Bookstore Glossary Library Links News Publications Timeline Virtual Israel Experience
Anti-Semitism Biography History Holocaust Israel Israel Education Myths & Facts Politics Religion Travel US & Israel Vital Stats Women
donate subscribe Contact About Home

Naples, Italy

Naples is a city and former kingdom in Campania, S. Italy. The first Jewish settlement there probably dates to the beginning of the first century C.E., if not before. Josephus (Antiquities, XVII, 23–25, and Wars, II, 101–05) reports that during Augustus’ rule there was already a Jewish community at Puteoli (Dicaearchia), near Napoli. Puteoli was the most important mercantile harbor of Roman Italy in that period. Some sepulchral inscriptions in Latin dated to a later period indeed attest a Jewish presence in the area.

By the fourth century C.E., the community of Naples was of considerable size and economically important. A Jewish burial ground was excavated in 1908 in Corso Malta. The tombs date from the end of the fourth century to the middle of the fifth century C.E. Three of the inscriptions are in Latin, one in Greek. It is interesting that one of the inscriptions in Latin is followed by an inscription in Hebrew. All the inscriptions are decorated with the menorah. The etrog as well as the Holy Ark decorate two of the inscriptions. In 536, according to the Byzantine historian Procopius (War V, 8:41, 10:24–25), the Jewish population helped the Goths, although unsuccessfully, to defend the city when it was besieged by the Byzantines.

Eleventh- and twelfth-century documents show that the Naples community had a synagogue and a school. Jews enjoyed the right to own real estate and to dispose of it as they wished. Benjamin of Tudela, who visited the town in c. 1159, found 500 Jews living there. From 1288, under Charles II, anti-Jewish disorders incited by Dominican preachers occurred; they reached their height in 1290 when serious outrages were committed and a synagogue was converted into a church. However, in 1330, Robert of Anjou invited Jews from the Balearic Islands to settle in Naples and in the rest of his kingdom, promising them protection against annoyance and the same taxation rights as those enjoyed by Christians. From 1442, under the rule of Aragon, conditions for the Jews in Naples and its surroundings were favorable, and attracted Jews from various parts of Europe.

At the end of 1492, and the beginning of 1493, a large influx of refugees from Sicily, Sardinia, and Spain found temporary asylum in Naples. The Spanish refugees, undernourished and sick, probably introduced the pestilence in 1492 that struck down 20,000 persons in Naples alone.

Among the Spanish refugees who landed in Naples in 1492 was Don Isaac Abrabanel, who became fiscal adviser to King Ferdinand I and Alfonso II. In 1495, the Kingdom of Naples was conquered by the Spanish and, in 1496, a decree for the expulsion of the Jews was issued, although it was not implemented. The expulsion of the Jews was definitively ordered in 1510 and finally carried out: exception was made for 200 wealthy Jewish families who undertook to pay an annual tax of 300 ducats to the crown.

In 1515, the New Christians were also expelled from the kingdom. The 200 wealthy families, who had been joined by others in 1520, had increased to 600 within the following decade. Although a new decree of expulsion was issued in 1533, permission was granted to the Jews in November 1535 to reside in Naples for a further ten years against the payment of 10,000 ducats. However, the agreement was not respected by Emperor Charles V and, in 1541, he ordered the total expulsion of the Jews; this coincided with the establishment of a Christian loan bank (Monte di Pietá) in Naples.

It was not until 1735, when the kingdom passed to the Bourbons, that Jews were readmitted into Naples and the vicinity by an edict signed by Charles IV on February 3, 1740. However, following pressure by Jesuits and the Church, the few Jews who had accepted the invitation were again expelled (September 18, 1746).

In 1822, under the suggestion of Metternich, the Austrian premier, Solomon de Rothschild had his brother, Karl Mayer von Rothschild of Frankfurt on the Main, settled in Naples as court banker of the Bourbons. There Rothschild did much to help the ruling dynasty economically, and he pushed for a liberalization of the government. Rothschild resided in Villa Acton-Pignatelli in Via Chiaia. Rothschild’s task came to an end in 1860 when Garibaldi conquered Naples. By then a small Jewish community had developed around Rothschild. Religious services began to be held in Naples in 1831, but a synagogue was not opened until June 1864. The synagogue located in the Palazzo Sessa was inaugurated in 1864 thanks to the influence of Baron Rothschild. In the entrance there are two marble statues; one in honor of the community president Dario Ascarelli who bought the premises for the synagogue in 1910 and the other which commemorates the deportation of Neapolitan Jews during World War II. Restoration was carried out in 1992.

[Ariel Toaff /

Samuele Rocca (2nd ed.)

In 1931, there were 998 Jews in the community of Naples, whose authority extended to all southern Italy. Persecutions during World War II had minor consequences as the Allied landing led to a speedy liberation of southern Italy. Nevertheless, 11 Jews were taken to extermination camps from Naples and others were killed elsewhere.

From 1943 to 1945, Naples was the biggest harbor that served the Allies in the Mediterranean. Thus various Jewish units from Palestine served in the area as well as Jewish chaplains from the U.S. Army. Both assisted the local Jewish community. After the war, the U.S. Navy held regular services for American Jewish sailors in Naples.

At the war’s end 534 Jews remained in the community. In 1969, there were 450 Jews in Naples. In the early 21st century the community numbered approximately 200.

Samuele Rocca (2nd ed.)]

Hebrew Printing

A Hebrew press was established in Naples not later than 1485 and, in the decade which followed, nearly 20 books were published, making the city one of the most important cradles of Hebrew incunabula. Naples was then a center of general book printing and the book trade, and wealthy members of the Jewish community including immigrants from Spain and Portugal, financed the publishing of Hebrew books.

The first Jewish printer there was the German Joseph b. Jacob Gunzenhausen, who was followed in 1490 by Joshua Solomon Soncino. A third printer was Isaac b. Judah ibn Katorzo (of Calatayud in Spain). The first book published (in 1487) was Psalms with David Kim?i’s commentary, followed by Proverbs with a commentary by Immanuel of Rome (n.d.), and the rest of the Hagiographa in 1488. A Pentateuch (with Rashi), the Five Scrolls, and the Antiochus Scroll appeared in 1491.

The first printed edition of Abraham ibn Ezra’s Pentateuch commentary came out in 1488; Na?manides’ Pentateuch commentary was printed in 1490 by Katorzo; and that of Ba?ya b. Asher in 1492. The magnificent first edition of the entire Mishnah (with Maimonides’ commentary) was published in 1492.

Halakhic works included Jacob Landau's Agur (n.d.), the first Hebrew work with approbations (Haskamot) and the second printed in the lifetime of the author (who was one of Gunzenhausen’s typesetters); the first edition of the Kol Bo (n.d.); and Kim?i’s Sefer ha-Shorashim was published by Gunzenhausen in 1490, and by Soncino (and Katorzo?) in 1491. Ba?ya b. Joseph ibn Paquda’s Duties of the Heart (?ovot ha-Levavot) appeared in 1489, and Na?manides’ Shaar ha-Gemul in 1490. Of particular interest are Pere? Trabot’s Makre Dardekei (1488), a 14th-century Hebrew glossary with Italian, Arabic, and also French, Provençal, and German translations; Kalonymus b. Kalonymus’ satirical Even Bo?an (1489); a Hebrew grammar, Peta? Devarai (1492); a five-volume Hebrew translation of Avicenna’s medical canon Ha-Kanon ha-Gadol printed for the first and only time. The fourth edition of Dante’s Divina Commedia was published by an anonymous Jewish printer in Naples in 1477.


Roth, Italy, passim; Milano, Italia, passim; E. Munkacsi, Der Jude von Neapel (Zurich, 1939); N. Ferorelli, Ebrei nell’Italia meridionale… (1915), passim; idem, in: Vessillo Israelitico, 54 (1906), 397–401, 466–74; 63 (1915), 146–7; Sacerdote, in: RMI, 31 (1965), 90–96; L. Poliakov, Banquiers juifs et le Saint-Siege… (1965), 191–5. PRINTING: J. Bloch, Hebrew Printing in Naples (1942) (= New York Public Library Bulletin, June 1942); D.W. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy… (1909), 63ff.; H.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah (1956), 49–50; Roth, Renaissance, 170–2, 176; A.M. Habermann, Ha-Madpisim Benei Soncino (1933), 25–30, 35–36. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: D., Abulafia, Il Mezzogiorno peninsulare dai Bizantini all’espulsione (1541), in: C. Vivanti (ed.), Gli ebrei in Italia I, Storia d’Italia, Annali, 11 (1996) 5–46; C. Giordano and I. Kahn, Gli Ebrei in Pompeii, in Ercolano e nelle citta della campania Felix (1965), 20–23, 35–40; V. Giura, Gli ebrei nel regno di Napoli tra Aragona e Spagna, in: Ebrei e Venezia (1987), 771–80; E. Serao, Nuove iscrizioni da un sepolcro giudaico di Napoli, in: Puteoli, 12–13 (1988–89), 103–17; A. Silvestri, Gli ebrei nel Regno di Napoli durante la dominazione aragonese, in: Campania sacra, 18 (1987), 21–77.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Gulf of Naples - Damirux, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.