MALTA, Mediterranean island. That Jews were present there in Roman times is attested by the discovery of a catacomb with the symbol of the *menorah. There must have been a community under Arab rule (870–1090) and in 1240 there were 25 Jewish families there and eight in the neighboring island of Gozo. During the Middle Ages the two islands were part of the Kingdom of Sicily, and a great deal is known of their history from materials preserved in the Sicilian archives. The communities came to an end with the expulsion of the Jews from Sicily in 1492. From 1530 to 1798 the islands were ruled by the Knights of St. John, who in the course of their forays against the Muslims captured and brought back to Malta large numbers of Jewish prisoners. The Societies for Redeeming the *Captives (Ḥevrot Pidyon Shevuyim) in Venice and elsewhere were mainly engaged in raising funds for ransoming the Jewish prisoners in Malta, where the Venetian society kept a permanent Christian agent. Under the latter's auspices, the Jewish slaves were able to maintain a synagogue for worship, and there was also a cemetery. A regular community, mainly deriving from North Africa, began to develop during the last days of the rule of the Knights and under British rule (from 1800). In 1804 the *blood libel raised against the handful of Jews was firmly suppressed by the English poet S.T. Coleridge, then colonial secretary on the island. The community remained small, numbering 16 families in 1968 and 60 Jews in the mid-1990s. A synagogue was opened in Valetta in 1984.
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.
Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.