Most northerly of the Ionian Islands. The native Jews of Corfu fall into three distinct divisions of different origin (Greek, Spanish, and Apulian) and belonging to different epochs. There was formerly also a fourth division, that of the Levantines, the greater part of whom apparently became merged into the Italians.

1. Greek Division: Origin.

Composed of Jews who came from Thebes toward the end of the twelfth and in the thirteenth century. Benjamin of Tudela, visiting the island in 1147, found only one coreligionist, the dyer Joseph. A large number of Jews came to establish themselves on the island after it had passed from Byzantine dominion to that of the Angevin kings of Naples. Many documents show that there were Jews in Corfu in the thirteenth century, having been carried thither as prisoners by King Roger of Sicily, who conquered Thebes (in Bœotia) and Corfu about 1150, or having voluntarily migrated from Thebes, and perhaps also from Sicily. King Roger had previously sent Theban Jews to the island for the purpose of introducing sericulture, Sicily being at that time under Angevin kings, who favored the Jews. A proof of the Theban origin of the Jews of Corfu is found in the word σίδα ("pomegranate"), from the ancient dialect of Thebes, a word used only by them, though their dialect is the Apulian.

The Greek Jews (who called themselves "Toshebim" or "Terrieri") differ from the other Jews on the island by various customs—e.g., they celebrate the additional day of Purim (Shushan Purim; see Esth. ix. 18), while the Jews belonging to the Apulian synagogue celebrate only the first day. The former observe on the first day only the religious ceremony at the Temple and the small banquet, reserving the masquerading, the ball, and the grand banquet for Shushan Purim. They have also preserved Greek elegies for the Ninth of Ab (see specimens in "Israelite Chronographos," No. 2, Corfu, July, 1899), and until recently a Greek chant was recited in their synagogue on the day of Pentecost. The first complete Biblical text in modern Greek is a translation of Jonah (twelfth century) made for the Jews of Corfu. The Greek synagogue is the oldest on the island. Until recently it differed somewhat from the others in its liturgy, and the ministers officiating in Greek still preserve that nasal chant peculiar to the Greco-Oriental preachers. The Greek Jews, who were absorbed by the more numerous Apulians, forgot their language, but have retained characteristic words and phrases. Their family names are, or have been, Gesuã, Eliezer, Belleli, Moustaki, Naxon, De Semo, Mazza, Pangali, and Abdalá. At present they possess not only their own synagogue, but also their own burial-ground, called "the Greek cemetery."

2. Spanish Division:

Composed of Spanish Jews who had lived for a time in the Two Sicilies, and who emigrated to Corfu at the end of the fifteenth and during the sixteenth century; among their number was Don Isaac Abrabanel. It seems that these few families for a long time preserved the Castilian language, for in a polyglot chant which can not date further back than the beginning of the nineteenth century, there are found Spanish verses, together with Hebrew, Greek, Italian, and Apulian; and it is evident that the author of the production, Dr. Lazarus de Mordo, wished to incorporate into it all the languages or dialects then spoken by the Jews at Corfu. These Spaniards united with the Apulians, who came at the same time or a little later, to form the Apulian or Italian congregation. Their family names, of Spanish origin, are as follows: Aboaf, Gaon, Cherido, Sarda, Razon, Castro, and Sforno; in addition to which there were formerly Abrabanel, De Miranda, Senior, and Coronel. They are few in number.

3. Apulian or Italian Division:

Composed of Jews who had been driven (1540) from Apulia by Don Pedro of Toledo, viceroy of Naples. They were so numerous that in time they imposed upon their coreligionists not only their Apulian dialect, but also their costume. The fact that they possess their own synagogue and cemetery is attributed to the unfriendly reception which they met with at the hands of their Greek coreligionists. Eventually, however, their suffering must have softened the original ill will. As a matter of fact, the Greeks, who now constitute the majority of the Jewish population, speak the despised Apulian dialect, while the Apulians have generally adopted the more refined Venetian.

Many of the Apulian families have Biblical names: Israel, Nissim, Mattatia, Misan (), Azar, Baruch, Acco (?), Hanen, Ḥayyim, Elia, Levi, and Mordo (Mordecai); also Dente, Osno, Vivante, and Minerbo. The Nahamali and Maurogonato families, who belong to the Italian synagogue, though they apparently should belong to the Greek, probably either came after Corfu had become Italianized, or else left their original synagogue; the latter is known to have been the case with the Mazza family. Elegies in the Apulian language for the Ninth of Ab have been preserved, and it is still a custom, even among the well-to-do classes, who have given up the Spanish dialect, to explain the symbolicrites in Apulian ("ḳadesh," "u-reḥoẓ," "karpas," etc.) on Passover eve. The population, which to-day (1901) exceeds 3,000 souls, numbered 1,171 in 1760.

Fourteenth and Fifteenth Centuries.

The position of the Jews during the first two centuries of their establishment on the island was enviable, especially toward the end of the Angevin régime, the princes of that house issuing decrees which took the Jews under their protection (1317, 1324, 1364, 1365, and 1370). In 1332 Philip II. of Taranto called the attention of the Corfu authorities to the fact that his previous decrees (e.g., March 12, 1324) in favor of the Jews had not been carried out. These privileges were renewed by his grandson, Philip III., in 1370, and probably also by Robert of Anjou in 1338. Robert's widow, Marie de Bourbon, Empress of Constantinople, especially charged the captain of Corfu to see that the Jews of the island were well treated. The same privileges were confirmed Dec. 18, 1382, by Charles III. (Duras), King of Naples.

Jews were often attachés of embassies sent by the community of Corfu to the King of Naples. In 1386 the island voluntarily sought the protectorate of Venice, remaining under Venetian rule until 1797. Among the six ambassadors sent to that city to conclude the negotiations was a Jew, David de Semo; while another Jew, Johama Mayeha, was a member of a foreign embassy in 1515. The seigniory of Venice, which became possessed of Corfu Jan. 1, 1385, took the Jews under its protection. By a decree issued Jan. 22, 1387, it assimilated the Corfiote Jews with the other citizens in the matter of taxation, and granted them the free exercise of their religion, though still holding them to the distinctive signs in their dress. But the Christian Corfiotes, jealous of the commercial success of the Jews, repeatedly sent delegates to the Senate of Venice to petition for humiliating measures against them; and in time the Senate weakly yielded. It did indeed deny the request for permission to stone the Jews ("de Judeis lapidandis"), made by the embassy of Corfiote patricians that came to Venice in 1406; but in order to satisfy the embassy, it decreed that the Jews should wear thenceforth on the front of their dress a yellow wheel or disk as large as a cake of bread, and the women yellow veils on their heads, under penalty of 300 ducats for non-compliance. It also forbade them to acquire houses or lands outside the city or outside the Jewry.

Jews Protected.

At the instance of a Jewish deputy, the physician Master Angelus, the Senate abrogated this decree in 1408, and in 1423 confirmed to the Jews the proprietary rights in their houses, and, upon the whole, recognized, as had its predecessors, the great services rendered by the Jews to the city. They carried on an extensive commerce and contributed more than their share to works of public utility (construction of walls, fountains, etc.), to the running expenses of the city, and to public loans. Many documents remain, dating from the time of the Byzantine emperors, the kings of Naples, and the republic of Venice, testifying to these acts of patriotism on the part of the Jews. For this reason there was never a ghetto at Corfu, in the exact sense of the word; and when in 1571 the republic of Venice expelled the Jews from its dominions, it excepted those of Corfu. By a strange combination of circumstances the republic of Venice, which, on its accession to power, had apparently awakened among the inhabitants the spirit of hatred and contempt against the Jews, protected these very Jews as soon as it recognized their utility to the state.

Documents are extant which show that the Jews knew how to defend their ancient rights. One of these, dating from 1425, is especially noteworthy. According to this document an attempt was made to force the Jews to tear down their houses, on the pretext of erecting upon the sites new walls for the city; whereupon the Jews reminded the magistrate that at the cession of the island a clause placed them on an equal footing with their fellow citizens, and (adds the document) "dicunt et affirmant se esse cives et habitatores Korphoy." Eventually, however, they were compelled to yield to the demand, and consequently dispersed over the entire city, to the great scandal of the Christians. They lived thus more than a hundred years without being molested.

About 1524 the Corfiote Christians began to protest against this close neighborhood, and sent an embassy to Venice to petition that the Jews be confined to a special quarter. The republic thereupon issued a ducal order to that effect, which, however, for unknown reasons (possibly at the instance of the Jews themselves) remained a dead letter. On Oct. 28, 1578, the brothers Menahem and Aaron Mozza received from the doge, Nicholas de Ponte, a confirmation of the ancient privileges of the Corfu Jews. They were expressly exempted from the levy of 50,000 scudi placed upon the Jews by the Venetian Senate July 12, 1573. Petition followed petition (1532, 1546, 1562, 1592), but only after the lapse of a hundred years (1622) were the Jews restricted to a special quarter (near the old fortifications at the Porta Reale and the Via Schulemburg), which still exists. This was not more of a ghetto than the old quarter had been; for a number of Christians lived there, and, unlike the ghetto at Zante and elsewhere, it had no gates to be closed at night.


The larger number of Jews followed some handicraft, and the rich ones were engaged in commerce, acquiring great wealth. They were devoted to their country, fighting for it and giving freely of their money, as may be seen from the written testimonials they obtained from the Venetian governors when the latter laid down their office and left the island. In 1431 they lent the Venetian Senate 3,000 ducats. In the seventeenth century they aided the Venetian armies with money during the disastrous wars with Crete and the Peloponnesus. But in 1656 the captain of the island levied a tax of 10,000 reals upon them, though they had declared themselves ready to pay 500 ducats a year for military purposes. The Jews protested, and on Oct. 25 the Senate ordered the money to be returned. In 1716 they bravely assisted in defending the island of Corfu against the Turks. Two documents testifying to their exceptional heroism are extant. One of these, written by the Venetian generalissimohimself, Count de Schulemburg, tells of the remarkable conduct of the Jewish community; the other, prepared by the governor-general of Venice, Count Loredan, is in favor of Mardochée Mordo (Barbanera), who particularly distinguished himself. Furthermore, the aide-de-camp of Schulemburg, the Corfiote strategos, writes that, of all the inhabitants, the Jews rendered the most signal services. This deliverance is solemnly commemorated every year on Aug. 6.

Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries.

In the seventeenth century there were 500 Jewish families at Corfu, and in the eighteenth 1,171 Jews, according to the statistics of the governor Grimani. About this time the Corfiote Christians were greatly excited over the conversion to Christianity of the Jewess Rachel, daughter of the rich merchant Vivante. Notwithstanding all their difficulties, the Jews still enjoyed some rights. Aside from the profession of medicine, which they practised everywhere, they were allowed at Corfu (certainly at a very early time) to practise law. It is true that a decree of May 14, 1637, inhibited the Jews of Venice from practising law; but although the attempt had been made to extend this inhibition to Corfu in 1679, it was withdrawn May 7, 1680. In 1654 Mordecai Cohen was granted a special authorization to defend his coreligionists at the bar. According to an ordinance of 1698, twenty candidates were admitted to the bar in that year, among them being seven Jews; namely, Mordecai Cohen, Elia Cohen di Mordecai, Joshua Forte, Matthew Forte, Solomon Nacamulli, Abraham Pipi, and Abraham Israele. When in 1728 a tax was levied upon the Jews of Dalmatia and of Venice, those of Corfu were again exempted, because of their ancient privileges. They were likewise exempted from the restraints put upon the Venice Jews in 1771. In 1774 orders were sent to Gen. Antonio Renier to remove the Jewish lawyers from the court. Renier's report on the subject was, however, so favorable to the Jews of Corfu that on Aug. 26 he received orders that they were in no way to be further molested.

While Corfu was under French dominion (1797-1799 and 1805-15) the Jews enjoyed all the rights of citizenship, and their rabbi ranked with the Catholic bishop and the Orthodox archbishop. But when, together with the other Ionian islands, it formed a republic under the protectorate of England (1815-1863), the Jews were not only forbidden to practise in the courts, but lost all their rights. When Corfu was annexed to Greece the Jews of the former, as well, as of Chalcis (Eubœa) became entitled to full civil and political rights, for the Grecian constitution makes no religious distinctions. That they entered into the enjoyment of these rights was due in large measure to the initiative of Ad. Crémieux, who in 1864 called the attention of the Ionian Senate to their situation. Since then Jews have figured among the municipal councilors of the island; e.g., Dr. Victor Semo, Joseph Nacamulli, Raphael Gesuã, etc. Elia de Mordo, merchant, was the first assessor; and there have been three notaries and several other Jewish government officials.

In 1891 some evil-minded Christians of the island created a scandal in order to hinder the Corfiote Jews from participating in the elections. A little Jewish girl, Rubina Sarda, was killed, probably by some of these anti-Semites, and the report was spread that a Christian child had been slain for ritual purposes, thereby arousing the opposition of the populace against the Jews. Most of the latter were obliged to leave the place in order to escape a massacre. Although the impartial Greek press disclosed the plot, the instigators, protected, it is said, by high personages, were not punished.


Until the annexation the community of Corfu was governed by two councils of administration (one for each congregation), whose decisions regarding communal matters were sanctioned by the government. Each congregation had two syndics ("memunim") and two parnassim. During the Venetian régime the syndics were elected every year by the council in the palace of the governor. They were responsible for order in their district, and occupied the office of conciliators and ediles. They attended the public ceremonies of the governor in their costume of cloth, the costume of the Christian syndics being of silk. Under the British protectorate the interference of the government in communal matters was limited to the presence of a sergeant-at-arms of the municipality at the conferences of the council. The two councils assembled together when questions of general interest were to be discussed. Since the annexation the government has had nothing whatever to do with communal affairs, the rabbis filling the position of civic officials. The two synagogues have been under one administration and one council since 1891.


Religious studies formerly flourished in Greece, and especially in Corfu. A new impetus must have been given to these studies after the advent of the Apulian Jews, in whose communities they were assiduously cultivated. The paraphrase of the Bible verse "From Bari goeth forth the Law, and God's word from Otranto," is well known. David b. Ḥayyim ha-Kohen, the chief rabbi of Padua in the fifteenth century, was of Corfu. Moses ha-Kohen, rabbi of Corfu, wrote (1580-1600) a poetical version of the story of Esther, entitled "Yashir Mosheh" (ed. princeps, of David Mazza, Mantua, 1612). Mazza calls himself the most humble of the disciples of the chief rabbi Kohen, and in his preface announces the early publication of a work by himself, a commentary on Canticles. The following rabbis have lived at Corfu within the last two centuries: Joseph ha-Kohen, Menahem b. Samuel Vivante (about 1710), Eliezer de Mordo, Mordecai Ḥayyim Elie Mordo, Ḥayyim Shab. Jos. ha-Kohen (about 1744), Elia Menahem ha-Kohen (died 1803), Jeshurun Haï-Penso, Raphael Eliezer Shabbethai Semo, and Abraham Ḥayyim Caliman Ferro (died 1820), all of whom were Corfiotes except, perhaps, R. Penso (probably identical with a physician of the same name known to have lived in Corfu. The last of the native rabbis to officiate was R. Ferro.

Strangers were henceforth summoned to the office, the first of these being the chief rabbi Rabi Shem-Ṭob Amarilio, a native of Salonica, who occupiedthe chair of Corfu until 1830. This rabbi, who subsequently went to Larissa, Thessaly, was a great Talmudist, and left a large number of manuscripts, chiefly sermons, which are still preserved at Larissa. He was succeeded at Corfu by the chief rabbi ( = "the pious sage") Judah Bibas of Gibraltar (or of Morocco), who had a large following there. Bibas left Corfu in 1852, going to Hebron, where he died shortly after his arrival. During the following six years the pulpit of Corfu was occupied by Moses Israel Ḥazan of Jerusalem, distinguished as an orator and writer, after whose departure it remained vacant for about five years, when it was again occupied (1865) for six years by the pious and learned R. Isaac Raphael Tedeschi, an octogenarian, who became later the grand rabbi in his native place, Ancona. An important event during his rabbinate was the official visit of King George of Greece to the Apulian temple, June 5, 1869.

Joseph Emmanuel Levi.

Four years after the departure of R. Tedeschi the pulpit of Corfu was occupied by the grand rabbi Joseph Emmanuel Levi (1875) of Italy, previously rabbi of Mondovi and Cuneo, Piedmont, who held the position until his death in 1887. He founded the girls' school and the institute of arts and crafts, organized lotteries for charitable purposes, and by his virtues won the support of the government and the people. Before his arrival he had written a good French grammar for Italians, and from 1878 to 1885 he published the review "Mosé Antologia Israelitica." At his death the government took charge of his funeral, burying him with the military honors due to a general. He died a poor man. In 1888 the community of Corfu called as rabbi the Rev. Alexander da Fano, then occupying the pulpit at Reggio (Italy), who after four years went to the grand rabbinate of Milan. R. Fano was distinguished by his pious eloquence and his kind heart. He tried in vain to found a kinder-garten in Corfu. From 1900 till May, 1902, the pulpit of Corfu was occupied by Nathan Levy, a graduate of the seminary of Paris.

Among the Jewish physicians of note may be mentioned the Cesanas (father and son); Aboaf, the elder; Emmanuel Sipilli, surgeon in the Venetian army; Jacob and Marc Cohen, also army surgeons; Moses Sipilli; Lazarus and Shabbethai de Mordo; and especially Lazarus de Mordo, the younger (1744-1823), a member of the Ionian academy; and Cæsar Usiglio. Of Cypriote origin are the ophthalmologist Maimonides Levi; Victor de Semo, the director of the city hospital at Pisa, and Victor Belleliat Port Said.

Periodicals and Belles-Lettres.

The "Cronica Israelitica" (1861-63), a political and literary journal, aimed to bring about the political emancipation of the Ionian Jews. It was edited by Joseph Nahamali (died 1886), who was also the author of a grammar of the Greek language, a translation of the daily prayers, and a Greek translation of the Pirḳe Abot. From 1864 to 1879 he also edited at intervals the Italian weekly review called "Famiglia Israelitica," a periodical devoted to light literature. Nahamali was president of the community, and an indefatigable promoter of education among the people. In 1878 the grand rabbi Levi, began, the publication of "Mosé, Antologia Israelitica" (which was suspended in 1885); and in 1899 the Greek monthly "Israelite Chronographos" was established by M. Caïmi. The purpose of this periodical was to acquaint the Christian population with Judaism and the legitimate aspirations of the Jews and to create a rallying-point for the Greek Jews. Prof. Maimon Ventura of Egypt has published some poems in classical Hebrew; and the former grand rabbi of Corfu, Alexander da Fano, is the author of a volume of prayers, entitled "Preghiere" (1889). Dr. Lazarus Belleli has written (1890) a valuable study on the Greek Bible of Constantinople. Sp. C. Papageorgi and M. Caïmi published the dirges sung in private houses and synagogues in Corfu; and the former presented to the Orientalists' congress at Berlin a Greek hymn at one time used on the Pentecost festival, and originally sung in alternate Hebrew and Greek verses (see "Jew. Chron." July 26, 1901, p. 25). Prof. Dario Levi occupied in 1899 a chair at the Academy of Lacedogna, Italy. Alexander Levi (born 1871), an eminent sculptor, is established at Naples.

Educational and Philanthropic Institutions.

About 1840 a struggle broke out between the Orthodox members of the community and the Reformers, the former calling themselves "Marrochini," from "Morocco," the alleged birthplace of R. Bibas, and the latter "Sabbatini," perhaps after a certain "Shabbethai," one of the leaders of the party. The struggle was bitter, dividing the community into two hostile camps, which carried their differences even into the streets. The reformers founded the Hebrew institute. The pietists eventually obtained supremacy over the Sabbatini, who, it seems, constituted a secret society.

Two parochial schools for girls and boys have been founded, the expenses for general instruction being defrayed by the government and those for Hebrew by the community, the rabbi himself conducting the advanced class in this branch. The children of the well-to-do class attend the public high school. There is a committee on philanthropy, which derives its revenues from voluntary contributions; this being the only relief society, with the exception of the two burial associations ("gemilut ḥasadim"), one for each congregation. No bequests of any importance have been left to the community, excepting those of Samuel Gaon to the city hospital.

Synagogues; Rite.

The Apulian congregation has three temples, two of them large and the other small but attractive. In the two larger temples the women's gallery is supported by stone pillars. The large Apulian temple has a very fine mahogany Ark and reading-desk; while the temple of the Greek congregation is an immense structure devoid of pillars on the sides and containing a splendid ancient reading-desk designed in the Corinthian style and constructed of white wood, with well-preserved gildings. The rite of Corfu has in some respects the same peculiarities as has the Roman. Among those who have composedliturgic additions to this rite are Mazzal-Ṭob, Isaac ben Abraham, Abraham b. Gabriel b. Mordecai, and Moses ha-Kohen. Joseph b. Abraham, the commentator of the Maḥzor, lived in Corfu in 1554. The details of the Corfu rite may be seen in Bodleian MS. No. 1082 (Neubauer, "Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS." col. 275) and in those of the Montefiore Library in London (Hirschfeld, in "Jew. Quart. Rev." xiv. 395 et seq.).

Among the customs still peculiar to the Jews of Corfu may be mentioned that of celebrating the third night after a birth, when the Three Fates are believed to visit the child and pronounce its destiny. Gold coins and rue twigs are placed in the linen of the child, and visitors are treated to "kukkudi," a dish made of boiled wheat, pomegranate, and currants. This festival is called "Mire" (Moirai). The game of knuckle-bones ("astragali") has survived in its ancient form among the Corfiote Jews ("Jew. Chron." Sept. 19, 1902), p. 23.


Many Jews of Corfu are dealers in oil and manufactured goods. Others are engaged in manufacturing umbrellas, hats, artificial flowers, shoes, tinware, and jewelry, and a number are employed as grocers, printers, and tailors. The population in 1901 numbered 5,000 Jews in a total of 25,000 inhabitants. On account of adverse business conditions many of the Jews are now (1901) emigrating to Egypt.

  • M. Franco, in Rev. Et. Juives, xxiii. 45;
  • J. A. Romanos, in Hestia, Athens, June 16, 23, 30, 1891;
  • reprinted in Rev. Etudes Juives, xxiii. 63 et seq.;
  • I. Lévi, ib. xxvi. 206;
  • Kaufmann, ib. xxxii. 226 et seq., xxxiii. 64 et seq., xxxiv. 263 et seq.;
  • Zunz, Ritus, p. 82;
  • Bulletin de l'Alliance Israélite Universelle, 1891, pp. 48 et seq.;
  • L. Belleli, in Jew. Chron. p. 23, London, 1902.
G. M. C. G.