OTRANTO, town in Apulia, S. Italy. Tombstone inscriptions dating from the third century onward are proof of the existence of an early Jewish settlement in Otranto. The *Josippon chronicle (10th century) states that Titus settled a number of Jewish prisoners from Ereẓ Israel in the town. In the Middle Ages Otranto became one of the most prosperous Jewish centers in southern Italy. At the time of the forced conversion under the Byzantine emperor Romanus I *Lecapenus, one communal leader committed suicide, one was strangled, and one died in prison. When Benjamin of *Tudela visited Otranto in about 1159, he found about 500 Jews there. It was considered one of the most important rabbinical centers in Europe. In the Sefer ha-Yashar, Jacob *Tam (12th century) quotes an old saying parodying Isaiah 2:3: "For out of Bari shall go forth the Law and the word of the Lord from Otranto." When the Turks besieged Otranto in 1481, the Jews contributed 3,000 ducats for the defense of the town. In 1510, with their expulsion from the kingdom of *Naples, the Jews had to leave Otranto. A number of them settled in Salonika, where they founded their own synagogue.
Roth, Dark Ages, index; Frey, Corpus, 1 (1936), no. 632; Milano, Bibliotheca, index; Milano, Italia, index; N. Ferorelli, Ebrei nell' Italia meridionale… (1915); Cassuto, in: Giornale della società asiatica italiana, 29 (1921), 97ff.
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.