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PESARO, city in north-central Italy on the Adriatic Sea. A rabbinical responsum attests to the existence of a Jewish community there in 1214. We can assume that Jews had settled in the city even earlier, attracted by its commercial importance. Pesaro's Jewish residents were engaged in crafts, moneylending, and local and regional trade.

The establishment of a public loan bank (*Monte di Pietà) in 1468 caused only minimal harm to local Jewish enterprises. Moneylending to the poor was the most conspicuous but by no means the most important, of the manifold activities of Jewish bankers. In fact, Jews supplied floating capital to local artisans and merchants and provided financial support to farmers in anticipation of the crops. Jews also lent large amounts of money at low rates of interest to local municipalities, eminent personalities, and noblemen. These loans were generally granted solely on the basis of written receipts, and without a pegno (guarantee). In the second quarter of the 16th century, a few Levantine and Portuguese merchants settled in Pesaro and engaged in international and regional commerce in wool textiles and leather.

When the Jews were expelled from the Kingdom of Naples in 1541, a branch of the Sarfati family, related to the *Abrabanels, settled in Pesaro and engaged in local commerce and financial activities. They described themselves as Neapolitan Jews and joined the local "Italian" congregation.

In or around 1549, Leone (Yehudah), son of Samuel Abrabanel, moved to Pesaro from Ferrara, after a bitter quarrel with his mother, Benvenida, who opposed his relations with Luna, a Portuguese Jewess of exceptional beauty whom he later married. Amatus Lusitanus called her the "divina."

In 1548, Manoel Lopes Bichacho, formerly a leader of the Portuguese Nation in Antwerp, settled in Pesaro, where he obtained a condotta (banking license) from Guidobaldo, duke of Urbino.

According to Samuel Usque, in 1549, when the duke of Ferrara expelled from his city all the recent arrivals, Manoel Bichacho persuaded Duke Guidobaldo to allow some of them to settle in his lands.

In 1550, Manoel was allowed to include up to 35 merchants in his condotta. This was the rather unusual beginning of the Portuguese Nation in Pesaro.

In 1556, in the wake of the persecutions against the former *Marranos of *Ancona, several of them fled to Pesaro. This group included the famous physician Amatus Lusitanus; the poet Diogo *Pires (alias Isaiah Cohen); Yom Tov Atias (alias Alvaro de Vargas) and his son Jeronimo, editors of the famous Biblia Española de Ferrara, and Rabbi Yuda Ibn Faraj who later acted as ambassador of the Portuguese Nation of Pesaro to the Jewish communities in the Levant.

After the death of the 26 martyrs of Ancona, Gracia and Joseph *Nasi conceived a famous plan to engage in an open commercial war against the Church, boycott the Ancona entrepôt, and develop the city of Pesaro as a new center for maritime trade between Italy and the Levant. Unfortunately, the port of Pesaro did not have adequate facilities and was not deep enough for big merchant ships to berth in it. Furthermore, there were bitter differences among the Jewish merchants in the Levant, some of whom did not participate in the boycott of Ancona. Consequently, the daring program failed.

The duke of Urbino was embittered and disappointed by the unfulfilled attempts at developing the port of his city. In March 1558, Guidobaldo, overwhelmed by diplomatic pressure from the Church, decreed the expulsion of all the former Marranos, including those who had already been living in Pesaro before the Ancona affair. The duke took revenge against Manoel Bichacho and seized all the properties and goods belonging to him and his family. The punitive provisions were carefully enforced. Italian Jews, however, were not persecuted and enjoyed a period of prosperity. Angelo, son of Zaccaria di Volterra, obtained the license of the bank which had formerly belonged to his family and later to Emanuel Bichacho. He also received the job of ducal cashier. Duke Guidobaldo was so pleased with Angelo's performance that he praised him publicly and granted him a "perpetual" exemption from local taxes.

Sephardi Jews were later readmitted and continued to engage, as before, in trade with the Levant. They built a richly decorated synagogue officially designated as "Spanish and Levantine," but commonly called "Portuguese."

After the expulsion of Jews from the Papal States in 1569, several refugees found shelter in Pesaro. In 1631, when the Duchy of Urbino fell under papal rule, the oppressive legislation that applied in the States of the Church was extended to Pesaro. In 1634, Jews were segregated in a ghetto and compelled to wear a yellow badge. The new regulations forbade the Jews to own real estate, and drastically reduced their permitted commercial activities to the arte strazzaria (i.e., trade in secondhand clothes). Jews were not allowed to employ Christians. Jewish physicians were no longer licensed to practice medicine among Christians. As a consequence, many Jews left the city. Their number shrank from 630 in 1628 to barely 500 in 1656. The Jewish population continued to decrease in the following century and totaled only 406 persons in 1747. However, in the 18th century, the enforcement of the oppressive legislation was somewhat relaxed. Several bankers obtained, for a price, special licenses enabling them to establish commercial offices and their residences in the center of the city, outside the ghetto. Prominent among the new entrepreneurial class was Salvatore della Ripa, merchant, banker, and communal leader.

In 1797 when French forces occupied Pesaro, the gates of the ghetto were opened. The Jews were declared full citizens and replaced the yellow badge with the tricolor cockade. When the French army withdrew from the city, a mob attacked the Jewish quarter and ransacked the synagogues.

When the rule of Church was fully reinstated, the old restrictions were renewed, at least nominally. Nonetheless, several Jews where permitted to engage in various commercial and industrial activities. According to the 1824 National Industrial Statistics, Bonaiuto d'Ancona employed 60 women in his spinning factory with a yearly production of 1,400 pounds of extra-fine silk, most of which was exported to England. Alessandro Bolaffi and Iacob Foligno were engaged in the silk industry and grain trade. Other merchants dealt in wool garments, leather, and skins, and a variety of other goods. However, alongside a few rich families, many others were impoverished and received financial help from the Jewish community.

After his ascent to power, Pope Leone XII (1823–29) reinforced the oppressive rules with great obstinacy. All previous concessions were revoked. Jews were compelled to sell any real estate they had acquired. Many rich families left the States of the Church and moved to more hospitable places. The sons of Zaccaria della Ripa settled in Florence, where they had already established the headquarters of their banking activities. However, they kept their house and their offices in Pesaro and continued to support the local Jewish community, which faced serious economic problems as it had been deprived of most of its wealthiest members.

In 1860 Pesaro was annexed to the kingdom of Italy and the Jews were emancipated. Many families moved to the center of the city. In 1869 there were only 160 Jews in the area of the former ghetto. At the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish population of Pesaro numbered only 60. By 1940 there were only a few individuals. The building of the Italian Synagogue was severely damaged by an earthquake in 1930 and was later demolished.

During World War II no Jews were deported from the city of Pesaro. A few Jews joined the Italian partisans and fought in the war of liberation against the occupying German army. Small groups of foreign Jews lived scattered throughout the large province of Pesaro. Some of them had succeeded in reaching Italy from far-away localities in Germany and Poland. Others had handed themselves over to the Italian army in Croatia in order to find shelter from the Ustasha militias and German troops. They were arrested by the Italian military police, who did not hand them over to the SS but confined them to "internment camps" in Italy. However, such camps did not exist in the district of Pesaro. Jewish refugees lived in private homes or hotels. They were nominally obliged to appear every day before the local police but, in truth, they enjoyed almost complete liberty with the tacit consent of the Italian police headquarters in Pesaro. When the German army retreated from the region, the SS arrested a group of Jews hidden in the hospital of Urbino. These prisoners were executed at the airport of Forli.

In 1944 Pesaro was liberated by the Allied forces. The 7th British Army included an all-Jewish unit: the *Jewish ("Palestinian") Brigade, which fought the Germans under the blue and white Zionist flag. There were indescribable scenes of emotion in Pesaro, as everywhere else, when the surviving Jews met the soldiers displaying the Magen David and the word "Palestine" on their shoulder straps. The Jewish soldiers reopened the Sephardi Synagogue and celebrated religious services – the last ones to be held in a city with almost no Jewish population left. This synagogue is owned by the Jewish community of Ancona, which donated the magnificent wooden Aron ha-Kodesh to the Jewish community of Leghorn. Part of the bimah was moved to the Levantine Synagogue of Ancona. The remains of the prayer hall are considered a national monument. Complex restoration works have been executed by the local municipality, and the stucco ornaments of the vaulted ceiling were restored to their original splendor. Two ancient wall paintings depicting the city of Jerusalem and the encampment of the Jews at the foot of Mount Sinai were also restored.

The abandoned cemetery on the steep slopes of Mount S. Bartolo was cleared from rampant vegetation, its terraces rebuilt and reinforced, the sepulchral stones dug up.


Roth, Italy, index; Idem. The House of Naci, Doña Gracia, index; Kaufman, in REJ, 16 (1888), 231–39; idem, in: JQR, 4 (1892), 509–12; Adler, in: REJ, 89 (1930), 98–103; D.W. Amram, Makers of Hebrew Books in Italy (1909), 104 ff.; H.D. Friedberg, Ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Italyah (19562); A.M. Haberman, Ha-Madpisim Benei Soncino (1933), 37–39, 50–60. ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: A. Leoni, in: Sefarad, 59 (1999), 77–100; M.L. Moscati Benigni, in: Itinerary ebraici (1999), 118–31; A. Leoni, "La Nazione Portoghese ad Ancona e Pesaro," in: I. Zorattini (ed.), Identità dissimulata (2000), 27–98; R.P. Uguccioni, (ed.), Studi sulla Comunità Ebraica di Pesaro (2003).

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