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SYRACUSE, city in S.E. Sicily. Inscriptions and other archaeological evidence attest the presence of Jews in Syracuse from Roman times. Toward the middle of the fifth century, the Vandals destroyed the synagogue there, and in 655 the Jews asked the Byzantine authorities for permission to rebuild it. In the 12th century, the Jews of Syracuse received through their rabbi Anatoli b. Joseph a reply by *Maimonides to a legal question. The community was second in importance in Sicily after *Palermo. Two documents from the end of the 14th and beginning of the 15th centuries suggest that the number of Jews in Syracuse exceeded 5,600. The community attained its most prosperous period from the end of the 13th to the end of the 14th centuries, under the rule of the house of Aragon. The administration of the community, whose first regulations dating from 1363 have been preserved, was conducted by 12 maggiorenti and 12 prothi who had jurisdiction over the religious life of the community and its revenues. The procuratores et nuncii represented the community before the government. When in 1395 King Martin I established the office of judge-general for the Jews *(Dienchelele), a Jew of Syracuse, Joseph *Abenafia, was appointed to this office: on his death he was succeeded by Rais of Syracuse.

King Frederick III intervened in favor of the Jews of Syracuse who were harassed by the ecclesiastical authorities in 1375, and the regulations on their behalf were confirmed by King Marlin in 1392. The Jews obtained further privileges in 1399, when they were exempted from the obligation of supplying wax to the court and flags for the castles. When in 1455 various Jews from Syracuse made a clandestine attempt to immigrate to Ereẓ Israel, they were arrested. The community succeeded, however, in obtaining permission for Jews to emigrate in small groups. Among the scholars who lived in Syracuse was Isaac b. Solomon *Alḥadib, astronomer and translator, and Shalom b. Solomon Yerushalmi, for whom several manuscripts were copied. After the edict of expulsion of the Jews from Spanish domains was issued in 1492 it is estimated that about 5,000 Jews left Syracuse. They are said to have represented 40% of the city's population. The "Purim of Syracuse", still observed by some Sephardi Jewish families, probably refers not to Syracuse but to Saragossa in Spain. A number of tombstones dating from the Middle Ages with Hebrew inscriptions have recently been discovered in Syracuse, and the findings published.


Milano, Bibliotheca, index; Milano, Italia, index; Roth, Italy, index; Orsi, in: Roemische Quartalschrift, 14 (1900), 194–7; Simonsen, in: REJ, 59 (1910), 90–95; S. Simonsohn, in: Archivio storico siracusano, 9 (1963), 8–20; idem, in: Sefer Zikkaron le-Izhak Ben-Zvi … (1964), 273–82; G. De' Giovanni, L'ebraismo della Sicilia … (Palermo, 1748); B. and G. Lagumina, Codice diplomatico dei giudei di Sicilia, 3 vols. (1884–1909), passim; C. Roth, Gleanings (1967), 62–80; Frey, Corpus, 1 (1936), nos. 651–3a.

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