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AVLONA, AULONA, or VALONA (, ):

Varying names of a town and seaport of Albania, on the Gulf of Avlona, on the Adriatic. From early times there seems to have been a flourishing Jewish community in the place. Messer David Leon, born about 1470, son of the philosopher Judah Leon, was in Salonica about 1510, when he received an invitation to go to Avlona and assume charge of the three Jewish congregations there, with an annual salary of 70 florins. He accepted the offer because he wished to go to Corfu, and Avlona was on his way. David preached in the synagogues in rotation. A quarrel breaking out among the various Jewish nationalities of the town, the Sephardim (comprising under that name the Jews of Portugal and Castile) separated from the Catalans and organized a prayer-meeting in the house of Abraham Ẓarfati. Toward the end of the second year of David's stay dissensions broke out also among the Sephardim. David sided with the Portuguese, who, he said, were "hot-tempered but obedient; they are open and generous, and not hypocritical and proud like the Castilians." The Portuguese established a synagogue for themselves; the Castilians demanded that David should compel the Portuguese, under penalty of excommunication, to continue to attend the former common synagogue. But David declined on the ground that the Portuguese were in the majority, and therefore had the right to separate from the minority.

At this juncture there arrived at Avlona a Jewish physician of Lisbon, Don Solomon Cressente. Slowly recovering from a serious illness, he offered, in testimony of gratitude to God, a gift of paraphernalia to the Portuguese synagogue. He intended by this to bring about the reconciliation of the Castilians with the Portuguese; and upon the sacred evening of Kol Nidre (the eve of Atonement Day) he sent messengers to the Castilians in their synagogue to implore them to pardon the Portuguese for any wrong which the latter might have done them. But his exertions were of no avail. The next day, the Day of Atonement, he requested David to intervene as conciliator; but the Castilians refused to obey David's summons to come to him for a mutual explanation, and so the strife grew warmer. The Portuguese, with David at their head, launched anathemas against the Castilians, who responded similarly. At the head of the Castilians at that time were Abraham de Collier and Abraham Ḥarbon, judge, the former an enemy of David.

In the question of the conflicting synagogues, however, Abraham Ḥarbon, who was a friend of David, pronounced against him, though among other arguments David had instanced his title of ("ordained teacher") to influence the obedience of the Castilians. The Sephardim, on the other hand, laughed at the custom of ordaining rabbis () as practised in France, Germany, and Italy. They claimed that the ceremony could only be legally performed in Palestine, and that rabbis who performed it in other countries did so only in imitation of the Gentiles. Moses ben Jacob Albelda, author of commentaries on various parts of the Bible, also lived in Avlona toward the end of the sixteenth century (Conforte, "Ḳore ha-Dorot," p. 39a).

Bibliography:
  • Schechter, Notes sur Messer David Léon, in Revue Etudes Juives, xxiv. 128 et seq.;
  • Kebod Ḥakamim, ed. S. Bernfeld, in the Meḳiẓe Nirdamim collection, Berlin, 1899;
  • Ha-Ẓefirah, xxvii., No. 71, p. 291.
G. A. D.
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