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MESSINA:

Italian city, "at the point of Sicily, on the strait called Lunir, which divides Calabria from Sicily." ("Itinerary" of Benjamin of Tudela). Its Jewish community may have been founded even before the destruction of the Second Temple, although it is first mentioned in the letters of Gregory I. After a long silence the sources again refer to it, in connection with a royal decree of 1129, and about 1170 Benjamin of Tudela found 200 Jews there on his return from the Holy Land. The Jews of Messina had the same constitution, rights, and taxes as all the other Sicilian communities, though their lot may have been somewhat harder because the archbishop claimed a certain authority over them.

In 1347 several Jews were executed on the false charge of ritual murder, and their heads were publicly exposed; a marble inscription, "a monument to the faithless Jews," was subsequently placed in the cathedral to commemorate the event. On a similar occasion, in 1475, the Jews averted a riot only by the payment of a large sum of money. In 1492 they were expelled from Messina, as well as from the entire island, though thirty-seven years before, in 1455, they had in vain attempted to emigrate.

Messina occupied an exceptional position in virtue of being the seat of the highest court of appeal for all the Jews of Sicily; and in 1439 Moses Ḥefeẓ (Bonavoglio, who, as the representative of seventeen communities, had induced King Alfonso V., in 1430 and 1431, to repeal ordinances unfavorable to the Jews) was made chief justice ("naggid") of the supreme court. Being at the court in Naples when appointed, he deputed his brother to act as his proxy; the latter accordingly was invested with the new dignity in the synagogue of Palermo. Moses Ḥefeẓ died in 1447. Messina itself was not subject to the jurisdiction of the new chief justice, but formed a judicial district of its own.

The Messina community must have been one of the largest on the island, judging from the tax-returns. In addition to the imposts levied equally upon all the communities, it was required to furnish, after 1347, the standards for the galleys of the commanding officer. Wine and meat also were taxed. In 1170 the community numbered only 200 persons, but in 1453 there were 180 families there—about 3 per cent of the total population. It had several synagogues, one in the suburb of San Philip. There fragments of an inscription of the year 440 are said to have been found, but the reference is probably to one of much later date, in honor of a certain "Moses" (?) who built a synagogue or some similar structure. A considerable number of Jews living in the vicinity of Messina endeavored to evade the taxes and imposts of the community, and consequently were excluded by a royal decree of 1344 from its rights and privileges.

Little is known of the intellectual life of the Jews of Messina. About 1300 Abraham Abulafia, cabalist and magician, had two pupils there—Abraham and Nathan; some time later Aaron Facassi (Favi) officiated there as rabbi, and pronounced a sentence of excommunication upon a physician named Aaron (1340), which sentence was repealed by the government. Moses Ḥefeẓ (referred to above) officiated as rabbi about 1430, and succeeded in having the Jews released from compulsory attendance at Christian sermons.

The scholars of Messina who edited the manuscript of Naḥmanides' commentary on the Pentateuch, on which the Naples 1490 edition was based, are of somewhat later date. The Jewish physicians of Messina include Naccon de Fariono and Aaron (1367), Moses Spagnuolo and Bulfarachio (1375), Moses Yabe (1383), Joseph Factas and Gaudio (1396), Benedetto da S. Marco "Lugrossu" and Machaluffo Ayculino (1404), Isaac de Bonavoglia (1425), Vilelmo Saccas (1432), Aaron de Sacerdotu de Girachi and Raba (1448), Moses de la Bonavoglia (1477), and Vitali Aurifici. There were a number of Turkish scholars of the sixteenth century who bore the surname "Messini."

Bibliography:
  • Zunz, Z. G. passim;
  • Bartolomeo e Gluseppe Lagumina, Codice Diplomatico dei Guidei di Sicilia, passim.
G. I. E.
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