crete, Cnidus, Aegina, Thessaly, Boeotia, Macedonia, Aetonia, Attica, Argos, Corinth, as well as in Cyprus. When Saint Paul visited Greece, during the first century C.E., he found well - established Jewish communities in Thessalonica, Veroia, Athens, Corinth and other towns. Josephus relates that the emperor Vespasian sent 6.000 youths from Palestine to work for Nero's ambitious project to cut across the Corinth canal. These old communities of the Hellenistic times adopted the Greek language and became  known as Romaniot Jews (Hellenized Latin word meaning Greek) 
who developed the so-called MINHAG - ROMANIA, the traditional Jewish prayers that were recited and chanted in Greek, but were written with Hebrew letters. (Rashi).

Benyamin De Tudella, the famous 12th century Jewish traveler, states in his diary that he found Jewish communities in Corfu, Arta, Amfilochia, Patras, Lepanto (Nafpaktos), Corinth, Thebes (where there were 2.000 Jews), Chalkis, Thessaloniki, Drama, Lesbos or Mytilini, Chios, Samos and Rhodes. 

The Sephardic history in Greece starts later-on ( 16th Cent. ) The small and old romaniot communities accepted gradually the sephardic - Castilian traditions (MINHAG SEPHARDI) . Romaniot traditions remained only in very few communities such as Ioannina in Epirus and Chalkis. 

 Books on Romaniot Jews


Jannina Jews

by Rae Dalven

 This fine work by Rae Dalven, herself a Romaniote, is a much needed initial work on not only the Romaniotes but on the life of the once quite significant Romaniote community in Ioannina. It is a little known and badly recorded world and one that has all but vanished into the past. One is hopeful that, through the work of Dr. Dalven, young scholars may be inspired to further study and document other Romaniote communities in Greece.

A Journey into the Past

by Eftyhia Nahman

This book is a testimony of the war years in the Romaniot Jewish community of Yannina          ( Ioannina ) in Northern Greece. The Romaniots were the oldest Jewish communities in Greece, dating back to before the 2nd century BCE, and the community of Yannina was most important. The book also includes testimonies of Yannina Jews, survivors of the Holocaust, as well as those of local Greek Orthodox people who witnessed the capture of their Jewish friends.


Links on Romaniote Jews

 


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