Malta, a European island nation located in the Mediterranean Sea, is one of the world's smallest yet most densely populated countries. The history of Jews in Malta may date back more three thousand years. Today, the Jewish community of Malta numbers approximately 500.
- Early History
- Famous Visitors
- Jewish Place Names
- Expulsion (1492)
- Intelligent People
- Coming of the Knights
- Jewish Heroism
- Rebirth of the Community
- Relations with Israel
The history of the small Jewish Community of Malta
goes back to the arrival of the Semitic Phoenician settlers almost
three thousand five hundred years ago. It is believed that they were
accompanied by Israelite mariners from the seafaring tribes of
Zevulon and Asher.
At the time in the city of Tyre lived Princess
Jezebel, who in 906 BCE married
the Jewish Sultan Omris Ohab. After this marriage relations
between the Jews and the Phoenicians grew so warm and cordial that
they began to sail the seas and occupy various lands together. Some
of them stayed in our islands.
We have evidence that at the time the Phoenicians
were occupying Malta, the first Jews landed on Gozo and there they
left behind the first signs of their presence. You can find this near
the inner apse of the southern temple of Ggantija in Xaghra, one
cannot fail to notice that on the ground under your feet is scratched
the first Jewish evidence on Gozo.
This Jewish evidence is an inscription in the
Phoenician alphabet, discovered and made known in 1912 by Ms N.
Erichson and Ms. R. Cleveland. This inscription is in two lines and
has ten words: seven in the first line and three in the second.
Translated this inscription reads: "To the love of our Father
On the other hand the discovery of carved menorahs
(candlesticks with seven branches) and Hellenistic inscriptions in a
number of Jewish catacombs at Rabat and Tabja attests to a community
living here in Grecian and Roman
The most renowned Jewish visitor to our islands
was none other than St. Paul, a Jew from Tarsus, who lived in Malta
for some three months. Making Malta famous with the Christian world
and bringing the new religion to the inhabitants.
One of the most remarkable figures in Medieval
Jewish history, Avraham Ben Shmuel Abulafia, lived for many years in
Malta, to be exact on the small rocky isle of Comino. Born in
Saragossa, Spain, in 1240,
Abulafia, visionary and prophetic cabbalist, proclaimed himself the Messiah and predicted the messianic era would begin in the year 5050 (1290).
Abdulafia dreamed of dissolving the differences between Judaism,
Christianity and Islam.
On the day between Rosh
Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), 5040 (1280) he set out to Suriano
to convince Pope Nicholas III to heed his ideas and ease the
suffering of the Jews. His efforts ended with the Pope sentencing him
to death by fire.
With the pyre prepared, the pope suddenly died of
a heart attack and Abulafia was subsequently freed. He settled in
Malta, where he wrote many cabalistic, philosophical, and grammatical
works, including Sefer Ha'ot (Book of the Sign), many mystical
essays on prophetic cabbalism and his greatest book Imre Sefer (Goodly Works). He died some time after 1291.
Mdina seems to have harbored an important Jewish
community until the expulsion edict of 1492. During the Muslim
occupation (870 - 1090) under the rule of the Abassid and Aghlabide caliphates, members of the Jewish Community are known
to have served as civil servants and one was even elected to the
highest rank of Vizier.
When the Normans seized
the archipelago, in 1090, there was a mixed
population in our islands, consisting of
Muslims, Christians and Jews. From 1091,
the Jewish community of Malta's history,
now integrated with nearby Sicily, can
be clearly traced. For example, in 1240, according
to the Abbot Gilberts report to
the Emperor Frederick II, there were in
the Maltese islands.
47 Christian Families and
25 Jewish Families
Whilst in Gozo there were
200 Christian Families and
8 Jewish Families
This makes a total of approximately 250 Jewish
persons. Although the majority of the population up to 1249 was still
Muslim. In 1282, the Maltese islands became a Spanish possession.
That the Jewish Community prospered there is no
doubt, their number increased and this is evidenced by the
nominations of the new bishop of Malta at the time.
In 1370, Francesco Papalla (the new bishop) from
Messina was elevated to the dignity of "Custos Rotellea,"
so that he would follow more closely the orders and commands of
Frederick II, that of "Contra Judeos ut in Differentia Vestium
Et Gestorum Discernatur." This order was well laid down by
Bishop Papalla, as he was able to order Jews (as Frederick desired)
to wear a "Red Badge" on their clothes, and all Jewish men
had to remain unshaven to distinguish them from Catholics.
In 1390, a number of Gozitans Catholics and Jews
were taken as slaves after Tunisian corsairs launched a sudden attack
on the island of Gozo. Among the captives were six poor Jewish
persons. There were a certain Machullaf or Micallef, Sadum or Sajdum,
Coftura, Jakobb, David and Sabbeus.
These six Jews, because of poverty, had to remain
in captivity as slaves for at least 13 years. The fact that they were
not extradited during those 13 years in slavery, does not mean that
there were no initiative to free them.
In fact, three years after being captured as
slaves, the Jewish Community of Trapani was able to collect a sum of
money for their freedom. Yet in spite of this, for reasons unknown,
the six unfortunate Jewish slaves were not freed. Another appeal to
free them was attempted later on by Moses Mason who pleaded with King
Martin I for their freedom. The King offered 300 Doubloon if their
freedom would be met. Whether these six poor Jews were released or
not remains a mystery.
In 1393, the Bishop of Malta, Bishop Giovanni De
Pino from Catalan was nominated as "Bishop Rotellae" for
the Maltese islands. King Martins attitude towards the Jews was
sympathetic; in fact, in 1400 he pardoned all Jews on these islands
and ordered the Bishop and his inquisitor not to meddle in the Jews
affairs in Malta and Gozo. Consequently, the Jews of our islands
began to make a lot of progress.
In fact, in 1403, they were able to lend the
Viceroy the sum of 30 ounces of gold to equip militarily a new
galley. In 1435, we have indication about a certain rich Jew called
Mose` Arnocrani living in Gozo near the church of St. Paul.
In the same year (1435) the Universita demanded
the abolition of a tax which was due to be imposed on the Jews. This
was well appreciated by the Jewish Community in Malta and Gozo, since
the Universita released them from the tax burden, and as time passed
the relations between the Jewish Community and the Maltese grew
cordial and a certain Gozitan Jew named Xilorun was chosen as an
ambassador of the Maltese Deputies to the court of Sicily.
Relations between Jews and Maltese had not always
been so happy; however, since the islands were dependencies of the
Aragonese crown, Jews had been officially expelled from them in 1492,
and their property confiscated:
It appears from a notarial deed of 2 June
1496, that the monastery of St. Scolastica had just been
founded...The monastery was then occupying what had once been the
synagogue of the Jews that had been expelled from the island only
four years earlier. The monastery of St. Scolastica eventually
moved to Birgu.
Jewish Place Names
During the early part of the middle ages, the
Jewish population of Mdina constituted roughly a third of the
inhabitants of that city. Where they were regarded as citizens,
occupying a comfortable position, having fields and properties in the
countryside. To a lesser extent this also holds true for the smaller
community of Jewish inhabitants of Birgu, the port. In both Mdina and
Birgu one can still find reference to the Jews stay in our
islands. At Mdina one finds the place where the "Jewish Silk
Market" was and there is a Jews Gate and Jews sally port in
both towns. At Birgu one can also find "Jewry Street",
whilst at Zejtun there is "Jewrys square". Whilst at
Valletta there is to this day a place known as "Jews Sally
port" very near to where the Jewish Slave prison was to be
found. We also still have "Jewish Caves" at BinGemma and
"Jewish Caves" at Xatt il-Qwabar as the wharves of
Marsa were previously known by.
In neighboring Gozo, they lived mostly in the
suburbs of the Citadella, the small capital of this island primarily
rural and poorer that its larger sister island of Malta. But in none
of the islands did they live confined in Ghettos or enclosed
neighborhoods. but their houses were situated next to those of
Christians. This all changed later on.
The presence of the Jewish Community on the island
of Gozo is also indicated by the number of nicknames or names which
still exist. For instance, "Ghajn Lhudi" (Jews Cave)
near Wied Sansun Samsons Valley), "Wied Sansun" (Samsons
Valley) itself, "Ghar Lhudin" (Jewish Fountain), and "Misrah
Lhudi" Jews Square. About Ghajn Lhudin we know that it
existed at Xaghra, but there is no evidence exactly where it might
Further names such as "Wied il-Gharab"
in the areas around Xlendi, - that up to 1555 was still know as
"Wied il-Lhudi" (Jews Valley) and the hill know as
"Ta Gordan" - are a good testimony of the Jewish
Communitys presence in Gozo.
Old Jewish notarial manuscripts written in the
colloquial Maltese of those days but using the Hebrew
alphabet from the XV century preserved in the Cathedral library
of Mdina confirm the above.
When compared to other Catholic lands, for long
periods during the Middle Ages the Jews of Malta, who had settled
here from Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa and Spain, lived a fairly
independent and prosperous life.
Although some Jews held prestigious posts, such as
Avraham Safardi, the islands' Chief Physician, (a profession
monopolized by the Jews of Malta at that time) and Xilorum, a
diplomatic envoy to the court of Sicily others were agricultural land
owners and import-export agents, Whilst the majority were shopkeepers
and itinerant merchants.
There were times when the community at large was
subjected to restrictions. Yet a degree of tolerance and privilege
also prevailed. Jews in prison for civil debts were allowed home for
the Sabbath and Holy Days.
On Friday nights Jews were exempted from carrying mandatory torches,
a precaution required of all citizens to protect the island against
surprise attack after dark. Whilst Jewish communal elections were
conducted with no outside interference by the local authorities.
The Expulsion (1492)
This situation changed in the second part of
the15th century, when the religious authorities, of Spanish origin,
worried about the joint ownership of certain houses inhabited by the
Jews next door to the churches, appealed to the Spanish throne to do
something about the Jews. This reaction developed with the rise on
the throne of Spain of Ferdinand d' Aragon (1479).
The Inquisition struck the Jews and the Moslems who still lived the archipelago.The
decree of expulsion was signed in Palermo on June 18, 1492. It gave
three months to the Jews of Sicily and Malta to leave the country (or
else to convert to Christianity and forfeit 45% of their
possessions). In Spain, they were considered with suspicion, as well
as the Moslems in the midst of which they lived and also spoke their
In Palermo, the local government sent a protest to
the Spanish sovereigns making the point that if one expelled the Jews
of the kingdom, where they were many and commercially active, in
particular in Malta and Gozo, the economy would be adversely effected
and the islands would be depopulated.
A rather significant number of Sicilians Jews
accepted the edict proposed by the Spanish royalty and converted. The
Maltese historian Profs. Godfrey Wettinger thinks that, on their
side, it would be astonishing that no Maltese Jew succumbed to this
temptation. In fact, in the years which followed the application of
the decree of expulsion, Malta counted several tens of conversos
whose names were found in the files.
The surnames of our archipelago carry the trace of
this heritage; thus, Attard, Ellul, Salamone, Mamo (name of first
independent president of Malta) and Meli would be names of Jewish
origin. It appears that Azzopardi, a very widespread name in Malta,
would mean Séphardi (One who originated in Spain (Sefarad).
Among the intelligent Jewish families living in
Gozo was the popular Safaradi family, a well respected family on the
island not only for goodness but also for its intelligence. In fact,
in 1446, the family Safaradi boasted two doctors, one was Bracone
Safaradi and the other was the already mentioned Rabbi Abraham
Safaradi. The latter was a famous doctor paid from Mdina (the ancient
Capital) in Malta.
Bracone was also famous as a doctor, and later on
he was nominated a Deputato of the "Dienchele Joshua Banartini"
for Malta and Gozo to execute the "Mosaic Law." Evidence of
this nomination of Bracone is the following (edited) letter:
But proof exists that this Safaradi family
continued to take care of all the Jewish Spiritual interests in
Gozo. In 1485, apart from being a Rabbi (Teacher), Abraham Safaradi
was also nominated by the Viceroy as the most preferred Jewish
person in the islands in Medicine and for the interpretation of
Mosaic Law. Apart from being a doctor, Abram Safaradi served also
as a well known public notary up to the expulsion of the Jews from
the Maltese islands in 1492.
Coming of the Knights
To defend the archipelago threatened by the Ottoman
Turks, Charles V of Spain offered Malta to the Knights of Saint
John of Jerusalem (1530). Remembering the relatively liberal policy
followed by the Knights towards the Jews of Rhodes, many of the
(Jewish) Sicilians "conversos" as the forcibly converted
Jews were known - who kept the Jewish religion at home but outwardly
appeared acted as Catholics - decided to settle in Malta.
After their installation in Malta, the Knights who
had a fleet of galleys, launched out, like the Turks, in the taking
of hostages and their release against ransom. The Jewish merchants,
who were about the only ones to ensure their risk and dangers the
exchanges between two banks of the Mediterranean, were particularly
During the reign of the Knights of St. John, the
only Jews (with a few exceptions) who lived in our islands were
slaves. A prison to hold these Jewish slaves had been built with this
intention in Valletta. The Knights waged continual maritime warfare,
hardly distinguishable from piracy, against the Moslem powers.
Seaports were raided and their inhabitants carried off.
Shipping was preyed on indiscriminately, captured
vessels being brought to Malta, and crew and passengers sold into
captivity. Throughout the rule of the Knights, which lasted until
they capitulated to the French in 1798, the islands were thus a last
European refuge of slave traffic and slave labor.
The victims were any persons, of whatever
standing, race, age or sex, who happened to be sailing on the
captured ships. Jews made up a large proportion of the Levantine
merchant class and were hence peculiarly subject to capture. Because
of their nomadic way of life, disproportionately large numbers were
to be found in any vessel sailing the Eastern ports.
They also formed a considerable element in the
population of the Moslem ports subject to raids. So, soon after the
establishment of the Knights in Malta, the name of Malta begins to be
found with increasing frequency in Jewish literature, and always with
an evil association.
The islands became in Jewish eyes a symbol for all
that was cruel and hateful in the Christian world. Whatever the truth
of the contemporary rumor that the Jews financed the great Turkish
siege of Malta in 1565, certainly they watched with anxious eyes and
their disappointment at its failure must have been great. "The
monks of Malta are still today a snare and trap for the Jews,"
sadly records a Jewish chronicler at the end of his account of the
siege. A messianic prophecy current early in the seventeenth century
further expressed the bitterness of the Jewish feeling, recounting
how the Redemption would begin with the fall of the four kingdoms of
"ungodliness", first amongst which was Malta.
A typical capture, and one of the earliest
mentioned in Jewish literature, is related in the "Vale of
Tears" by Joseph ha-Cohen: "In the year 5312 (1552), the
vessels of the monks of Rhodes, of the order of Malta, cruising to
find booty, encountered a ship coming from Salonica, wheron where
seventy Jews. They captured it and returned to their island. These
unhappy persons had to send to all quarters to collect money for the
ransom exacted by these miserable monks. Only after payment were they
able to continue their voyage."
In 1567, large numbers of Jews, escaping to the
Levant from the persecution of Pius V, fell victims to the Knights.
"Many of the victims sank like lead to the depths of the sea
before the fury of the attack. Many others were imprisoned in the
Maltese dungeons at this time of desolation," writes the
chronicler. It was not only those who went down to the sea in ships
over whom the shadow hung. Of the Marranos (Crypto-Jews) of Ancona
who fell victims to the fanaticism of Paul IV, thirty-eight who
eluded the stake were sent in chains to the galleys of Malta, though
they managed to escape on the way.
After arriving in Malta, the captives were only at
the beginning of their troubles. A very graphic account of conditions
is given by the English traveler, Philip Skippon, who visited the
spot in about 1663:
The slaves prison is a
fair square building, cloisterd round where most of the slaves
in Malta are obligd to lodge every night, and to be there about
Ave Mary time. They have here several sorts of trades, as barbers,
taylors &c. There are about 2,000 that belong to the order,
most of which were now abroad in the galleys; and there are about
three hundred who are servants to private persons. This place being
an island, and difficult to escape out of, they wear only an iron
ring or foot-lock. Those that are servants, lodge in their masters
houses, when the galleys are at home; but now, lie a-nights in this
prison. Jews, Moors and Turks are made slaves here, and are
publickly sold in the market. `A stout fellow may be bought (if he
is an inferior person) for 120 or 160 scudi of Malta. The Jews are
distinguihd from the rest by a little piece of yellow cloth on
their hats or caps, &c. We saw a rich Jew who was taken about a
year before, who was sold in the market that morning we visited the
prison for 400 scudi; and supposing himself free, by reason of a
passport he had from Venice, he struck the merchant that bought
him; where-upon he was presently sent hither, his beard and head
were shaven off, a great chain clappd on his legs, and bastinadod
with 50 blows.
The mechanism of release was not always simple.
The Jew was rarely as rich as he was reputed to be, but his
reputation for wealth was greatest precisely were he was least known.
The usual price standard of a slave was tended, therefore to
disappear whenever a Jew was concerned.
He was worth not his value but whatever could be
extorted from his brethren ransom degenerated into blackmail. Fifteen
centuries earlier, the rabbis of the Talmud had realized that this was a case in which it was necessary to turn
for once a deaf ear to suffering, lest a premium be put on the
enslavement of Jews. They ordained, accordingly, that no captive be
ransomed for more than his economic value. This was a rule to obey
which was hard for Jews, " compassionate sons of compassionate
sires," and generally the price paid for a Jew was higher by far
than that of a Moslem. On occasion, the Jews were mercilessly
The owner of one Judah Surnago, a man of
seventy-five whose value in the open market was negligible, was
unable to obtain the sum which he demanded in ransom. Thereupon he
shut him up naked in a cellar for two months, giving him nothing to
eat but black bread and water. The old man came out blind and unable
While waiting for their repurchase they were
allowed to work downtown to make ends meet. They could sell in the
streets, but before evening they had to return to the prison. This
absence of community made up did not prevent the English writer
Christopher Marlow from publishing, in 1590, the Jew of Malta,
a topic close to the Merchant of Venice by Shakespeare,
evoking a Jewish rich person of Malta. According to Prof.. G
Wettinger the Jews then present at Malta, prisoners for the majority,
who as we said could devote themselves occasionally to trade, could
not arrive to the point to constitute a fortune.
In her history of the Order of St. John, Claire-Eliane
Engel comments that during the Great Siege, 'les juifs de Malte
avaient ete d'une loyaute au-dessus de tout eloge' [the Jews of Malta
had behaved with a loyalty above all praise].
In the last days of St. Elmo, the Grand Master
allowed one final volunteer force to attempt to force their way to
the relief of the doomed fort. Anyone who went on such a mission
faced certain death, but nevertheless two Jews of the island chose to
join the relief expedition, although in the event the boats carrying
the would-be volunteers were unable to get past the Turkish cannon
and were forced to turn back to Birgu. We must also not forget Joseph
Cohen, a Jewish slave who was also a tavern keeper in Valletta. Who
overheard Muslim slaves conspiring against the knights in his tavern.
The mutiny was to start with the murder of the Grand Master. With
great peril of his being found out by the conspirators, he gained an
audience with the Grand Master and told him what he had overheard.
For his loyalty he was set free from bondage and a house (Monte di
Pieta) in Merchants street, Valletta awarded to him in recognition.
Rebirth of the Community
The year 1798 was a blessing for the Jewish nation living
in Malta! On the road to Egypt, Napoleon Bonaparte seized the archipelago
and applied the laws of the French Republic, i.e. equality and the abolition
Finally the Jews became free
men in our islands. No longer did they have to wear the shameful,
distinguishing round red circle on their clothes nor if they so
desired could they no longer shave their beards.
The community of the Jews of Malta could reconstitute
itself again as freemen.Nothing changed in this respect when two years
later the English drove out the French. Indeed Valletta became an important
stopover on the road of to the Middle and Far East. Several Jews from
Gibraltar immigrated to Malta and established business concerns. They
were soon followed by Jews coming from North Africa and other Mediterranean
cities. The inventory of the surviving old cemetery of Kalkara, created
in 1784 by a donation from the Jewish community of Leghorn in the suburbs of Vittoriosa for the Jewish slaves who died in the islands,
is revealing. Two studies on the three surviving Jewish Cemeteries of
the community of Malta conducted by Derek Davis, and Lawrence Attard
Bezzina, show that many of the residents who died in the archipelago
originated from Gibraltar, London, Dubrovnik (Ragusa), Tunis, Tripoli,
Ragusa (Italy), Lisbon and Turkey. By 1881, most of the Jews of Malta
During World War II, Malta was the only country that
did not require Jews fleeing Nazi Europe to have a visa. Consequently,
Malta rescued thousands of Jews from persecution. Since the 1950s, Israel
and Malta have had friendly poltical and economic relations.
In 1998, the number of local "Maltese" Jewish
families who identify themselves as Sepharadim (coming originally from Spain), as against the Ashkenazim (coming from Eastern Europe) do not exceed about thirty families, reduced
sometimes to one or to two individuals, generally old. Most are Polypots
speaking several languages. The Ashkenazim are people installed here
for a few years, the time of a contract with a multinational. Some are
refugees, Lebanese Jews, factory owners, tradesmen, British pensioners.
They meet once a month for the celebration of the Shabbat - there are then fourteen or twenty men . They celebrate the Jewish
festivals. And they hold a communal seder (celebration of Passover)
in a hotel every year. Malta's Jews bring in a shochet,
ritual slaughterer, from Jerusalem; and when a boy is born in the community
a mohel is
brought in from Rome.
The community boasts of three Jewish cemeteries in
Malta. The oldest, that of Kalkara, goes back to the XVIII century.
Then next door to the " Turkish cemetery " with a very
ornamental entrance, the small current Jewish cemetery, in the
suburbs of Marsa, which dates from the middle of the last century.
The third is the neglected cemetery at Tal-Braxja overgrown by grass,
is found desecrated by unscrupulous builders and MSU employees who
dump empty Pepsi bottles and other garbage on top of this sacred
The inscriptions are in Italian for the oldest -
perhaps there was nobody to write in Hebrew. On the other hand, the
most recent ones are in Hebrew. Some, which date from the First World
War, are in French: dedicated to the soldiers fallen at the time of
the war of the Dardanelles. In these holy grounds lie side by side
Jews who escaped from concentration
camps, from Budapest or
from Tunis, Oran or a German village. It is in this Jewish ground,
away from the promised land, that they met their destiny.
Today most visitors to this sun-drenched
island-republic inevitably find their way to the imposing,
fortress-like Co-Cathedral of St. John in the heart of the
baroque-style capital of Valletta. Under the gilded buttresses and
orange vaulted ceiling, visitors gaze in awe at the high altar
overlaid with lapis lazuli, marble and bronze; they marvel at the
opulence of the religious art treasures - frescoes, tapestries,
masterwork paintings by Caravaggio and Preti. In this grandiose
church, erected by the Knights of St. John in the sixteenth century,
scarcely a foot of space remains unadorned by a painting, wood
carving or sculpture.
Few visitors to Malta, however, ever found their
way to another house of worship, a few minutes away from the world
famous church of the Order of St. John or as they are better known
the Knights of Malta.
Inside an unobtrusive apartment house on narrow
St. Ursula street, Valletta, in an unmarked ground floor flat, simply
furnished with several rows of straight-backed chairs, was a synagogue.
A minyan (Jews pray in a congregation of at least 10 Adult
males over 13 years of age) drawn from Malta's hundred or so Jews
gathered here every first Shabbat of each month for morning service and on holidays.
Saturday morning at the synagogue on St. Ursula
street - the atmosphere was always welcoming and intimate. When any
worshipper arrives he / she is greeted warmly by the congregants
While a lay reader (the community has no serving rabbi)
chanted familiar prayers at the makeshift bima in the center
of the patterned tile floor, the shammas (beadle) - eighty +
British-born Stanley Davis, a veteran resident of Malta and holder of
an OBE (order of the British Empire) for social and humanitarian service
on the island, bustled about, offering siddurim (prayer books),
and arranging aliyot (one a male is called up to read from the
Torah Scroll) . Joe Reginiano and myself took it in turns to open and
close the blue and gold velvet curtain at the Holy Ark. George Tayar,
the genial sefardi community president, whose famous rabbinic ancestors
settled in Malta some 200 hundred years ago from Libya, now sadly gone,
always invited me to sit alongside him.
In late morning, after we had chorused the closing
lines of Adon Olam, to the Scottish rolling of Daniel Miller, a table
magically appeared laden with wine, delicious home-made pastries and
savoury snacks, prepared by a trio of hospitable ladies. In between
bites of fruity strudel and sips of Italian or Israel kosher wine everyone
recounted recent gossips.
George Tayar could be seen proudly pointing out to
some Jewish tourists that the "born again" congregation was
not only now blessed with several enthusiastic and knowledgeable lay
readers, but boasted among its members a several converts to Judaism and a devout family of nine, the Ohayons. The father -
Avraham has recently been elected as the president of the community,
replacing the much loved George Tayar. He would start recounting how
the community had been without a synagogue for several years after
the old premises at Spurs street in Valletta, were torn down to
construct a new roadway. During the interim, Holy Day services were
held in the Israeli embassy at Ta' Xbiex. The Maltese Government,
through some coercion by the Attard-Bezzina family who had good
political contacts with the Labour Government (One was speaker to the
House of Representatives, Acting President of the Republic and later
Plenipotentiary Ambassador to several European countries), was
helpful in ultimately locating a new site. The congregation sold one
of its venerable Torahs to the Jewish Museum in New York, to acquire
funds for furnishing the new synagogue (at St. Ursula street). After
several years of faithful joyous service, which ushered in a few Bar
Mitzvahs and the only Bat
Mitzvah (to my memory) and two Brit
Milahs in its short existence as the Jewish House of worship,
this small apartment has sadly been evacuated. No not by a pogrom -
Heaven forbid - but due to the state of disrepair of the adjacent
building. Sadly, the Maltese Jewish community is again without its
beloved synagogue and community center. Representations with the
government at the highest level have been made and promises by
Government ministers made that the synagogue will be re-built.
The country's President Dr. U. Mifsud Bonnici has
graciously put pressure on the government and offered his help but
(so far) nothing has been done.
Jewish Life in the Maltese islands still
goes on albeit at a smaller pace.
Last February (on the Jewish feast of Tu
BeShvat) a tree planting ceremony was conducted for the first time
in one of Malta's newest towns, Fgura, where, together with the Malta-Israel
Cultural & Friendship Society and the Fgura local council, sixty-three
palm and olive trees and several oleanders were planted in the newly
refurbished Reggie Miller town square cum garden. In honor of this,
Fgura's Local Council named the garden, "The Jewish Community Grove,"
and a suitable marble plaque has been erected. The importance of this
occasion is that for the first time ever the small Jewish community
has been official recognized as an ethnic minority in our country.
Relations with Israel
Israel established friendly relations and cooperation with Malta even before the latter achieved independence in 1964. In the late 1950's the leader of the Maltese Labor Party, Dom Mintoff, tried to mediate between Israel and Egypt, albeit unsuccessfully. In 1966 an Israel embassy was established with a resident chargé d'affaires, while Israel's ambassador in Rome also serves as nonresident ambassador to Malta. Israel experts assisted in the development of dairy, poultry, and afforestation projects.
In April 2005, Israeli Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and Maltese Foreign Minister Michael Frendo signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in the fields of health and medicine. The agreement encourages the exchange of information and experts for the purposes of study and consultation, the exchange of information about international congresses and conferences, the sharing of medical bibliographies, and so on.
In October 2013, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat made the first ever official visit to Israel by a Maltese government leader. Meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Muscat looked to strenghten bilateral relations between the countries in the energy and health sectors.
Sources: Cecil Roths The Jews of Malta; Hecht, Esther, "The Jewish Traveler: Malta". Hadassah Magazine.
December 2005; The Slave Community; Derek Davis The Kalkara Cemetery; Lagumina Bros. Codice Diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia; Profs. Godfrey Wettingers Joseph Ha-Cohen, Vale of Tears. Dipt.
Ta l-Eduk. Grajjiet Malta l-ewwel ktieb Lawrence Attard Bezzinas
The Jewish Community of Malta The Tal Braxja Jewish Cemetery Il-Komunita
Lhudija ta Malta Ic-Cimiterji Lhud gewwa Malta The Jewish Catacombs
The Jewish Slave Community Claire-Eliane Engel History of the Order
of St. John; Jewish
Community of Malta; Encyclopaedia
Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group.
All Rights Reserved; Malta Star (October 15, 2013)
C. Roth, The Jews of Malta (1931; = offprint from JHSET, 12 (1928–31), 187–251); S. Assaf, Be-Oholei Ya'akov (1943), 107–15; Roth, Mag Bibl, 113; idem, Personalities and Events (1961), 112–35.