Silkmaking and the Jews

Fact Paper 15

© Samuel Kurinsky, all rights reserved

SILK-DYEING. A silk-dyeing facility, as depicted in 1751 by Denis Diderot in L'Encyclopédia ou Dictionnaire Raisonné des Sciences, des Artes, et des Métiers. Jews learned silk production (sericulture) in China and brought the art to the Near-East. The Romans, Byzantines, and the Norman Crusader Roger II employed Judaic sericulturists to introduce the art into their economies. A sophisticated dyeing technology was likewise brought to Europe by Judaic masters of the art. The 18th century European textile industry, so masterfully illustrated by Diderot, was based largely on these Judaic innovations. Jews continued to be deeply involved in the industry into modern times. Reproduction of Diderot's drawings by courtesy of Dover Publications, New York.

Sericulture, Glassmaking and Dyeing

The history of the Jews is interwoven with that of the arts of glassmaking, silk-making, and dyeing.

Babylonian Jews acquired the art of sericulture from the Chinese soon after they pioneered the "Silk Route" between Persia and China in the fifth century BCE. The Jews acquired the art of glassmaking from their Mesopotamian progenitors, practiced it in the Land of Israel and then carried the art to Alexandria and Europe. Dye-making secrets were likewise learned by the Jews from their Mesopotamian antecedents, as well as a most valuable secret from the Canaanites. The Canaanites, the so-called "Phoenicians," obtained purple dyes from certain molluscs, gathered on the coast above present-day Haifa.

The coast was made famous for glassmaking by Pliny the Elder, Strabo, and Tacitus, The Judaic association with both dyeing and glassmaking are recorded in the Talmud. In performing a benediction over that region, assigned to the tribe of Zebulun, Moses predicted that tribe members "shall profit from the abundance of the sea and from the treasures hidden in the sand." A Talmudic commentary explains that the passage refers to the production of dyes and glass: "for they partake of the fishing and of the purple for the dyeing of their cloth, and of the sand for the making of mirrors and vessels of glass."

A Midrashic explication of the passage states that after Zebulun complained to the Holy One, "Lord of the Universe, to my brethren you gave beautiful land, and to me you gave the sea",: the Holy One replied, 'Yes, but did I not give you the snail [molluscs]? Did I not give you glass?"

Outstanding among unique products introduced into the West from China were gunpowder, paper and silk. Silk is a wondrous filament with which the most elegant fabrics can be woven. Sericulture, the farming of silk-worms, the technique of reeling off from cocoons strands of silk hundreds of meters long, and of weaving the incredibly strong filaments into exotic fabrics, dates back to the earliest Chinese civilization. A silk fabric found in Zhejiang Province was produced at the astoundingly early date of 2700 BCE. According to archaeologists, China was yet in the process of emerging from its Neolithic Period.1

The invention of the drawloom revolutionized Chinese silk manufacture. By the time of the Han period (206 BCE - 220 CE), Jewish caravans were regularly traversing Asia from Persia to China's capitol, Kaifeng.2

"Silk, the finest of all natural fibers, has three crucial qualities: strength, elasticity and extremely long fibers. A silk thread made of seven filaments has the tensile strength of 65,000 pounds per square inch... As the wealth and power of the aristocracy increased, beginning in the latter part of the Warring States period (475-221 B.C.), preceding the Han, the market for luxury goods led to the production of embroidered cloth and fabrics woven in complex patterns. The drawloom, a special type of horizontal hand loom, was designed for this purpose."3

The weaving of complex embroidered patterns with as many as 400 to 600 threads per square inch was made possible by the drawloom; the embroiderers were enabled to reproduce freehand any design they could imagine. Consummately skilled Chinese embroiderers took advantage of the drawloom's potential by executing intricate designs in shimmering silk. The fenghuang bird, the dragon, and other stylized renditions of mythical creatures, as well as magnificent faunal and floral patterns were woven into garments worn by wealthy Chinese. Emperors clad themselves luxuriously in silken masterpieces while alive, and were buried in them after death. Little wonder that western aristocrats avidly sought the sumptuous silken fabrics being flaunted by their counterparts in the East.

image of silk dyeing
Dyeing. An early 18th century dye vat. Dyeing and other malodorous or difficult trades were disdained by the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and other conquering peoples. The practice of such disciplines was confined to slaves or "foreigners." Through the ages the Jews were noteworthy among the trades that required high skills or secret processes, notably dyeing, silk-making and glassmaking. They were also prominent in the metal trades, and were particularly skillful gold- and silver-smiths. Diderot's Encyclopedia of trades and industry, p. 352
By the advent of the Sassanian period (224-226 CE), the Persian Jews had established their own sericulture industry in Babylonia. This was the period in which many of Babylonia's great cities, Pumbadita, Nehardea, Nisibis, Mahosa, Sura and others were entirely populated, maintained and garrisoned by Jews.4 Thousands of Judaic students were attending the great Judaic universities, the Babylonian Talmud was written, and the Jewish population burgeoned to perhaps as much as 2,000,000 persons.

"In Persia, the silk-weaving industry apppears to have been in a flourishing state in the fourth century," wrote C. B. Seligman, noting that the art did not arrive further west for another two centuries. "Once silk became common, fabrics bearing typical Sassanian designs were exported eastward [!] in considerable bulk."5 The demand for this genre of goods was so great that the Chinese likewise produced figured silks in typical Persian styles. "The most striking evidence of this is the celebrated 'hunter' silk of the seventh-eight century from the treasury of the Horiuji Monastery at Nara in Japan."6

Thus, the most famous of ancient silks is evidently of Persian/Judaic design. Such silk fabrics were found along the Silk Route in Chinese Turkestan by Aural Stein, who simultaneously found many fragments of glass in sites posted all along that section of the route. Significantly, Stein also found a number of documents written on wood and paper in various scripts, including Aramaic.7

Western civilizations were ignorant of the remarkable attributes of silk fibers until the Hellenic period, when silk produced from wild Asia Minor silkworms first appeared among the Near Eastern civilizations. Sericulture, however, was uniquely a Chinese industry until the raising of silkworms and the production of silk textiles were added to the roster of Judaic arts.

The quality of Chinese silk made from the cocoons of cultivated silkworms was so superior that it displaced the use of locally produced silk. Damascus was one of the important centers of this East-West trade. The import of silk into Damascus and the production and export from that city of silk products appropriately became famed as damasks.

Glassware made by the Jews in Judah and Babylonia, and linens produced in Judah were the basic goods exchanged in the East for silk and spices. L. Boulnois came to the conclusion that the Jewish merchants: "were celebrated for their work in glass, byssus [linen] and silk, as well as for their dyeing... From its arrival on Roman territory to its purchase by the consumer, silk passed through relatively few hands; often it was one family that bought the silk from the Persian [that is: Judaic] middle-man, wove it, dyed it and re-exported it to other parts of the Mediterranean. And that family was as likely to be Jewish as it was to be Tyrian or Greek. As expert glass workers, the Jews had on one hand one of the means of exchange used as payment for silk - especially the famous glass beads."8

The Bible informs us about the house of Ashbea, "who wove fine linen."9 It is well documented that the finest linens were, in fact, anciently produced in the region where "The House of Ashbea" was located, particularly in Tiberius and Beth Shean ("Scythopolis"). The linen weavers of Beth Shean achieved world-wide recognition for the superiority of their textiles and garments. These flaxen products commanded the highest prices in a price-fixing edict imposed at the end of the third century by the Roman emperor Diocletian. Only the linens of Tarsus, likewise produced by Jews, were deemed in the same first category of linens.10 The Jerusalem Bible attests to the "fine vestments that come from Beth Shean."11

The art of glassmaking at that time was exclusively Judaic, and was being practiced in such centers as Beth Shearim., where much of the Mishnah was redacted. The great sage Judah Ha-nasi moved to Beth Shearim, where he was joined by Rabbi Chiyya bar Abba, a scholar who is among those mentioned as traveling widely in the conduct of his business. Rabbi Chiyya dealt with all four of the basic goods being traded along the route into China: spices, glassware, silk and linen. Rabbi Chiyya was not only a trader, but was also one of the growers of flax.12

"So long as Christian intolerance permitted," wrote Cecil Roth, "it was as artisans rather than as capitalists that [the Jews] were distinguished. Various branches of manufacture were associated with them almost exclusively. In the early centuries of the Christian era - and for long after - the Jews were recognized as the most skilled workers in glass... In the tenth century we find references to vitrum plumbum, Judaecum sclicet {'leaden glass, that is, of the Jews')... Throughout the Middle Ages - particularly in south Italy and Greece - the Jewish communities had almost a monopoly of dyeing and silk-weaving.... There was one yellow, indeed, of which they alone had the secret, and it was known by their name"

" A remarkable contrast this, to the other shade of the same colour called Isabella, to commemorate (it is said) the dingy shift of that arch-persecutor of the Jews, who vowed never to change it until Granada had been captured from the infidel!"13

Jewish Artisans of Byzantium

The Jews brought sericulture to Alexandria in Egypt. The Jewish silk trade became so integral to the Egyptian economy that it "fulfilled a function similar to that of stocks and bonds in our society. In other words, it represented a healthy range of speculation, while providing at the same time a high degree of security.14

"Pictorial tapestries were so closely associated with Jewish textile- workers, particularly in Egypt, that they went by the name Judaica Vela."15

A sixth century Alexandrian Christian merchant, Cosmas Indicopleustes, after traveling the Near East and India, went into monastic retirement and proceeded to relate his experiences in a work on Christian topography. In it he attested that the Jews are a people "endowed by divine grace with special aptitude for handicrafts."16

The silk industry passed with the Jews into Muslim Spain. An account of the development of the art in Iberia was made by Ibn Daud. He reported that in Muslim Spain many Jews were engaged in the industry, among whom "were two brothers, merchants, the manufacturers of silk, Jacb ibn Jau and... Joseph." The brothers made "clothing of high quality as was not duplicated in all of Spain."17

Byzantine arts benefitted from the destruction of the synagogues and the expulsion of Jews from Alexandria by the patriarch Cyril in the year 415. The Byzantine cities of Constantinople, Corinth, Thessalonica and Thebes became host to large Judaic communities and to the technologies they introduced.

Despite recurrent expulsions, half a millennium later Benjamin of Tudela found that Constantinople was home to 2000 Jewish families and to an additional 500 Karaite families who lived in quarters separated by a wall from the others. He reported that among the 500 or so Jews at Thessalonica were many scholars "[who] busy themselves in the craft of silk." Benjamin found 2000 other families in Thebes who were "the most eminent manufacturers of silk and purple cloth in all of Greece... The town of Saluniki ... contains about five hundred Jewish inhabitatnts... who live by the exercise of handicrafts."18

Gibbon states that the textile artisans enjoyed exemption from personal taxes; and that: "These arts which were exercised at Corinth, Thebes, and Argos, afforded food and occupation to a numerous people."19 Silk horticulture was relegated to the periphery of the cities, but dyeing and textile manufacture was performed in an urban environment along with the tanning and processing of leather, the manufacture of leather goods, metal crafts and glassmaking, all trades largely (and in the case of silk-making and glassmaking, exclusively) in Jewish hands.

These industries took place in the industrial quarter of Constantinople, the Chalkoprateia, or "Brass-market," which was also the Jewish quarters of the city.20 It was a district in which the metal-workers and glassmakers performed their pyrotechnics.

"The area [of Constantinople] which impressed Benjamin as the Jewish quarter because of its large Jewish population was merely a "migrash" (the common ground) of the silk manufacturers' guild and the tanners guild. The Jewish domination of these guilds turned the quarter into a Jewish one."21

Constantinople's industrial district contained no church, but it did harbor a sizable synagogue.

Jewish Artisans Prized by the Crusaders

"Throughout the Middle Ages - particularly in south Italy and Greece - the Jewish communities had almost a monopoly of dyeing and silk-weaving..."22

Jews were sought and given a measure of autonomy so that they could practice their arts to the economic benefit of the overlords. Almost invariably the economy of their fiefs declined when the Jews were driven out of the region or the trade. Arts deteriorated in Europe after restrictions were placed on Judaic artisans during the fifth and sixth centuries. The imposition of "protective" saints on newly-formed guilds and the exclusion of unconverted Jews was a prime factor in the onset of the Dark Ages.

The Dark Age syndrome was far less evident in regions outside of Church domination. In contrast, science and artisanship continued to flower outside of Christendom.

The silk, dyeing and glass industries of the eastern Mediterranean were profitable enterprises, providing goods coveted by the upper classes throughout Europe. The industries involved secret processes jealously contained within family circles. In the case of glassmaking, and largely in the case of sericulture, the art required skills developed only through years of apprenticeship. Many colors and procedures in the dyeing process likewise remained trade secrets over the centuries. Jewish artisans practicing these arts became prizes to be won by armed force.

While the planting of the cross in the Holy Land was the purported raison d'etre of the Crusades, plunder and pillage became the prime occupation of the Christian knights and their entourage. They sustained and enriched themselves by plundering Jewish communities en route to the Holy land to expel the infidels. They were, however, not averse to ravaging their fellow-Christians.

The Norman Crusader, Roger II, was crowned king of southern Italy and Sicily by the antipope, Anacletus in 1130. After adding Capua, Abruzzi and Naples to his dominion (1140), Roger took the Roman Pope Innocent II prisoner. Roger concluded a pact with the captive Pope, in which he was recognized as the King of Sicily, and in turn acknowledged Innocent and held the Norman kingdom as a fief of the Holy See.

Jewish artisans and merchants were not new to the region. Judaic presence in the sun-drenched island of Sicily goes back to the period of the Second Temple, and to the Judaic commercial association with the Canaanite and Carthagenian sea-farers, the so-called Phoenicians and Punic peoples. After crushing the Bar-Khochba revolt the Romans put thousands of Jewish slaves to work in the mines and at the forges of the island. Assuredly a remnant of Jewish artisans was left throughout the Sicily, albeit few records remain of what happened to the descendants of the Roman Period Jews. The fact that some communities persisted is evidenced by the existence in the year 1200 of an ancient synagogue at Trapani, a structure later destroyed by the Aragonese Spaniards.23

In the twelfth century the city of Taranto on the southern coast of Italy had a Jewish community of 300 where Greek was still the dominant language. There is no mention of their trade, but in the nearby town of Brindisi ten Jewish families resided "who were primarily dyers."24 At Otranto, likewise close by, there were 500 Jews.25

Roger's forces ravaged the coasts of Dalmatia and Epirus, took Corfu and plundered Corinth and Corfu (1146). The riches thus gained were transitory; what Roger really needed to boost the economy of his backward kingdom was industry. Jewish artisans, and especially the sericulturists, were the best prizes Roger pillaged from the Byzantines. His noble knights transported captured Jewish silk-makers to Sicily. In 1147 Roger won Tripoli, Tunis and Algeria. Jewish silkmakers, dyers, smiths and glassmakers, thus implanted from both Christian and Moslem lands, became an integral part of Sicily's industrial scene.

Jewish glassmakers, dyers, and sericulturists were likewise available from the Holy Land, then under Crusader control. The intrepid Jewish traveler, Benjamin of Tudela reported that "Jerusalem... contains a dyeing house, for which the Jews pay a small rent annually to the King, on condition that besides the Jews no other dyers be allowed in Jerusalem. There are about 200 Jews who dwell under the Tower of David in one corner of the city."26

Benjamin visited Tyre, describing the former Canaanite ("Phoenecian") city as having a magnificent port, frequented by traders "from all parts... About 400 Jews reside in this excellent place... [they] are shipowners and manufacturers of the far-renowned Tyrian glass. Purple dye is also found in this neighborhood"27

The Bishop of Acre, Jacques de Vitry, echoed Benjamin's admiration for the glassware produced by the Jews of Tyre. Sometime before 1240 he wrote: "In the territory of Tyre and Acre they make the purest glass with cunning workmanship out of the sands of the sea."28

At Antioch Benjamin reported that ten families were busy producing glassware.29According to references in documents retrieved from the Cairo Geniza, Beirut was likewise host to Jewish glassmakers producing a form of secretly formulated red glass.30

At Damascus, the city that became famous for and lent its name to intricately embroidered silk patterns, Benjamin found a thriving community of 3000 Jewish families (up to15,000 persons), clearly a large proportion of the city's population and its main industrial base. Another Jewish traveler of the very same period, Petachia of Regensburg visited Damascus and found that "This is a large city... There are about 10,000 Jews there, who have a prince."31

Benjamin found other Jewish dyers at Beith Nabi, Cariateen, St George (ancient Luz - Judges, 1.26), and "Serain, the ancient Jezreel, a city containing a remarkably large fountain; one Jewish inhabitant, a dyer."

It should come, therefore, as no surprise that the implant of Jewish artisans from Byzantium and the Holy Land was instrumental in making the court of Roger II "one of the most magnificent in Europe."32

The process was continued by Frederick II, who became king of Sicily in 1198 . "The emperor Frederick II brought Jews to Sicily in order to introduce plants and crafts that the country had not known before. These Jews came from the Balkans, as well as from the isle of Jerba off the coast of North Africa."33

The Jews received no thanks for their contribution to southern Italy's industry. Frederick left for the East and crowned himself King of Jerusalem in 1229. After returning to Italy, the greedy emperor, unsatisfied with the considerable revenue being generated by the silk and dye industries for his coffers, coveted complete control of the industries and their markets. In 1231 Frederick took steps to confiscate and nationalize the industries.

Frederick set up a government monopoly over the silk industry in Apulia, pragmatically retaining knowledgeable Jews as operators of the state enterprises. Since the Jews controlled the silk market as well as the production of raw silk and of finished silk merchandise, Frederick decreed that all raw silk produced in territory under his reign (which included Puglia, Calabria and Sicily), whether imported or locally produced, was to be sold at a fixed price to a company of Jews at Trani constituted for the purpose. They were in turn to resell the silk to the myriad of small producers of textiles at a 33 1/3 mark up. Naturally, a sizeable proportion of this difference reverted to the Emperor.

The dyeing process was indispensable for the operation and control of the silk industry, so Frederick suspended all the dyeing operations except those at Capua and Naples, which he likewise continued to have maintained under Jewish management.34

Glassmaking proved more difficult to control, inasmuch as not only were industry managers indispensable but it was impossible to substitute for the artisans. Foreign commerce, based on the contacts the Jews had abroad, also had to remain largely in Jewish hands, and the Jewish merchants continued to flourish, albeit the overall control of the silk and dyeing industries were out of Judaic hands.

Whatever favorable conditions remained for the Jews eroded further after the death of Frederick II. In the year 1290 the Kingdom of Naples spurred a massive emigration of the Jews by forcibly driving the Jews into Baptism.35 The Jews who resisted conversion were reduced to poverty and misery and an exodus from the Spanish-dominated areas grew to sizable proportions. It was reported by R. Obadiah Bertinoro that Palermo "contains about 850 Jewish householders... poor craftsmen of different kinds, copper and iron-smiths... Despised by the gentiles, being all ragged.... They are required to work for the king whenever there is a need for them, such as in dragging the fishing boats ships ashore, building up embankments, or things of that kind."36

Obadiah also visited Messina, where he found the remnant of the Jewish community, consisting of some "four hundred householders [about 2000 persons] in somewhat better circumstances. They were "all craftsmen, although some of them were also merchants."37

The stream of Jews exiting southern Italy swelled sporadically throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Many of the emigrants headed for Turkey, a trickle which swelled into a torrent after 1492. Some returned to Thebes, Salonica and Constantinople, the very cities from which their forefathers had been torn by Roger II. They were eagerly welcomed by the Byzantines at this time inasmuch as the technologies that the Jews had introduced were spurred again to robust activity.

Jewish Artisans Spread Through Italy

  Rome, eager to capture the technologies practiced heretofore in Spanish Italy, pragmatically created enclaves at the port cities of Leghorn and Pisa in which the Jews could come and in which they could freely worship and carry on enterprise. The Tuscan Judaic population burgeoned during the Middle Ages with influxes of Sephardic Jews, from southern Italy and I1beria.

Soon after 1492 Sicily was ostensibly devoid of professed Jews.

Some of the migratory Jews settled and stayed in Tuscany, others sojourned and departed northward. The Jews followed the backbone of Italy, the Appennines, to Rappalo, Genoa and other west-coast ports, and then crossed westward into Piedmont and the Veneto.

Rome, Genoa and Venice were eager to capture Judaic arts and to gain advantage from the international commercial contacts of the Jews. They created enclaves within which the Jews could freely worship and carry on enterprise. Jewish metal-workers and glassmakers, were notable among the Judaic craftsmen who arrived. Equally, important were the weavers, dyers and sericulture specialists, both those expert in mulberry tree horticulture and those proficient in the manufacture of silk textiles.

image of silk being reeled
REELING SILK: Silk is unique among textile fibers inasmuch as it comes already spun- by the silkworm! It needs only to be carefully unreeled from the cocoon, the occupation of the two charming ladies. Cocoons are sorted according to size and quality, then immersed in to a hot, dilute, alkali solution to soften the gum. Reeling consists of winding together four or more filaments to make a thread. The ilustrated 18th century system varies little from that introduced into Europe by Near-Eastern Judaic sericulturists. Diderot, plate 15

The immigration of silk growers and weavers into the Veneto is attested, for example, to have taken place in the 15th century into the town of San Daniele, situated close by Venice in the Friuli flatlands. Sericulture activity is recorded in surviving banking records of the Jewish family Nantoa, who were given a concession for conducting activity until 1547, and to their successors, the Jewish family Luzzato, who continued the operations well into the 18th century. As late as 1764 there were still 94 Jews resident in San Daniele, most of whom were artisans working at the reeling of silk, a few others with weaving hemp and linen, and still others managing a fornace, a brick making facility.38
"In the sixteenth century, a Venetian Jew named Meir Magino wrote a book on his improved method of silk-manufacture, which he attempted to introduce into both Italy and Lorraine. It was about the same time that the industry was first established in the Low Countries by Antwerp Marranos. Later, they transferred with it with them to Holland; but even in this generally tolerant milieu, once their trade secrets had been learned, they were officially excluded from it by the jealous burghers (the subsequent decline of the industry may not be altogether a coincidence). Precisely the same took place at Padua, where the Jews, after having introduced the industry and practiced it undisturbed for generations, were driven out at the close of the eighteenth century. As though to compensate, silk manufacture was first established in Berlin by a Jew, David Hirsch."

"In all these cases, the function of the Jews was not merely that of entrepreneurs; they were also the technicians and (so far as was permitted) the labourers...."

"The story may, however, be duplicated with regard to many other branches of industry - especially the textile industry, with which the Jews of Spain in particular were long associated. They possessed above all the secret of certain methods of embroidery, such as the famous Point d'Espagne, which was much used for ecclesiastical purposes; it has been suggested that even the pomp and glitter of the autos-da-fè was in part the product of Jewish skill!"39

Sericulture and the parallel weaving and dyeing industries were also introduced into the Piedmontese lake country, where the arts are being practiced to this day. The region south of Lake Como is now famous for the production of the finest silk ties and shirts.

The Genovese Connection

When conditions were suitable, some of the Jewish Tuscan Seatori (silkworkers) moved on to Genoa where they were instrumental in the foundation of a silk processing industry which shortly became a major factor in the Genovese economy. "The silk art was a new art [in Genoa] in the sense that the development was largely the contribution of foreign immigrants, especially from Tuscany."40

In 1432 the silk industry in Genoa was organized under its own consoli, who wielded criminal as well as civil powers within the community; it was recognized as the Genovese"ars seatoriorum," with subdivisions of weavers, dyers, and spinners, and was subject to special laws and regulations. The Po valley was more conducive to the growth of mulberry trees than the mountainous region in which Genoa is nested, so mulberry trees were planted by the Jews of various communities within the Monferrato Marquisate of Piedmont to supply the industry with silk cocoons. The road into Casale Montferrat is referred to in local folklore alternatively as "Mulberry Road" and as "Jew's Alley."

By the middle of the sixteenth century the Genovese silk industry had grown to an employment of 18,000 workers out of a total population of some 70,000.41

The appearance of glassmaking and sericulture in Genoa coincided with the influx of artisans from Tuscany from the early fourteenth century forward. Among them were many registered as "conversi," converted Jews. For example: "Compagno, converted glassmaker of Florence," was registered on May 29, 1303, and "Benagia, converted Jew of Florence, who was a qualified glassmaker," was registered on October 13, 1309.42

The Republic of Genoa, under Spanish influence and bowing to Spanish pressure, expelled the Jews in 1567. Glassmaking, an industry dependant upon Judaic expertise, disappeared from all territories under Genovese domination; the silk-making industry went into recession.

Both industries revived a century later. Spanish treachery against their Genovese protectorate disenchanted its ruling nobility. Genoa's economy, in dire need of stimulation, was further devastated by a plague. Disillusioned with being a Spanish vassal state, the Genovese cut loose from the Spanish dominance.

The Jews were invited to "come and settle in the Serenissimo Republica di Genova," from which they had been ignominiously expelled a century earlier. In 1658 two Jewish champions of a group of Tuscan Jews, Abram da Costa de León and Aron de Tovar, succeeded in obtaining the new Capitoli per la nazione Hebrea, statutes which provided favorable terms for the Jews to "come and settle." The statutes became effective in April, 1659.43

The decree granted the immigrants such comprehensive rights, privileges and protection and were caged in such warmly welcoming terms that they can be construed as an apology for having expelled the Jews in the first place:

"We grant that nation first of all salvocondotto (security) for their persons and property," the statutes cordially begin, "with the right to go and come, traffic in and negotiate throughout the dominion without disturbance or molestation... We grant them a special area in which they can establish their residence and a synagogue where they can freely conduct their rites and ceremonies without being disturbed or molested by anyone." Only several months later another statute granted "to Eliahu Bernol and his Jewish compatriots the exclusive rights to produce and have produced, glass and crystal of every kind for a period of twenty-five years in this city and in the entire dominions of Genoa."44

The Jewish silk-makers, glassmakers and dyers subsequently established industries elsewhere in Europe and in the Russian "Pale" of Jewish settlement. That is another and equally intriguing story.


1: Jean M. James, "Silk China and the Drawloom," Archaeology 39.9 (Sept. - Oct. 1986).
2: Samuel Kurinsky, The Glassmakers, an Odyssey of the Jews, ch. 8, "The Linen, Glass, Silk, and Spice Route.", Hippocrene Books, N.Y., 1991, 251-297.
3: James, Idem.
4: W. E. Schiff, Parthian Stations by Isidore of Charax, 1914, 9.
5: C. G. Seligman, The Roman Orient and the Far East, 1939, 555, reprinted from The Smithsonian Report for 1938.
6: Seligman, idem.
7: M. Aural Stein, Serindia, Oxford, 1921, 64, plate 37; Central Asian Relics of China's Ancient Silk Route, Hirth Anniversary Vol. 1921, 368, 374; "A Journal of Geographical and Archaeological Exploration in Chinese Turkestan," The Geographical Journal, 1902; Sand-buried Ruins of Khotan, London, 1903; On Ancient Central Asian Tracks, 1933.
8: L. Boulnois, The Silk Road, Dutton, N. Y., 1966, 88.89.
9: I Chron. 3:55; 4:14; 4:23.
10: Avi Yonah "Scythopolis," Israel Exploration Journal, 12:2, 1962, 128-
11: Qiddushin ii, 5-62 c.
12: Baba Metzia, 5:6.4
13: Cecil Roth: The Jewish Contribution to Civilization, The East and West Library, London 1956, p. 193.
14: S. D. Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, I 1967, 223.
15: Roth, Ibid., 192-3:
16: As quoted by Cecil Roth (idem) from a work ed. by Montfaucon, 1706, and by Winstedt 1910; trans. with notes by McCrindle, Halk. Soc. 1898.
17: Ibn Daud, Sefer ha-Qabbalah, ed. G.D. Cohen, 68-9, as quoted in The Economic History of the Jews, ed. Nachum Gross, Jerusalem, 1975.
18: The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela, ed. A. Asher, London, 1840-41, 47.
19: Anton Felton, Jewish Carpets, Antique Collectors Club Ltd., Woodbridge (Suffolk), England, 1997, 102, quoting E. Gibbon, The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, ed. O. Smeaton, 3 vols, New York, 1932 III, 270.
20: Andrew Sharf, Byzantine Jewry, 1971, 16, ref.: A Galante, Les Juifs dde Constantinople sous Byzance, 1940, 22-5; cf. C Emereau 'Constantinople sous Theodore le Jeune,' Byzantion 2, 1925, 112.
21: Felton, Ibid., p. 106, quoting Z.. Ankori, Karaites in Byzantium, New York, 1939, 143
22: Roth, Ibid., 192-3:
23: A drawing of the structure based on historical and other references is exhibited in the Hatfuthsot Museum in Tel Aviv.
24: Adler, "The Jews in Southern Italy," Jewish Quarterly Review, XIV (1902)) 111-15
25: Adler, Ibid., 9.
26: Adler, Ibid., 22..
27: Adler, ibid., 1907, 18..
28: Jacques de Vitry, Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, vol. 11, no 2, London, 92-3..
29: Adler, ibid., 16.
30: S. D. Goitein, "The Main Industries of the Mediterranean area as Reflected in the Records of the Cairo Geniza," Journal of the Economic & Social Hist. of the Orient 4, 187.
31: Elkan Adler, ed., Jewish Travellers in the Middle Ages, Dover, New York, 1987, 16.
32: Chambers Biographical Dictionary, eds. L. O. Thorne, MA and T. C. Collocott MA, W & R Chambers, Ltd., Edinburgh, 1986, 1143.
33: A History of the Jewish People, ed. H.H. Ben-Sasoon, Harvard Un. Press, 1976, 469.
34: Attilio Milano, "Vicende economiche degli Ebrei nell'Italia meridionale ed insulare durante il medioevo," La Rassegna Mensile di Israele, no, 6, 1954, 220.
35: Cecil Roth, Ibid., 76
36: Iggorot Erez Israel, ed. A Yaari, 1943, 104
37: A. Yaari, ed. Letters from Erez Israel, I Tel Aviv, 1943, 104, 108.
38: Pier Cesare Ioly Zorattini, "Gli Insediamenti ebraici nei Friuli," Gli Ebrei e Venezia, ed. Gaetano Cozzi, Edizione di Communita, Milano, 1987, 262.
39: Roth, Ibid., 192-3:
40: Claudio Constantino, La Republica di Genova, Torino, 1986, 34
41: Constantino, Ibid., 155-6.
42: Guido Malandra, I Vetrai di Altare, Altare, Italy, 1983, 36
43: Archivio Statale di Genova (State Archive of Genoa), Hebreorum, Capitoli per la Nazione Hebrei, June 16, 1658.
44: These and 16 supporting documents were brought to light by the author from the Archivio Segreto (secret archives) of Genoa in a folder entitled Hebreorum. They are determining factors in the identification of the glassmakers of Tuscany (in particular, Pisa) as Jews. They attest to the inability of Genoa to obtain glassmakers except from among the Jews for the re-introduction of the industry into Genoa.