Infobox Ethnic group
group = Romaniotes
population = Over 6,000
region1 = flagcountry|Greece
pop1 = 6,000 (estimated)
region2 = flagcountry|Israel
pop2 = unknown
region3 = flagcountry|USA
pop3 = unknown
languages = Greek, Hebrew,
Yevanic, local languages.
The Romaniotes (Greek: Ρωμανιώτες, Rōmaniōtes) are a
Jewish population who have lived in the territory of today's Greeceand neighboring areas with large Greek populations for more than 2,000 years. Their language is Greek and they derive their name from the old name for the Greek people, Rhomaioi. Large communities were located in Thebes, Ioannina, Chalcis, Corfu, Arta, Corinth and on the islands of Lesbos, Chios, Samos, Rhodesand Cyprus, among others. The Romaniotes are historically distinct from the Sephardim, who settled in Greece after the 1492 expulsion of the Jews from Spain.
The earliest reference to a Greek Jew is in an inscription, dated c. 300-250 BCE found in
Oropos, a small coastal town between Athensand Boeotia, and refers to him as "Moschos, son of Moschion the Jew" who may have been a slave [http://books.google.com/books?vid=ISBN0521522110&id=V_w5AaqqiGAC&pg=PA381&lpg=PA381&vq=moschos&dq=lewis+papers+selected&num=100&sig=47n7I6FNu6QO3woPd75kczuW-CA] . The Romaniotes are Greek Jews, distinct from both Ashkenazimand Sephardim. Jews have lived in Greece possibly as early as the Babylonian exile. A Romaniote oral tradition traces the first Jews to arrive in Ioanninato shortly after the destruction of the Second Templein 70. Benjamin of Tudelarecords the existence of Jews in Corfu, Arta, Aphilon, Patras, Corinth, Thebes, Chalcis, Thessalonikiand Drama. The largest community was in Thebes, where he found c. 2000 Jews. They engaged mostly in cloth dyeing, weaving and making silk garments. These Jews were at that time known as "Romaniotes".When the waves of SephardicJews expelled from Spainin 1492 settled in Ottoman EmpireGreece, they were richer, prouder and more cultivated, separating themselves from Romaniotes. Thessaloniki, a city in northern Greece, had one of the largest (mostly Sephardic) Jewish Communities in the world and a solid rabbinical tradition. On the island of Crete, the Jews played an important part in the transport trade.
Eventually, most of the Romaniote communitites were assimilated by the more numerous Sephardim. Remnants of the Romaniotes have survived in
Ioannina(Epirus) and the USA (Kehila Kedosha Janina Synagogue in New York City, built in 1927, is a gathering spot for these Greek Jews). The Romaniotes had their distinct customs, very different from those of the Sephardic Jews; unlike the Sephardic Jews, they did not speak Ladino, but the Yevanic Greek dialect and Greek. Romaniote scholars translated the Tanakhinto Greek.
At the beginning of the 20th century the Romaniote community of
Ioanninanumbered approximately 4000 people, mostly lower class tradesmen and craftsmen. Economic emigration caused their numbers to dwindle and at the eve of World War IIthere were approximately 1950 Romaniotes left in Ioannina. Centered around the old fortified part of the city (or Kastro), where the community had been living for centuries, they maintained two synagogues, one of which, the Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue still remains today.
A strong Romaniote community also was present in Corfu.
World War II, when Greece was occupied by the Axis, 86% of the Greek Jews, especially those in the areas occupied by Nazi Germanyand Bulgaria, were murdered despite efforts by the Greek Orthodox Church and many ChristianGreeks to shelter Jews. Although the Germans and Bulgarians deported a great number of Greek Jews, many were hidden by their Greek neighbours. Despite this though, roughly 49,000 Jews were deported from Thessalonikialone and exterminated.
Cham Albanianscollobarated with Nazis and played an active part in the Holocaustin Greece, including the round-up and expulsion to Auschwitzand Birkenauof the 2,000 strong RomaniotesGreek-Jewish community of Ioanninain April 1944 [M. Mazower, "Inside Hitler's Greece"]
The Romaniotes were protected by the Greek government until the Nazi occupation. During the occupation the Romaniotes could use the
Greek languagebetter and more efficiently than the Sephardim, who spoke Ladinoand whose Greek had a distinct, "singing" accent. That made the Sephardim more vulnerable as targets, and was one of the many factors that led to such great losses among Sephardic communities. In Ioannina1860 out of 1950 Jews were deported to Auschwitzand Birkenauin April 1944. Most of them were exterminated by the Nazis.
The creation of the state of Israel in 1948, combined with the
Greek Civil War, was the final episode in the history of the Romaniotes, the majority of whom migrated to Israel or the USA.
Today a small number of Romaniotes live in Greece, mainly in Yannena (
Ioannina), in Israeland the U.S.A.(mainly New York). Greek Jews historically tended to follow the Jerusalem Talmudinstead of the Babylonian Talmud, and developed their own Minhagand their own variety of Greek language, so called Yevanic.
There are approximately 4,500 to 6,000 Jews living in Greece today, both from the Romaniotes and the Sephardi subgroups. The majority now live in
Romaniote Jews are now mostly concentrated in Ioanninia and Athens. In
Ioannina, the remaining Romaniote community has withered to a number of 50 mostly elderly people. The Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue remains locked, only opened for visitors on request. Immigrant Romaniotes return every summer and open the old synagogue. The last time a Bar Mitzvah(the Jewish ritual for celebrating the Coming of ageof a child) was held in the synagogue was in 2000, and was an exceptional event for the community. [http://www.edwardvictor.com/Ioannina.htm]
The Ioanniotiki Synagogue, situated above the Jewish Community of Athens offices at #8 Melidoni St., is the only Romaniote synagogue in
Athens. Built in 1906, it has services only during the High Holy Days, but is opened for visitors on request through the Jewish Community office.
The Jewish identity of a building found in the excavations of the ancient Agora in Athens, is questionable. It is believed that the Metroon, found in 1930 at the foot of the hill Hephaestion (Thesion) was used as a synagogue during its construction at the end of the 4th century CE (396-400). This view was expressed by the archaeologist H. Thompson, from the American School of Classical Studies in Athens, but was not developed into a complete theory. The Jewish identity of the Metroon was based on the small piece of marble found near the Metroon, that had two Jewish symbols carved on one side, and the resemblance of the building to the synagogue of Sardis in Asia Minor.
One hour boat ride from Piraeus, the port of Athens, one can visit the Romaniote synagogue of Aegina. The synagogue was discovered in 1829 in the city of Aegina, near the ancient military port. The synagogue was originally discovered by the German historian Ludwig Ross, from the royal court of Otto. The floor was covered in order to be protected and was studied again by Thiersch in 1901, Furtwängler in 1904, E. Sukenik in 1928, and finally by the German archaeologist Dr. G. Welter, in 1932. The studies were completed by the National Archaeological Service.Based on the quality of the floor's mosaic, the building is believed to have been constructed in the 4th century CE (300-350 CE) and was used until the 7th century CE. The mosaic floor of the synagogue still survives (see photos above) and is made up of multi-colored tesserae, that create the impression of a carpet, in a geometric pattern of blue, gray, red and white. Two Greek inscriptions were found in front of the synagogue's entrance, on the western side of the building. Today, only part of the synagogue's mosaic floor is extant, and it has been moved from its original location to the courtyard of the island's Archaeological Museum
In the United States
Only one Romaniote
synagogueis in operation in the entire Western Hemisphere: Kehila Kedosha Janina, at 280 Broome Street, in the Lower East Sideof Manhattan, where it is used by the Romaniote emigrant community.Laura Silver, "Spreading little-known history of Romaniote Jews", "", June 18, 2008.] While it maintains a mailing listof 3,000 persons, it often has difficulty meeting the " minyan" or quorumfor worshipon Shabbatand Jewish holidays. It is open for guided tours to visitors on Sundays.
Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue
synagogueis located in the cradle of Romaniote culture, Ioannina, in the old fortified part of the city known as "Kastro", at 16 Iounstinianou street. Its name means "the Old Synagogue". It was constructed in 1829, most probably over the ruins of an older synagogue. Its architecture is typical of the Ottoman era, a large building made of stone. The interior of the synagogue is laid out in the Romaniote way: the Bimah(where the Torah scrolls are read out during service) is on a raised daison the western wall, the Aron Kodesh (where the Torah scrolls are kept) is on the eastern wall and at the middle there is a wide interior aisle. The names of the Ioanniote Jews who were killed in the Holocaustare engraved in stone on the walls of the synagogue.
Elijah Mizrachi, Hakham Bashiof the Ottoman Empire
Mordechai Frizis, officer of the Greek Army.
Shabbetai Tzvi, a controversial Jewish messianic claimant.
Rae Dalven, a prominent Romaniotissa, particularly noted for her translation of Modern Greek poetry.
*Amalia Vaka, a singer of Greek traditional and rembetic songs with a successful career in the United States.
Gabrielle Carteris, actress
Jews in Greece
Yevanic language, the Judeo-Greek dialectof the Romaniotes.
Thessalonikiand Ioannina, the two cities in Greece with the most prominent Jewish communities.
Kehila Kedosha Janina, a Romaniote synagogue in New York open every Sabath for services
* Vincent Giordano, [http://www.RomanioteLegacy.org Before the Flame Goes Out: A Document of the Romaniote Jews of Ioannina and New York] , sponsored by The International Survey of Jewish Monuments.
* [http://www.kkjsm.org Kehila Kedosha Janina, Romaniote Synagogue in New York] (official site)
* [http://www.ushmm.org/greece/eng/intro.htm The Holocaust in Greece] , United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
* Edward Victor, [http://www.edwardvictor.com/Ioannina.htm Ioannina, Greece] : account of the Kehila Kedosha Yashan Synagogue in Ioannina, with photos. (personal site)
* Deborah S. Esquenazi, [http://www.jpost.com/servlet/Satellite?apage=1&cid=1159193374317&pagename=JPost%2FJPArticle%2FShowFull The pre-Ashkenazi and Sephardi Romaniote Jews] , "Jerusalem Post Magazine", October 5, 2006.
*Isaac Dostis [http://www.act1presentations.com/Farewell,%20My%20Island.asp Farewell My Island}
*Daniel Jianu [http://www.vivid.ro/index.php/issue/90/page/feature/tstamp/1202906886 The dying of the light]
*Dalven, Rae. "The Jews of Ioannina". Cadmus Press, 1989. ISBN 0-930685-03-2
*Fromm, Annette B. "Folklore and Ethnic Identity of the Jewish Community of Ioannina, Greece". Lexington Books, 2008, ISBN-13: 9780739120613
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