Italian Jews can be traced back as far as the second century BCE, tombstones and dedicatory inscriptions from this period still survive today. It is the only Jewish community in Europe dating back to before the Diaspora era. Italian Jews have very different ancestry, with the main strands represented today being Italian, Sephardic, Ashkenazi, Persian and Libyan Jews. The 30,000 Jews in Italy form a thriving community, which is concentrated in the major cities Rome, Milan, Turin, Florence and Leghorn (Livorno). Interest in Jewish culture is wide-spread among the wider Italian population, though knowledge about Judaism is often quite limited. Kosher food is available in the main cities that have a large community.

Population: 57,000,000
Jewish population: 30,000

Italy’s widely dispersed Jewish community has, at different periods of its long history, been present in scores of cities and towns across the country. Italian Jewry today is concentrated in Rome (15,000) and Milan (10,000). Smaller communities exist in Turin (1,600), Florence (1,400), and Livorno/Leghorn (1,000). A few hundred Jews each are also organized in Bologna, Genoa, Trieste, and Venice, and smaller numbers of Jews are found in Alessandria, Ancona, Asti, Casale Monferrato, Ferrara, Gorizia, Mantua, Merano, Modena, Naples, Padua, Parma, Perugia, Pisa, Siena, Spezia, Vercelli, Verona, and Viareggio. Italian Jewry was notably bolstered by the arrival some 3,000 Jews from Libya in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

Historically, Italian Jews were divided into four groups: the Jews of the ‘Italian rite’, who have resided in Italy since Roman times, i.e. even before Jews went into Diaspora; the Sephardic, including the Levantine Sephardic Jews that arrived in Italy from Spain in 1492, from Portugal in 1497 and from the Kingdom of Naples in 1533; the Ashkenazi living mainly in the northern part of the Italy; and the Piedmontese Jews from Asti, Fossano and Moncalvo (also called Apam or Afam) expelled from France in the Middle Ages. The latter group’s liturgy is similar to that of the Ashkenazim, but contains some distinctive usages descended from the French Jews of the time of Rashi, particularly in the services for the Holy Days.

Today, there are further groups with different origins: the Jews of San Nicandro Garganico in Apulia; the Persian Jews from Iran, most of whom live in Rome and Milan, and Jews from Libya, who mostly reside in the capital.

Throughout history, these communities often remained separate: in a given city there often exists an ‘Italian synagogue’ and a ‘Spanish synagogue’, and occasionally a ‘German synagogue’ as well. In many cases these have since amalgamated, altough a synagogue offers services in more than one rite.

Italian Jews can be traced back as far as the second century BCE, tombstones and dedicatory inscriptions from this period still survive today. At that time, Jews mostly lived in the far south of Italy, with a branch community in Rome, and were generally Greek-speaking.

There have been Ashkenazi Jews living in northern Italy since at least the late Middle Ages. In Venice, they formed the oldest Jewish community, predating both the Sephardic and the Italian congregations. Following the invention of book printing, Venice became a major publishing center for Hebrew and Yiddish books for the use of German and other Jews of northern European origin.

The Spanish Synagogue of Venice was originally regarded as the “mother synagogue” of the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish community world-wide as it was among the earliest to be built, and the first prayer book was published there. Later communities, such as Amsterdam, followed its lead on ritual questions. With the decline in the importance of Venice in the eighteenth century, the leading role passed to the Jewish community of Leghorn (Livorno), which acted as a link between the Spanish and the Portuguese.

The most serious misfortune for the Italian Jews was the election in 1555 of Cardinal Giovanni Pietro Carafa (1476-1559) as Pope Paul IV. This pope combined a severe and unbending character with old age and patriotism. In 1555, he issued a law which created the first Jewish “ghetto”. Jews were forced to live in seclusion in a specified area of the town and locked in at night.

Paul IV also decreed that Jews must wear signs to distinguish them, which meant yellow hats for men and veils or shawls for women. Jewish ghettos existed for over three centuries thereafter until Pope Pius IV decided to ban Jews from all his dominions and expel them from all the Papal states except Rome and the port city of Ancona. A few of them became Christians, but the majority found refuge in other parts of Italy, e.g. in Tuscan cities like Leghorn and Pitigliano.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, many Italian Jews maintained a trading and residential presence in both Italy and countries in the Ottoman Empire, and even those who settled permanently in the Ottoman Empire kept their Tuscan or Italian nationality.

Between the two World Wars, Libya was an Italian colony and, as in other north African countries, the colonial power found the local Jews useful as an educated élite. Following Libyan independence, and especially after the Six Day War in 1967, many Libyan Jews left either for Israel or for Italy. Today, most of the “Sephardic” synagogues in Rome are in fact Libyan.

The Ghetto of Venice

In 1516, 700 Jews of Venice were forced to move to a then-remote northwestern corner of Venice, an abandoned site of a 14th-century foundry where the first ghetto was build. The word ghetto, soon used throughout Europe for isolated minority groups, originated in Venice: in the local dialect of that time it meant “foundry”.

Like most of the islands that make up Venice, the ghetto was totally surrounded by water. Its two access points were controlled at night and early morning by heavy gates manned by Christian guards, but paid for by the Jews, both protecting and segregating its inhabitants.

Within a century, the community grew to more than 5,000 from the 700 originally ‘pushed to ghetto’, and they represented many different languages and cultures. Although the original ghetto was periodically expanded, space was limited and quarters always cramped.

With the arrival of Napoleon in 1797, the ghetto was disbanded and Jews were free to move wherever they liked, but the Jews achieve full civil liberties only in the late 19th century when the Italian nation state was founded and a law of emancipation approved.

Today, the historic ghetto remains in the centre of Venice and it consists of an open square surrounded by ‘skyscrapers’ on three sides. The lack of space in the ghetto resulted in many buildings having as many as seven low-ceilinged stories. Venetian laws forbade the building of separate synagogues, so the synagogues were built on the top floors of the buildings as Jewish law says there should be no obstructions between the congregation and the heavens.

In October 2009, the Jewish umbrella organization Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI) launched the first national Jewish newspaper, Pagine Ebraiche [Jewish Pages], which is targeted at non-Jews. The newspaper appears jointly with an online Jewish information portal – – which was launched as part of a media offensive aimed at bolstering the Jewish voice in Italy.

The impetus behind them is the UCEI’s desire to confront an apparent paradox: Italians are fascinated by all things Jewish, but knowledge of Jewish beliefs, traditions and values is not very widespread in Italy.

A bi-weekly Jewish television program co-produced by UCEI and state-run RAI television draws 200,000 to 400,000 viewers nine out of ten of whom are not Jewish. Numerous Jewish-themed cultural events, including festivals, food tastings, book launches and concerts are held throughout the year across the country. On the annual European Day of Jewish Culture, nearly 60,000 Italians— most of them non-Jews — generally flock to Jewish-themed lectures, exhibits and other events held in 50 towns and cities up and down the peninsula.

At the same time, although Jewish culture is showcased well, the understanding among the wider public is generally low. With non-Jewish Italians as target audience, Pagine Ebraiche is not intended to replace existing Jewish print media in Italy, which includes glossy monthlies published in Rome and Milan, which have a small circulation and are directed more at Jewish readers.


The customs and religious rites of the Italian-rite Jews are to some extent a mix between the Ashkenazi and the Sephardic traditions, showing similarities to both. Although a division is recognized between Minhag Benè Romì, practiced in Rome, and Minhag Italiani, practiced in northern cities such as Turin, the two rites are generally very similar.

One reason for this is that Italy was an early center of Jewish printing, which allowed Italian Jews to preserve their traditions when most other communities had to opt for a standard ‘Sephardic’ or ‘Ashkenazi’. It is often claimed that the Italian prayer book contains the last remnants of the Judaean/Galilaean Jewish tradition.

Although the legacy of many generations of Italian Jewry was shattered in our time, some of its priceless furnishings have found a new home, some of them in Israel. The Italian government has since recognized the national cultural importance of the country’s Jewish heritage and has earmarked funds for its preservation.

The Unione delle Comunità Ebraiche Italiane (UCEI), the Union of the Italian Jewish Community, is the community’s umbrella organization and the affiliated member of the World Jewish Congress. It has its headquarters in Rome.

Lungotevere Sanzio 9
I – 00153 Roma
Phone +3906.58.03.667 +3906.58.03.670
Fax +39 065899569

Moked (Jewish news portal)
Website :

The Art of Italian Synagogues

Italy merits attention as it was the only European country to have synagogues in pre-Diaspora times. Archaeological findings on the site at Capernaeum suggest that it was similar in form to the basilica-style synagogues found in the Galilee, commonly with a nave and two aisles, divided by columns. The Ostia synagogue, near Rome, was remodeled in the fourth century.

Almost every small town of southern Italy and Sicily has a street named “della Sinagoga” or “della Scuola” or “Judecca”, or something that otherwise refers to the existence of Jews there, even though there may not have been any Jews present there since the late fifteen or early sixteen century.

Ghettos and synagogues were influenced by two opposing tendencies. The first was the artistic and architectural inspiration of the nearby churches, whose designers were often also responsible for planning synagogue buildings. The second was the desire to restrain Christian influences and to create a unique synagogue architecture that would distinguish Jewish houses of prayer.

On the inside, Italian synagogues of that period were elegant Renaissance and Baroque salons. Externally, however, they were simple, severe structures both because of local restrictions and the Jewish reluctance to attract attention in alien surroundings. The ‘bipolar’ design dominated synagogue architecture in most parts of Italy, except for Piedmont. The Jewish communities commissioned famous architects to design the entire synagogue.

Despite the previous example, Jewish Baroque was different from its Christian counterpart, which aspired to create an illusion of the infinite, the mysterious, and the unattainable. Although Jewish Baroque was an excellent artistic imitation of the Christian model, it lacked the model’s characteristic religious commitment. On the contrary: the material means of the synagogues were not intended to achieve the infinite.

The synagogues of the post-ghetto period, those dating from after the unification of Italy in the late nineteenth century, certainly reflected the spirit of the times. In this period, Jews got a taste of liberty and could participate in the cultural, economic, and social life of the country. It was then that they started to build grandiose synagogues, almost cathedral-like. Although these structures were no longer crowded with worshippers, as during the times of the ghetto, they served as a symbol of Judaism, as institutional edifices.

During this period of architectural eclecticism across Europe, and especially in Italy, many old ghetto synagogues were torn down and new ones built. It was an era in which architects drew on every possible style for inspiration. There were neoclassical synagogues like the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, neo-Egyptian or neo-Babylonian like in Rome, and neo-Romanesque ones like Trieste. These are massive structures, often frontally oriented with an elongated floor plan.

The structural principle is frequently Byzantine, with four large arches supporting a central drum, topped by a dome. The facade usually sports a central rose window and two lateral spires. The largest and most famous of these, the Mole Antonelliana in Turin, never became a synagogue. After the kehillah ran out of funds and sold the structure to the Turin municipality, the latter completed the dome and spire and turned the structure into a museum. To this day, it rises high above the skyline and has become the symbol of the city.

For the Jews of Italy, the sense of equality and emancipation was brutally quashed during the Fascist period (1922-43), when Benito Mussolini ruled as il duce. Since that time, the synagogues and their communities – where they managed to survive – returned to the lesser, pre-Emancipation dimensions. Except for the Community of Leghorn, no major synagogue has been built in Italy since the end of World War II.

Italy and Israel enjoy full diplomatic and generally good relations.

Embassy of the State of Israel
Via Michele Mercati 14
00197 Roma
Tel: +39 06 36198 586
Fax: +39 06 36198555

Other Italian kosher restaurants can be found on this page of the website of the Italian community.

For up to date information on Kosher restaurants and locations please see the Shamash Kosher Database

Unione dei Giovani Ebrei Italiani (Italian Union of Jewish Youth) is as association of Italian Jewish youth organizations and associations. They have a magazine founded in 1949 called ‘HaTikwa’.

Following are contact addresses for synagogues and Jewish institutions in major Italian cities. For more details and further links, please consult


Jewish Community of Rome
Lungotevere Cenci
00186 Roma
Tel :+39 06 68 400 61

Jewish Museum of Rome
Lungotevere Cenci 15
00186 Roma
Tel: +39 06 68400661

Jewish Ghetto of Venice


Tempio Maggiore (Conservative) / Great Synagogue of Rome
Lungotevere Cenci
Tel:+39 06 68 40 04 51
Fax: +39 06 68 40 06 55

Bais Chabad of Rome (Chabad Lubavitch)
Via O. Panciroli 7
Tel/Fax: +39 06 86 32 4176

Beth El (Sephardic)
Via Padova 92
Tel: +39 06 44 24 28 57
Fax: +39 06 44 29 1093

Oratorio Di Castro (Orthodox)
Via Cesare Balbo 33
Tel:+39 06 68 400 651
Fax: +39 06 68 400 655

Tempio Ashkenazita (Orthodox)
Via Cesare Balbo 33
Tel: +39 06 68 40 06 51
Fax: +39 06 68 40 06 55

Tempio Beth Shalom (Orthodox)
Via Pozzo Pantaleo 52
Tel +39 06 68 40 06 51
Fax +39 06 68 40 06 55

Tempio Beth Shemuel (Orthodox)
Via Garfagnana 4-a
Tel: +39 06 88 64 04 03

Tempio dei Giovani (Modern Orthodox)
Piazza S. Bartolomeo all’isola 24
Tel: +39 06 68 40 06 51
Fax: +39 06 68 40 06 55

Tempio Spagnolo (Sephardic)
V. Catalana
Tel: +39 06 68 40 06 51
Fax: +39 06 68 40 06 55

Tempio Tripolino (Orthodox)
Via Pozzo Pantaleo 46
Tel: +39 06 68 40 04 51
Fax: +39 06 68 40 06 55

Kosher restaurants

La Taverna del Ghetto 
Via Portico d’Ottavia, 8
Tel. + 39 06 68 80 97 71
Yotvata Latte / Dairy-halav Israel
Piazza Cenci, 70
Tel. +39 06 68 13 44 81


Jewish Community of Milan
Via Sally Mayer 2
20146 Milano
Tel: +39 02 48 31 100
Fax: +39 02 48 30 46 60


Milan Central Synagogue (Orthodox)
Via Guastalla 19
Tel: +39 02 79 18 92

Beit Chabad of Milan (Chabad Lubavitch)
Via F. Bronzetti 18
Tel: +39 02 70 10 00 80
Fax: +39 02 29 52 01 57

Beit Hatalmud – Heichal Menachem (Chabad Lubavitch)
Via Arzaga 4
Tel: +39 02 48 37 50 26
Fax: +39 02 29 52 01 57

Beit Menachem (Chabad Lubavitch)
Via Cola Di Rienzo 38
Tel: +39 02 48 95 18 15
Fax: +39 02 56 81 97 66

Beth Shelomo (Chabad Lubavitch)
Galleria Vittorio Emanuele
Via Ugo Foscolo 3
Tel:+39 02 53 92 010
Fax: +39 02 23 62 711

Josef Tehillot (Sephardic)
Via Gracchi, 25
Tel: +39 02 48 19 39 79
Fax: +39 02 43 98 10 88

Lev Chadash (Reform)
Piazza Napoli 35
Tel: +39.348.410 20 80

Merkos L’inyonei Chinuch (Chabad Lubavitch)
Via C. Poerio 35
Tel: +39 02 55 13 056
Fax: +39 02 29 52 01 57

Kosher Restaurants

Falafel House
Viale Misurata 19
Tel:+39 02 89072201; +39 333 310 70 82
Pizzeria Carmel
Viale San Gimignano 10
Tel: +32 2 416368
Re Salomone
Via Sardegna 45,
Tel: +32.02 4694643


Jewish Community and Synagogue of Florence
Via Carlo Farini 4
Tel: +39 055 245252

Kosher Restaurant

Via Farini 2/a
Tel: +39 05 52 48 08 88

Leghorn (Livorno)

Jewish Community of Leghorn
Piazza Benamozegh 1
57123 Livorno
Tel/Fax: +39 05 86 89 62 90


Jewish Community of Naples
Via Cappella Vecchia 31
80121 Napoli
Tel: +39 0817643480
Fax: +39 0817643480


Jewish Community of Turin
Piazzetta Primo Levi 12
10125 Torino
Tel: +39 011 650 83 32
Fax: +39 011 669 11 73


Jewish Community and Synagogue
Sestiere Cannaregio 1146
30121 Venezia
Tel. +39 041715012
Fax: +39 0415241862

Jewish Museum of Venice
Cannaregio 2902 b
Tel: +39 04 17 15 359
Fax: +39 04 17 23 007

Kosher Restaurant

Club Restaurant Le Balthazar
Campo di Ghetto Nuovo 2874/c,
Tel: +39 041 2440125

Other Italian kosher restaurants can be found on this page of the website of the Italian community.