Capital of the island of Sicily; situated on the northern coast. Its Jewish community dates from the Roman period. Under Gregory the Great (d. 604), when it is first mentioned, it is already in possession of a synagogue and a hospital with garden. When the Bishop of Palermo forcibly took possession of these and turned the synagogue into a church, the Jews, with the aid of the community at Rome, obtained from the pope the concession that the bishop should be obliged to make full reparation. The synagogue was not restored, however, because it had already been dedicated as a church. The supremacy of the Roman bishop over the city ended in 831, when it came under the dominion of the Arabs, who treated the Jews justly.Under the Normans.
The community grew rapidly, captive Jews from Syracuse being brought to the city in 878 and often later; the parents of Shabbethai Donnolo came inthis way to Palermo in 925. Frequently captives were redeemed; but others continued to live in the city. During the Norman dominion (Palermo being the capital after 1072) the Jews were brought again under the supremacy and jurisdiction of the Church; and they had much to endure, as the ecclesiastical authorities worked either for their conversion or for their destruction. In the year 1220 about 200 Jews are said to have been converted, probably as the result of a severe persecution. Emperor Frederick II. indeed proclaimed equality of rights for all his subjects, Jews as well as Christians; but his successors allowed the ecclesiastical jurisdiction to have full sway again, and, furthermore, placed the Jews under special laws. Thus King Frederick II. ordained (July 23, 1312) that Jews must live outside the city wall in a ghetto; and although they were soon afterward allowed to come into the city, they were still compelled to live in one quarter.Privileges in the Fifteenth Century.
Palermo remained under clerical jurisdiction even when other cities were freed from it in 1333; and the bishops at times had the presidents of the Jewish community arrested and scourged. On the other hand, the privilege was granted to the Jews of wearing only a small, almost invisible badge; and in 1471 even this requirement was practically dispensed with. From Martin V. and Alfonso V. (1416-56) the Jews of Sicily obtained a confirmation of old bulls which granted them religious freedom and which forbade compulsory baptism. To the large sums which were necessary to secure this confirmation Palermo contributed liberally, giving more than any other Sicilian community. In 1449 Capistrano preached his inflammatory sermons against the Jews; but in 1450 they obtained very favorable concessions, being allowed to practise medicine among Christians and to live outside the ghetto. In 1452 they were placed under secular jurisdiction. In the disputes about municipal taxes and rights in 1453 and 1471 the Jews were supported by the king. When, in 1491, immigrant Jews from the Provence were to be sold as slaves, the Jews of Palermo were able to avert the catastrophe. Nevertheless in the following year an order was issued banishing all Jews from Sicily (an attempt at emigration to Palestine in 1455 had been frustrated); and although a deputation of the citizens of Palermo protested energetically, pointing out the advantages derived by the country from the presence of the Jews, the latter were compelled to leave the land.
The number of Jews, already considerable in 600, had increased at the time of Benjamin of Tudela's visit, about 1170, to 1,500; in 1453 the Jews claimed to form one-tenth of the whole population; and at their banishment in 1492, according to the protest made by the city their number was reckoned at 5,000. From the expulsion until 1861 no Jews lived in Palermo; and at present (1904) they do not number more than 50, and do not form a community.Palermo the Chief Sicilian Community.
The Jews lived originally in the old city, in the Cassero (now the Corso Vittore Emanuele). King Frederick II. ordered the location of their ghetto near the town hall and the Augustine monastery of S. Nicolo Tolentino. As stated above, the community owned a synagogue from very early times. The later so-called Meshita court contained a synagogue, a hospital, and forty-four dwellings. The community of Palermo was not only the largest and most influential on the island, but it held a special rank through the fact that Martin V. in 1392 declared it chief of all the Sicilian communities; and in 1405 he established there the supreme court, which appointed judges and administrative officials. ("proti") for the individual communities, and decided questions as a final court of appeal. Joseph Abbanasia was the first supreme judge, administering his office jointly with four substitutes. After his death the court was transferred to Messina; and in 1447, in consequence of disputes as to its meeting-place, it was altogether abolished. The viceroy in Palermo then wished to interfere in the election of the "proti"; but his measures were frustrated in 1490.
In addition to the taxes paid by the Jews of Palermo in common with the other Jews of Sicily, special taxes were imposed on them on occasions of births, marriages, etc. The city also taxed the Jews excessively.
The following scholars of Palermo are known: David Ahitub (1286), to whom Solomon of Barcelona addressed a polemic against Abraham Abulafia; Isaac b. Solomon Aldahav (c. 1380), author of astronomical tables; Joseph Abbanasia and his substitutes Farina, Moses Gauxu, Moses and Samuel Thetibi (1406), Gaudio, rabbi of Sacerdotu, and Samuel Cuxino (1424), the two last-named being physicians, as well as Moses Krinos.
- Zunz, Z. G. pp. 485 et seq.;
- Lagumina, Codice Diplomatico dei Giudei in Sicilia, passim;
- Mortara, Indice, passim.