Greek-Speaking Jews of Greece - History and Cultural Relations



Jews have resided in the Greek Peninsula and islands since classical times. Archaeological remains reveal the existence of ancient synagogues in scattered locations. The peripatetic Spanish rabbi, Benjamin of Tudela, found Jews in many coastal locations on his journey around the Mediterranean. With the influx of Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula in the late fifteenth century, a phenomenon of reverse assimilation took place. In language, traditional culture, and rite, most of the existing Jews of Greece took on the attributes of the newcomers. Evidence remains of the persistence of Greek-speaking enclaves in the names of synagogues in Salonika and Istanbul. Oral tradition places the Jews of Ioannina at the fall of the Second Temple (70 C.E. ). Written documents, however, date their presence to the fourteenth Century. The Byzantine Golden Bulls of Andronicus II reaffirmed the rights of the Jews of Ioannina. Under 400 years of Ottoman rule, the Jews in Ioannina prospered and the community grew, with new populations coming from Spain and Sicily. With the entry of Ioannina into the modern state of Greece in 1913, certain restrictions were placed on the Jews, such as moving the market day to Saturday and not allowing store openings on Sunday. The religious Jews emigrated to Jerusalem at this time. Others seeking better economic opportunities emigrated to Athens and New York. The community literally was decimated during the years of World War II. Many of the survivors who returned emigrated to other Greek cities or to other countries very quickly. Others who had served in the Communist wartime resistance movement were persecuted. Over the past forty years, the community has been reduced to its present size of approximately fifty individuals.

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