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Places and Life of the Jewish Diaspora in Southern Italy

31MAr6:00 pm8:00 pmPlaces and Life of the Jewish Diaspora in Southern Italy6:00 pm - 8:00 pm(GMT+00:00) Italian Cultural Institute, 686 Park Avenue

Event Details


Mauro Perani (University of Bologna, Italian Association for Jewish Studies)


Fabrizio Lelli (University of Salento, University of Pennsylvania)

Dedicated to Prof. Cesare Colafemmina’s lifetime work, this program explores the richness of Apulian and Southern Italian Jewish history, current research and communal experience.

Home to vital Jewish communities since ancient Roman times, between the 8th and the 13th century Southern Italy became a preeminent center of Jewish learning attracting rabbinical scholars from Spain, Provence and other Mediterranean countries. Although formal Jewish life came to an end in the 16th century, Judaism has remained part of the cultural fabric of the region.

Most notable is the conversion back to Judaism in the1930′s of the population of San Nicandro Garganico and the recent re-establishment of a synagogue in Trani. During World War II and its aftermath, the Allies established several Displaced Persons Camps which became temporary homes to Jewish refugees from Northern Europe, as well as clandestine operation centers for the Aliah Beth.

Mauro Perani is professor of Hebrew at the University of Bologna, Italy. His research focuses mainly on the 8,000 Hebrew manuscript fragments collected in the so-called “Italian Genizah Project”, on Hebrew codicology and palaeography, the Kabbalah (particularly Nahmanides) and Rabbinic biblical exegesis. He is president of the Italian Association of Jewish Studies and former president of the European Association for Jewish Studies. He has recently discovered the oldest known complete Torah scroll, dating from 1155-1225 preserved at the University of Bologna.

Fabrizio Lelli teaches Hebrew Language and Literature at the University of Salento (Lecce, Italy) and is presently a fellow at the Herbert D. Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies in Philadelphia. His research focuses on the philosophical and mystical literature of late Medieval and Early Modern Italian Jewish authors. Prof. Lelli created a project aimed at preserving the memories of Jewish refugees in the United Nations transit camps, which were operative in Southern Italy after WWII [].


Cesare Colafemmina is known worldwide for his pioneering research on the Jewish presence in Southern Italy. He was a professor of Hebrew Epigraphy and Antiquities at the University of Bari, Italy, and of Hebrew Literature at the University of Calabria.

Prof. Colafemmina wrote and researched extensively on the Jewish presence in Calabria, Apulia, Basilicata and Sicily and was the first scholar to identify the burial chambers and inscriptions in the Jewish catacombs of Venosa (Basilicata). He is the author of more than 200 essays and seminal historical books, including the translation of the Chronicle of Ahimaaz ben Paltiel (1017-1060) and The Jews of Calabria (Brill 2012).

Prof. Colafemmina oversaw the installation of the Jewish museum of Trani at the “Scola Grande,” one of two 13th century synagogues in the beautiful Apulian coastal town.

He was on the executive committee of the Italian Association for Jewish Studies and the editor of «Sefer Yuḥasin», a journal of Southern Italian Jewish Studies which he founded in 1985.

The “Cesare Colafemmina Center for the Research and Documentation of Judaism in the Mediterranean Regions” was recently created in his honor to preserve his library and further the research field he established.

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