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Jewish Families of Malta

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The beginning of Jewish Malta

The history of the small Jewish Community of Malta goes back to the arrival of the Semitic Phoenician settlers almost three thousand five hundred years ago. It is believed that they were accompanied by Israelite mariners from the seafaring tribes of Zevulon and Asher. The discovery of carved menorahs and Hellenistic inscriptions in a number of Jewish catacombs near Valletta and Birzebbuga attests to a community living here in Grecian and Roman times.

For long periods during the Middle Ages the Jews of Malta, who had settled here from Sicily, Sardinia, North Africa and Spain, lived a fairly independent and prosperous life. Several were doctors, a profession monopolised by the Jews of Malta at that time. Others were agricultural land owners and import-export agents, but the majority were shopkeepers and itinerant merchants.

Although some Jews held prestigious posts, such as Avraham Safardi, the islands' Chief Physician and Xilorum, a diplomatic envoy to the court of Sicily, the community at large was often subjected to restrictions. Yet a degree of tolerance and privilege also prevailed. Jews in prison for civil debts were allowed home for the Sabbath and Holy Days.

  • On Friday nights Jews were exempted from carrying mandatory torches, a precaution required of all citizens to protect the island against surprise attack after dark. Jewish communal elections were conducted with no outside interference by the local authorities.
  • Other Jews, mostly Sephardic families from Spain, Portugal and some of the North African countries soon followed, which made Malta a very diverse place.
  • The majority of the contemporary Maltese Jewish community originates in Jewish immigration from Gibraltar, England, North Africa, Portugal and Turkey during the short period of French rule from 1798 to 1800 and British rule after that.

From 1805 Jews were the targets of campaigns by the Maltese directed at all foreigners. In 1846, a Tripolitanian became the country's first modern rabbi.

During the early 20th century the island did not always have a rabbi of its own and rabbis would be flown in from Sicily to perform ceremonies. In the time before World War II many Jews fleeing Nazism came to Malta as it was the only European country not to require visas of Jews fleeing German rule. Numerous Maltese Jews fought Germany in the British Army during the war.

Today, 1,000 Jews live in Malta, of which many are elderly due to the tendency of young inhabitants to emigrate. Maltese Jews live mainly around the capital. The local flat bread called ftira and the traditional Maltese loaf are both kosher. In 2000, a new synagogue was built with donations from the USA and the UK. The Jewish Foundation of Malta now manages it along with a Jewish Center. Malta's relations with Israel have been friendly since the former's independence.

Jewish Residents since 1800

Malta Jewish Families Directory 1800 - scroll down for list

After the French surrender in September 1800, the Maltese asked King George III of England for protection, and Malta came under British control. Trade follows the flag, and Sir Alexander Ball, the British Commissioner, set out to develop Malta’s trade connections. Jewish traders were active in many Mediterranean ports, especially Gibraltar which was already a British colony, and families from there were amongst the earliest to arrive in Malta.

Others came from North African countries which at that time were part of the Ottoman Empire and from the Levant. Most were of the Sephardic tradition, since the Jews who were expelled from Spain in 1492 dispersed to various parts of the Ottoman Empire around the Mediterranean.

Abeasis family from Gibraltar and the Borges da Silva familyfrom Portugal were amongst the earliest arrivals. Both families played important roles in the development of trade and the life of the Jewish Community in Malta throughout the 19th Century.

Abraham A. Correa, was born in England, he was a school teacher and arrived in Malta around 1809. In 1832 he was the Hon. Secretary of the British Jews Committee, with Jacob Borges da Silvaas President.

The major event in the history of Jewish residency in Malta was the arrival from Tripoli in 1846 of Rabbi Josef Tajar with his wife Esmeralda and their children. The family took up residence at 155 Strada Reale, Valletta, where the Synagogue was located.
In 1851 he became the full time Rabbi and was responsible for the school teaching Jewish children.

Abram Masliah was his deputy Rabbi. The business he had established was placed in the hands of his sons Saul, Jacob and Cesare. All three sons had been born in Tripoli but had made Malta their home. Rabbi Joseph Tayar died in 1863, and his wife Esmeralda in 1874. Both were buried in the Jewish Cemetery.

Sion Attias from Tripoli became Rabbi, followed by Rabbi Fragi Nimni in 1878. He was still at the Strada Reale Synagogue in 1893.

The last Rabbi to be appointed was Rabbi Nissim Ohayon in 1934. He was born in Morocco but lived in Portugal with his wife and children. He accepted the post of Rabbi in Malta and the family settled down on the island, where he served until his death in 1956. Nowadays his descendants are the largest resident family.

During 1851 the Governor Sir William Reid asked the Commissioner of Police to list the Jewish families then living in Malta, and to report on their financial circumstances, since aid had been requested to provided a Synagogue. At that time the leadership of the Jewish community was provided by Jacob Abeasis, Raffaele Bismot and Riccardo Pariente.

Frederick Sedley provided the Governor with the information that none of the Jewish families were without means of support. The Borges da Silva and Sonnino families were shown as very wealthy, whilst others had a comfortable and decent lifestyle. Sir William Reid in consequence informed London that the British Government did not need to give any assistance to the Jewish community, who were mainly in Commerce or Finance, working as Agents and Brokers, whilst some were shopkeepers and traders.

In 1881 the break down of Jewish Residents was recorded as:

  • British 79
  • Turkish 48
  • Italian 9
  • Portuguese 4
  • Tunisian 3
  • German 2

Total = 145

The category British included those born in the United Kingdom, Gibraltar and Malta, whilst Turkish covered those people born in countries within the Ottoman Empire.

The Jewish population in Malta since 1800 has fluctuated but never exceeded a total of 200 men, women and children. With a shortage of females of marriageable age young Jewish men would often have to travel to Italy or North African countries to find a bride.

The Jews on Malta are from both Sephardic and Ashkenazi roots, and there have been occasional instances of marriages to Roman Catholic brides/bridegrooms and vice versa.

In 1948 the total number of Jews living in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya and Egypt, was around 600,000 but by 2002 this number had fallen to between 7,000 and 8,000. The majority had emigrated to Israel which was created as a Jewish homeland on 14th May 1948. Israel also attracted Jewish immigrants from all over the world and by 2002 the population had grown to over five million.

Anti-Jewish laws and persecution.

In the 1930's the growth of the Nazi Party in Germany led to anti-Jewish laws and persecution. Such discriminatory laws and persecution spread to Austria after the Anschluss on 13th March 1938. The rise to power of Mussolini in Italy meant that during the second half of the 1930’s anti-Jewish Laws were being enacted in Libya and in 1939 the country was formally annexed to Italy.

Jews living in these areas found daily life getting more and more threatening and unbearable and decided to emigrate and some families selected Malta for their new home. After the Second World War the new Jewish settlers in Malta were mainly British looking forward to enjoying their retirement in English speaking country with a relaxed environment and sunshine most of the year.

Achille Tayar was President of the Jewish Community during World War One and continued at its head until his death in 1944. He was succeeded as President by # Fortunato Habib who held the position until his death in 1963, when George Tayar took over. Upon George Tayar's death in 1994, the son of Rabbi Nissim Ohayon, Abraham Hayim Ohayonwas elected President..

The Synagogue at the time of the First World War was under the control of Major Michael Adler DSO, Senior Jewish Chaplain to the Forces. The building was demolished in 1979 as part of slum clearance and road widening scheme, and the community were without a Synagogue until 1984 when on Rosh Hashana 5745, a new Synagogue was inaugurated in 182 Strada San Ursola. This served the Jewish Community until 1995 when a bulldozer working on an adjacent building site undermined the foundations causing the building containing the Synagogue to collapse.

The three earlier Synagogues were in rented accommodation and Mr. Abraham Ohayon felt it was time to have one owned by the Jewish Community. In 1998 he made an appeal for funds which was met with a generous response not only from the Maltese Community but also from the USA and Britain. The total amount of money received was sufficient to purchase a flat in Ta Xbiex and convert it into a Jewish Centre and Synagogue. It opened in January 2000.

Names with Semitic origins.

One of the indications that Jews were present on Malta many centuries before 1800 is the fact that some of the commonest Maltese surnames have evolved from Semitic origins:

  • Azzopardi (sephardi jew)
  • Borg (castle)
  • Buttigieg (poultry man)
  • Farrugia (chicken)
  • Micallef (judge)
  • Xerri (rascal)

The history of the Jews in Malta during the Middle Ages can be found in the published works of Dr. Cecil Roth and Professor Godfrey Wettinger.

There are three cemeteries still in existence, Kalkara Jewish cemetery now closed but used until about 1833, Ta Braxia Jewish cemetery now closed but used from 1836 until about 1891, and Marsa Jewish cemetery which opened about 1887 and is still in use today.

Jewish families:

  1. Abeasis - Abram
  2. Abebily - James
  3. Abitol - Aida
  4. Aboab - Biliya
  5. Acco - David
  6. Almosnino - Rabbi Israel
  7. Amarillo - Fortunata
  8. Ambron - Anna Sara
  9. Arbib - Achille Raffaele
  10. Aroyo - Marco
  11. Attias - Alisa
  12. Babobsa - Nissim
  13. Bahobsa - Simha
  14. Baker-Byrne - Captain Robert Philip
  15. Menahem Benady
  16. Bendahem - Juda
  17. Bendham - Lazzaro
  18. Benhamu - Elisa
  19. Benjamin - William
  20. Bensilum - Abraham
  21. Bensilum - Joshua
  22. Benzimra - Isaac
  23. Berger - Lisl
  24. Berheimer - Adopph
  25. Berlstein - Klara Ernestine
  26. Benady - Menahem
  27. Bernar - Israel
  28. Bescinsky - Giacomo
  29. Besis - Joseph de Yitzhak
  30. # Bettebri - Zinia
  31. Bettito - Annetta
  32. Bigiani - Elia
  33. Bismot - Alfredo
  34. Borges da Silva - Abram (many families)
  35. Busnack - Scialom
  36. Cardoso - Jacob
  37. Carmona - Elia
  38. Caruana - Pearl
  39. Cava - Moise
  40. Chiefalino - Nina
  41. Claff - Harry
  42. Coen - Elia
  43. Coen - Fortunata
  44. Cohen - Jusef
  45. Correa - Abram Alves
  46. Costa - Giulio
  47. Criger - Reuben
  48. Curiel - Isacco
  49. Cusirinzon - Beila
  50. David - David
  51. Davis - Rita MBE
  52. David - Stanley OBE
  53. Dayan - Prospero
  54. Eder - Helene
  55. Edler (Adler) - Rudolf Bruce
  56. Epstein - Solomon
  57. Errera - David
  58. Fellus - Jospf Haim
  59. Ferro - Isacco
  60. Fiorentino - Anselmo (Ascer)
  61. Flah - Moise
  62. Franco - daughter
  63. Freedman - Leslie
  64. Garghir - Abram
  65. Gattegno - Benjamino
  66. Gerdence - Seraphine
  67. Goldseller - Emelia
  68. Goldstein - Eva
  69. Gomm - Alan Stephen
  70. Goodman - Arnold Simon
  71. Gorghir - Abram
  72. Granard - John
  73. Greenberg - Barnett
  74. Guttien - Emmanuele
  75. Habib - Fortunato
  76. Hackoune - David
  77. Hackun - Rachela
  78. Haddad - Aghzila
  79. Hadida - Guiseppe
  80. Haggiag - Suilma
  81. Hakoun - Elia
  82. Hammun - G di. D
  83. Harlafy - Elia
  84. Hassan - Banjamin
  85. Hasson - Samuel Moise
  86. Hazan - Aron M.
  87. Hazzan - Scelomo
  88. Helifi - Juda
  89. Israel - Abramo
  90. Junes - Angelo
  91. Kanter - Philip
  92. Labi - Nissim
  93. Landau - Victor
  94. Levi - Behor
  95. Levson - Leon
  96. Levy - Attilio Banjamin
  97. Lincoln - Eric
  98. Livi - Eliezer
  99. Lopovitz - Bernedetto Bernard
  100. Loria - El;ia
  101. Lowinger - Bela
  102. Lucena - Jacob
  103. Lumbroso - David
  104. Lumbroso - Giacomo
  105. Majine - Jacob
  106. Mamo - Abram
  107. Mandelson - Norman
  108. Masliah - Abram
  109. Massiak - Salomone
  110. Melhado - Owen Stirling
  111. Menasse - Vittoria Diamante
  112. Menion - Abram
  113. Messiah - Abramo
  114. Miller - Denis
  115. Minerbo - Allegrina
  116. Misrahi - Abraham
  117. Mizrahi - Carlo
  118. Moatti - Moise
  119. Montel - Rachella
  120. Morris - Daphne Agnes
  121. Nahum - Bella 9many families)
  122. Naim - Nissim Aldo (many families)
  123. Nani - Adolfo Nimes
  124. Nataf - Memia
  125. Nimni - Ester
  126. Nimni - Rabbi Fragi
  127. Noskwith - Arthus
  128. Oberro - Abram
  129. Ohayon - Haim
  130. Opoczynski - Paul Perez
  131. Orvieto - Annina
  132. Osmo - Diamantina
  133. Pardo - Adolfo
  134. Pariente - Guiseppe
  135. Paz - Ester
  136. Pegna - Rachella
  137. Pelischi - Simha
  138. Pelischke - Cheim
  139. Perez - Hai
  140. Pinhas - Fragi
  141. Pollucco - Ez.
  142. Recanati - Mair Simantob
  143. Reginiano - Hammus
  144. Rose - William G.
  145. Rosselli - Emmanuele
  146. Sado - Bernard
  147. Salamon - Ehezchel
  148. Salamone - Giulia
  149. Salamoni - Isacco B.
  150. Sarfati - Fragi Hay
  151. Scemama - Azira
  152. Schimnatnik - Perez
  153. Salim - Elias
  154. Schwarz - Julius
  155. Scitbon - Giuseppe
  156. Sciuba - Smeralda
  157. Serri - Gentile
  158. Serrusi - Nissim di A
  159. Sessler - Karl
  160. Simon - Gabriel
  161. Sion - Juda
  162. Sonnino - Cesare
  163. Spiro - Arthur
  164. Stratton - Berthold Anthony
  165. Tajar see Tayar
  166. Tammam - Abram
  167. Tannen - Martha
  168. Abraham Tayar
  169. Tayar - Abram
  170. Achille Joshua Nissim Tayar
  171. Rabbi Josef Tajar
  172. Tibi - Josef
  173. Toledano - Abraham Rafael
  174. Toledano - Colombo
  175. Ulman _ Ernst
  176. Vesiuba - Smeralda
  177. Weisz - Dr Adalbert Bela
  178. Wrobel - Harry
  179. Zanzuri - Rabbi Samuel
  180. Zerrug - Elia Hay