Join Our Mailing List

Sponsor Us!

Virtual Jewish World:
Turin, Italy


Virtual Jewish World: Table of Contents | Europe | Italy


Print Friendly and PDF

The presence of Jews in Turin was recorded by Bishop Maximus in the fourth century, but thereafter no evidence of Jews exists until 1424 when the French Banker, Elias Alamanni, moved there with his family.

Turin was the capital of the duchy of Savoy and later of the kingdom of Sardinia; it is now the capital of Piedmont province. The presence of Jews in Turin was recorded by Bishop Maximus of Turin in the fourth century, but thereafter there is no evidence of Jews until 1424 when the French Jewish physicians and bankers Elias Alamanni and Amedeo Foa moved there with their families. They received a ducal privilege and a pontifical patent. The Turin Communal Council gave them the final authorization to settle there. Two documents dated to 1424 confirm it. The first document is a permission to live in the city and open a bank. The second mentions that the Jews could not be injured or insulted. Also a plot was purchased for a burial ground. Other Jewish bankers followed and a small group was formed. In 1425 the Jews were compelled to live in a restricted area where they could be watched more easily and prevented from lending money at excessive rates of interest. In 1430 Duke Amadeus VIII of Savoy issued statutes regulating Jewish residence, synagogues, civil and criminal jurisdiction, and relations with Christians. In addition, the statutes required Jewish men to wear a*badge in the shape of a disk, four fingers in width and red and white in color. For the following four centuries the interpretation of these regulations by the various rulers of Savoy ranged from literal to lenient. When in 1436 Ludovico of Savoy had the Studium, or university, erected, he decreed that the mansions of the Jews would be used by the students. At the same time the Jewish scholar and banker Bonafé de Chalon was invited to make low-interest loans to the university's students. During the pestilence of 1450–51 the care of the sick was given over to a Jewish doctor, Bono.

Jewish moneylending was permitted in Turin for a longer time than anywhere else in Italy. The taxes paid by the Jews were particularly high and the imposition of new taxes threatened the Jews with ruin or expulsion. In 1560 and 1566 Duke Emmanuel Philibert decreed that the Jews be expelled, but the decrees were canceled because of the intervention of influential people and the annual payment by the Jews of 20,000 florins.

From 1561 a guardian (conservatore) was given jurisdiction over the Jews and in some cases also represented them. The duke chose the guardian from among the senators from 1603 to 1626: thereafter he chose him from the names of three senators submitted by the Jews. Charles Emmanuel I (1580–1630) allowed the monopoly granted to Jewish moneylenders to remain in force, and he rejected Cardinal Carlo *Borromeo's demands for the expulsion of the Jews and the establishment of a ghetto in Turin. The most outstanding rabbi in the 16th century was Nethanel b. Shabbetai ha-Dani.

The majority of the Jews engaged in moneylending and were in close economic cooperation with the dukes of Savoy, extending to them large loans. In 1624 there were nine Jewish banks in Turin. The Talmud Torah Fraternity was founded in 1662. In 1679, after the death of Charles Emmanuel II, the reigning duchess, Maria Giovanna of Nemours, guardian of Duke Victor Amadeus II, decreed the establishment of the ghetto. Thus in 1680 the approximately 750 Jews of Turin were collected in one building which had been used as a hospital for beggars. The most important rabbis of 17th century Turin were Joseph Calvo, Daniel b. Joseph Calvo, and Joseph b. Michael Ravenna.

In 1702 there were 800 Jewish residents in Turin. In 1720 Victor Amadeus II transferred the Jewish codices that had been collected by his ancestors to the library of the University of Turin. These codices were described by Pasini Regi in the 18th century, B. Peyron in the 19th, and E.S. Artom in the 20th (Soncino Blaetter (1925), 43–70). However, at the beginning of the 20th century, they were almost entirely destroyed by fire. In the 17th and 18th centuries the Jews were urged to engage in the production and sale of fabrics.

Victor Amadeus II issued new statutes in 1723 and 1729 that substantially renewed those of 1430. The Jews were forbidden to own real estate and it was stipulated that they should live in the ghetto. Despite the trade in woolen and silk fabrics, the economic position of the Jews deteriorated. There are, however, no records of complaints; in fact, the Jewish population increased to about 1,300 by 1794. This implies that the Jews were better off in Turin than in other parts of Italy, both because of the comparative prosperity and the greater liberality of King Charles Emmanuel III. Turin continued to produce outstanding scholars. Eighteenth-century rabbis from Turin were Joshua Colon, Isaac Formiggini, Abraham Sanson b. Jacob ha-Levi Fubini, Michael Solomon Jonah, Gabriel Pontremoli, Jacob b. Joshua Benzion Segre, Abraham b. Jehuda Segre, and Daniel Valabrega.

The first real breath of liberty came with the French Revolution. Following the annexation to France in 1798, the Jews of Turin enjoyed greater liberty and were no longer compelled to live in the ghetto. Thus in 1797 a group of Jews, Ghidiglia, Guastalla, Treves, Nizza, Todros, and Malvano, bought a palace in front of the ghetto. In 1799 the Austro-Russian allies reconquered Piedmont from the French Republic, and the ancient statutes were reestablished. However, after Napoleon's victory at Marengo in 1800, Piedmont was annexed to France, and Turin became the capital of the new department. Turin's Jews were well established in the Napoleonic period and continued to purchase real estate outside the ghetto. Moreover, some of the Jews from the most prominent families were selected as guards of honor for Napoleon's visit.

With the fall of Napoleon in 1814, Victor Emmanuel I re-enacted all the previous regulations. In theory the Jews had to go back to the ghetto and wear the badge. However, the reality was different. The Jews were soon exempted, in 1816, from wearing the yellow badge. Moreover the Sardinian government found it impossible to force the Jews to sell their land outside the ghetto and reside inside the ghetto only. A series of extensions and respites continued under the rule of Carlo Felice, until the Emancipation in 1848 under Carlo Alberto. Some of Turin's Jews took part in the 1821 carbonari insurrection, such as the banker Davide Levi. In 1848 there were 3,200 Jews living in Turin. By this time, however, the spirit of liberty was asserting itself as the voices of Gioberti, Franchi, Maffoni, Romagnosi, *Cattaneo, and Roberto and Massimo D'*Azeglio were raised in favor of the emancipation of the Jews everywhere in Italy. In 1848 M. D'Azeglio published his booklet Dell'emancipazione degli Israeliti. In the same year King Carlo Alberto, on March 29, granted the Jews full emancipation, and hence liberation from the ghetto. The wealthier families left the ghetto immediately. Encouraged by the rabbi of Turin Lelio *Cantoni and the poet David Levi, the Jews of Turin participated in the First Italian War of Independence, and 65 Jews volunteered for the Sardinian Army. After the defeat in 1849, under the strong hand of Vittorio Emanuele II, the legal situation of the Jews living in the Kingdom of Sardinia became a model for the Jews living in the other states of Italy, which still lacked full emancipation. Jews had access to the administration and the diplomatic corps as well as the army. In 1852 Cavour, a friend of the Jews who had at one time asked for their emancipation became the prime minister under King Victor Emmanuel II. Cavour was aided by the Jews Isaac Artom, his secretary, and Giacomo Dina, director of L'opinione, a newspaper backing Cavour's policy.

Piedmont having become the center of Italian unification and the symbol of Jewish emancipation attracted some Jews to Turin. In 1871 4,500 Jews lived in Turin. In 1859 the Jewish community commissioned the architect Antonelli to plan a monumental synagogue, the tangible symbol of the emancipation. However the building, the so-called Mole Antonelliana, was so expensive that the Jewish community donated it to the Turin Municipality. The main synagogue of Turin was erected in 1884 in Moorish style on St. Pius V Street. Various Jewish scholars lived or worked in 19th century Turin, such as Abraham de *Cologna, a member of Napoleon's Sanhedrin, Felice Bachi, Elijah Aaron Lattes, Samuel Solomon Olper, Isaiah Foà, Lellio *Della Torre, director of the Rabbinical College of Padua, Sabbato Graziadio Treves, Giuseppe Lattes, and Samuel Ghiron. Rabbi Olper's decision in 1865 to shorten the period of mourning aroused controversy among Italian rabbis. The decision was accepted only within Turin, where it was carried out until the beginning of the 20th century.

Although the capital of Italy moved to Florence in 1861 and to Rome in 1870, Turin Jewry still played a disproportionate role in Italy's cultural history. Among Turin's outstanding Jewish personalities during the following period were E.S. *Artom; R. *Bachi; S. *Foa; and B. *Terracini, who studied the history and dialect of the Jews of Piedmont. Other notables included G. Bolaffi, the jurist M. *Falco, the writers *Carlo and Primo *Levi, the historian A. *Momigliano, E. *Artom, and Senator U. *Terracini.

A Hebrew printing establishment existed in Turin in the 18th century (E.S. Lattes, in Mosè (Corfu, 1879), 263–5). In the 20th century the Marietti graphics company published, under the guidance of Rabbi Disegni, the Bible and some maḥzorim with Italian translation; and, under the supervision of R. Bonfil, a Passover Haggadah.

In 1931 4,040 Jews lived in Turin. In 1938 the Racial Law particularly affected the Jewish community of Turin, much assimilated to Italian life. In 1942 a bomb destroyed the interior of the synagogue. In November and December 1943, the Germans began to deport the Jews of Turin. A total of 246 Jews were deported to Auschwitz. Only 21 came back. One of them was the writer Primo Levi. Various gentiles helped the Jews in ingenious ways. Thus Dr. Coggiola of Mauriziano Hospital organized a "quarantine section" housing Jews, and the judge Germano subpoenaed Jews as witnesses in various legal processes. Jews joined the local partisan movements, such as E. Artom, political commissar of the 5th Regiment of the Giustizia and Libertà brigades, and Giulio Bolaffi, who was the commander of the 4th Regiment of Giustizia and Libertà. At the end of World War II 2,885 Jews were left in Turin, apart from numerous refugees who were temporarily housed in the surrounding districts. The Jewish Brigade helped restore the confidence of the community. In 1949 the synagogue was repaired.

Various rabbis dominated Jewish life in Turin in the 20th century, such as Giacomo Bolaffio; Dario *Disegni, chief rabbi of Turin from 1924 to 1960, founder of the Margulies Rabbinical School, and editor of a translation of the Pentateuch and of the Bible; and Sergio Joseph *Sierra.

Due to a high mortality rate (as compared with their birthrate) the Jewish population of Turin in 1970 was around 2,000 (only 0.16% of the total inhabitants). Educational institutions included a school for higher Hebrew studies, the Margulies Disegni Rabbinic School, a kindergarten, an elementary school, and a Jewish high school. The other institutions included a rest home for elderly people and an orphanage, that are no longer in operation.The Jewish community of Turin continued to publish a monthly newspaper, Notiziario della Comunita' ebraica di Torino. In 2005, 924 Jews lived in Turin. The chief-rabbi was Alberto Moshé Somekh. Starting in 2010, the chief-rabbi was Eliahu Birnbaum.


Sources: Judaica Philatelic Resources

Back to Top