KASTORIA (Castoria), town and area of Macedonia, Greece, W. of Salonika. There was a Jewish settlement in the Kastoria fortress town during the reign of Justinian (527–565). In the 11th century, the community was headed by Tobias b. Eliezer, the author of Lekaḥ Tov. One of his disciples was Meir of Kastoria, author of Me'or Einayim, a midrashic exegesis on the Torah. In the 11th century, many Jewish refugees settled in the city, in particular Jews from Hungary who escaped the pillage of the Crusaders. Noteworthy was the 14th century Ḥakham Leon Judah ben Moses Moskoni, who wrote on the Torah commentary of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, and the paytan David ben Eliezer, who composed the Maḥzor Kastoria. When the Ottomans conquered the city in 1385, the Jewish community was known as a Greek-speaking Romaniot culture. After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, most of the Jews of Kastoria moved to the capital and formed a congregation in the Balat Quarter. In the 16th century Jewish refugees from Spain settled here, but most of the town's Jews came from Apulia, southern Italy. A Sicilian congregation was also formed in the 16th century. Despite the numerous Jewish immigrants from Apulia and Sicily, the Italian Jews after a generation assimilated into the Sephardi culture and lost their special Italian customs. From the 16th century onward, the Jewish merchants were active in the fur trade, and eventually gained a worldwide reputation in this field. There were also Jewish peddlers, artisans, and tax collectors. In the mid-17th century, there was an active Shabbatean following, including Rabbi Shemayah ben Moses Mayo, who in the end remained loyal to Jewish law. *Nathan of Gaza, the main disciple of the false messiah *Shabbetai Ẓevi spent time in Kastoria and wrote his work Sefer ha-Beri'ah there. Ali Pasha, governor of the region from 1788 to 1822, imposed oppressive taxes on the Jewish population of Kastoria. In 1828, the synagogue that was built in the mid-18th century was destroyed, and in 1830, in its place, the Aragon Synagogue was donated by the famous local philanthropist Isaac Beḥor Moses Rousso, nicknamed "Senor Shako." The Castorian Jewish community, whether in Castoria, Israel, or the U.S., has continually commemorated the annual date of the passing of this renowned 19th century benefactor. At the beginning of the 19th century the local rabbi was Moses Isaac ha-Levi, the author of Ma'aseh Moshe, a halakhic and aggadic index to the Talmud. A Jewish school was established in 1873. The community suffered blood libels in 1879 and 1908. The Spanish-Jewish dialect used by Kastoria Jews was of a special character. Beginning with the first decade of the 20th century, at the end of the Ottoman period, emigration from Kastoria to New York ensued. The city was annexed to Greece in 1912–13 after the Balkan Wars and Monastir Jews migrated to Castoria after World War I. In 1928 the Jewish community numbered 900. In the 1920s and 1930s, the youth of the community had an active Judeo-Spanish theater group. In the 1930s, graduates of the local AJJ (Agudat Jeunes Juives) youth movement founded by the Jewish school principal Jacob Jak Ashkenazi formed the nucleus of the garin, the agricultural settlement group, that in 1937 established Moshav Ẓur Moshe, one of the *Stockade and Watchtower settlements erected overnight in Ereẓ Israel to evade the British prohibition against forming new Jewish settlements. In late March 1944, 763 Jews from Kastoria were arrested and deported to Auschwitz. In 1948 there were 35 Jews living in the town, and by 1965 their number had dwindled to 22.
M. Molho, Histoire des Israélites de Castoria (1938). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: B. Rivlin, "Kastoria," in: Pinkas Kehillot Yavan (1999), 372–81.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.