The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community

The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community

The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community

The Jews of Rhodes: The History of a Sephardic Community

Excerpt

This is the story of the Sephardic community of Rhodes. It was born in 1523 when the forces of the Ottoman Empire conquered the island and encouraged settlement of Jews there. The immigrants of that time were victims and children of victims of the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492. Rhodian Jews continued to live under Turkish domination until 1912, when the Italians occupied the island during the Turco-Italian War and held it until 1944. At that time, the Nazis took Rhodes and deported nearly all its Jews, reducing them to ashes in concentration camps. Today, only a handful of Jews live on the island.

Although the community has vanished, like so many other Jewish communities, the Sephardim of Rhodes merit study for several reasons. Their community was important far out of proportion to its size. Their rabbis and scholars exerted considerable influence throughout the Sephardic diaspora. Their masses maintained a deep faith in God and Judaism and wove a culture of considerable grace, idealism and pride. Even though most of them lived in poverty and generally miserable conditions over the centuries, the Jews of Rhodes managed to sing of faith, love, beauty. As the community was relatively small (around 5,000 souls at its height), many individuals were related by blood or marriage. Thus the community's members had strong feelings of belonging and an unusual loyalty to each other. The Jews of Rhodes are known in Judeo-Spanish as "Rhodeslies" (Jews from Rhodes), but the term carries with it a recognition of the uniqueness of the community. The Rhodeslies, as we shall see, indeed formed a distinctive society of their own.

But the history of the Rhodian Sephardim has another major value for the student of Jewish life. Although the Rhodeslies were distinctive in many ways, yet they were also part of the general . . .

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