FERRARA, city in N. central Italy, with an ancient and renowned Jewish community. An inscription dating from Roman times and a document of 1088 may relate to local Jewish life. Privileges enjoyed by Jews were recorded in 1275. In the same century two tosafists both named R. Moses b. Meir lived in Ferrara, and perhaps also the philosopher *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona. In the early years of the 14th century some Jews were heavily fined by the Inquisition. Two sonnets by Francesco di Vannozzo (1376) reflect the popular resentment against certain Jews. About 1435 *Elijah of Ferrara settled in Jerusalem. From the middle of the 15th century a period of prosperity began for the community, thanks to the protection of the House of Este. In 1448, on Lionello d' Este's request, Pope Nicholas V curbedthe anti-Jewish sermons of the friars; in 1451 Duke Borso declared that he would protect the Jews who entered his lands; in 1473 Ercole I, in opposition to papal demands, protected his Jewish subjects, particularly the moneylenders. In 1481 he authorized Samuel Melli of Rome to buy a mansion in Ferrara
The policy of giving refuge to persecuted Jews, especially those who could prove useful, was continued by all successive Este dukes. In 1492, when the first refugees from Spain appeared in Italy, Ercole I allowed some of them to settle in Ferrara, promising to let them have their own leaders and judges, permitting them to practice commerce and medicine, and granting them tax reductions. This was the beginning of the Spanish community in Ferrara, which set up its own synagogue and separate administration. In 1532 Ercole II is-sued another permit allowing Jews from Bohemia and other countries in Central Europe to come and settle in Ferrara. This was the origin of the German group in Ferrara which also established its own synagogue. In 1524 and 1538 the same duke gave encouragement to the Marranos and in 1553 they were specifically allowed to return to the Jewish faith. In 1540 an invitation to settle in Ferrara was extended to the harassed Jews of Milan and one year later to those banished from the kingdom of Naples. In 1569, when the Jews were expelled from the Papal States (except Rome and Ancona), many from Bologna settled in Ferrara. In the middle of the 16th century there were ten synagogues in Ferrara. However, although the dukes spared their Jews from Church oppression, they allowed the Talmud to be burned in 1553. In 1554 a congress of delegates from the Italian communities was held in Ferrara to decide on precautionary measures, including the precensorship of Hebrew books.
Among the outstanding personalities in Ferrara at that time were Don Samuel *Abrabanel, the last leader of Neapolitan Jewry, the Marrano Gracia *Nasi, *Amatus Lusitanus, who taught medicine at the University of Ferrara, the *Usque family, and the engineer Abraham Colorni. In the sphere of Jewish learning there were the poets Jacob *Fano and Abraham dei Galicchi *Jagel, the physicians Moses and Azriel *Alatino, the chronicler Samuel Usque, his kinsman the printer Abraham Usque (see below), and the polymath Azariah dei *Rossi.
When Ferrara passed under the rule of the Church in 1598, the condition of the Jews grew much worse. In the same year the Jewish *badge was introduced. In the following year all real estate had to be sold, synagogues were limited to three, one for each rite, and the loan banks were closed; however this last decree was repealed a short time later, the banks being finally closed only in 1683. In 1624 the construction of a ghetto was decreed and two years later the Jews were confined to it. The Jews were forced to be present at conversionist sermons and Jewish physicians were forbidden to attend to Christians. A similar state of affairs persisted throughout the 17th and 18th centuries; from time to time the situation was exacerbated by mob attacks on the ghetto (1648, 1651, 1705, 1747, 1754) and by a *blood libel charge in 1721. In spite of this the life of Jews in Ferrara was far more tolerable than in Rome.
The Jewish population numbered 1,500 persons in 1601, was at much the same level in 1703 (328 families), and rose to 2,000 in the 19th century. Outstanding personalities included the rabbi and physician Isaac *Lampronti, author of the talmudic encyclopedia Paḥad Yiẓḥak, and the rabbis Jacob Daniel *Olmo, poet, and Solomon *Finzi, author of an introduction to the Talmud. In 1796, after the French occupation, Jewswere granted equal civil rights and in 1797 the ghetto's gates were removed. The successive alternations in Ferrara of Austrian, French, and finally, in 1814, papal rule were reflected in the vicissitudes of Jewish life. In 1826 the Jews were locked up in the ghetto once more, but in 1859–60 they finally obtained their freedom when Ferrara became part of the Italian kingdom. For the next 80 years there was a new period of prosperity, Jews being appointed to high public offices in the town's administration and taking a prominent part in the affairs of the Italian Jewish community. Renzo Ravenna was sindaco ("mayor") before the Fascist crisis, and Felice Ravenna was president of the Union of Jewish Communities from 1933 to 1937. In spite of this the Jewish population dwindled because of steady emigration.
The Holocaust Period and After
In 1936 the community of Ferrara had 760 members. On Sept. 24, 1941, the synagogue was devastated by the fascists. During the autumn-winter 1943 about 200 Jews were sent to extermination camps, of whom only five returned. Three more Jews were killed in the streets on Nov. 14–15, 1943. The Jewish population in Ferrara was reduced to 200 at the end of the war. The population further dropped to 150 in 1970 and 100 at the beginning of the 21st century.
Hebrew Printing in Ferrara
Under the enlightened rule of the House of Este, Hebrew printing flourished twice for short periods in Ferrara in the 15th and 16th centuries. In 1477 *Abraham b. Ḥayyim the Dyer (dei Tintori; מִן הַצּוֹבְעִים; min ha-ẓove'im), of Pesaro, using Abraham *Conat's type, printed here Levi b. Gerson's commentary on Job, and finished printing the edition of Tur, Yoreh De'ah which Conat had begun in Mantua. The second somewhat longer period extended from 1551 to 1558, when first Samuel ibn Askara Ẓarefati of Pesaro and then Abraham Usque, partly with the former's assistance, printed well over 30 books in Ferrara. Among the first was Isaac Abrabanel's Ma'yenei ha-Yeshu'ah and Jedaiah ha-Penini's Beḥinat Olam. Under Usque, halakhic, theological, and liturgical items were printed, among them the first editions of Menahem ibn Ẓeraḥ's Ẓedah la-Derekh (1554), Ḥasdai Crescas' Or Adonai (1556), Jonah Gerondi's Issur ve-Hetter, and Jacob Fano's Shiltei ha-Gibborim (including an elegy on the Marrano martyrs of Ancona), 1556. Apparently complaints by the Church about this publication led to the closing of the press. Usque also printed a number
A. Pesaro, Memorie storiche sulla comunità israelitica ferrarese (1878); idem, Appendice alle memorie… (1880); A. Balleti, Gli ebrei e gli estensi (19302); Milano, Bibliotheca, index; idem, in: RMI, 33 (1967), 364ff.; Kaufmann, in: REJ, 20 (1890), 34–72; Perreau, in: Vessillo israelitico, 27 (1879), 108–10, 139–42; Terracini, in: RMI, 18 (1952), 3–11, 63–72, 113–21; G.B. De'Rossi, De typographia hebraeo-ferrariensi commentarius historicus… (1780); Magrini, in: RMI, 10 (1935/36), 126–32; Roth, in: HUCA, 10 (1935), 466–8; idem, in: Modern Language Review, 38 (1943), 307–17; Ḥ.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah (19562), 26ff.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.