Thursday, May 3, 2007

What is the difference between Romaniote Jews and Italkim/Bene Roma?

I addressed this very question to some eminent historians.

According to most of the sources I came across, the term "Romaniote Jews" refers to the "indigenous" Jews of Greece and the Greek isles before the Sephardim settled there.

My question is, does this term also apply to the first Jews of Italy (also referred to as 'Italkim' or 'Bene Roma') who are neither Sephardic nor Ashkenazic but have their own distinct customs?

According to the website of the Israeli Ministry of Education, Culture and Sport, the term "romaniotes' does apparently apply to the Roman Jews see here Chapter 4.4 הקהילות היהודיות השונות באיטליה: רומניוטים (בני רומא – החל מהעת העתיקה

And secondly are there any significant differences in customs between the 2 groups (other than language of course)

These are some of the answers I received.

Jane Gerber wrote:

My understanding is that Romaniote derives from Roma but in the sense of Byzantium, not Rome. I've never heard the term used for Jews of Italy. When speaking of Italian minhag the descriptive term used is Roma as in Rome. Obviously the sound is the same although I don't think that Jews ever thought of the two groups in the same breathe. As for differences in custom, take a look at Rae Dalven's book on the Jews of Janina where she has some interesting data on the differences in liturgy, piyyutim, names etc.

Hope this helps clarify. The Janina Synagogue ( Kehilla Kedosha Yanina) on Broome Street in New York has a website that might be of help. Marcia Haddad Idenopolous is a great spokesperson for the Romaniote uniqueness.

Jane Gerber

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos wrote:

Thank you for your question and for your research leading up to it. The term 'Romaniote' was not coined until the Byzantine period and was used by Jews in the 'Eastern' Roman Empire. The scholars now use the term to refer to Hellenized, Greek-speaking Jews, the indigenous Jews of the Eastern Mediterranean. As for the indigenous Jews of Italy, their minhag does have similarities to that of the Romaniotes, both keeping close ties with Jerusalem after the Diaspora. I think the confusion arises because of the term 'Romaniote' which many people [rightly so] interpret as 'from Rome.' The problem is that the 'Rome' the Greek-speaking Romaniote Jews were referring to was in the East, not on the shores of the Tiber River.

Marcia Haddad Ikonomopoulos
Museum Director
Kehila Kedosha Janina
280 Broome Street
NYC, NY 10002

Paul Mendes-Flohr wrote:

There are Jews who settled in what in the countries currently called Greece and Italy before the destruction of the Second Temple. Their descendents are differentiated from the "Sephardim" who immigrated thither with the expulsion the Jews from Spain and later Portugal. The designation of the former, whom you called the "indigenous" Jews, varies.



Randy Belifante wrote:

It seems to me that the term Romaniote Jews applies to the Jews of Greece and that the Jews of Italy is a distinct group. The Romaniote spoke Greek from the time that they left Palestine for Greece at the beginning of the Common Era, and they also maintained a different set of customs and rituals. For a more expert voice on the subject, you might wish to consult with our expert on Greek (and Italian) Jews, Ms. Stella Levi, who is herself from Rhodes. I hope that this has been of some assistance.


Randy Belinfante

Randall C. Belinfante M.A.,M.S.,MLS.
Librarian / Archivist
American Sephardi Federation
15 W. 16th street
New York, NY 10011
(212) 294-8350 x.3

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I am an independent research historian and genealogist and currently working on my first book that will explore the Sephardic origin of many Eastern European Jews. I hope to correspond on this blog with like minded individuals and learn more about the subjects being discussed as well as impart some of my own knowledge to others. Please be considerate and give proper credits when reproducing anything from this site. Thank you.