GREAT SYNAGOGUE / FLORENCE
This is an orthodox synagogue. We are a small community, but we will try to make you feel at home during your staying in Florence
We have services on Sabbath and holidays. On Saturday morning the Synagogue is open from 8.45 a.m. until 11.45 a.m.- Following services there is a public Kiddush and we hope you will join us. For the timetable of services, please check synagogue website.
Jewish merchants, doctors and bankers began settling in Florence in the late 14th and early 15th centuries. In 1396, the Commune of Florence permitted Jews to practice banking in Florence. An assembly of the Jews of Italy met in Florence in 1428 and gathered funds to give to Pope Martin V in return for his protection. City authorities requested Jewish bankers in 1430 because they believed that they would be easier to control than their Christian counterparts. In 1437, the Jewish community was officially established because of the need for Jewish moneylenders in the city.
The fate of the Jewish community was tied to the fate of the Medici family in Florence. Lorenzo il Magnifico defended the Jewish community from expulsions and from the aftermath of vitriolic sermons given by Bernardino da Feltre. A Catholic theocracy was installed in the 1490's under the Dominican friar Girolama Savonarola, who decreed that both the Jews and the Medici family be expelled from Florence. A loan from the Jewish community to the republic postponed the expulsion for a short period of time. The Medicis returned to power in 1512 and the Jewish ban was lifted, until the next Medici expulsion in 1527. Alessandro de Medici regained influence as a duke, in 1531, and abolished anti-Jewish acts.
In 1537 Cosimo de’Medici gained power in the Florentine government. He sought the advice of Jacob Abravanel, a Sephardic Jew living in Ferrara. Abravanel convinced Cosimo to guarantee the rights and privileges of Spanish and Portugese Jews, and other Levantines who settled on his borders. This was the start of the growth of the Sephardic Jewish community in Florence. Refuge was given to Jews from other papal states who left due to Pope Paul IV’s anti-Jewish measures, which were not enacted in Florence. Once Cosimo received the title of grande duke of Tuscany, his policies toward the Jews changed for the worse. He forced Jews to wear badges in 1567, closed the Tuscan border to non-resident Jews in 1569, shut down Jewish banks in 1570 and established a ghetto in 1571.
Jewish religious, social and cultural life continued to flourish inside the ghetto. Two synagogues were built, an Italian one in 1571 and a Spanish/Levantine one at the end of the 16th century (the ark from this shul can be found today at Kibbutz Yavne in Israel). There were also Jewish schools, a butcher, a bakery, a ritual bathhouse and other social and philanthropic organizations. The Jews were allowed to elect their own council and the rabbinical courts had jurisdiction, recognized by the state authorities, over all legal problems. Jews had a special status in criminal law; they were not tried by common judges, only by the Supreme Court of the Republic. Restrictions were placed on Jewish trade in the ghetto barring them from selling wool or silk or trading in precious objects.
The community decreased in size and, by the 18th century, the community numbered less than a thousand individuals.
The Jews of Florence were emancipated and given civic rights when Napoleon’s army entered the city on March 25, 1799. The grand dukes were restored in 1814 and Jews had to return to the ghettos. In 1848, the ghetto was abolished and a new city center was constructed; Jews also achieved equality in the constitution under Grand Duke Leopold II.
In 1861, Florence became part of the kingdom of Italy and Jews were recognized as citizens. The ghetto was demolished at the end of the 19th century, when the city started a redevelopment program. Plans for the great temple were approved in 1872, but it took eight years to build and was not inaugurated until 1882. The building of the temple far away from the old ghetto marked the beginning of assimilation of Florentine Jews.
Source: Jewish Virtual Library