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VERCELLI:

City in the compartimento of Piedmont, Italy. The oldest document in existence concerning its Jews is dated Feb. 16, 1446, and consists of a permit granted by the city council to one Abramo della Vigneria and his son Angelo to open in Vercelli a banking and loan establishment, on condition of their lending the city 100 florins, when required, for a term of six months without interest, and for a longer period with interest. This is the first of a series of permits, granted for a set time only, but renewable, which authorized the residence of Hebrews within the city, and regulated their rights as well as their duties to the government. The Jews at this time were governed according to the harsh statutes of Amadeus VIII. promulgated June 17, 1430, which, among other regulations, obliged them to wear the customary badge, consisting of a piece of red cloth on the shoulder.

Under Emmanuel-Philibert.

Under Emmanuel-Philibert the Piedmontese Jews were twice threatened by decrees of expulsion from the province. The first of these was promulgated July 19, 1560; but through the intercession of the duchess Margherita the Jews obtained a stay of four months. Then one of the duke's councilors persuaded him to renew the decree, fixing the time of the expulsion within ten days; but fortunately, through the efforts of an assistant physician attached to the ducal tribunal, a revocation of the edict was obtained. Later on (Oct., 1566) Emmanuel-Philibert ordered the immediate departure from his dominions of all the Jews, unless they consented to pay him the sum of 4,000 gold florins. They quitted the country, but shortly afterward were allowed to return on condition of paying down 2,000 florins and submitting to a yearly tax. On Sept. 9, 1572, at the instance of one Vitale Sacerdoti, Emmanuel-Philibert published a decree which somewhat mitigated the severity of the laws of Amadeus VIII. When, in 1597, the Jews were banished from the Milanese territories, a number of the exiles took refuge in Vercelli, among whom was the continuator of the "'Emeḳ ha-Baka" of Joseph ha-Kohen. The anonymous historian relates that he and his family remained in Vercelli for some days, hoping to establish their abode in the city; but, although Emmanuel-Philibert had promised the Jews but a short time before that they should remain unmolested in his dominions, his son, Charles Emmanuel, Duke of Savoy, was unwilling to afford an asylum in his territories to the Jewish exiles from other provinces, and when he learned that there were numerous Hebrew refugees in Vercelli, he issued a decree banishing them from that city also. Charles Emmanuel confirmed the privileges granted by his father to his own subjects (see Turin).

Italian Ritual Superseded by the German.

Until the year 1600 the Italian ritual was used by the Jews of Vercelli. In that year one Abram Levi, having purchased the loan and banking establishment of Norzi and Sacerdote, settled in the city; and, owing to his influence and efforts, the German ritual was adopted, and it has remained in use until the present day. Rabbi Ḥayyim Segre, who in 1653 came from Casale Monferrato to reside in Vercelli, was sent with Samson Bachi and Jacob Pugliese to the East to investigate the theories and writings of Shabbethai Ẓebi, the expenses of his journey being defrayed by Jonah Clava (Ḳezigin).

During the eighteenth century, notwithstanding the general progress of the times, the condition of the Vercelli Jews did not improve. Indeed, it became worse, owing to the preponderating influence of the papal court. The constitutional laws of 1723, 1729, and 1770 were almost as inimical to the interests of the Jews as the ancient ducal statutes had been. Until the year 1724 the Jewish inhabitants were permitted to live in any portion of the city; but in that year they were restricted to a special quarter. Their concentration in the ghetto soon showed the need of a larger synagogue; and a new edifice was opened on the eve of Rosh ha-Shanah, 1740. The financial status of the Jews of Vercelli improved greatly after the death of Elijah Emmanuel Foa (July 20, 1796), who bequeathed his large fortune to the community for the aid and support of charitable societies and institutions, and particularly for the establishment of a Hebrew college in his own house. The Collegis Foa (Foa College) was opened Sept., 1829, and is still (1905) in existence. It has given many noteworthy rabbis and professors to the Italian Jewry.

Effects of the French Revolution.

With the outbreak of the French Revolution came indications of better times for the Jews of Piedmont; but the Austro-Russian provisional government of Piedmont at the restoration, in 1799, restored them to their former status. Later, by a patent of March 6, 1816, Victor Emmanuel I. definitely freed the Jews from the obligation of wearing a badge, and conferred on them leave to engage in merchandise, trade, and the fine arts. They were, however, still excluded from the universities, from public offices, and from the administration of charities. The law of Charles Albert, enacted June 19, 1848, completed the work of emancipation, and established the Jews on the footing of citizenship. In 1853 a Hebrew journal, the "Educatore Israelità," edited by Giuseppe Levi and Esdra Pontremoli, was founded in Vercelli. The "Vessillo Israelitico" of Casale Monferrato, founded by FlaminioServi in 1878, is the successor of this review. In 1878 a new temple was dedicated.

The following is a list of the principal savants and rabbis of Vercelli: sixteenth century: Isaac Kohen ("R. E. J." xvi. 39 et seq.); seventeenth century: Jacob Bachi, Hananeel ben Aaron Asher Nantova; eighteenth century: Benjamin Segre, Elisha ben Ḥayyim Segre, Joshua Benzion ben Elisha Segre, Joshua Benzion ben Benjamin Segre; nineteenth century: Alessandro Foa, Giuseppe Levi Gattinara, Sabato Graziadio Treves, Jedidiah Levi, Michele Vita Treves, Isacco Sanguinetti, Felice Tedeschi, Giuseppe Raffaelle Levi.

In 1864 the city contained 600 Jews; shortly afterward their numbers began to diminish; in 1866 there were but 500; and to-day they number only 369.

Bibliography:
  • F. Servi, in Educatore Israelità, xiv. 311 et seq., xv. 36 et seq.;
  • G. Volino, Condizione Giuridica degli Israeliti in Piemonte Prima dell' Emancipazione, Turin, 1904;
  • M. Finzi, in Rivista Israelitica, i. 226 et seq.;
  • Wiener, in his edition of 'Emeḳ ha-Baka, pp. 102, 105, 106;
  • F. Servi, in Corriere Israelitico, pp. 172 et seq.;
  • Mortara, Indice, passim.
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