ARTA or LARTA:
Chief city of the nomarchy of Arthamania, Greece; situated on the Arta, about 7 miles from its mouth. It is the ancient Ambracia, called by the casuists of the sixteenth century Acarnania, and assigned to the Morea. In 1890 it contained 4,328 inhabitants, of whom about 200 were Jews. Little is known of the early history of the community. The casuists of the sixteenth century speak of an old synagogue "of the Corfiotes" (called also "of the natives," ), which leads to the supposition that Jews from Corfu settled at Arta when Roger I. of Sicily took possession of that Ionian island. Moreover, Benjamin of Tudela (about 1170, under Manuel I. Comnenus) mentions 100 Jews (or Jewish families?), whose leaders were R. Solomon and R. Heracles.Fifteenth Century.
At the time of Scanderbeg (1404-67), Arta was already under Turkish rule. Upon their expulsion from the Spanish dominions, the Jews, coming from Calabria, Apulia, and Sicily, formed congregations and established a college. The earliest leaders of the latter were Rabbi Caleb (a name which frequently occurs among both Rabbinites and Karaites, and was later used by the Sephardim as a family name), Solomon Hamy, and Benjamin b. Shemariab, and, later, Abraham Obadiah Sephardi (died at an advanced age before 1529), who bequeathed his whole fortune to the poor of the Corfiote and Apulian synagogues; and finally Benjamin b. Mattathias (died before 1539), the author of "Binyan Ze'eb." The last-named, a loyal and modest character, was engaged in commerce in addition to his studies. He corresponded with the rabbis of Venice, of Constantinople (Elijah MizraḦi), and of Salonica (Joseph Taytazak), and engaged in disputes with David Cohen of Corfu. His son-in-law, Samuel b. Moses Calai (still living in 1574), author of "Mishpeṭe Shemuel" (Venice, 1599), was the contemporary and rival of Isaac (b. Shabbethai?) Cohen, Solomon b. Baruch, Abraham b. Moses, and others. Somewhat earlier lived the notary Shabbethai b. Moses Russo (1525). About that time (before 1534) certain new ordinances were instituted. It appears that the Jewish youth of both sexes had somewhat scandalized the community of Arta by holding dancing parties. The heads of the communitynot only put an end to such entertainments, but also forbade betrothed young men to visit their fiancées before marriage, as was the ancient custom of the natives.Internal Dissensions.
This last measure caused dissensions in the community. The Jews originally from Apulia, numbering about thirty families, especially protested, under the leadership of the heads of the community, Shabbethai b. Caleb and Moses b. Shabbethai Clevi (Clevois?), Judah b. Jacob, and David b. Solomon Mioni, Herero b. Solomon Pichon, Mordecai b. Mazalṭob Maça, Mattathias b. Leon, Mattathias b. Solomon Benjamin Haliczi (probably from Halicz in Galicia), and Shabbethai b. Abraham Fidelo. In order to avoid future scandal and to secure the sanctity of the home, it was decreed (about 1521) that betrothals should be entered into only in the presence of ten laymen and one rabbi. Moreover (before 1561), dice or any other games of chance were forbidden except on the semi-holidays, Purim, and the fast preceding it.
The Jewish population of Arta comprised at this period about 300 families, who were, however, not completely assimilated; for the Greek Jews had not yet yielded altogether to the Spanish. In addition to the occurrence mentioned above, the Jews had other causes for dissension among them, chiefly in regard to the apportioning of the taxes. In this latter case the difficulties were adjusted by the syndics. But disputes arose among the permanent residents of Arta, or between them and strangers who came to the city, like the Jews of Patras who had left their native town to escape some great danger. Arta itself, where they sought refuge, did not always afford protection. In one instance the governor of the city cast all the Jewish inhabitants into prison during the Feast of Tabernacles in order to extort from them the sum of 3,000 florins.
The Jews on the highways were even less secure than in the cities: the casuists of this epoch record several assassinations of Jews; e.g., that of Moses Soussi. The principal occupation of the Jews being commerce, they traveled a good deal, either to Corfu or to Janina (45 miles from Arta), where they sold Venetian wares or fabrics, or to neighboring villages and other places. They also followed various trades, even women being engaged in dyeing silk. There were also Jewish physicians at Arta (Jacob Rofé, Moses Polastro), who at times charged the comparatively large sum of 50 ducats for treating a patient.
The moral tone of the community, though marked on the whole by devotion and even an austere piety, was lowered in individual cases through lack of central administration. Thus, a certain Shemariah b. Abraham dared to maltreat the rabbi Benjamin b. Shemariah and even to say things prejudicial to the community. Another, Solomon by name, stigmatized as apostates the Maranos who, fleeing from Apulia, sought refuge at Arta. Finally, a certain Manoah Politzer (? ), with the assistance of two false witnesses, Abraham Turkia and Abraham Tobiel, appropriated (about 1529) the legacy of R. Abraham Sephardi mentioned on page 143. In contrast to this darker side is the solidarity which united not only the Jews living in Arta, but also the latter with those of the neighboring towns. Thus it is recounted that when some pirates robbed a certain Eliezer of Pola () and sold their booty to the Jews of En-Mavra, a notification from the rabbinical body of Arta was sufficient to cause the purchasers to restore the property to the owner in consideration of the expenses involved.Decadence in Seventeenth Century.
Rabbinic studies declined here as in the Orient generally. By the seventeenth century the rabbis—for example, Eliezer Menahem—were obliged to seek their knowledge at the colleges of Salonica, as probably also R. Moses Jacob, Raphael Cohen, Abraham 'Iṭon (), and Shabbethai Russo, contemporaries of the chronicler David Conforte. This decadence was doubtless due in part to the political vicissitudes which successively befell Arta, such as the invasions of the Venetians (1688), of the French (1797), of Tepedelenli Ali, pasha of Janina (1798), of the Greeks (1821), and lastly of the Turks (1821).Modern Times.
Between 1854—when the town revolted against the Turks, who reconquered it after a few months—and June, 1880, nothing of note occurred among the Jews of Arta. Then, at the instance of some public-spirited men, the Talmud Torah was reorganized so as to include both secular and religious instruction. This reform went into effect a year later (June, 1881), according to regulations written in three languages (Hebrew, Greek, and Italian), dated March 17, 1880, and signed by Julius (Shabbethai Ezra) Besso (president), Jacob Raphael Mioni (vice-president), Moses Daniel Yerushalmi (treasurer), Michel Shabbethai Besso (secretary), and the inspectors Elie Joseph Cané, Moses Solomon Battino, Moses Zaffo, and Abraham Shabbethai (printed by Nacamulli, Corfu). Mention is also made of two benefactors of the institutions, citizens of Corfu: (1) Abraham Tchaki, who contributed much toward the success of the work, and (2) especially Solomon Abraham, who, in addition to funds, gave a building of the value of 1,000 francs, which he owned at Arta. Nicole Zanetti is mentioned as professor of Greek.
Some time after (1881), Arta was ceded by the Turks to the kingdom of Greece, conformably to the Treaty of Berlin.