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This is a project dedicated to the Jews of Padua, Italy.

History of Padua

Padua for centuries one of the most important Jewish communities of Italy, with the synagogue and cemetery, existed as early as 1300. The first Jew in Padua known by name was the physician Jacob Bonacosa, who, in 1255, translated there the "Colliget" of Averroes (Steinschneider, "Hebr. Uebersetzungen," p. 671).
Toward the middle of the fourteenth century numbers of Jews from Rome, Pisa, Bologna, and the Marches of Ancona established themselves in Padua as money-lenders; and many of the Jews who had been persecuted in Germany and the Alpine countries removed to Padua after 1440.
As the court of the Carraresi and the students of the university lived in high style, more and more merchants moved to Padua; and the congregation assumed a size which was quite considerable for that period. The condition of the Jews remained equally favorable when the Carraresi made themselves masters of the city: they were not hindered from carrying on their trade in merchandise; they could even engage in agriculture, and were taxed only moderately.
The Jews built a synagogue and laid out a cemetery in the district in which they lived, outside the city, on the opposite side of the river. When their burial-ground was filled, Francesco Novello da Carrara permitted them to buy an adjacent plot; and for their benefit he repealed a law according to which only citizens were allowed to buy real estate.
The rule of the Carraresi was forcibly abolished as early as 1405, to the detriment of the Jews, and the territory of Padua was incorporated in the republic of Venice. The congregation at that time was already considerable. It was prominent at the Congress of Forli in 1418; the money for the expenses of the deputation which the congress resolved to send to the pope was to be collected in Padua. With the advent of Venetian rule the fortunate period of the Jews ceased. They lost their citizenship and the right of settlement; they were compelled to acquire a residence-privilege ("condotta") for a limited period; and every time this was renewed they were subjected to new restrictions, or the payment of larger sums was imposed upon them.
Besides all this, the danger of expulsion threatened them continually. They were no longer permitted to acquire farms or other real estate; and their liberty in respect to commerce also was restricted.
The Jews themselves did not submit to oppression without remonstrances. The city government objected to the rate of interest demanded by them, and to the method adopted with regard to unredeemed pledges. When the senate purposed to interfere forcibly in this matter, the Jews declared that they were unable to do business on the terms suggested, and closed their banks (1415).
They were sustained by the populace; and especially the university took their part, for, in the interest of the students, it could not spare the Jewish merchants and money-lenders. Both at that period and later the university repeatedly and energetically defended the Jews. Subsequently they were often threatened with expulsion, but the "condotta" was always extended, though only after haggling and even fighting. The energetic refusal of the Jews to continue their business transactions caused their opponents to agree to their demands; but there was no solidarity among the Jews, and when the authorities or the citizens of Padua were in need of funds, they found many Jews in the neighborhood who were more accommodating than those of Padua.
During the long continued struggles and the general distress there was no time to take heed of them; but in 1547 another storm was raised against the Jewish bankers, and the republic ordered their banks to be closed. Had not the university, and especially the juridical faculty, energetically guarded the interests of the Jews, the latter probably could not have remained in Padua. As it was they were able to maintain themselves in the city, although they were forbidden to carry on money transactions.
Now the authorities desired to separate them from the Christians. From 1541 the establishment of a ghetto was demanded; but the senate did not agree until 1581, and, owing to numerous obstacles and difficulties on the part of the Jews, the institution did not come into existence until 1602. There the Jews lived, always amid the same struggles and in the same state of uncertainty, until 1797.
On April 28 of that year the French military entered Padua, and the hour of liberty for the Jews came. On Aug. 28 following they were accorded the unrestricted right to live in any part of the city; and the ghetto was called "Via Libera."

Under French and Austrian Rule.

The French were displaced in 1798 by the Austrians, who, animated by the spirit of Joseph II., accorded far-reaching privileges to the Jews—some families were even ennobled—so that their régime was generally hailed with joy. From 1805 to 1814 Padua was included in the kingdom of Italy by Napoleon; and thus the Jews, as subjects of the French empire, had the opportunity of participating in the Sanhedrin at Paris; Rabbi Isaac Michael Finzi acted as vice-president of that body.
After the treaty of Vienna, Padua again belonged to Austria, except during brief intervals; and the Jews enjoyed all the privileges with the exception of eligibility to public offices. Full emancipation was not accorded to them until 1866, when Padua was incorporated into the present kingdom of Italy.
Moses Mantica had attempted, as early as the fifteenth century, to establish silk-factories in Padua; but he had not been successful. In 1645 a Jew named Trieste established a factory for silk goods; and 6,000 persons in the vicinity found work at the looms. The Christian merchants, unable to compete with him, endeavored to obtain a decree forbidding the Jews to manufacture.
The brothers Cantarini wished to establish a silk-spinning mill in 1713; but they were prohibited from erecting a building. The conflict continued for a long time, the Jews meanwhile pursuing their operations, to the great benefit of the population; but in 1779, in consequence of continued calumnies, they were absolutely forbidden to manufacture. Nor were they allowed to devote themselves to any trade, even that of tailoring.
The Jews were originally unrestricted with regard to their dwellings. At first they settled across the river, in remote parts of the town (near the present railroad station); but with increasing numbers, they removed into the central parts of the town, the street Volto dei Negri, in which many of them lived, being called "Volto degli Ebrei." They continued to spread as far as the vicinity of the cathedral.
The ghetto established in 1602 comprised those streets which had already been principally inhabited by Jews. It was enclosed by four gates, on which were insulting inscriptions; these were published by Wagenseil ("Sota," pp. 476 et seq., Altdorf, 1674). The Jews were compelled to submit to the new regulations as to residence; but they soon complained of the miserable and unhealthful dwellings, for which they were obliged to pay excessively high rents.
On August 20, 1684, a threatening host of farmers entered the ghetto at Padua and began to storm the houses in search of plunder. The better element among the citizens, who armed themselves, and soldiers hastened to the rescue of the Jews. Severe punishment was imposed upon the pillagers, and still severer ones threatened, yet for six days the Jews dared not leave the ghetto.
Two authors have described the terrors of those days—Rabbi Isaac Ḥayyim Cantarini in his "Paḥad Yiẓḥaḳ," and a poet, Sema Cuzzeri, who devoted to Paduan Jews an Italian poem which is still unpublished. It goes without saying that insults and petty outrages were continually committed against the Jewish inhabitants; but in general the republic of Venice maintained law and order in its domains.

The University and the Jews.

The university often defended the Jews and endeavored to protect them from violent and illegal measures; while the students were among their best customers. This did not prevent many cases of friction. The students of medicine claimed the corpses of the Jews for anatomical purposes; and often they took them forcibly from the burial-place in spite of the fact that the Jews possessed the privilege that the bodies of their dead were not to be touched. For this privilege they paid large sums.
Being severely punished, the students were at last obligedto submit. When the first snow of each winter fell, the Jews, like the other citizens, following an old custom, were required to pay a certain tax to the students—in olden times 6 ducats. This "celebration of the first snow" was abolished in 1633; but the Jews were compelled to continue payment of the tax in order to provide confetti for the students, whose number was about 1,000.
As the Jews were admitted to the study of medicine, a great many of them, some from distant countries, entered the university. During the period from 1517 to 1619 eighty Jewish students, and from 1619 to 1721 as many as 149, obtained the degree of doctor of medicine. The Jews were obliged, before graduation, to deliver 170 pounds of confetti to the other students; and during the fifteenth century they were even compelled immediately after receiving their degrees to invite the entire student body to dinner. The graduation fees were considerably higher for Jews than they were for Christians.
Jewish graduates were exempted from wearing the Jews' hat; but if they attempted to practise medicine among Christians as well as among their coreligionists, they encountered a fierce opposition. As the gilds fought against the Jewish merchants, so the Christian physicians opposed their Jewish competitors; and they were not particular as to the means employed to show their hostility. In spite of this opposition, however, the ability and the conscientiousness of the Jewish physicians procured them good practises. The Jews were not allowed to enter other professions, except to the extent that the congregation was entitled to select four young men to study law for administrative purposes.
Like the other congregations of Italy, that of Padua had its charitable institutions. These were recently consolidated as the Società di Mutuo Sovvegno. The cemeteries, with the exception of the oldest, which was laid out in 1386, are all in existence. In the second one, which was established in 1450 and was used for a century, the body of Isaac Abravanel of Venice was interred in 1509; but the graves and stones were destroyed in 1509, so that his tomb can no longer be identified.
Quite recently (1904) the congregation erected in the center of the burial-ground a stone in his memory. From 1530 onward the Jews owned a cemetery in the Borgo degli Ebrei, in which was erected the tomb of R. Meïr Katzenellenbogen and of his family. Another burial-ground was established in 1653, and still another in 1754 (according to some, 1774). The present cemetery beyond the Porta Euganea was opened in 1864. It contains the grave of S. D. Luzzatto.
The Padua congregation, owing to its size, intelligence, and readiness to make sacrifices, has repeatedly made its influence felt in public affairs, and has been a careful guardian of the interests of the Jews. As already mentioned, it participated in the Congress at Forli in 1418; it also fought to protect Hebrew books from the Inquisition.
The first synod held for this purpose, at Ferrara in 1554, was presided over by Meïr Katzenellenbogen, then rabbi of Padua. A congress was held in 1585 in Padua itself, at which were discussed the measures to be taken to obtain permission for the printing of Hebrew books (see Massarani, vol. viii.).
Prominent men repeatedly drew the attention of Jewry and of the civilized world to the congregation of Padua. Elijah Delmedigo, celebrated for his philosophical and medical knowledge, lectured in 1485 at the University of Padua.
At the same time the school of Rabbi Judah Minz attracted numerous pupils from Italy, Germany, and Turkey; and the fame of the school was maintained by his son Abraham, as well as by Meïr Katzenellenbogen, who was Abraham's son-in-law.
Later rabbis, like Samuel Archevolti and the above-mentioned Isaac Ḥayyim Cantarini, were noted for their Talmudic learning combined with scientific scholarship. From 1829 to 1870 Padua was the seat of the Istituto Rabbinico Lombardo-Veneto, the reputation of which spread over the entire world, especially through the brilliant achievements of S. D. Luzzatto. A Hebrew printing establishment existed temporarily in Padua during the eighteenth century.
In 1615, among the 35,463 inhabitants of Padua there were 665 Jews; in 1865, about 800; in 1901, about 1,050; in 1904, in a total population of nearly 50,000, about 1,100.


Rabbis and Scholars.

Of the rabbis and scholars of Padua the following deserve mention, hese were the ancestors of the "King of the Poles" Saul Wahl.

  • Meïr b. Ezekiel ibn Gabbai (until about 1500);
  • Elijah (d. 1493);
  • Menahem Delmedigo (1510);
  • Judah Minz (until 1508);
  • his son Abraham (until 1526);
  • Abraham's son-in-law, Meïr of Padua (Katzenellenbogen; until 1564);
  • Meïr's son Samuel (until 1590);

Saul Wahl's contemporaries:

  • Meshullam b. Asher da Mucciano (1535);
  • Joseph b. Jacob Ashkenazi;
  • Johanan Treves, the commentator of the Roman Maḥzor (1543);
  • Raphael b. Joshua Ẓarefati (1554);
  • Jacob b. Moses Levi (1572);
  • Benzion b. Raphael, under whose leadership the excommunication against Azariah dei Rossi's "Me'or 'Enayim" was signed;
  • Judah b. Moses Fano;
  • Samuel b. Elhanan Archevolti (until 1609);
  • Aryeh Cattalani (until 1622);
  • Abram Cattalani;
  • Benedetto Luzzatto (1627);

and the doctors

  • Judah b. Samuel Cantarini (until 1651), and his relative
  • Samuel (until 1631),
  • Ḥayyim Moses (until 1660),
  • Isaac Ḥayyim Moses, celebrated both as physician and apologist (1644-1723).

The Marini family:

  • The brothers Solomon (until 1670) and Shabbethai b. Isaac (until 1685);
  • Isaac, son of the former (until 1700);
  • Aaron Romanin (1676);
  • Samuel David b. Jehiel Ottolenghi (1700);
  • Isaiah Mordecai b. Israel Hezekiah Bassani (1700);
  • Michael Terni (1710);
  • Abram Shalom (1730);
  • Moses Ḥayyim Luzzatto (1707-47);
  • Solomonb. Isaiah Nizza (1750);
  • Jacob Raphael Forti (until 1786);
  • Isaac Raphael Finzi, vice-president of the Paris Sanhedrin (until 1812);
  • and Israel Conian (1820).

The Ghirondi family:

  • Solomon Eliezer b. Benzion (until 1700);
  • Benzion (until 1730);
  • Mordecai Samuel b. Benzion, author of "Toledot Gedole Yisrael" (until 1852);
  • his son Ephraim Raphael (until 1857).

Nineteenth century:

  • Rabbis Leon Osimo (until 1869),
  • Graziadio Viterbi (until 1879),
  • Giuseppe Bassevi (until 1884),
  • Eude Lolli,
  • and Alessandro Zammatto.


  • S. D. Luzzatto (died 1865);
  • his son Filosseno (died 1854);
  • Lelio della Torre (died 1871);
  • Giuseppe Almanzi (died 1863);
  • Eugenia Gentilomo Pavia (from 1822);
  • Gabriele Trieste (died 1860);
  • Marco Osimo (died 1881).