A couple of Phoenicians living temporarily in Roma

Great Synagogue of Rome

I went the other day to visit the Great Synagogue of Rome and it’s Jewish Museum. It was a very educational experience.

The Great Synagogue is one of 16 synagogues in the city of Rome, where Jewish people have lived for over 2000 years. All of the synagogues are Orthodox; there are no Conservative or Reform temples as one finds in the US. They do however follow different “schools” of Judaism, primarily along the lines of “Roman” tradition, that of the “Spanish” community or Sephardic, and “Catalan”. When the Jews were expelled from Spain in 1492 by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella because they wanted to rule only a Catholic empire, many Jews from Spain came to live in Italy and thus the Roman tradition of Judaism accomodated their brethren.

I, of course, cannot here tell the entire history of Italian Jewery, but what was most interesting to me was to learn that for over 300 years, the Jews of Rome lived in a walled ghetto, which had been created by decree of Pope Paul IV in 1555. Prior to this, the Jews of Rome and the Papal States enjoyed various degrees of freedom and suffered various forms of discrimination, but this ghettoization, was the height of discrimination. It was ordered that only one synagogue could be built in the ghetto, which was at river level along the Tiber River.  Inside the synagogue, Cinque Scole or 5 schools where created to accommodate the various practices of Judaism among Roman Jews and to also create space for community and educational activities.

The museum, while not large, houses the largest collection of textiles created since the Renaissance period, which are used to decorate inside synagogues. It houses tombstones from the catacombs of Rome and manuscripts from the Middle Ages. Along with providing a rich history of Jewish life in Rome during the ages, it also showcases some of the treasures that were saved from the Cinque Scole when the ghetto was dismantled and destroyed in the late 1800’s.

Admission to the museum includes a visit inside the Great Synagogue, which was designed by 2 famous Italian architects and built in the early 1900’s and a smaller Spanish synagogue, both which are in use daily today. Due to a terrorist bombing at the Synagogue in the 1980’s that killed one child and injured many, the security around the Synagogue is quite tight and no photos are allowed to be taken inside. I didn’t think to take a photo outside, and can’t figure out how to copy one from the internet, so sorry!  But I have managed to put up a link under “Cool Stuff of Interest” to the right, for the website Jewish Italy, which has information about the Synagogue on it.

It was a very interesting and educational visit, one I’d highly recommend.

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