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KOS, COS, or COOS (Greek, Κῶς or Κῶος):

An island belonging to the Sporades group in the Ægean Sea near the Carian coast; known also as Meropis and Nymphæa. Diodorus Siculus (xv. 76) and Strabo (xiv. 657) describe it as a well-fortified port. Its position gave it a high importance for the Ægean trade; while the island itself was rich in wines of considerable fame (Pliny, xxxv. 46).

At a comparatively early period Jews are mentioned among the population of Kos; and under Alexander the Great and the Egyptian Ptolemies (from 336 B.C.) the town developed into one of the great Jewish centers in the Ægean. Josephus ("Ant." xiv. 7, § 2) quotes Strabo to the effect that Mithridates sent to Kos to fetch the gold deposited there by Queen Cleopatra and "800 talents belonging to the Jews." Jews of Kos are mentioned at the time of Antiochus VII., Sidetes, Kos being one of the islands to which the rescript of the Roman consul Lucius was sent (139 B.C.; I Macc. xv. 23). It appears probable that in course of time the Jews became the chief bankers in the island, and that they took charge, at a certain rate of interest, of the large sums of money owned by the temples. In the sacrificial tablet of the Temple of Adrasteia and Nemesis, they are mentioned (lines 17, 18) as πάντες ὑπὸ τ[ων τρα]πεζειτῶν ή ἄλλως (Herzog, "Critische Forschungen," p. 35). This inscription is of the first century B.C. Rayet ("Mémoire sur l'Ile de Kos," p. 80) thinks that the 800 talents ($960,000) deposited by Cleopatra were held by these Jewish τραπεζήται; but of this there is no evidence (Paton and Hicks, "Inscriptions of Cos," p. xxxviii.). In 49 B.C. the Koans are reminded by the consul Caius Fannius to obey the decree of the Roman Senate and to allow safe passage to Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem (Josephus, l.c. xiv. 10, § 15). Herod is said to have provided an annual stipend for the benefit of prize-winners in the athletic games (Josephus, "B. J." i. 21, § 11); and a statue was erected there to his son Herod the Tetrarch ("C. I. G." 2502). The epigrammatist Meleager, who was living at Kos about 95 B.C., complains of having been abandoned by his mistress for a Jew (Epigram No. 83, in "Anthologia Græca," v. 160). The modern name of Kos is Stauchio (Greek, Itaukos, Isola Longa).

Bibliography:
  • Küster, De Insula Co, Halle, 1833;
  • Böttger, Topographisch-Historisches Lexicon zu Flavius Josephus, p. 95;
  • Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyc. ii., s.v.;
  • Paton and Hicks, Inscriptions of Cos, 1891.
E. G. H. G.—In Medieval and Modern Times:

It is not known whether Jews continued to live at Kos from Roman times down to the conquest of the island by the Knights of Rhodes in 1315. Under the rule of the knights, however, Jews were banished (1502) from the island (Coronelli, "Isola di Rhodi," p. 180) and transported to Nice, in accordance with the decree promulgated by Pierre d'Aubusson, grand master of the Hospitalers of St. John. It is not definitely known whether the Jews returned from Nice to Kos a year after their banishment, i.e., during or after the conquest of the island by the Turks. But, according to a document, now at Rhodes, containing some notes on the administration of the community of Rhodes, the community of Kos was in 1685 dependent on that of Rhodes, paying to the latter a tax collected from eighteen persons whose names are mentioned in the document. The amount of the tax, which was paid up to 1870, indicates probably that the community was not very large and had no chief rabbi, but was under the direct control of the chief rabbi of Rhodes.

Synagogue and Cemeteries.

In 1747 a certain Eliezer Tarica built at his own expense a handsome little synagogue; the date of building and the name of the builder are commemorated in a gilt Hebrew inscription in relief, placed above the door of the tabernacle. Subsequently two shops and a house were bequeathed for the support of this synagogue; and the income from these covers the expenses even today.

There are two Jewish cemeteries at Kos. One very old one, situated on the seashore at Cape Sable, is no longer used. The other, more in the interior of the island, contains over one hundred tombs, the earliest dating from 1715. Following are the names of the chief families which the present writer copied from the gravestones in 1901: Romano, Capelluto, Angel, Tarica, Gabaï, Couriel, Benveniste, Coenca, Alhadef, Mir, Pisante, Habib, Abzaradel, Franco, Finz, Ergas; the most prominent among these families being those of Tarica, Alhadef, and Franco. The last-named was engaged especially in exporting raisins, the chief product of the island, and had connections at the principal centers of commerce ofEurope. Later on Jews from Salonica came every year to the markets of Kos to buy the products of the island.

Blood Accusation.

In 1850 the Jews of Kos were accused of ritual murder under the following circumstances: Some Greeks, having found the dead body of an old man named Tiringongo, a habitual drunkard, accused the Jews of having killed him, and, aided by the governor of the island, Amin Bey, entered and searched the synagogue one Friday evening. Not finding anything, they came back the following day, searched the garden of the temple, and maltreated the Jews. Fortunately for the latter, the colonel in charge of the soldiers on the island, Ramiz Bey, took their part, pointing out to the governor the responsibilities he would incur should he lend support to the Greeks. Thereupon the Greeks and Jews were sent to Rhodes, where the former were punished, and the latter acquitted in conformity with the firman which Sultan 'Abd al-Majid had granted to the Jews subsequent to the calumnies of Damascus and Rhodes (1840-41). Three years later the slayer of the drunkard Tiringongo was discovered. He was a Mohammedan, named Haji Ṣaliḥ, who, seeing Tiringongo stealing in his field, had shot and killed him. His body was thrown into the street by a negro, who subsequently made this revelation.

Mutilation of a Jewish Corpse.

In 1851 the body of a Jew who had died at Kos was found the day after burial absolutely naked with the hands mutilated. Investigations being made by the governor of the island, Muṣṭafa-Sharif Pasha, the act was traced to some Greek shepherds, who confessed that they had cut some fingers from the hands of the Jew for the purpose of placing them among their flocks, in order to increase the number of the beasts, according to a belief common among them that the hand of the Jew brought fruitfulness and increase of wealth.

The Jewish population of Kos consisted in 1850 of 40 families, in 1872 of 25 families, and in 1901 of only 10 families, half of whom were strangers. The Jews are engaged in retail business, and live in perfect harmony with the other inhabitants. They have in the synagogue three sacred rolls, and they support a shoḥeṭ, who is at the same time school-master and officiating rabbi at the temple. The Kos Jews speak Turkish and Greek in addition to the Judæo-Spanish dialect.

G. A. Ga.
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