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Catania, Italy

CATANIA, Sicilian port. A lengthy Jewish tombstone inscription has been found in Catania dating from 383, and an epistle of Pope *Gregory I (596) indicates that there were also Samaritans in Catania. In 1168 the bishop of Catania authorized the Jews there to conduct litigation according to Jewish law. There were two distinct Jewish quarters, each with its synagogue, one by the hill of Montevergine (the giudeca di susu) and the other in a lower part of the town (the giudeca di giusu). The Jews also had houses and shops outside these quarters, and they took an active part in the economic life of the city. A document from 1414 mentions a Jew as tax farmer of the dyers tax. In 1448 the city officials of Catania gave permission to a Jew to plant olive trees and linen plants in the lower part of the town, and in 1458 city officials accepted the offer of a Jew to supply the town with candles for the lighting of three neighborhoods. A number of Jews in Catania practiced medicine, among them a woman, Viridimura, wife of Pasquale di Medico, who obtained in 1376 the license to practice medicine in all of Sicily. In 1481 Israel Lu Presti, a physician of Catania, was exempted from wearing the Jewish badge. The Jews formed a particularly industrious element and had to pay heavy taxes. The amount of tax revenue received by the crown in 1415 shows that Catania Jewry was then the fourth largest group of taxpayers in Sicily. In 1457 many Jews threatened to leave the town because of the heavy taxes and the wealthy among them transported themselves to the lands of the nobility. The taxes were reduced only in 1466, probably because of the diminishing number of Jewish households following the outbreak of the plague in 1463. That year the community complained that it could not pay the customary taxes since out of 200 families, only 30 remained in the city. According to the tax amounts paid in 1481, the community of Catania indeed paid proportionally less than cities considerably smaller, such as Randazzo, Marsala, and Agrigento. In 1455 Jews from Catania and other towns in Sicily attempted to immigrate to Jerusalem but were discovered by the authorities and punished. In May 1492 rumors of intended persecution caused several Jewish families to flee the city. To prevent flight, the authorities issued an order forbidding all ships to embark Jews. The Catanian Jews were finally expelled with the rest of Sicilian Jewry in 1492. Two marble plaques commemorating the expulsion of the Jews were posted in the city of Catania: one in the senatorial palace in 1493 on the first anniversary of the expulsion and the other in 1500 inside one of the cathedral doors. After the expulsion, the New Christians of Catania fared better than those living in other places in Sicily. In 1502 members of the city council were excommunicated for impeding the work of the Inquisition's officials and, again in 1522, the city population forced an inquisitor to release New Christians and return their confiscated property. According to lists made by the Spanish Inquisition, there were 40 New Christians in Catania.


Libertini, in: Atti della Reale Accademia di Scienze… Torino, 64 (1929), 185–95; G. di Giovanni, L'Ebraismo della Sicilia… (Palermo, 1748), 266–75; C. Fontana, Ebrei in Catania nel secolo XV (1901); B. and G. Lagumina (eds.), Codice diplomatico dei Giudei di Sicilia, 3 vols. (1884–95), passim. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: M. Gaudioso, La communità ebraica di Catania (1974); S. Nicolosi, Gli ebrei a Catania (1988), 71; F. Renda, La fine del giudaismo siciliano. Ebrei marrani e Inquisizione spagnola prima durante e dopo la cacciata del 1492 (1993), appendix; S. Simonsohn, The Jews in Sicily, 6 vols. (1997–2004); N. Zeldes, "The Former Jews of This Kingdom." Sicilian Converts after the Expulsion, 1492–1516 (2003).

[Attilio Milano /

Nadia Zeldes (2nd ed.)]

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.