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CENTO ():

City of 8,000 inhabitants in the province of Ferrara, central Italy. If the statement is correct that the Ha-Me'ati (), a family of translators, derived their name from their native place, Cento (, "a hundred" = cento), there must have been a Jewish settlement in that city as early as the middle of the thirteenth century; and the beginnings of the community would then have been contemporary with those of the neighboring capital Ferrara. Authentic accounts record the existence of a Jewish population from the end of the fifteenth century. The Padoa family, still living at Cento, traces its genealogy back to Spanish exiles who came thither in 1492. In 1505 Duke Ercole d'Este decreed that the Jewish inhabitants of Cento should share, as far as they were able, the contributions of their coreligionists in the duchy of Ferrara.

Restrictions.

Under the Estes, the Jews enjoyed great liberty and many privileges; but when that family became extinct and the Jews passed under the papal dominion (1598), they were subjected to all the restrictions that, since the time of Paul IV., had been imposed upon their coreligionists in the Pontifical States. They were not allowed to acquire real estate; they had to sell the lands they then possessed; they were forbidden to engage in any business except money-lending and rag-picking; they had to live in a ghetto and to wear the Jews' badge. These severe laws remained in force for fully two centuries; but, nevertheless, certain Jews obtained special privileges and became active in public affairs. Thus the members of the Carpi family still possess a diploma showing that in 1774 their ancestor Moses Carpi was appointed "familiaris" to Cardinal Albani, being granted all privileges; and it is known that the Jews of Cento from their advent into the community always owned real estate, for they were aided by the authorities themselves in evading the unjust law.

Progress of Community.

The great changes brought about by the French Revolution caused the abolition of the ghetto at Cento in 1797. During the French occupation the Jews had full civic rights, and many of them were called upon to fill posts of honor; but when the papal supremacy was restored, in 1815, they were again subjected to exceptional laws that were enforced rigorously and cruelly, especially by Leo XII. Nevertheless, the severity of their operation was mitigated by the humanity of the authorities, who informed the Jews in advance of impending domiciliary visits in search of forbidden books and of children to be baptized, and who, in spite of the law, connived at the performance of work for the Jews on the Sabbath.

A happier era dawned only with the overthrow of the papal rule, in 1859, when Romagna became a part of the new kingdom of Italy, and when the Jews received all the rights of citizenship.

Institutions.

Though it is doubtful whether a community was organized when Jews first settled at Cento, there must have been a religious association before 1500; for, unlike others, this community has always preserved its Italian liturgy and did not introduce the Spanish liturgy or admit it on the same footing. This fact is probably attributable in part to the small number of the immigrants from Spain. The community seems to have been organized about 1600, when some families from the neighboring Pieve settled at Cento; it buried its dead for a long time in the cemetery at Pieve, and even to-day (1902) it holds services at that city on the Ninth of Ab and on the eve of the Day of Atonement. The new community at once founded a Talmud-Torah society for the advancement of Hebrew studies, and appointed a salaried teacher, who instructed the children and also officiated as ḥazan, or leader in prayer. In 1690 the twelve members of this society formed a second philanthropic society—Gemilut Ḥasadim—the statutes of which, in twenty-one articles, are still extant; the society proposed to nurse the sick and to render general philanthropic services, and determined tolay out at once a new cemetery at Cento, for which they obtained the permission of the papal legate. In 1727 the community received a new constitution, and both the societies were merged into the single Confraternita di Studi Sacri e di Misericordia. The community was reorganized during the period of liberty under the French consistorial constitution. In 1814 a new section was added to the Confraternita for reciting special prayers. These societies and philanthropic foundations for preserving the ritual, providing dowries for poor girls, and for the relief of the poor still exist. Under the kingdom of Italy this community, like many others, has been constituted a free association, the expenses of public worship and other congregational institutions being defrayed chiefly by the generosity of the Modena, Carpi, and Padoa families. The community that numbered 150 persons in 1865 has been reduced to 34 (in 1902); it possesses a new synagogue and a cemetery.

Of the scholars and rabbis of Cento the following are known: Ishmael Ḥazaḳ (1613, Oxford MS. No. 1379); Eliah Daniel del Bene, (1667-75); Gamaliel; Monselice; Nathaniel b. Meshullam Levi; Isaiah Bassani; Israel Berechiah Fontanella (1724); Reuben b. Zerachiah Yaḥya (1727); Solomon David b. Moses del Vecchio; Giuseppe Alexandro Modena and his son Isaac Mordecai (1761); Hananeel Neppi (1820-36); Abraham Carpanetti (-1853); David Jacob Maroni (-1860); Moses Sorani (-1880); Donato Camerini; Moses Levi (1902).

Bibliography:
  • Flaminio Servi, in Educatore Israelita, 1865, xiii. 264, 303, 335;
  • Corriere Israelitico. iv. 222;
  • Mortara, Indice;
  • Pesaro, in Vessillo Israelitico, 1882.
K.I. E.
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