AGRIGENTO (Girgenti), town in Sicily. The Jewish community of Agrigento dates to classical antiquity, as attested by a tombstone found there, perhaps of the fifth century. In 598, during the pontificate of *Gregory the Great, a number of Jews were converted to Christianity. The community continued to exist throughout the period of Muslim domination and Girgenti is mentioned in a letter from the Cairo *Genizah c. 1060. The Jewish community is recorded in 1254 when the revenues from the Jews were taxed in favor of the church. *Faraj da Agrigento was one of the most active translators employed by Charles of Anjou in Naples. In 1397 the Jews of Agrigento had to equip a force of 200 foot soldiers for one of King Martin I of Aragon's military expeditions. In 1426 the citizens of Agrigento petitioned unsuccessfully for royal permission to enforce anti-Jewish measures. In 1476 King John II ordered that the money bequeathed by Solomon Anello to promote Hebrew learning in Agrigento be given instead to Guglielmo Raimondo Moncada (alias Flavius Mithridates), a Sicilian Jewish convert to Christianity. Among the reasons cited was the accusation that Jewish schools in the city taught calumnies against the Christian faith, alluding to the spread of a certain Hebrew book among Sicilian Jews. This book is thought to have been Toledot Yeshu ("The Life of Jesus"), a medieval pseudo-history of the life of Jesus. Anello's heirs contested the decision but in the end the school was closed down and the revenues were assigned to Moncada. In 1477 a compromise was reached and the Jews of Agrigento were ordered to provide Moncada a house in Palermo instead of the school building in their city. That same year the heirs of Solomon Anello finally succeeded in repossessing some of the books and estate. At the time of the expulsion of the Jews from territory under Spanish rule in 1492 the municipal treasurer was imprisoned for speculation at Jewish expense.
G. Di Giovanni, L'ebraismo della Sicilia (1748), 289–98; B. and G. Lagumina, Codice diplomatico dei giudei di Sicilia, 1 (1884), 6, 21, 182, 388; 2 (1895), 184; 3 (1909), 116; Roth, Italy, index; Milano, Italía, index; C. Roth, in: JQR, 47 (1956/57), 329–30 (= idem, Gleanings (1967), 74–75). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: S. Simonsohn, "Some Well-Known Jewish Converts during the Renaissance," REJ, 148 (1989), 17–52; idem, The Jews in Sicily, 6 vols. (1997–2004); H. Bresc, Arabes de langue, juifs de religion. L'évolution du judaïsme sicilien dans l'environment latin, XIIe–XVe siècles (2001).
[Cecil Roth /
Nadia Zeldes (2nd ed.)]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.